Once a funk legend in his own right, Alexander says it was the styling of his idol, Isaac Hayes, that inspired his passion for music at an early age. And he credits Maurice Star, for whom he played keyboard, with having helped him launch his career—and his unique stage name.
Even though he started out as a stage musician, Alexander’s foray into the world of audio engineering began like any other—working toward a music degree, interning in a studio for next to no pay, and learning the skills inside and out. It’s this bottom-up approach that has helped him become the talented music producer and audio engineer that he is today.
“The role of the engineer is to provide transparency,” he says. “What makes me unique is that I’m looking for the most transparent engineering process possible. And I’m relying on my ability as a music producer, more so than as an engineer, to be able to extract the song from what’s in front of me. You’ve got to take the time. You have to understand how audio comes together. You don’t necessarily have to go to school to study it, you can figure it out on your own, but you’ve got to put in the 10,000 hours to figure it out.”
Unlike when Alexander first started engineering for the likes of Puff Daddy, Notorious B.I.G. and Mary J. Blige, there are less skillful approaches being taken with production today. “The success of non-professional techniques—people in their bedrooms, doing whatever they do—it’s got nothing to do with how we actually make records,” Alexander explains. “But then it comes out and it’s a successful musical experience for the fans. As a producer, I’m listening to it thinking, ‘why did it connect?’ and ‘is there something I need to learn from that in order to connect?’” For Alexander, it’s not just the style of music that has changed dramatically.
As a professor of production and engineering at Berklee College of Music, Alexander regularly encounters the industry’s next great talent, so he might just have the person who will develop that concept working in his studio right now. In the meantime, he’ll keep working to teach them the best way to be a producer.
“I tell them to listen to good music (or music that interests them), then try to create that music, then try to mix that music, then try to put that music out into the marketplace; that’s the only way to find out whether what you’re doing is going to advance you in life or not,” he says. “The creativity of my students and the shape of the sound has been morphing and doing a lot of strange things. And I can see that in 15 years’ time, I’ll turn on the radio and I won’t understand anything. And that’ll be a good thing because that’s what every generation is supposed to do—change the future of music.”