Prod By: ZDot
21 Jan 2021
Standing as one of British Raps veteran producers, ZDot has over the years built a reputable name within the UK scene. Growing up in West London, ZDot was one of many who rose up alongside the charismatic sounds of Grime, since branching out across many sub-genres and a slew of prolific names behind him including Wiley, Stormzy, Lady Leshurr, Krept & Konan, Devlin, Kano and Ghetts – just to name a few, ZDot has become a staple figure within the music realm.
Now an owner of both a record label and a publishing company, the beat-smith caught up with us over the phone to talk all things production, his journey, branding, advice for aspiring producers and more – filled from top to bottom with note-worthy gems, tap in below to see what he had to say!
Over the last year, the music industry as a whole has faced many challenges across a variety of sectors due to Covid. How have you been navigating yourself around these uncertain times?
The first proper lockdown was in March and in those times just like everyone else, I was taking it seriously and not going outside, but then I thought there’s stuff that I could be doing that doesn’t involve me going out. I’ve got my own studio, so I ended up going there, no one else was there so I could still be productive.
I did a post on Instagram at the start of lockdown giving up and coming artists and producers the opportunity to work with me and I ended up collaborating with 50-60 people that I had never worked with before. One of the artists is a guy called Dyno from Manchester and we’ve got a few projects together now and built a good relationship which all came from my original post. There were quite a few artists that I found in that time, I’m about to sign one of the producers to my publishing label through Downtown.
A lot of positive things came out of it, I ended up hosting over 200 1-2-1 production classes online. Jägermeister set up this website called #SAVETHENIGHT; there were no live shows, I missed out on 10 festivals this summer, it’s not my prime source of income so it wasn’t the worst time for me but at the same time I ended up doing live stream sets through the Jägermeister platform. I had bookings with artists and producers to talk about the industry, I gave them advice about production and feedback on their songs, alongside DJ sets so that was cool!
You’ve been a busy man then! It’s not affected you in any way!
It’s just altered how I work; I’ve got quite a new son as well he’s only 1 years old so I got to spend a lot more time with him than I usually would have which is a positive. I just look at everything on the positive side, we’re in a time where everyone is doing nothing, so let me do something and help others as well – even when I was doing the production classes the feedback was crazy! When we’re back to normal people want me to do seminars and production schools so I’ll probably do that as well!
So, to my understanding, you grew up in West London? Could you tell us a bit more about your upbringing and how your interest in music sparked?
I started as a drummer when I was 8 years old, I was always a fan of music and my Dad was always playing music – I was always around it! I was in Year 8 at School and one of the teachers said I had a real talent for Music, and would I be interested if they bought someone in from outside the school to teach me about ‘Music Technology’ – that is what they called making music on a computer back then! I got to miss History and Spanish and some other lessons that I didn’t like, it was twice a week and this guy came in and taught me how to use Cubase. I really enjoyed it, so I started making beats, there was no long-term vision for it I was just enjoying it!
I had a friend in East London called Dolla The Dustman and he was already around people like Ghetts, I went to the studio with him one time and I met Devlin for the first time; we ended up making something shortly after that that ended up doing well, then I linked up with Ghetts and we made “Artillery” and to this day it’s still one of his biggest songs. I met loads of people in East because there was nothing here for me in West, there were no artists to work with. I had to live in East London, I started working with Kano, Devlin, Ghetts, Wiley and all of those guys. I’ve now gotten to the stage where we’re producing number 1’s and producing the whole game with 80-piece orchestra’s and doing stuff for movies – it’s come a long way from those days!
You grew up alongside the Grime scene before eventually branching out into various other genres. In comparison to today’s landscape, how much has changed since that period?
That’s a very good question! I’ve been in the game professionally for quite a while now, so I’ve actually seen the changes. My first breakthrough when I was getting management and publishing offers was when I was around 18 or 19 and it was off the back of a track I had done with Wiley, Giggs and Juelz Santana called “Bright Lights” – I didn’t know much about management or anything! It was very hard to make money back then, you might have the hottest song in the streets but there wasn’t much money in it, you might have gotten a little bit of PRS, but streaming wasn’t a thing! People weren’t really buying music and there were less corporations and brands buying into syncing for adverts, less movies and games etc. Back then I had hot songs, but I didn’t really have any money! But now, you can have 1 song and you are living – artists are getting £1 million a show, back then it would have been around £300-400, the monetisation of it is crazy!
Looking back to the middle of my career when “Pass Out” was around, the artists had to compromise there sound a lot more in order to get the money. Whereas now, you’ll see Digga D bag a Top 20 just by being himself and that’s a great thing!
Is there anything in particular that you miss about that period?
People looked a lot less at numbers and if you were good you’d get in the room! These days everything is based on numbers which is also cool, I don’t mind either way because I have numbers too but in terms of thinking about the music, it was a lot purer back then when there was less money in it. I’d still rather be in these times though!
Over the years you have built a reputable name for yourself within the production realm. How has it been for you steering yourself around in regard to networking and building a brand for yourself?
You’ve got to always stay active! If you look at people like Rihanna, she was dropping an album every 10 months ages ago and was the hottest artist in the world and now you rarely hear her name and if you do it’s probably not music related! She has gotten to a place in her life where she has secured the bag but when she was the biggest it’s because she was on top of it, her work rate was high etc!
If you look at people in Rap or Grime, if they take their foot off the gas for too long it’s very hard for them to come back! Staying consistent and always working hard and not getting gassed over a big song, or a record deal; I love to make music every day, I’m a bit of a workaholic so I’m going to do it anyway but one of the strengths of my brand is that I don’t stop! I’ve got a lot of friends in America as well, so I’ll fly out to Atlanta or LA and work with the top producers out there, it’s about making it worldwide and spreading the UK sound everywhere. A lot of people think that if they don’t have a hit here, they’re rubbish but you can have a song that’s poppin’ in Germany – you want that! You shouldn’t be scared of that!
I think it’s interesting that you talk about consistency, from an artist perspective, quite a lot of them who are consistent i.e., DBE, do get slammed quite a lot for how consistent they are but in the U.S. it’s a different ball game! Future can drop 3 mixtapes in a year, and everyone lives for it.
It’s true, I see that a lot with those guys! They’re making a crazy number of songs and every time they drop a project it does do really well; they’ve found the formula that works for them! As long as everything is going well then no one can really tell them to slow down, I hate when people say that no one should tell you to slow down unless you’re about to have a stroke or something, then slow down. We are young, we’ve got to work hard now!
You mentioned your publishing label earlier on, I never knew you had one of those!
Yeah! I have a record label and a publishing company, the people you see me work with a lot like Krunchie and Eyez – there is loads of talent around me that I am investing in, most of these guys are young and I never had that person to help me. It’s also to put a bit of money in their pocket so they can take their music a little bit more seriously! It’s a good thing!
What made you want to start those ventures?
I’m quite business minded, you can make fire music, but your business needs to be sorted properly! I’m very interested in all of that, I like to know all my royalties are collected instead of having half of them out there unclaimed – it’s no good to anyone! I want the same for the people on my label as well because I know what is like, you might have a song that flies but if for some reason the registration has gone wrong, you might not get the right royalties! I like that my label does things properly so that everyone gets paid!
Be consistent, work hard and master your sound before you approach an artist because first impressions are so important! If you hit up an artist and your beats sound shaky, they’ll remember you for not being very good whereas in 3 years you might be great but your still tainted with that image!– ZDot
For aspiring producers looking to go down a similar route to you. What key advice would you give them at the beginning?
I would say don’t do it for the money! People get too gassed, don’t work on the craft and moan when no one wants their tunes! You have got to have a real passion for it, it was very easy for me to do it and not get paid at the start because I loved it so much – obviously, we are in a different time now where money is available straight away if you’re a producer.
Be consistent, work hard and master your sound before you approach an artist because first impressions are so important! If you hit up an artist and your beats sound shaky, they’ll remember you for not being very good whereas in 3 years you might be great but your still tainted with that image!
What about in regard to producers finding placements and approaching artists or their teams to work. What’s the best way to go around this in your experience?
A lot happens online, most of music gets made in the studio in real life! My approach might be a little bit different to today’s approach, if you can connect with people face to face. Doing that type of interaction has never done me wrong, it’s only ever boosted relationships and it’s a lot easier to get your personality across in real life rather than through a message. If you can’t do that for whatever reason, always be polite and don’t expect too much! If you do send something and don’t get reply within 24 hours, leave it a bit longer and be patient.
I’ve seen a lot of producers coming on Twitter or other social platforms saying that there not always credited like they should on platforms like ourselves or GRM etc. What are your thoughts on this?
I get it! I’ve been there myself; I fully understand it! It’s a difficult one, when an artist is in full control i.e., it goes on their own channel, there are no excuses because they have written the description or the title themselves. However, when you are dealing with platforms, things can get lost in translation and the video has gone through 3 people before it’s been uploaded! In an ideal world it would be good to have the producers name on everything because they have co-made the song with the artist, but my ego isn’t out of control, I’m a grown man so I’m cool!
What can we expect to hear from this coming year? Don’t you have a project coming?
I’ve got an album coming out in either March or April and it’s a mix between Rap, Drill and Grime, there are a few melodic songs on there as well but it’s sounding really good! You are going to get the names that you are used to seeing me work with and a few news ones as well – it’s very exciting! There is a lot coming from the team, we’re just working hard this year!