In The Studio with: Dukus Alemay
24 Oct 2019
I sat down with artist and producer Dukus Alemay to talk about his work creating music not only for others but also for himself. With almost ten years of industry experience and collaborations with the likes of Yxng Bane and Fredo, Dukus offers a fresh and interesting take on the current music scene as an individual who knows what are the essential components of creating a hit.
Follow Dukus Alemay on Instagram @duku5
P: So you’re British-Colombian, right? Do you feel like your heritage plays an important role in the type of music you listen to and create?
D: It does impact quite a bit as I always have that knowledge about the music, in terms of what’s popular in the world. You know that Reggaeton culture is quite massive,Salsa, Bachata, all these styles of music are quite popular in mainstream culture and worldwide. But in London, it’s still a ‘big niche’, so you can go to loads of clubs where there’s always big Reggaeton nights and most of the people in there are European or just from different cultures. At first it was a proper Latin thing, I’ve got Latin mates and we know all the Latin spots where we go to eat, if we want to dance Salsa, I know where to go. So in a way, when I’m helping and producing music or working with British artists, I always try to bring a bit of that flavour to what I’m doing.
P: I always like to ask people this, what’s in your heavy rotation at the moment? This can be what you listen to whilst you’re working or at the gym but I definitely like to know what people are listening to whilst relaxing.
D: Because I’m working on so many people’s projects at the moment, my ears are just burned out half the time. I’m usually a ‘Netflix and Chill’ by myself kind of guy because I usually just get addicted to shows. I’m watching a lot of Money Heist, (La Casa de Papel) right now. Someone got me into that and I really like it.
P: -And it’s better in Spanish.
D: Yeah, I’ll always watch or read things in the original language then have subtitles. Just because I want to hear the people’s real voice and emotions. But music wise, I’ve been listening to a lot of the new Rick Ross album. Port of Miami 2. I like the energy and the vibes from it. You know there are certain albums that you hear once or twice, then they’re gone, as we’re living in this ‘fast food’ culture for music.
D: But I find myself listening to Giggs’ album, Big Bad. I can listen to a lot of songs off of that on rotation. So at the moment Big Bad by Giggs and Rick Ross, Port of Miami 2.
P: What do you feel like is currently missing from the UK music scene? What would you like to see more of in the music scene?
D: I feel like the music scene in the UK is going extremely well at the moment. There’s so much happening, especially within the urban culture, but we could scrap the word ‘urban’.
P: It’s a big umbrella term for a lot of different things.
D: It’s become a part of pop culture, it’s become so mainstream that you can’t even call it urban. There are loads of young millionaires that are just making a lot of money and able to change their lives as well as their family’s lives. For me, I feel like it’s changed from the days of saying ‘Calm, let’s go to my man’s house and just start spitting, or recording a couple of tunes and just putting them on Youtube. Nowadays, you can really dream big and make things happen.
D: I feel like the scene is really healthy right now and I love seeing all the different sub-genres of the music. You’ve got Drill, UK Rap, Gangster Rap and then you’ve got all these young guys coming through as well like the B Youngs. There’s so many different types of artists and that’s what I love about the scene at the moment.
D: But in terms of what’s lacking, I think things eventually just change. It took a while for Drill to come through, but it has come through. It got banned and now all of a sudden, it’s in the charts. I would personally like to see more collaborations with some Latin artists and that’s just because I’m Latin. I would like to see a mix with some Puerto Rican, some Colombian artists with some of the cooler, underground artists from here. Some of the Latin artists are getting the craziest numbers right now.
P: Especially in the U.S, I feel like quite a few Latin artists have managed to cross over into the U.S charts quite well.
D: Exactly and a lot of U.S artists want to collaborate with them and be on that level as well because some of them are making just as much money as artists like Drake. I think it’s smart that people like Tyga and Chris Brown are working with DJ Snake, J Balvin because it’s all about tapping into each other’s audience and bringing all those fans and cultures together. I’d like to see that in the UK, like a track with Yxng Bane and Maluma or J Balvin. I think if we could mix those sounds together, it would be amazing.
P: What would you say is the hardest part about your job?
D: Like with any other job, you’re going to have ups and downs. I love my job so I can’t really complain and I haven’t had a ‘regular’ job for years because music has provided. I get to work with all kinds of different artists, the other day I was working with a 13-year-old artist that may be on The Voice and I’ve also been working with Neighbourhood Recordings and with Netflix for the Top Boy Soundtrack. It’s a lot exciting things that you get to see beforehand and working on things behind the scenes. You get to work on projects and see them before the flourish.
D: But sometimes you might have situations with managers or people who think that they know it all and try to tell you what to do and break the flow of the session. But overall, I’m blessed to be in this position and I can’t really think of the bad things.
P: What advice would you give to somebody who wants to be a producer or an artist, someone who is trying to break into the industry?
D: I’d say get the basics at first. Get yourself a laptop and you could be using Fruity Loops/ FL Studio, Logic, GarageBand. Whatever you’re using, just really get into it. It’s the same as trying to get into drawing, painting or skateboarding, you have to just start. Just do your research and seek advice from people who may know more. Like with anything, you have to practice because practice makes perfect. I don’t think anyone can achieve perfection but you can get close to it. You have to work hard and be prepared to work unsociable hours. You’ve got to love your craft and if you come into work thinking “this is so boring” or “I just want to get paid”, it’s not going to work. So, if you want to get into production, just get the basic kit and there’s YouTube out there with so many tutorials. I would say research and hard work.
P: What is your preferred streaming platform? Are you more into Spotify or Apple Music?
D: I’m definitely into Spotify and that’s where I find myself going most of the time. I’ve had a free trial of Apple Music and it doesn’t feel as intuitive as Spotify. Spotify just works.
P: And roughly how long would you say that you’ve been working in the music industry?
D: I’d say I’ve been it professionally for about eight years. But I’ve been making music for about ten, maybe fifteen years. I’ve been playing piano since I was a kid, so I’ve always been music orientated but within the industry itself, I would say eight or nine years.
P: Okay, so taking into account your experience and time spent within the industry, do you think that the rise of streaming and the evolution of how we measure commercial success affects the way that producers and artists create music?
D: I work with a lot of distributors, managers and labels and everybody is taking into account all the algorithms. They’re checking websites that I didn’t even know existed and they are all to do with numbers. For me, if you get great numbers then sure, that’s cool. As an artist, I’ve made English music and I’ve made a bit of Latin music. About a year and a half ago, I started putting out more Latin music and that has gotten me way higher numbers than any of the English music that I’ve done. I can tell that certain demographics and certain areas are going to yield different kinds of numbers and I think it depends on what you’re trying to do. Some people or labels are really focused on numbers and what happens if they don’t get a certain amount of numbers because it’s all about perception.
D: I do think that streaming affects music. People used to make five to six minute songs just for the art of the song but nowadays it’s so different. People are trying to have shorter songs, short intros so that people don’t skip songs. A lot of labels take that into consideration and even I’m like that. I’ll get brought onto a project and say “What do we need to do to the song?” and if it’s four minutes, I’ll need to get that down to two minutes fifty seconds. That means cutting intros, cutting the excess and making sure that the song will have as much commercial success as possible.
D: It’s completely changed the way people consume music and the way labels want the public to consume music. There are all these platforms that didn’t exist several years ago and you have to adapt to the change in the music industry now. If you’re signed to a major label and you flop, it’s because of the numbers and not necessarily because the music was terrible. I probably haven’t checked that music or album out but I can already see that it has only sold a certain amount. So definitely, there has been a big change for things to be how they are now.
P: What would you say is the best or most rewarding part of your job?
D: Just being able to be attached to greatness and things that are doing well. It always feels really good when you get a plaque or an award to show that we’ve hit a milestone and to know that you’re involved. Being able to see how much of a positive impact your involvement brings to a project or a session is very rewarding. A lot of my job is word of mouth, I’m not putting out adverts on socials. It’s nothing to do with that, it’s to do with everyone else saying that they worked in the studio and had a good experience. The good thing about it is that people are going to want to work with you and that your name is associated with greatness.
P: How do you balance being an artist and also a producer?
D: Well, I usually work on my own music. Most of my music that’s out there, I’ve produced and I think that there’s only one song of mine that’s out there that I didn’t produce.
D: I produce most of my own music and I feel like I shouldn’t limit myself. Someone like Virgil Abloh, he will DJ, he’ll work on Off-White and then he’s the head of Louis Vuitton right now. So that’s the state of mind that I have when it comes to my music. Why not? Why can’t I release a song? I know the process that goes into it and about quality control. I’m having to deliver a finished product that is ready for press, radio and videos so why can’t I do that for myself?
P: What are the next few projects that you will be working on?
D: There’s some new Fredo material coming. Some records with Yxng Bane and a lot of cool stuff happening with Young T and Bugsey. I’m working on a lot of stuff with Ministry of Sound as well and also some stuff with Headie One, as well as the Top Boy soundtrack so I can’t wait for that to happen.
D: Stephen Sawyerr has also been helping me out as he’s working a lot in the States now and has gotten a few American artists for me to work with. So there’s also a Lil Tracy project that should be coming out soon.
P: Final question, can you tell us something that nobody knows about you or something people would be surprised to know?
D: Well, at one point I was into dancing and I was almost about to start doing Salsa shows, dancing with groups and stuff like that. But I wasn’t really feeling the glittery outfits and even told the group leader if I’m going to be involved with the group, the whole swag has to change. Before I was about to do a big show, I had to fly out to Colombia to see my grandma and whilst I was there, something just clicked in my head. I was like, I love dancing but if I really want to make a change in my life and for my family and the next generation then I need to be serious about the music. So I would say that is something that most people wouldn’t know about me.
Stream Dukus’ top tracks below: