Phil Moffa is a DJ, producer, and beat maker in the group Vinyl Life, whose debut album of electro hip-hop offers you everything you have been missing in music today. Owner of the Tape Theory record label Phil also teaches at The Conservatory of Music at SUNY Purchase College and is a regular contributor for DJ Times and Club World Magazine. We at The Career Cookbook were lucky to get the opportunity to speak with someone who loves what he does, shares his knowledge with others, and has become an ambassador for analog music. Phil, also known as Butcha, is the type of person who will inspire you to get out and play synthesizers, and reminds you that if you love music, you can find many paths to connect yourself to it.
CCB: When did you start collecting records?
PM: I’ve been spinning and collecting records since like ’97 when I was 18 years old.
CCB: How many records do you think you have?
PM: I don’t know. Three or four thousand.
CCB: Your group is called Vinyl Life. Why is vinyl so important to you?
PM: I love the way it sounds primarily. Also the roots of it, I grew up spinning records and I appreciate that medium more than any other. I appreciate certain things about CD or digital DJing where you can add things at any time or you can make some thing and have it ready to play that night but from a sounds perspective and a fun perspective I prefer to spin vinyl when I DJ. That’s not to say that I don’t play exclusive stuff on CD when I can’t get it or at private functions where I need nine million songs in four hours. It’s just a part of our history as DJs, we grew up doing it. It’s worked so well for so long so why change it.
CCB: When you came up with the name for the group was that to try and encompass all the things you just mentioned?
PM: We came up with the name for the group in 2005. We were hanging out at PS1 in Queens at a house party. I was hanging out with Phaze my vocalist who I had been working with for a long time, but as his engineer and stuff. I was like, “Why don’t we make a joint together that is house music with you rhyming on top of it?” I always thought he was the greatest MC and I had worked with him so many times but there was no way for me to incorporate him in to my world. My keyboard player and I have been working together for a long time too. Even as far back as 98’, 99’. All three of us went to music school together, SUNY Purchase at Westchester at the Music Conservatory there. So me and Rich (keyboard player) were working together on the level of I would engineer and he would assist me or I would produce stuff and he would play keys. He got to working with me when I was producing house music as my keyboard player.
We all made a single and it was still going to come out on vinyl although in 2005 vinyl was on its way out in terms of what labels were pressing. So we were like, “What are we going to call this group?” and I wanted something that said we were still putting out vinyl out in ’05 and we were keeping vinyl alive. Vinyl Life. And I think it’s also about lifestyle. Being DJs, growing up in clubs. Metaphorically I think it represents that we still use analog mediums in the studio. We have that hardware policy where we use all real synth and real samplers. To say something is vinyl or to say something is analog means the same thing in terms of our production. We use drum machines on stage and it’s still the same aesthetic, the same mentality of keeping it old school and not going the laptop route.
CCB: How did you learn how to use all the equipment? The synths, the samplers, and the mpc? I read somewhere that you said the mpc is like the brain.
PM: Just spending a lot of time with that stuff. It requires self education. Also reading the manuals, going online a little bit, and working with other people. Hip-hop producer friends of mine have always been using the mpc. The first beats I made were with the mpc. I always thought it wasn’t something you could make a nine minute house song on. I always thought it was for making four bar loops. I never really saw the potential in making a full song on it. Then I was collaborating with hip-hop producers and I saw the light. I realized it was the perfect way to produce music in the studio and then just take that same piece of equipment with the same patterns on it and bring it right to the stage. As a sampler it also enables me to leave some of my more precious stuff at home. I can’t bring an 808, a 909. Those things are like old ladies, they are fragile. (Laughs) So I can sample into the mpc from the studio quality joints and still be using only hardware on the stage.
CCB: Do you have any advice for people on where to get this equipment? I know you’ve been collecting it for awhile. It must have taken time.
PM: The two most obvious places I can think about on the Internet are craigslist.org and ebay.com Craigslist if you are dedicated to doing it and every day you type in and do a search for whatever it is you are looking for, you just search for analog synth or drum machine every day. I bought a couple things that way. And ebay is great too. Everything is for sale at one time or another so you just have to be persistent. Those are two great Internet resources for sure. Some of these bigger music chain stores have used stuff for sale too. I’ve done that from time to time also.
CCB: When you collaborate with your group to make music how does that work?
PM: There’s two different things that normally happen however everything is up in the air with us because whatever it takes to get the job done we do. There are so many processes and remixes and taking stuff we have already done and going over it again it’s kind of tough to nail down. But from the beginning of the process its usually I make a beat and bass line and bring it to those guys and see what their input is or the song takes on a life of its own. Or there are times when we are rehearsing with material that we are already familiar with and then we will be done rehearsing and tightening the show so we just jam out and see what happens. A couple of jams have turned in to album cuts that way. The song “Innovation” came to life because we were done rehearsing. I just made a beat on the spot, a 303 line on the spot and Rich started playing the bass line. Phaze wrote the lyrics right then and there and that became a song. Even though we are very heavy in the studio we jam and the jams turn in to tracks.
CCB: Can you talk about Tape Theory, your record label? How did you go about setting that up?
PM: The first thing I did was to incorporate and become an LLC (Limited Liability Company). I started Butcha Sound, LLC. There’s different ways to become a company in the government’s eyes for tax reasons. So you can become a corporation, like an S Corp, which major corporations become or you can become a Limited Liability Company. This is a very popular thing in modern times because basically it’s very flexible and you can write up agreements any way you want and you can have as many partners as you want. You can draft it with less laws and less rules and it’s easier on the taxes. The purpose of setting up a company of any kind is to protect yourself and your personal assets from lawsuits and damages. By starting a company you are basically protecting yourself in case you get sued and people can’t come after the things that you own. If you get sued and there is no money in the company’s bank account they can’t go after your personal bank account. If you want to go full legit with it that’s a good way to go about it.
Another thing I did was trademark the names Vinyl Life and Tape Theory. That’s something I recommend to any artist that wants to own their band name and wants to protect their band name from being taken by somebody else. And also for the record label name nobody can do business and sell music as Tape Theory in the United States because I have the trademark on that. In terms of getting the record pressed that was its own endeavor.
Getting online distribution, getting it on itunes, Beatport, stores like that. That’s another thing you have to do. For itunes, Rhapsody, Napster, all the majors, amazon, all the mainstream download sites I used Tune Core. Tunecore.com. Tunecore is one of many forward modern thinking Web sites that for a very low fee enables you to get your music in to stores like itunes globally. So you pay a flat rate for the album and you pay a dollar per store. So for around $35-$40 you can have your music available on every itunes store worldwide and all the other ones I just mentioned. Then for the more DJ friendly Web sites like Beatport, Juno Download in the U.K. and more recently Zero Inch in Germany. Then stuff that sells high quality 320 or WAV files for DJs you kind of have to like audition in a sense where you send them information about your label and your artists and your business plan and they decide whether they are going to allow you to sell your content in their stores.
(Editor’s note: Phil goes on to discuss how to get one’s record in to record stores. He stresses the importance of putting together a professional looking package including artwork for a CD or vinyl release. Also include a one sheet, one piece of paper, which works as a press release for the album. It should have a description of the music, the artist, and any press or quotes from newspapers, publications, DJs etc. The one sheet helps put the music in context. Remember when approaching record store buyer stay positive and be patient. It can be a long and trying process.)
CCB: How did you come up with the name Tape Theory? Is there any significance to that name?
PM: Again it’s a preservation of the analog medium. It’s about analog tapes, cassette, it’s about culture. I thought it sounded pretty slick, too. (Laughs)
CCB: I was curious what you would call your music. The Village Voice called it ”electro.” Do you consider it electro?
PM: My interpretation changes from time to time. I don’t consider it new electro like they are calling it. I consider it old school electro for sure. Like I think of Bambaataa, those guys are a huge influence of ours and that is pretty obvious. I would say electro hip-hop for some people, but hip house is a way of describing it. There was a time in the 90’s when people were making straight up house music with people rapping really fast over it in Detroit, Chicago, and even New York. There was even Latin hip house.
CCB: What is your role as a writer for DJ Times and as an artist in residence with Indaba?
PM: I’ll go through them one at a time. At DJ Times I do gear product reviews. So manufacturers will send me a piece of equipment and I will play with it, give a review on it. Talk about the specifications and how it will pertain to the studio. I mostly do a column called Making Tracks. Making Tracks is a producer column. I review synthesizers and that kind of stuff. DJ mixers and things like that.
Indaba Music is a Web site that does online collaborations. We have musicians all over the world who contribute to each others songs and productions. It’s a community. People have profiles, their music on there. And people talk about their music. You can say to someone, “You live in Australia? You play bongos, why don’t you jam on this track?” People do it, it’s incredible. It’s so forward thinking. It’s so modern. It’s so global. It’s such a great use of technology and a great way for people to spread music all over the world together. It’s kind of unprecedented. It’s free…
They recently began a new program called Artist in Residence and they asked me to be their first Artist in Residence. They want me to post tutorials on there, make blog posts on there, and keep my content flowing so that people see that its active and you have a dialogue with them. Then eventually we’ll find out a way to have a remix contest with that. So for the first three months I posted a few tutorials about sampling and sound design. I eventually posted a remix contest for a Vinyl Life track…. (This contest has since closed.) The winner is going to have a release on Tape Theory where they get half of the money that the track brings in. The winner gets an official release. I think that’s a great way to help people who just don’t know how to get their music out there or how to get a professional release and get on Beatport.
CCB: I read that you have been teaching a class for the last six years at SUNY Purchase.
PM: Yeah, it’s called Production Masterclass. Basically, I am in the lab with three kids at a time and every class is different. They meet with us and we talk about what it is that we are going to do this semester. A lot of kids that sign up for me know that it is going to be electronic music production or hardware. That I am going to bring in the 808 for them to play with. That kind of thing. So kids that are DJs want to sign up with me. Some people its engineering, some people its hardcore Pro-Tools mixing. Some people its way experimental. We get together and just jam out using electronic instruments that we build from scratch with soldering irons. We just do some really far out stuff and jam. There is no set curriculum. It’s basically they sit down with me and we create something in the studio. I’ve made albums with kids over the course of a year before and it’s an amazing experience. Teaching is where it’s at for sure.
CCB: Can you talk about your live show? You try to have a video element and light show. What are the keys to a good show?
PM: I think the most important thing is that you are sincerely having fun and that you are giving that energy to the people who are experiencing it as well. I think that comes first. If you are either faking it or not having fun the party is going no where. In terms of the production value sonically I want it to be of a high quality. I want it to be produced really well and mixed really well. In terms of the visuals we are always trying different stuff. We have some lights that we bring and we have a video guy named Motif Pictures and he prepares clips and he uses the camera and he does video mixing from somewhere in the crowd. We like the content to be relevant. Not to have fancy pictures just for the sake of it.
CCB: Why do they call you Butcha?
PM: That’s just a name I came up when I started spinning in college. When we were kids we all were MCs and we all DJd. I didn’t take DJing really serious until I got to college and had a radio show. Somebody said, “Oh, you DJ on the radio why don’t you do a party? Bring your friends and I’ll pay you.” That was my first gig. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I played all 90’s hip-hop. It was a great time. From there that was my radio name and I used it on the flyer. It was something that was kind of humorous and it stuck.
CCB: Do you have any advice for people who want to pursue a music career as far as how to sustain themselves financially? Is it important to be involved in many different things?
PM: I’m going to give a piece of advice from my friend Mantis who is actually one of the co-owners and founders at Indaba Music. He’s a music industry veteran and an engineer and a producer and a bass player and he does a million things also. Now he got involved with Indaba. He told me that what you are doing is right because having your hand in many different pies when the industry changes you will always be able to do something else. There will be a time when producing is really hot and you need to be a producer and that’s great. But maybe producing will be cold for awhile and being a session player will come back in to fashion. If you know how to do that then you get paid then. I think it’s about being well rounded and flexible and being ready for any change in the industry or any change in your life that you can adapt to it and then figure out a way to keep your career going.
In terms of being involved in different projects as a producer or an artist you never know what’s going to hit or what’s going to stick. Putting out as much stuff out there as you can, officially publishing it is a great thing because you never know when that music will come knocking on your door with a check. My piano teacher, Charles Blenzig, whenever I chill with him he’s like, “You’ll never believe that this song I wrote like fifteen years ago… I just got a check for ten grand. It ended up on a CD, somebody did a cover of it.” By putting stuff out there legitimately into the world you hope that something comes to light from it.
CCB: What is the most difficult part of your job?
PM: Sometimes it’s hard to figure out where to focus your energy when you are involved in so many different things and you are spread pretty thin. Trying to figure out the best way of how to spend my time. For me its not like money is the answer to the question but we have to do what we have to do to stay alive. What can we do to take Vinyl Life to the next level? To get this next track produced, mixed, mastered and ready for release. Scheduling your time can be difficult. Time is precious and you don’t want to waste it doing things that aren’t going to help you in the future.
CCB: Where do you see your career headed?
PM: I see myself teaching in the long term. In the short term I hope to go tour all around the world with Vinyl Life and get that out of my system and enjoy that and experience that. As I become older I am sure I will always be teaching and I would like to be an artist for galleries putting together huge installations (music related) and things like that.
*Keep up with Phil and Vinyl Life on the following sites: