Tag Archives: Make Believe Studios

Roots Down

September 5, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Ask Keith Rodger where he got his sharp musical tastes and his answer will be simple—from his mother. The 28-year-old Omaha musician, recording engineer, and co-owner of Make Believe Recordings grew up with an eclectic range of influences, which truly shaped his preferences.

“My mother always had a solid taste in music,” Rodger explains. “She gave birth to me as a teenager and I think that had a huge difference on what I was exposed to compared to other kids my age. She was never a musician, but always had an ear for interesting music. She introduced me to the reality of Prince’s lyrics, the anger of Prodigy’s sound, and the essence of Bjork’s personality. There were few limits in our household.”

He also credits his older brother, Alan, with inspiring him to pursue music despite the fact they grew up in separate households.

“When he visited with a guitar and amp one day is when I really wanted to become a musician,” he recalls. “He also introduced me to computer software that was used to make beats, which was what really changed my life forever.”

As he stumbled through various phases of what he refers to as “extreme attachment” to a bevy of different musical genres, he quickly realized there was an infinite amount of exploring to do. He tasked himself with learning the history and adapting to the culture as a young, inquisitive student.

Rodger eventually met Motor City native Rick Carson, another aspiring entrepreneur who was obsessed with music and had recently completed a course in recording/audio engineering at Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida. The two would establish Make Believe Records and Make Believe Studios in 2012.

“I met Rick in a dusty basement when I was in a band called Lightning Bug while recording our first record,” he says. “I really enjoyed his vision for the music industry and Omaha. What he was trying to build aligned with what I was interested in pursuing as a career. We came from completely different backgrounds and share very different interests in music, but our goals and views are very similar.”

Make Believe Records has been steadily working its way into the publishing realm. The masterminds behind the label have hit a point where their catalog is ready to be launched into the musical stratosphere. With artists like rapper Conny Franko, hip-hop duo BOTH, and soul group Sam Ayer & The Lover Affair—as well as Rodger himself—on the roster, there are several full-length projects on the horizon.

Similarly, Make Believe Studios is buzzing. Carson recently engineered Grammy Award-nominated artist Terrace Martin’s 2016 album Velvet Portraits, and recently mixed and mastered Danny Worsnop’s 2017 effort The Long Road Home. There’s a sense of exciting things coming together behind the scenes.

“We are busy, busy, busy,” he says. “We have some projects coming through this year that I never would’ve imagined getting the opportunity to experience.”

For now, Rodger, Carson, and Tristan Costanzo are hard at work on one of their latest endeavors, the Kismet production team, which recently scored a documentary series for boxing promotions company Top Rank about boxer Terence Crawford and his team at B&B Boxing Academy. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

“I’ve also been working on an EP and film titled Evoleno,” he says. “This has been a project years in the making. It took me several attempts to try to lock in a concept that was worth pursuing to become my first release. Over time, I got the opportunity to work with a wide variety of musicians that helped me shape my ideas into the concept it has become.”

“I also recently locked in a very small crew for this film to keep our ideas consistent and confident without our own bubble,” he adds. “I tapped Miguel Cedillo to direct and Maria Corpuz as one of our main characters. These people believe in the project as much as I do, and I believe we will make something that challenges everything we know about making a film that is timeless.”

Rodger has undoubtedly blossomed into a key player in Omaha’s consistently evolving music and art scenes. From touring with The Faint as a stage technician and DJing for Omaha Fashion Week to writing music and co-helming the Make Believe Records empire, his tireless work ethic parallels that of any successful artist or entrepreneur. However, he always sees room for improvement.

“I think it’s growing into a scene that is more diverse sonically,” he says. “I’ve noticed there are more younger people embracing new types of popular music, and putting down guitars and picking up synthesizers. My inbox is usually filled with musicians asking me about sound design and I find it exciting and refreshing.

“I truly wish there were more women creating electronic music,” he continues. “I always try to encourage parents to allow their daughters to learn how to program and edit in a DAW (digital audio workstation). Fair balance between genders, race, and cultures helps create better ideas within communities.”

The ambitious Rodger finds surrounding himself with creative individuals, staying focused on his goals, adopting routines that exercise his mental and physical health, and teaching others is the way to reach his ultimate nirvana. He’s ready to put in whatever amount of work it takes.

“Omaha still has a long way to go as far as musicians’ and DJs’ careers being taken seriously by people outside of the music industry,” he says. “We plant seeds and starve during their growth, but when they bloom, we will have a garden to feed families. Music is about to change very drastically for consumers and creators. I’m very excited about the future and want to be a part of it when it happens.”

Visit soundcloud.com/kethro to hear some of Rodger’s music.

This article was printed in the September/October 2017 edition of Encounter Magazine.

Keith Rodger

BOTH

June 8, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Self-deprecating rappers impress at SXSW.

Omaha artists tend to violate stereotypes by being sincere, humble, and approachable. We don’t coast and we don’t mistake braggadocio for talent. But if local artists should be bragged about, try BOTH. BOTH are Make Believe Studios hip-hop recording artists Scky Rei aka Skylar Marcell Reed, and INFNTLP aka Nate Asad.

In the last two years, the rappers and OEAA Album and Artist of the Year winners have been shaking the clubs, MAHA, and SXSW. The duo from “North of Downtown,” is fond of lyrics like “Here I go…lost my soul a long, long, time ago…music is the only thing, left up in my soul,” featured on their song
Drug Abuse.

Gigs at the Nebraska Exposed showcase and a Front Gate Tickets private party worked out well.

“The experience was surreal. SXSW was a great time, playing in front of a new audience,” says MC/rapper/singer/songwriter/videographer Scky Rei. Scky Rei raps about life in the Big O and “provides a sonic connection to everyone in the same world at the same moment.”

“We’re just expressing social experiences through weird ways of explaining everyday life,” says Scky Rei. “We didn’t play in front of thousands like I thought, but watching people coming from the street to fill the upstairs of Cheers Shot Bar made me feel like we’re doing something right. Just being surrounded by creativity and people that love the same thing you do gave me a breath of fresh air.”

“Everyone was someone, somewhere, and that was cool to be a part of,“ says DJ/backup singer/producer/pianist/Dragon Ball Z enthusiast INFNTLP, who paints SXSW as “the Internet on wheels.”

left: Scky Rei (“Sky Ray”), right: INFNTLP (“Infinite Loop”)

left: Scky Rei (“Sky Ray”), right: INFNTLP (“Infinite Loop”)

Working on new music full time is BOTH’S goal for this year if manager John Schmidt hits his mark. Schmidt was a fan who met Scky Rei in a coffee shop last spring and offered to help out.

“We’ve accomplished a lot in the past year,” says Schmidt, who also represents psych rockers JAGAJA. “SXSW was a great experience. Staying relevant is a grind even for superstars, so we will continue to put in the work. As long as these guys are in front of a crowd, they will succeed.”

Don’t just take BOTH’s word for it.

Michelle Troxclair, director of Nebraska Writer’s Collective, says she finds BOTH “a transformational group of musicians.”

“BOTH has been able to reflect all that is part of the cultural art form that is African American oral tradition,” says Troxclair, whose Verbal Gumbo can be said to do the same.

“The great thing about BOTH is that they are the anti-rap group. Nothing is stereotypical about them at all,” says Dominique Morgan, fellow OEA Award winning R&B singer and activist. “Scky Rei shoots all the videos, makes their posters. INFNTLP will go from deep club beats to playing classical piano in a set. It was only right they won Album and Artist of the Year.”

For now, BOTH will be pushing the EP  “BOTHSUCKS,” releasing videos, writing and increasing the love.

“Most of our fans came out to past shows bringing new people into our world. It’s awesome,” says INFNTLP.

“I don’t see fans, only extended family,” says Scky Rei. “Money is nice, but at the end, we do this for the love.”

Visit bothsucks.com to learn more.

Both1

In the Land of Make Believe

March 24, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Somewhere on the fringes of Downtown Omaha, behind a retractable gate that only evokes dystopian fantasies, in an industrial complex turned swanky domicile turned half-built musical fortress, sits Rick Carson, deliberately strumming a Telecaster through a low-humming Marshall JCM800 amplifier.

The studio engineer and brain behind Make Believe Studios looks on through a psychotropic haze as an assembly of bustling bodies prepares the surrounding space for its spring launch.

With each nail they hammer, the realm that Carson, 26, says he dreamt up over a decade ago, when he first became fascinated with recording, becomes more apparent and more available to do his bidding.

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“Anything you’ve ever thought of or wanted as far as being a musician, it’s here,” Carson says matter-of-factly. “Whether it’s direction or some stomp box you saw Jimi Hendrix use in a video in the ‘60s—any of those little things that you think can take your music and art to the next level, we’re going to help you with that.”

Though slightly unproven, save for within the ranks of an esoteric guild of gearheads and sonic wizards, Carson has been getting noticed as of late for his broad catalogue of work and polished curation of musical machinery. In fact, his soon-to-be world-class studio recently became the newest entrant into the Miloco group, an international conglomeration of studios that has a client list including U2, Kanye West, and Coldplay.

“Ever see this before?” studio manager Justin Valentine cuts in while exhibiting the faceplate of some PWM compressor. “We think they sent it to us by accident.”

“Since it’s here, let’s build one,” replies Carson decisively. “Tell him to buy the circuit board and parts—I would like one.”

Carson says he came to Omaha six years ago on sheer market research. Before then, he worked in studios in Prague and Chicago. And even further back, the Michigan native says he was, at the time, the youngest student ever to attend Full Sail University, an audio-engineering school located in Orange County, Fla.

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“If anybody wants to know the sad truth about Rick Carson,” he reflects dryly, “I left high school my sophomore year and got into college on nothing but a GED for Dummies book, and I didn’t even take the GED or read the book.”

In fact, Carson says he earned his bachelor’s degree before his high school diploma on a technicality. But that’s just where his unconventional nature begins. For instance, Carson doesn’t drive. Instead, he has a former taxi driver, Dan the Cabman, on retainer. Carson doesn’t believe in money, either. He says it changes too dramatically and therefore he refuses to save it.

“I have less than one thousand dollars in the bank and a lot of gear,” he says.

The educated and outspoken Carson, who also isn’t shy about criticizing the local music community for what he calls its nepotistic tendencies, says he hopes Make Believe Studios will foster a culture of musicians who’ll put their product, or music, first.

“Our hope is that Omaha becomes more enriched,” he says. “That more people will get to hear Omaha music.”

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The Hip Hop Transformer

November 18, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A man wearing a backpack walks up to the stage where a DJ sets up a turntable. He sets his backpack down, takes a swig from his water bottle, and checks the microphone once, twice, three times. When the lights dim, he is no longer “the guy with the backpack” to the audience. He is Marcey Yates (Op2mus).

Yates, 28, was born and attended school in Omaha. He studied at University of Nebraska-Omaha for four years but found himself often escaping class to make music. “I tried the music program at UNO, but it wasn’t as advanced in mixing and recording music.” So he headed to Arizona, where he attended the Conservatory of Recording Arts & Sciences for two years. There, Yates learned studio engineering, sound production, recording, and more. But when he finished, he realized his true passion was making music, not just producing it.

That’s why he returned to the Omaha music scene in 2011. Compared to the music on the West Coast, Yates saw progression in Omaha, and that was a huge draw. “I would rather be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond,” he says. “I wanted to bring something to the table and represent hip hop here.”

Yates started performing under the stage name “Op2mus” when he was in college. The name, he says, came from one of his three kids. “My son likes to play Transformers. So we’d be playing, and he’d call me Optimus [Prime].” The name just seemed to fit since Yates longed to transform hip hop music.

Over the last few years, however, he’s been trying to wean himself off the moniker. That’s when he adopted the name “Marcey Yates,” which, by the way, is not his real name. If you try to ask him what his real name is, he’ll just smile and shake his head. “I wanna brand myself as Marcey Yates. That’s how people know me.”

The backpack, on the other hand, has remained his thing. He wears it everywhere. He even wore it when he performed on KMTV’s “The Morning Blend.” In it, he carries whatever he needs—laptop, notes, music. But above all, the backpack reflects his transformative journey as a student of life, he says.

“He’s out there, he’s talking to people, he’s working. That’s what’s really special about Marcey Yates. He understands that, to get it, it takes work, not the easy decisions with the hard consequences.” —Rick Carson

It’s that journey that permeates his latest album, The MisEducated Scholar, according to Theardis Jay. “It’s about his story through school, through going to Arizona, through it all.” The graphic designer has seen a good deal of Yates’ story, helping to brand his albums since 2009. “I try to just help him any way I can. I remember I went over to his apartment for the first time, and I saw his studio in his basement that he put together himself. No one taught him that or showed him that.”

Today, Yates produces, writes, and performs hip hop. His most recent work includes writing and producing The MisEducated Scholar, and producing the hip hop album Eat, Drink & Be Merry for Blk Diamond out of California. Currently, he’s working on producing several new records for other artists and writing new songs for upcoming albums of his own.

“I don’t write songs for other [artists],” he explains. “Sometimes, I’ll ghostwrite if I’m in a studio session and an artist needs help. Otherwise, I write for myself.”

Listening to Yates’ music, you can hear various hip hop and rap influences. Kanye West is one that comes to mind. But Yates has taken those influences and breathed some fresh air into them. And “fresh” is exactly how he describes his music. “The genre’s so muddy,” he explains. “I feel like hip hop has been saturated with a certain sound. So when I write, I write against it.”

“Vinyl hip hop that’s smooth and soulful” is what Yates wants his music to sound like. The track “Soda N Cream” off of The MisEducated Scholar is the perfect example of this sound, as Yates raps over a doo-wop mix in the background.

Even more interesting is that he wants to get away from the whole “gangster” feel of the genre. “I wanna use the platform for something good. If you’re speaking in this outlet, don’t waste it with feeding listeners garbage. Feed them positive things that make them think, you know?”

“The thing about Marcey Yates is he’s one of the only people out there making real hip hop but also party music.” Rick Carson, owner of Make Believe Studios, pauses before going into detail about the artist whose records he mixes. “A lot of people get into hip hop to just talk [crap] on each other. I’ve never seen that from him.”

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Yates respects rappers who don’t need to cuss to sell records. “If you do it, it’s gotta have meaning. Don’t just do it to do it. Like I only have four songs where I cuss, and I dropped a full-length record with 19 tracks. You gotta step up your game by stepping up the substance.”

“He grinds,” Carson emphasizes. “He’s out there, he’s talking to people, he’s working. That’s what’s really special about Marcey Yates. He understands that, to get it, it takes work, not the easy decisions with the hard consequences.”

You can find Yates performing all over Omaha. Barley Street Tavern in Benson, The Slowdown in NoDo, and House of Loom in the Old Market are some of his frequent stages. He has done a few showcases and business openings as well. Lately, he’s performed with bands instead of other hip hop artists, which he says he likes because he can introduce his music to a completely different crowd. “I’m just trying to market myself a lot,” he says.

“He put together a plan, and he’s stuck with it,” Jay adds. “There’s a system to it. It’s an exciting time to see what happens when you work so hard.”

A tour in the Midwest is Yates’ five-year goal. A Grammy® is the big game for him though. “I want this. I’m not just doing music to say I’m doing it.”

 

Find Marcey Yates’ music at op2mus.bandcamp.com or on YouTube by searching “Marcey Yates Op2mus.” Follow him on Twitter @op2mus or find him on Facebook.