The Lithosphere: An Interview with Rapper and Singer-Songwriter ILENE
Memphis-based rapper and singer-songwriter ILENE found an outlet in BandLab, an app that combines music making and collaboration tools with social features. ILENE answered our questions over email and our exchange has been edited for flow.
You've been a musician for several years now. How did you get into making music?
I have had music in my head for as long as I can remember. My earliest memory of making music dates back to age 3 or 4.
When I hear people talking on the news, in conversations, or in sounds outside, I hear a song. New melodies or lyrics chase me down every day. I have dreamt of entire scores and song lyrics before, which is why I sleep with a notebook pad and click-pen (so it won’t ruin my sheets). From the syllables of a word or sentence to the pace of my own shoes walking across a hard floor, music is everywhere.
How did you arrive at your current styles of music-making?
The rapping started as a joke in 2014. I heard a weak sounding rap song on the radio and I said “I can do better than that!” Before I knew it, I had created this alter ego who was strong, fierce, sexy, confident, and who already had her sh*t together. I was raised in an extremely strict upbringing, and this rapper was not afraid to talk about taboo things. I looked up to her and she helped me find strength through traumatic experiences. I would make songs for that version of myself when I felt especially low. It lifted me up. I was shocked when it caught on with others.
Now, I usually freestyle a song in the moment and then scramble to write down the lyrics, or give them more structure after getting the general idea out. My music has evolved into a living diary. I don’t stay loyal to one specific genre. I’m able to make a crazy wild rap song one minute and then a demure jazz ballad in the next. I love rock music and making pop songs. I’ve been told as an artist that branding is important and I constantly feel pressured to pick a side. I want to be different.
Which tools, both software and hardware, do you use for recording?
As far as software is concerned, I am in a monogamous relationship with BandLab. I previously used 3 different DAWs (Ableton, Reason, GarageBand) to get what I needed to produce a song. BandLab simplifies it all, and does so exceedingly well. Every song I’ve made in the past three years or so has been made through the platform. I have everything that I need to make a quality record at my fingertips. The fact that I don’t have to spend a fortune to have access to this is astonishing.
Regarding hardware, I currently use a fossilized HP Pavilion. The hard drive is sticking out of it, which dangles by a thread. (Update: the hard drive has fully fell off and is awaiting surgical implantation). I also use a Blue Yeti USB microphone, super cheap JVC earphones, an iPhone XR, and Apple earbuds. I recently acquired a Zoom V3 Vocal Processor and it has worked beautifully on a few live shows. We will see how it records and operates as an interface once I get a newer laptop.
What are your thoughts on the updates that have taken place with BandLab 10.0?
Bandlab 10.0 is by far the greatest update I’ve seen. The new profile layout was a game-changer. My music is now neatly organized and indexed in its own tab both on the mobile page and web version. I can easily update hundreds of unfinished tracks in one place, without getting confused about which version of the song I am editing. The mix editor is even easier to toggle into, and I see where even minute details have been made more intuitive. BandLab takes user feedback seriously and it really removes the learning curve for so many people. Even small and seemingly minor things were addressed, such as the format of in-app replies. BandLab made a great thing even greater.
The mastering tool had a facelift, as well as major updates. The speed is incredible and the efficacy of the algorithms is insane. It still BLOWS my mind that this is a legitimately free service. It brings studio quality, if not better, to the homes of millions of people across the world. I have been to a studio here in Memphis where an engineer of 40+ years, who has recorded with well-known artists (Gucci Mane, Young Dolph, Boosie Badazz), asked me where I recorded my demo. It sounded that good! Frankly, I’ve chosen some BandLab-produced tracks over the “studio versions” after I spent almost $400 in studio time to record. That is so powerful to me, and it says a lot about the quality Bandlab brings to the table.
Which methods and tools do you use to promote your music?
I’ve been building my own website, trying to be alive and present on social media (instead of the floating fish that I’ve been), and using lots of engagement tools. I enter rap competitions when I see them pop up on social media, and for the first time this year, I paid for an ad placement in curated areas. It works! In one week, several A&Rs, creatives, and a tech inventor reached out, and I gained a lot of legitimate fans. I also manage my own SEO and am pretty proud of that!
My music is still very under-the-radar/off-the-grid, so I am also networking with creatives in Memphis. I have done a few short interviews in the past, as well as virtual and live events.
To your knowledge, is there a tool you'd love to use, perhaps for performance, recording, or networking, that doesn't exist yet?
Yes! This is hard to articulate, so please bear with me. An artist friend and I have always wanted to collaborate in real-time. He is in the military and it is hard for us to do songs together. If there was a way to video chat whilst creating vocals, or maybe have an audio call while also in a session together live in real-time, that would be amazing. I'm not sure how realistic that is, given that a lot of phones require full mic access, UNLESS it was done on a computer! That would be game-changing for so many people, especially in these times.
Are there any upcoming projects you'd like to tell listeners about?
YES! Let’s just say get ready for a steady stream of ILENE.
To anyone interested in showing support: please follow me on Spotify and any other platform where you get music to be notified about when I drop, as well as on Instagram. An extensive discography can be found on BandLab, which really showcases my art, versatility, and the magic of the platform. You can follow my journey on all social platforms, including TikTok.
To connect with me directly, visit ilenemusic.com, select contact, and text or email me. I appreciate the love and support!
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The Music Tectonics blog presents The Lithosphere. In this mini-series, the Music Tectonics team connects with the surface layer of the music industry - musicians themselves. We uncover the ways in which creators merge art with technology: which tools they're using for performances, recording, and business - and what they'd love to use that doesn't even exist yet.