How I produced “Pro Nails”

April 25th, 2011

Being on tour with Kid Sister has got me reminiscing on the songs we made together in the early days of Fool’s Gold, “Pro Nails” being the most known. Let’s take a trip down memory lane to 2006 when that song was first crafted and examine the DAW set-up that I was using.

I met Kid Sis in the summer of ’06 and pretty quickly we decided to work on some music together. I was itching to try some new sounds with my production. Up until then, every track I made was sample-based. I used to play samples (and often scratch them) straight from my DJ mixer into Protools, and then edit them into beats. If you listen to “Step Off” which was done just a few months prior, not only was the sample triggered off vinyl but even the drums were scratched — you can hear the different tones on consecutive kick drums, coming from the stab scratches on the record. I loved doing that type of beat but I could hardly play these songs in my sets. I wanted my tracks to reflect my DJ sets more, so I started experimenting with uptempo beats. This type of production would rely less on samples and edited audio, there would be more synths and programmed drums, and I didn’t like the way Protools handled MIDI at the time (I think this was on Protools 6 or 7). So I started looking for other DAW’s. After years of being bound to my record collection at home, I was also transitioning to a mobile set-up.

I didn’t try Logic at first. More on that later. I already had Ableton Live on my computer, since I was using it for live looping in some of my more experimental sets. I used to use it as a looping pedal, feeding scratches into it and creating beats on the fly with the Session view. So I explored the Arrange window some more. I liked how quickly you could sketch out ideas but I wasn’t crazy about the sound and didn’t have enough soft-synths to really get what I needed out of it. I tried Reason. That gave me a bunch of synths and drum machines, but I wasn’t feeling the MIDI and felt like I still needed some audio tracks. So I decided to ReWire the 2. I used Ableton as a sequencer (where I could add some audio tracks if I wanted), and Reason ran the synths and drum machines.

I scheduled a trip to Chicago and the day before I left, I made 5 beats in one sitting. Quick skeletons that would serve as Kid Sister demos. In that batch was “Damn Girl” and “Pro Nails”. The first day that I got to Chicago I went through some acappellas to look for hooks and added the Too $hort sample to “Damn Girl” and Project Pat to “Pro Nails”. That one seemed appropriate because, you know, Melisa had crazy nails.

Here is the first demo of the beat:

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Her vocals were recorded on a subsequent trip to New York, at my apartment. We recorded in Protools, I preferred its sound for live tracking. I used a basic Shure KSM-27 mic going straight into my MBox (no preamp), running Protools LE on a 12″ Macbook Pro. There was no vocal booth and the sound was bouncing all over the apartment. She re-did some of the vocals at my Montreal spot on another trip after that.

I still had to turn the demo into a full-fledged song. I would work on it wherever I was, on tour or at home. There was a point where I was out with Kanye in New Zealand and he had some studio sessions with Common. I was sitting in the corner working on my laptop and Kanye gave me the ol’ “whatchu working on?”. So I played him the beat. I remember he loved the chords, and after that he kept asking me about that track. Meanwhile I was adding more stuff to it. I changed the drums and beefed it up. My brother suggested adding “some Three 6 Mafia-type pianos” in the verses, because he knew I was obsessed with them. I made that weird bouncy synth noise in the choruses by pitch-bending a sample on Ableton, scratching it on Serato and recording it back into Protools. At this point the whole session was printed in Protools because that’s where I knew how to mix and make things sound big.

I eventually finished the track… Then one day Kanye emailed out of the blue asking for that instrumental, without an explanation. A couple hours later he sent me his verse. It was a total surprise. That’s why when he premiered the song on his “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” mixtape he said “A-Trak didn’t ask me to rap on this shit, it wasn’t no favor or none of that shit, I wanted to get– this is my shit.” That’s also why the version with Kanye was originally called a remix! To us, the song was already done. Of course it quickly became the main version and we shot the video, which is another story…

I guess the epilogue is: around that time I saw XXXChange use Logic and I saw how he could do everything that I was doing on Ableton, Reason and Protools in one program. So I switched and I’ve been using it ever since.

The End.

13 Responses to “How I produced “Pro Nails””

  1. James Reid says:

    Thanks for this! I’m pretty sure it’s science-fact that any track with a Project Pat hook will be a classic.

  2. Gab Brg says:

    Great! I wish we could download it! :(

  3. Henning says:

    I love these kind of “how it happened” storys.

  4. Liz says:

    as if we needed another reason to ♥ you. thanks for sharing! :)

  5. peski says:

    It’s good to see good ol A-Trak blogging again!:)

  6. [...] “My detailed account of how I produced “Pro Nails”… geek out! http://tinyurl.com/4xvmmk7 I even included the original demo of the [...]

  7. @etwizzle says:

    Its nice for us up and comers to hear how in your pad you cooked up some shit with a humble set up (excluding the Mac Book pro lol ). Very interesting to know how you found out what works for you and it makes me feel better knowing that there is no formula for making dope shit . Respect

  8. [...] gives some cool insight on his blog about the making of “Pro Nails” and his working with Logic.  Only proceed to read his [...]

  9. Theory says:

    wicked, thx for sharing the science mane. A lot of familiar scenarios. I think it’s also safe to say im sleeping on logic…

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