From the Newsstands: This story appeared in The Eagle’s November 2022 print edition. You can find the digital version here.
Potter Clark, a former American University music grant recipient and College of Arts and Sciences 2022 graduate, spent his summer celebrating the release of his first beat tape and second album “Tremors” for his 22nd birthday.
“It’s a long road from where I started to making electronic music and doing production,” Clark said. Clark began playing the fiddle and mandolin, learning bluegrass and folk music and studying classical violin throughout middle and high school. It was this path that inspired his first album “If a Tree Falls & No One is Around,” a collec- tion of contemporary classical pieces featuring a number of AU musicians.
Even while studying classical and folk music in school, Clark quickly developed an interest in hip-hop and rap.
“It was in high school that I really got into rap,” Clark said. “One, because of the beat production and the excellent lyricism, of course, but also the physical timbre of the rapper’s voices and the way that they manipulate it both to fit a rhythm and to fit a flow. I was fascinated by that.”
Clark cites the U.K. grime and drill scenes as his main influences for the beats across “Tremors.”
“U.K. grime and drill are a lot more intense and rooted in that EDM sound; intense bass, intense drums, and I really, really dig that.”
That dark and moody production is present across the entire album, from the gritty beat of “untrustworthy” to the thundering bass of “kickback.” He started making beats like many other young producers: with a laptop and a passion, using easily accessible audio software and the wealth of knowledge in the AU community and online to hone his craft.
“I was making the most terrible sounding trap drums,” Clark said. “But as I got into the AU music program and especially as I was working with people, I learned how to manipulate sound and get nice layering. I just kept listening and started messing around with my own sound and seeing where that would take me.”
In his free time, Clark took the project into his own hands, learning through “a lot of trial and error, a decent amount of YouTube videos.”
With the accessibility of computers and audio technology, audio production has quickly become its own cottage industry, with producers like Clark creating and mixing beats all from their bedrooms.
“It was a really different project for me because I’m used to working with live instruments,” Clark said. “I had a lot less control over my classical pieces because I just gave the music to a performer, so the biggest unknown was whether the music would actually sound how I wanted to. With this, I had no excuse for it to sound anything other than exactly how I wanted because it’s all on the screen in front of me. I’m doing all the routing, all of the tracks are controlled by me, and if it doesn’t sound how I want, it’s something I did.”
After years of practice and months of composing and mixing beats, “Tremors” was a labor of love for Clark. Audio production is an industry filled with detail-oriented, time-consuming work, including hours of adjusting instruments and frequencies by fractions of a decibel and programming digital instruments to match a specific sound.
“For ‘haze,’ I designed this flute just through a synth and I programmed in all the tiny little ornaments and everything,” Clark said. “I was trying to go for something that would sound sort of like a folk flute from Ireland. That was a good three hours of programming, just making the one melody for four bars.”
Although beats are often treated as set dressing for a rapper or vocalist, Clark took on the unique chal- lenge of making each track able to stand on its own.
Songs across the album feature subtle textural changes and masterful layering along with full mixes that do not suffer from a lack of vocals.
“For each song, I was less concerned about fitting other people into it and more worried about what I could fit into this one production,” Clark said. “From beginning to end, I wanted to make it exciting and be climactic.”
Clark is currently working as a full-time musician, teaching string instruments to students, performing classical and folk music and continuing to produce and write his own music.
“I’m still trying to feel the industry out and figure out who my audience is, not just for listening, but for artists who might want to use my work for their own,”
Clark said of his future projects. “But I’m really looking forward to just continuing making beats, continuing to put them out there and seeing who I can meet up with.”