For "Studios Sessions," we delve into the stories behind the long hours in the studio and all that goes into making an album by talking with artists, producers, engineers, photographers, and more who are intimately connected to the recording process with some of the biggest artists in the world. These are the stories that rarely leave the booth.
Austin "Ayo" Owens is one half of the production duo Ayo N Keyz. The Orlando, Florida native has helped produce for Bryson Tiller, Chris Brown, Jaden Smith, and has come to realize that it's best to understand the person before you understand the artist.
“If you want to make great music with people, you have to understand where [they] are in life,” Ayo told REVOLT. “A person like Chris Brown... somebody is [always] trying to figure out how to throw dirt on him. [So,] is he going to want to leave to go to the studio? Probably not.”
In the latest installment of “Studio Sessions,” Ayo explains what NBA star wants his help to start a rap career, Jaden Smith analyzing music in the club and unreleased music he has from Ty Dolla $ign and Jeremih.
How did the records for Jeezy's TM104 come about?
Tuo Clark at Def Jam... called us saying, ‘Yo, I [am the A&R] for Jeezy’s album... I need a crazy R&B joint to have as a single.’ We made this record and he was like, ‘Nah. I want you to flip this Faith Evans record.’ So, we flipped it and he was like, ‘Yo, we’re about to put Queen Naija on it.’ Two weeks later, he sent us the song... He was like, 'Jeezy wants to put this one out [now] and put the other one on the album.' We [had] two days to get everything cleared.
The Cardi B placement 'Bickenhead' happened the same way. They were like, ‘Cardi needs one more record.’ We did the beat on a Sunday and she recorded it on a Tuesday... Her label asked us to send the files to the session because she wanted it to be on the album. That Friday, the album came out. 'Bickenhead' was done In less than seven days.
You worked on Ty Dolla $ign and Jeremih's joint album, Mihty. How did that come about?
Keyz and I went to L.A. with Jeremih. He had a house out there and was like, ‘Pull up to the crib.’ ... We get to his house and Jeremih is laying on the couch getting his hair twisted (laughs). We caught up on life and then he said, ‘Play some stuff.’ I’m sitting in front of these loud speakers, but he’s 20 to 30 feet behind me in the studio... He’ll be like, ‘Put that to the side’ or ‘Pull this one up. I caught a vibe to this one.’
That’s how the initial process started. We have a great relationship with the producer Hitmaka. Basically, he came in and executive produced the whole album. [He came to us] for a lot of stuff. We ended up with four songs on that project... two of them didn’t make it.
So, there are more unreleased songs from those MihTy sessions?
Yeah, they [both] recorded a bunch... We have 15 to 20 unreleased songs. As far as them together, we have two or three unreleased songs. They definitely should make another album together. MihTy got overlooked due to the time it was released. If they would’ve dropped it in the middle of the summer, there would’ve been an open lane.
You also produced on Bryson Tiller’s True to Self album. How did y’all link?
I think we did our first song with Bryson in 2012 or 2013 when my boy paid him to do a hook. Fast forward, ‘Don’t' drops while he was unsigned. I hit my partner Keyz like, ‘Isn’t this the dude that was on our boy’s song?’ He was like, ‘Yeah.’ So, he connected us with Bryson. I tried to sign Bryson. I told him, ‘Don’t ever worry about paying me for production. You’re gifted and I believe in you. Whatever you need, Keyz and I will give it to you.’ That’s when we did ‘Set You Free’... Bryson and Jaden Smith are my favorite artists to work with because they really trust our sound.
What was it like making music with him?
Bryson had this crazy house in Miami. I remember Timbaland pulled up, Vinylz pulled up, Sixth Sense was there and Boi-1da showed up... This [other] time Bryson called me around eight or nine o’clock at night, [saying,] ‘Yo, I just signed this producer from Louisville called Nes just like me. I look in his eyes and I see the hustle I had. Are you down to work with this dude?’ I said, ‘Yeah, when?’ ... I get down there around midnight. We start playing some beats and then Bryson [says,]... ‘Let’s chill, catch a vibe and come back to work.’ [After the club,] we get back and I’m working with Nes who told me he looked up to Keyz and myself.
That’s dope to get that recognition. Working with Bryson seems very personal.
That's what I like about Bryson. You can pull up the session in front of him and he’ll be like, ‘I need the switch up, so after the 808s, I need a guitar right here. I need this part to sound crazy.’ Bryson recorded all of T R A P S O U L off of a laptop in his bedroom... He’ll like a beat and be like, ‘Send that to me right now.’ Then, he’ll go into his room and I don’t think anybody is ever in his sessions. He records himself.
That’s pretty impressive of him. His music makes him seem like a really down to earth person. Do you have any examples of that?
I wake up in the morning and I hear this sound... But, you don’t want to be nosey in someone’s house. So, I... walk out and [see] Bryson doing push ups in the corner. He finished and was like, ‘Yo, you like chicken?’ (Laughs)... 'We about to hit this chicken spot.’ He opened the garage... We’re driving [in his Lambo] ... and I’m wondering, ‘Where’s the security?’ This is after T R A P S O U L. He parks the car ... [and] go inside, order food and sit down. [At this point,] I’m in shock like, ‘This is crazy.’
What’s the most memorable session you’ve been a part of?
As crazy as it sounds, one of the best ones is with this guy named Melvin Ingram, he plays for the [Los Angeles] Chargers. I’m working every week with Aaron Gordon from the Orlando Magic. We’re starting businesses together. He has a passion for music.
Wait, rewind. You’ve worked with Aaron Gordon in the studio making music?
Yeah, that’s my brother... He’s one of those rappers who’s like, ‘I don’t sing,’ but you know he could sing by how good he raps with the melodies. It’s me, him and this dope artist named Moe from Orlando... We started working together at the end of last year. We were in the club and I want to say we were celebrating a Chris Brown release. He told the bottle girl, ‘Tell Ayo to come over here.’
During the playoffs, I told [Gordon] I got my own studio and [he could use it] if he needed it. He asked, ‘What [equipment] do you need at the studio?’ I said, ‘I need these speakers.’ He was like, ‘What speakers? I need some for my house.’ I sent him a link of these Barefoot Sound speakers [that] were $4,000. Two days later, they were at my front door!
Do you record around Aaron’s NBA schedule?
With Gordon, he understands the headache of the work that’s put in the music. So, he’s like, ‘You tell me when I can record.’ I remember he came to the studio last week... He was like, ‘I trained three times today. Whatever I have to do [to get] this music, I want to do it. I love it.’
I get in the studio with [Gordon] and he’s talking about the best way to drop the music, how to structure the songs and all. It’s sad because all of these athletes can have these passions for different things and the public only sees them as just athletes. He was like, ‘Y’all telling me I can’t have a passion for music?’ Athletes know that if they put out a song, there’s going to be criticism. They say, ‘Nah, bro, go work on your defense.’
What sort of songs is Aaron making?
It’s a little bit of everything... Now that he’s comfortable, it’s like, ‘OK, let’s tap in. Let’s make songs on how to spend this money, how to move right, [and] how to live right...’
You produced on Jaden Smith's latest album, ERYS. How did y’all link up?
I look at Jaden as the fusion of Kanye [West] and Pharrell (laughs). He is one of those superhuman kids... It shows what type of person he is when you have someone trying to help the world. The way Jaden and I work is he’ll be like, ‘Yo, I need high festival trap...' He wants it to sound as unpolished and real as possible.
I remember for his 19th birthday... Jaden [looked] at the crowd and asked me, ‘What is it about this song that makes people react how they do...?' I told him, ‘It’s the hi-hats... in your production make the [people] bounce.’
You’ve worked with really popular artists like Chris Brown. He is someone who attracts a lot of media attention. So, how does that affect sessions?
You have to understand that these artists are humans, too. If you want to make great music, you have to understand where those people are in life. A person like Chris Brown, every time he leaves his house, somebody is trying to figure out how to [throw] dirt on him. So, is he going to want to leave to go to the studio? Probably not. On the other hand, you have someone like Bryson who loves his family, loves his daughter and wants to do everything for his daughter... If you want longevity, you have to understand it’s deeper than music with these artists.
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