Popular Seattle rapper and self-professed geek Sir Mix-A-Lot returned to his Central District roots over the weekend to take part in a Black Music Summit. The hip-hop star headed up a panel discussion on technology and music along with a team of software engineers from Amazon.
David Harris, a startup advocate in the City of Seattle’s Office of Economic Development, served as moderator during a discussion that touched on Mix’s earliest dealings with technology all the way up to how he and his team are creating new uses for Amazon’s Alexa voice service and music studio equipment.
“I was doing technology when it was called electronics,” Mix, 52, said in a video of the event posted on Facebook. “Prior to rap music being born, I was into technology. My first sort of run in with it was when my mom bought me a set of walkie-talkies.”
Tech Demo @ Black Music Summit.@blackmusicsummit2016
Posted by Wyking Garrett on Saturday, April 2, 2016
Mix said he thought he was an engineer when he broke one of the walkie-talkies and fixed it himself. He also talked about building go-karts with his friends.
“We were always being makers back in the day because there wasn’t no video games, so you had to do what you had to do,” Mix said.
Mix spoke about what type of technology he had to use when he first got into making and producing music. Editing out a cuss word, for instance, was a labor-intensive practice that could take 10 minutes per word. “Do you know how many cats were cussing back when everybody was independent?” Mix said.
Fast forward to modern day music, and Mix said working in the digital domain is lacking for its own unique reasons — chiefly that the warmth of distortion is absent from tracks. And beyond the sound, the workflow of mixing and producing presents problems. In came the idea that voice commands could maybe make things faster and easier.
When the Amazon team came to his house, they heard Mix’s idea, understood his idea and within within 4 or 5 hours he was executing commands with Amazon’s hands-free speaker, Echo.
That team, consisting of software developers Thomas Phillips, Michael Dorsey, Jr., and Sebastian Blissett, immediately went to work on getting Echo’s Alexa to control studio software with voice. Blissett said they simply determined how to take some of Mix’s workflow out of the physical domain and move it into the audio domain.
“It was incredible to watch a dream come true in a matter of hours as opposed to years,” Mix said.
For Phillips, who is originally from Detroit, the project enabled him to marry two of his passions — music and technology. And he said the chance to work with Sir Mix-A-Lot was a “no brainer.”
Watch the rest of the panel discussion video for more insight from Mix and the Amazon posse on where music production is headed via technology.
There’s more tech and culture on the way at the 2016 Hack The CD Cultural Innovation Conference, June 25-26. Check it out here.