As the frontman of the red-hot pop group The Black Eyed Peas, seven-time Grammy winner Will.i.am has used technology — the computer is his instrument — to create hit songs such as I Gotta Feeling and Boom Boom Pow.
A side gig as director of creative innovation for chipmaker Intel is taking him on an Intel-sponsored Ultrabook Tour across the world, where he's playing concerts in 12 cities and collaborating with local musicians on 12 songs inspired by their homes. The tour, which has already played in Tokyo, Mexico City and Seoul, will end on 12/12/12.
The singer/producer/DJ/composer, born as William James Adams, sends out updates about his tour and recording career on Twitter as @iamwill. We met up with Will.i.am at a recent trade show in Las Vegas, where we talked computers, collaborating on songs via e-mail, and why he won't give up his beloved BlackBerry.
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The intersection of computers, music
"My instrument is the computer. When I make the beat, I write on the computer.
"When you think about the music industry … 10 years ago when you were making music, you made music in the studio and the song was heard on the radio. Now you make music on the computer, and the song is heard on the computer.
"They play it in the clubs, via computers. You watch the DJ, he's playing music via the laptop, getting feedback from the people tweeting in the audience."
"Social connectivity and computers. We still use keyboards and guitar, but it all ends up in the computer. People forget that the music industry and television is just technology. They forget that we go up every year and receive a Grammy, and say, 'I want to thank my mom,' 'I'd like to thank my record company.' Nobody ever thanks the technology that created it all."
Composing via e-mail
He met his I Gotta Feeling collaborator, French DJ David Guetta, backstage at a concert. They traded e-mail addresses and talked about working together on a song. Guetta sent the beat to what became Feeling via the online cloud service Dropbox. Will.i.am downloaded it, listened, and thought it was "hypnotic." He composed the lyrics, and the song went on to sell 13 million copies — and the video was viewed on YouTube more than 111 million times.
Will.i.am travels with a non-branded Intel PowerBook the company gave him for quick compositions on plane flights, and a big 27-inch Apple iMac computer "maxed out" with 16 gigabytes of storage. "My last record was done in my hotel room on an iMac and Pro Tools (software)."
Composing on the phone
If the ultrabook isn't nearby, he'll reach for his BlackBerry phone when a melody or rhythm hits — and sing it into the phone. "I'll e-mail it to myself, download it and put it on my system. Now I have the grid map for what I felt … and build upon what inspired me." Before, "You couldn't do that. You had to remember what it was. Now I can capture it."
Devotion to his BlackBerry
It's his phone of choice, thanks to the BBM (BlackBerry Messenger) instant-message system. "It's the only thing that saves them. The R. (A notice that the message has been read.) It's the only reason I'm still rocking a BlackBerry, because of that BBM."