Meet Your Creator: Kikbak
By Sam Freeman
With a music resume dating to the mid-90s, Kikbak has covered a lot of ground in the music world, from being in a rap group to producing for artists, composing for commercials, and now running his own APM-supported library label, For the Win. He has placements in multiple sports leagues like the NBA and NFL, the label has found considerable success in the last few years.
We had a talk with Kikbak about his journey thus far, and how it has been navigating the changing music industry of the last twenty years.
Hi Kikbak. Thanks for taking the time to talk about your career. What were your early music experiences like and how did you get started in this industry?
Kikbak: Sure. I got into music production when my uncle gave me a Sequential Drum Tracks in 1987. It is a drum machine I made beats with until it overheated and cut itself off (laughs). Following that, one of my friends who owned some Technic SL-1200s and an SP-1200 showed me how to make beats with them in 1989. I started getting my own gear like the ASR-10 around 1995 once I turned nineteen and would begin making music with my friends on an eight-track recorder. We played some shows and eventually became a rap group in 1998 that sold cassettes out of our trunk.
As things moved into the 2000s, did the music production work pick up for you?
Kikbak: It did. Around 2002, a friend of mine was close with a singer called Tyrese, and he invited me to Tyrese’s birthday party at TGI Fridays. He also said to bring a CD of my music to play, and I later got a text saying Tyrese liked what he heard. He wanted to start his own production company, so I ended up joining as a producer and it led to me working with a successful production group called The Underdogs. They had a studio in Hollywood, a label deal with Clive Davis, and produced music for artists from American Idol as well as mainstream acts. I had my own room in their facility and would see people like Justin Timberlake pass by on a regular basis.
How did that period end? Did you leave the company?
Kikbak: I did. I stepped away in 2004 to pursue a different path and because I wanted to get into music for TV. Unfortunately, I had no idea how the industry worked, so I took a music business class at UCLA and thereafter I got a job in the music department at Fox Sports. They had a spacious room full of CDs from different production music companies, and by working there for three months I learnt how things worked. Fast forward to 2009, and a friend introduced me to someone who made library music. That is how I got my start, and the first royalties started to arrive in 2010.
In addition to library music, you have also worked with jingles for commercials. Can you talk about that?
Kikbak: Sure. I soon met a guy on Twitter called Eric Hillebrecht who ran a music house in New York called The Lodge, now known as The Music Playground. They focused on original music for visual media, and he asked if I had any experience with that. I said “No, but I can do it if you give me a shot,” so I started making jingles for commercials by Hasbro, Reese's, and others, often having to compete with several composers for the spot. I worked with that until 2015.
Was music for visual media more lucrative than what you did previously as a regular music producer?
Kikbak: It did not get lucrative until after 2016 when I stopped with the jingles and returned to making music. Prior to that, I did not have any knowledge of how to make my work lucrative, but now I know that if you put in the time, you can support yourself and your family with this kind of work. That said, your earnings depend on how much music you produce.
You have achieved considerable success with getting placements in the big sports leagues. How were you able to establish your sports niche?
Kikbak: It took some time. I had not done any research on which companies to work with, and I had to connect to the right ones to start seeing results. Once that happened, my music started getting heavy usage in the NBA and NFL, both on social media and in live games. Nine months later, BMI payments started to roll in.
At what point did you start working with APM, and how did you set up your label For the Win?
Kikbak: Our relationship began in 2018 when I was working with Sonoton, who APM represents in North America. If only I had hooked up with them in 2010, things would have been so much easier (laughs).
My first album on APM was a Latin Hip Hop one, and we got some good placements with that on shows and films like Cobra Kai, WWE, and Rambo: Last Blood. Then I made a club album that did well in the sports leagues, which led to a conversation with Adam Taylor about setting up my own label in 2020.
What is the experience been like working with APM? Has it been good for you?
Kikbak: I'm definitely happy with the APM relationship and I expect it'll get even better with time. They are into establishing partnerships with their composers, which I love, and we have gotten lots of great placements in a brief period. Five of my tracks made it into the Bel Air series, and other ones got placed on The Stephen Colbert show and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, as well as in movies like “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.” To be honest, it is hard for me to remember all the placements at this point.
Wrapping up, can you talk about what audio gear you’re using at the moment?
Kikbak: Prior to switching to Reason 3 in 2005, I had a hardware setup consisting of an MPC60, a Proteus 2000 and a Roland XV-5080, among others. I am mostly in-the-box nowadays, though I still have an MPC60, an SP-1200 and an MPC Live. They are all synchronized together with MIDI, and I also have two MOTU interfaces that are daisy-chained, which gives me 28 inputs in total. In terms of outboard, I have a Neve 1073 mic pre, an SSL mastering bus compressor and the Dangerous Music summing mixer.
Thanks for the chat Kikbak. It has been great talking to you. What are your hopes for the future of the production music industry?
Some people consider production music to be cheap, but the quality is on par with commercial recordings, so I would like to see a future where composers can earn more money by way of price increases for licenses and syncs.