This week TCR features experimental, EDM/Hip-Hop music producer, songwriter, and rapper, Ionika. From his incredible beginnings as a EDM creator—inspired by the likes of Avicii and Skrillex—to his current career as a rapper and producer, Ionika talks being an Asian artist in the music industry, the problem with revenue generated from music, and his latest dark-pop EP BLACK MIRROR.
Where and when did your individual creative journey begin?
My creative journey started when I was in middle school. I found out about Skrillex and Avicii through a music game on my iPod and that sparked an interest inside me to make similar music to those artists. So essentially, I started out producing EDM in GarageBand, and then began to self-teach myself how to produce music on my own through YouTube tutorials.
Tell us the story of how you became a musician and artist?
I’ve been a musician for 17 years already. I started playing piano when I was around 3 years old so it helped build a solid foundation for me when I started producing music. In terms of being a recording artist, that started in high school. I had a lot to say in my mind, and I found comfort in letting those words I needed to say through hip-hop. So come freshman year of college, I began to write raps and strengthen the writing side of music. It was a relieving way for me to let my consciousness free and write what was on my mind.
Tell us about your artistry? What would you say is your mission with your art?
And who are your influences?
My mission in art is to express my life’s experiences and create music that everyone can feel. Not necessarily just listen. I want to create art that I feel happy with because to me, it doesn’t matter what everyone else thinks about your art. As long as you appreciate it, that’s what matters most. I think music and art is one of the most powerful tools that makes us human because it gives us the ability to express ourselves in ways others can’t. My influences in music are definitely the rebels who ended up leaving a lasting impact on the music industry: XXXTENTACION, Dr. Dre, Skrillex, and Keith Ape are a few.
Can you speak on your process when creating projects? When do you feel the most inspired?
When creating projects, I don’t usually have a set process. It all starts in my head and within me. However I’m feeling, I’ll start picking out instruments and playing around with samples to see what sticks with me. You know the phrase, “Throw spaghetti at a wall and see what ends up sticking”? That’s essentially my process. Because for me, that means every song that comes out of my mind will be random. There is no set formula, method, or technique when I produce or write. I also love to experiment and challenge myself when producing. I usually feel most inspired late at night, or if I hear an extremely unique song that resonates with me. Either one of those will get me out of bed and onto my laptop and start producing something.
Tell us about your EP BLACK MIRROR. What was your artist process for creating this piece?
My process for creating this EP was actually inspired by the show BLACK MIRROR. So how this project came about was when I was mixing this track for my friend, Sera Selin, and she got this beat from a producer called Heath Stone. I was like, “Holy shit, this beat is a whole vibe. It’s so cinematic, I gotta work with him.” So I ended up finding him on YouTube and bought like five of my favorite beats from him to write a project to. The one beat that resonated with me the most was The Weeknd type beat called “Blinding Lights 2”. So after that, I was thinking of creating a dystopian, dark-pop EP with topics that plague our society today, similar to the show. And then I had this melody in my head for the title track- you know, the “Control me, take control of me”? So I ended up writing the song starting with the chorus, and then working around that. In my opinion, this is an EP you’d want to listen to at like 3 in the morning just sitting in your room and thinking about life. So this is a basic outline of my process, haha.
Is there anything about the industry you’d want to change as you progress in your career? Tell us about some experiences you overcame.
I’d definitely want to change how people see artists today. Personally, I think artists today have been reduced to numbers. It’s less so about talent, and more of a popularity contest. It’s ridiculous because there are some talented musicians out there who have incredible music, but have less than 1,000 streams and labels won’t take that because the numbers aren’t there in the 500K or 1M mark. However, I do believe I overcame this frustration just by being myself. In this world, you’re either loved or hated, so it doesn’t matter how many numbers you’re doing. I feel like as long as I just put music and content out that I appreciate, I’ll get somewhere. And I have, and I don’t plan on stopping now.
Have you ever experienced limitations in your career (as a musician) due to your identity?
Being an Asian in the music industry…it’s definitely being an elephant in the room. In a predominantly African-American and white industry, I kinda stick out. It’s not unheard of though. With 88rising, we’ve started to take pride in being Asian creators, but it’s still kinda weird. Not only that, labels rarely sign unknown Asian talent. Especially rappers. And being an Asian rapper, it’s hard to stand out in a genre that’s stacked with amazing African-American rappers. Again, it’s not impossible. But I definitely think it’s hard as an independent Asian rapper to stand out in the music industry.
Are there any insufficiencies or injustices in the music industry that you’d like to see rectified?
Definitely the kind of revenue artists are getting through streaming. I mean, seriously? We’re getting paid $0.0036 per stream. I get it, it’s great for the consumer, but for the artists, that’s like…nothing. I do believe the music industry needs to figure out a way to help artists generate more revenue, because let’s be honest: Streaming revenue for an independent artist is not sustainable. Sure, it’s SOME passive income, but they can’t quit their 9-5 just to make money off Spotify.
What advice would you give to aspiring creatives looking to break into the music industry?
Make as much music as you can, and work on building yourself on social media. Create a noticeable brand identity, have a niche audience, and set aside some money for marketing. Unfortunately, this is a popularity contest today, and there is no other way around it. If you put music out and do nothing to promote it or market it, you won’t see any success. That’s just the way it is. Music is only 30% of the equation. Marketing is 70%. I cannot stress enough how important it is to reach out, connect, and build your fanbase. Support fellow creators, and tell everyone about your music. When you start out, it’s okay to be as annoying and selfish as possible. DM people everyday about your new posts and music. Those who re-share, reply, or give you feedback, those are supporters and fans. Those who tell you to stop, or leave it on read, ignore them. They don’t matter anymore. They don’t really care about your music. So to all the creators out there, KEEP PUSHING ON. You can break through the noise. I believe in you all.