Jam with Josh Shuster, part-time music producer.
This Brandeis first-year isn't just a student. He regularly returns to New York to produce music, saying it is his job to "make the perfect sound."
It’s said that Bostonians spend 500 days of their lives commuting. That may sound nasty, but perhaps Joshua Shuster ’23 can beat that with a weekly commute between Waltham and New York. This first-year isn’t commuting back to the Big Apple out of homesickness, but because of his work there as a music producer.
Hailing from Brooklyn, Shuster’s family originates from Ukraine. Growing up, music was a taboo career for him: “Russian values lean more towards doctors and lawyers; those are the only legitimate careers,” he said. But Shuster’s Brooklyn upbringing eventually led him to find a love for music.
That day came fairly recently, only around a year ago, Shuster said. “It’s really recent because most of the people I’ve been working with on the production aspects have been doing it for about six or seven years. … I was just sitting with my friends listening to an old Matt Norris song, and we were talking about how crazy the production on that song was. I was like, ‘I could probably do that.’” One download of some music production software later, Shuster found himself producing music for the first time.
The entire production process starts with his manager. Shuster explained that his manager will tell him, “‘This person wants this type of beat.’ If you listen to hip hop, every artist has a signature beat that they prefer. He’ll then ask me to make a beat pack for that artist, usually around 15-20 minutes. Either I send it to them like that and the studio process doesn’t involve me, or sometimes I go to the studio and the artist sits next to me whilst I make the beat.” He says that the production process involves both a scientist and an artist — one is concerned with the technicalities, the other is concerned with the art. Production involves both roles working together, though Shuster prefers to stick to the artistic side, saying, “I’m a naturally creative person.”
A job like Shuster’s requires routine and sometimes comes with challenges. Besides getting schoolwork done early during the week, he made himself a promise that every single day he’d make at least five beats. “At first it was difficult, but now I can produce a beat,” as in an instrumental for a song, “that’s ready for any artist in about ten minutes.” Shuster added that at Brandeis, it’s been harder to keep his promise since he’s making the most out of being on campus. He’s also on the men’s fencing team, and spends any remaining free time going to the gym or hanging out with friends.
Shuster says that he’s making the music he’d listen to, saying, “I feel like I’m doing something different through mixing genres. As a producer, it’s not my job to make the perfect sound. I’m making this for the consumer listening on their phones, and they don’t care if I use gain staging. They care about how it sounds and makes them feel.” Shuster considers his job to be “pushing his tastes” and introducing what he’d enjoy to listeners.
For Shuster, music is personal. Besides being influenced by Kanye West (who Shuster believes revolutionized production) and Mac Miller, music has played a key role in Shuster’s mental health journey. Responding to Shuster’s past traumatic experiences, his therapist suggested that he associate music, specifically Mac Miller’s, with happiness. “I can say that Mac Miller saved my life, and if I could help just one person get through a horrible time with something I made, then I’ll know I’ve done my job and I’ve done it well,” he said, continuing, “Music, above everything, makes you feel. I want to make my impact on music somehow. I want people to say of me, ‘That guy was cool.’”
One might wonder why a passionate music producer would choose Brandeis. For Shuster, the decision to attend the University had nothing to do with production. Instead, he was seeking a career in business. Brandeis is, however, treating him well, with the caveat that he has to travel to and from New York every weekend to produce.
His hopes are high for his future in music production, and he’s taking strides toward making Brandeis work for him, taking a particular academic interest in the Music and Business majors and getting involved in plenty of activities beyond fencing, including the Campus Activities Board.
For the future beyond college, Shuster is optimistic. “I’m a music lover; that’s why I’m doing this. It’s just great to be able to listen to my favorite artists and hear my production and this artist rapping over it — it’s one of the best, most indescribable feelings. It’s crazy to me how that happens.” Make no mistake — if hip hop’s your thing, this won’t be the last time you hear Shuster’s name.