When drummer Zach Barokas moved from Seattle to Denver in 2014 to study Music Business at the University of Colorado Denver, he found his new apartment was too small for him to set up and play drums. He took this limitation as a reason to start teaching himself how to produce beats for other musicians around him.
That was a big turn for Barokas. Having played for metal, hip-hop
Now he's mostly replaced drumming with studio work, and word of his talent has spread throughout Denver. Artists such as
"I wanted to still create," Barokas says of his expansion from drummer to producer. "And in that, I found [making beats] was much more creative, because when you're a drummer, you're relying on the people around you. So it actually let me be all the instruments."
This feeling may explain why Barokas continues to keep everything in-house, from production to recording.
"My favorite part of the creative process is at the beginning and after we lay down vocals. I can see when somebody starts to get that creative spark. And I'm like, okay, we're going with that one. Sometimes we'll freestyle or have something written, but then after somebody hears themselves be played back, their face lights up, because it really came together."
Although he prides himself on wearing all the hats in a studio, he values the one-to-one connection with artists over trying to "flex with making beats." His music is defined by sparse trap drums, organic melodies and the use of live instrumentation. When he lays down a beat, he does so, more often than not, with a specific artist in mind.
"You don't want to get in the way of the artist. When you're making beats, you're actually covering up a lot of the places that vocalists should be," Barokas says. After years of wrangling with creative struggles in a band environment, he's learned how to balance this push and pull of artist and producer in terms of what is best for a song.
Self-taught, Barokas is constantly searching for new music and ways to improve. "Practice doesn't make perfect, but it gets you pretty damn close," he says. Barokas often listens to his older material to ensure that he's evolving in his craft. But he cites that working with talented artists has played a vital role in his mastery of sound engineering.
"I learn something new with every artist I work with. ... People are recording mixed tapes, entire albums that are going platinum in a closet, in a basement. It's not the days of [needing] some huge studio to do this stuff anymore. It's about having well-trained ears, and that comes with time."
Barokas is constantly meeting new artists to work with, and sees no lack of talent among Denver musicians. However, he finds that local artists struggle to adequately brand themselves.
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"I see where somebody can have phenomenal music, and it's like, how is this person not big? How have they not made it? Or why is Denver not on the map yet?" he wonders. "I think it's so easy to make music nowadays; so many people are doing it that you have to have a story, you have to have something different, something that separates you."
He admits that branding is something he's working on improving himself, but with the amount of production he has coming out next year, with new projects with YaSi and Slouch in the mix, musicians here already respect the brand he's cultivated.
"It's been really hard work," he notes. "But I still think I'm lucky that I get to experience this, because not everybody who produces music gets to have this much fun with it."