“Be prepared to work hard, fail a lot and to pivot regularly as you navigate your way” - Joe Khajadourian
Joe Khajadourian is an Armenian American music producer, songwriter, and the co-founder of The Futuristics, a Los Angeles based production and songwriting duo founded and run by Joe and his long time creative partner, Alex Schwartz. The Futuristics is responsible for many Top 40 hits for a variety of mainstream artists. Their recent releases include, “Fetish” for Selena Gomez, “Him & I” for G-Eazy and Halsey, “Bad Things” for Camila Cabello and MGK, “You Can’t Stop the Girl” for Bebe Rexha, and “We Own It” by 2 Chainz and Wiz Khalifa for the Fast & Furious franchise. Working across all genres, The Futuristics’ music has gone multi-platinum around the world, repeatedly topping the Billboard charts.
Joe began making music at a young age, and by 17 years old he bought his first drum machine, an MPC 2000. Inspired by 90’s electronic music groups such as Prodigy, Crystal Method, and Orbital, he began producing and performing at underground clubs and raves in the LA area as an electronic music duo called SIGNAL with his childhood friend Ara. Eventually building a home studio in his bedroom, Joe became more involved with production and sound design. In 2005, Joe met Alex while both were interning with Atlantic Records. The two first began making hip-hop beats to sell to rappers. Now, The Futuristics have evolved into writers, producers, concept artists and are about to launch their own record label. Additionally, they mentored and recently signed 94Skrt and JaeGreen, the producers of “Roxanne,” a massive current hit reaching #4 in the Billboard Hot 100.
You started in a band. How does your band background affect your style and how you produce now? Did you always have a vision you would be doing what you are doing now with music? What kind of musical influences did you have growing up?
As a child I was obsessed with Micheal Jackson, then at age ten I was very much into rap music. I bought albums from artists like: Dr.Dre, Cypress Hill, Black Sheep, Digital Underground, Ice Cube etc. I formed a rap group with friends in elementary school and had a few of the girls in the playground act as back up dancers and we performed for the school. Then, at around age 13, I picked up a guitar and began learning power chords and was heavily influenced by alternative music. Nirvana, STP, Smashing Pumpkins, Sound Garden, Pearl Jam, etc. were all at their peak and on the radio all the time. I immediately started a rock band with two friends who were brothers and began playing at house parties. I did the same thing when I got into electronic music at around age 17. I started a band and began performing. My desire from the beginning was always to create and to perform.Today as a producer and a writer, my goal is the same. I want to create something for the world to hear and to hopefully move and inspire people. Because my background is influenced by so many different genres, I have many musical tools in me that I can use while creating. It has really helped a lot.
Learning how to produce is time consuming. How did you overcome the learning curve and have the discipline to build the skills to master your craft? Any advice to beginner songwriters and producers?
Learning modern producing techniques and the technology involved (software, hardware, etc.) can seem like a daunting task. And to be honest, for me it was. When I first started there were no internet search engines and no Youtube tutorials. In fact, Youtube wouldn’t be around for another 8 years or so. I literally went into Guitar Center and would hang out for hours trying to figure out what every piece of equipment did. I took home all the brochures and read them over and over again trying to understand all the functions. I would read “Keyboard”, and other music production magazines. I even got a job at Sam Ash Music in the pro audio department just to learn about all the gear and to be trained by the sales reps from the music companies that made the equipment. I was obsessed with learning and experimented endlessly with the equipment I managed to buy. When I got the MPC 2000 drum machine I remember staying up all night in the dark just staring at the little bright screen on this thing that looked like an old answering machine. My parents thought I was going mad.
Today, things are different. Every bit of music production knowledge is available at a click of a button online, and an entire music studio has been replaced by a laptop. So, my advice to anyone that is passionate about songwriting and producing is: lock yourself in your room and put in the time to learn how it’s done. I guess it all comes down to how dedicated a person is because the access to the knowledge and cost prohibitive equipment has mostly been eliminated.
For what it’s worth, my advice for anyone, especially young Armenians looking to pursue any unorthodox career path, is that there are no shortcuts. Be prepared to work hard, fail a lot and to pivot regularly as you navigate your way to a successful and meaningful career.
How do you stay creative? Do you have a method to songwriting and producing?
I stay creative by not creating all the time. As I have gained more experience, I have learned that working twelve hours a day, seven days a week actually drains your creative flow. Maybe early on, while still learning the craft and technical skills, working all night maybe makes sense. But nowadays, Alex and I always take the weekends off to be with our family and friends and let life’s experiences and observations of the world build up our creative energy. Our method of creating generally involves having conversations with writers and artists we collaborate with and just letting the creative process drive itself. As ideas start to spring up, we begin to pin-point the concepts, lyrics, and musical elements that seem to feel the strongest. Then, we focus on those and the final form of the song takes hold.
You have produced through many different genres. What is your favorite genre to produce for? What is your favorite part about songwriting and producing in general?
As a true lover of all kinds of music, from 1930’s depression era country (yes that is a thing) to trap, pop, and everything in between, I honestly get a kick out of writing and producing anything. It’s a challenge for me and it keeps things interesting. Last year, we worked on a house track for Meghan Trainor, rock tunes for the new Blink 182 album, and also a piano ballad for Bebe Rexha. The Futuristics thrive on how multidimensional we are with our music. We love that everyday when we go to work, it is never the same thing and we have the opportunity to create something the entire world will hear.
What has been your favorite record of yours, and what has been your favorite lyric that you have written?
All of the songs we release are sort of our kids so, it is hard to say which one is my favorite. I sort of love them all. There are always things within each song that I love or wish I could have changed, but the reality is that once these songs come out they really don't belong to us anymore. In a sense they are the universes’. They are embedded in the collective consciousness and that can never be undone (pretty deep, I know). If I had to choose one of my favorite lyrics, it would be from the chorus for “Something’s Gotta Give” released by Camila Cabello, because it sprung up from an argument that I had with my girlfriend, now wife. So, it has a lot of personal connection to me.
Your job is dependent on collaboration with artists, and you have worked with some incredible ones. What is the most important thing to know about maintaining chemistry and a creative flow in these collaborations?
I think it is important to let the artist feel comfortable and creative during sessions and to let the creative process just float around the room for a bit. Ask them about their day and find out what has been going on in their lives. Maybe throw out a few song ideas or musical sketches and see if anything sticks. Most times the artist will either come in wanting to write about something they are going through or they will be looking to us for inspiration. Most artists we work with are very down-to-earth, just trying to be the best version of themselves and to navigate their way through a tough industry. Each artist we work with brings their own energy and skill set into the session and that always makes for a fun and interesting day at the studio.
You wrote “Him & I” sung by Halsey and G-Eazy which has become incredibly popular. What are some indicators that a song will be a smash while you are making it?
The night I was making the track for “Him & I” I knew it was going to be a hit. I told Alex multiple times that night, “Dude this is a hit.” I had never had such a strong feeling like that before. Then, we went to G Eazy’s house to write and record the song and we all left that night knowing it was a smash. We normally don’t like to say things like that ahead of time because we never want to jinx ourselves but, this time, we just knew. On a normal day we never really know what is going to connect with the artists and the fans. Sometimes it is the song you least expect that you did in a random session two years ago, paired with the right artist and all of a sudden, boom, hit.
Have your Armenian roots influenced your music?
I think my Armenian roots, and being the child of immigrants fleeing a civil war, have taught me that there is no substitute to working your butt off and getting your hands dirty. I grew up in a home where both of my parents worked very hard and my Dad was a small business owner. My family made the most out of very little when they came to the U.S. in the late 1970’s. Alex shares the same “work hard to succeed” philosophy, so we bring it into our work every day. Art and music have a long history with Armenian culture, so I think inherently the desire to create runs in my blood, so to speak.
What are your goals for your new record label (if you can tell us)? What kind of sounds are you hoping to bring out of it?
Essentially, we hope our label will allow us to sign talent that we really believe in, to develop a project with creative freedom, and to stick to our own vision for the end product. Sometimes with large record labels, creativity can get a little boxed in and we have to work within the creative parameters set by others, which can lead to the vision getting a little blurred. Alex and I also hope to one day release our own original music under The Futuristics artist name. We have a lot of interesting ideas and plans. You’ll have to keep an eye out for what’s to come!
Interview by Hannah Kazanjian Brewster