Next Generation Spotlight: Rookes

Audio Media International, in association with Genelec, is delighted to present our latest Next Generation Spotlight. Today, we hear from multi-talented producer, artist and 2% Rising co-founder Rookes, who talks career origins, ambitions for the future and the challenges facing emerging industry talent… 

What is your name and what do you do?
My name is Rookes and I am a music producer. 

What inspired you to get into studio work?
It was a very natural evolution. I had been working under Rookes as a solo-artist name for about five years, and had co-produced my two EPs under that moniker. I always developed my demos pretty extensively before taking them to studio for and had also started dabbling in remixing. Turns out that developing tracks for release was the most absorbing and exhilarating part of the whole process for me, and I’m always motivated to go where the joy is. 

Tell us about your route into the industry?
In the beginning, it was pure DIY. Twelve years ago, none of the musicians I knew who knew how to use DAWs would give me the time of day. This was before YouTube tutorials were really a thing, so – undeterred – I bought a MacBook and dived into Garageband. Five years later, and Ben Parker and Jimmy Sims (of Warner/Chappell) who first took an interest in me and offered to work with me as a team of three co-producers. They were very respectful of how much development and depth I had put into the recordings I brought to them, which I had never experienced before. They invited me into their studio and I basically learned from them how to put a record together. It was an incredible foundational experience. 

Tell us about some of the key projects you’ve worked on over the past 12 months?
Rookes has very much become a multi-faceted brand during the past year. I independently planned, financed and launched the release campaign for my sophomore EP, Liminal. I kicked off a brand new weekly YouTube ‘demo-doc’ about the production of pop music called #popnotpop, via which I won the Music Producers Guild scholarship to study at ICMP for a year. I released remixes for budding pop powerhouses Party Fears and CRISP&CLASSY and I joined forces with my mastering engineer Katie Tavini to co-found the women and non-binary studio talent network 2% RISING, which just topped 300 members. 

What is your approach to work in the studio?
One thing I relish about coming to music production from a DIY route is that I have a very organic and instinctive approach to developing a record. I have no formula for beginning, I just start with the materials that are brought to me – whether lyrics, melody, beat, riff or a full demo, and lead with whatever stands out to me first. I have come to believe that your first instinct is usually the best one – even if you don’t end up using the result. It helps you plant a flag in the stand, something to navigate from. I very much feel my way through the construction of the record, track by track, stem by stem. This is also helped by my synaesthesia, which has audio/ visual – and sometimes tactile – synaptic crossover. Creating a track is like filling a frame with colours and shapes, and the track feels complete when the visual composition looks balanced. 

Who/what have been some of your biggest influences in your career to date?
My influences as a producer, just like my influences as a musician, are always going to be diverse. It’s really individual records, sometimes even just tracks, that impact me. To this day, I still love what Dave Stewart did with Alisha’s Attic on Alisha Rules The World – every song sounds different, but they sit together as a perfectly cohesive journey. I aspire to create something similar in every record I make. Everything he did with the Eurhythmics is iconic. 

I also love Visconti and Eno’s work on Bowie’s Heroes. We used Oblique Strategies a bunch when making Liminal. I also love Ewan Pearson’s work on Dephic’s Acolyte and, more recently, what Joseph Mount did with Jessie Ware’s Adore You. Actually, James Ford’s work on What’s Your Pleasure? was brilliant – that’s been my favourite record of 2020 so far. 

What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in the industry?
I often say that this is the least professional industry I’ve ever worked in, but I’ve tried other jobs and this is the only one that makes me happy. There is a tremendous amount of prejudice in this industry, as a woman and an LGBTQ identified person, I have felt it often. It never ceases to be both boring and infuriating. There is a scarcity mindset that’s prevalent and this fuels workaholism and insecurity, as well as the prejudices that I mentioned, which in turn causes bullying and punching down. My wider experience is that people don’t want to believe that I am a producer because I’m a woman, and that’s made it harder to connect with other producers and get access to opportunities. Katie Tavini and I discussed this often and this is one of the reasons why 2% RISING came into existence.

What projects do you have coming up?
I’m now working on completing the production for the #popnotpop album, thanks to being awarded the Help Musicians Do It Differently grant. I’m really proud of #popnotpop as a project that gives people – at all levels of understanding and interest – access to how a record is produced; with some entertainment thrown in for good measure.  I’m really looking forward to finishing up and enjoying the final product of #popnotpop – the record itself – and planning its promotion and release. I’m also working on three production and co-writing projects with other artists, but I’m not quite allowed to share details yet.