Learning from The Neptunes

The Neptunes are a two member producing group made up of Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo. Considered to be amongst the most successful producers in music history (check out their lengthy discography here) we questioned their processes of making music. We found this article published by SOS magazine in 2005 ‘Recording The Neptunes’ and have tried to deconstruct it into three key components which might have contributed to their effectiveness.

Using the right technology

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The Neptunes’ custom-built bus-cum-recording studio.

The Neptunes very much complement the technology of their generation; speed is a hallmark of digital recording, and they are nothing if not fast. To maintain workflow, tracks done on the bus or in remote studios are sent back to Hovercraft or wherever else mixes are to be done with a combination of CDs and DVDs via overnight express and FTP sites.

The Neptune’s took advantage of technology and used it to work remotely. This enabled them to produce tracks quickly and therefore produce a lot of them. Their bus with a mini recording studio within it, shown on the right, is a great example of this.


Have an archive

“We had a hard drive that was constantly floating from room to room. Jimmy Iovine would stop by and see all of this going on and say ‘You guys are crazy.’ He couldn’t believe what was going on there. But it was amazing productivity.”

As they were able to make so many tracks and used technology to share and send them, they could easily keep them for use later. The Neptune’s used work done previously to match to the artists they were dealing with at the present. This complemented a lot of their archived work and required them to skilfully synthesise and adapt work to suit artists.


Be in the thick of it all

“Everyone winds up on everyone else’s record,” says Coleman, who worked with another engineer, Brian Garten, to keep the wheels of a very busy machine rolling. “I would start a track and do vocals in one studio,” he explains.

This constant switching and shifting of collaboration helped The Neptune’s creativity and constant learning of what worked with each artist. Their series of successes throughout the late 1990’s and early 2000’s helped to  redefine hip-hop, R&B and pop. They brought new sounds sounds from Middle Eastern and Asian music including percussion and woodwind to the genres. These collisions from different tracks, artists, multiplied by the ability to recording on the move, resulted in further creativity.

In summary the success is about time and mobility. By giving the talented people the right resource and amount of time to deliver. Mobility allowing people to do thing when they want to do with the necessary access. Providing the right access with a location offers the opportunity collaborate with a wider audience. Assisted by technology every piece of work can be learnt from and used as a resource for future production. In the long term a culture of continuous production helps increase efficiency and creativity as their is more materials to experiment with.

Designers can learn from the Neptune’s approach at collaborating and managing a creative process with the necessary technology. The challenge of the new digital age is help to synthesize incredibly complex inputs and design coherent ways to navigate them. Only by using the right technology, having an archive and being in the thick of it all, can we encourage more collisions in the design. Design as a discipline must be continued to opened up to encourage further synthesis of  knowledge from other fields such as science, technology, business, etc in order to be successful in the future.

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About duaneharrison

Currently a final year student at the Glasgow School of Art studying Product Design. After having varied but relevant experience in five different countries, I aim to draw from my education and explore how product/services are established and how well they can fit into a whole ecosystem to provide a special experience.

One comment

  1. Reblogged this on JAMIE SUNDERLAND and commented:

    ‘Learning from The Neptunes’ a collaborative blog with Duane Harrison

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