Usually, bands and music groups make stars out of the lead singer: the “frontman” and speaker who gets all the attention and attention. So most fans don’t consider the team of people working behind the scenes to make the music radio-ready – especially those who produce, mix and master the audio.
Music producers are an integral part of the music creation process. Without them, an artist aiming to introduce their music to an audience outside their own circle of friends and family is often overlooked. The St. Louis Fresh Produce Battle Series recognizes and honors the producer with the monthly bracket-style competition.
Fresh products has gone through many phases under different names over the years. In 2009, before the competition began, what eventually became Fresh Produce was known as the “Beat Meet” and served more as a gathering than a series.
Host Sean Bardle, also known as DJ Who, coyly explains the name change. “Fresh is a great word and it’s hip hop. The point of Fresh Produce is for these producers to bring their freshness to the things they have just made. And produce went with him because of the production.
From its early days meeting in the basement of the now-closed Atomic Cowboy in Southeast’s Forest Park neighborhood, Fresh Produce toured various St. Louis establishments. Shortly after his biggest show at the Ready Room in March 2020, the world came to a standstill due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We had 350-400 people at the show. We’ve never seen this kind of traffic in our spaces before,” host Matthew Sawicki said on Wednesday St. Louis on the air. “We didn’t want to lose what we had, we worked so hard. We called all our friends and [were] just like “Hey, we know you love the fight. We know you don’t do anything. Come join us in this new idea and see if we can continue the fight.”
Although Fresh Produce’s online competition started as a means to an end, the ability to reach more growers and a wider audience has changed the competition for the better.
“We’ve definitely been regional with Fresh Produce … Milwaukee, Chicago, Memphis, Kansas City, things like that. And then all of a sudden it was like Seattle, Washington, and Ireland, and South Africa, and the Carolinas, and Georgia, New Jersey, whatever,” Bardle said. “And so we created a lot of those relationships [including] with our newest champion Boomernati.”
On January 6, the championships, held at Sophie’s Artist Lounge, featured local, regional and national talent who battled last year’s season. Musical producer Kerwin Dewayne repeatedly participated in battles for fresh products. After traveling back and forth from his home state of Wisconsin, he decided to move to St. Louis to live and work here permanently.
“I felt at home [with] there’s just a lot more going on around me… a real pulse in this city,” Kerwin said before his first fight of the night. “It wasn’t too hectic like New York. Like I said, it still felt familiar, but with a lot more culture, a lot more events and a lot more variety.’
Born in St. Louis The prophet prince had lost eight different Fresh Produce contests before winning his first and making it to the championship. Where other artists might have left disheartened, Prince Prophet saw opportunities for learning.
Outside of Sophie’s Artist Lounge, he said that Fresh Produce “makes me a lot better not only as a producer, but as a person and just as a creator in general. One of the great things about being creative, especially in St. Louis, is that you have to get out here and network. And participating in this competition forces you to do that.
If you want to see the beat battles live, don’t expect a passive experience – the Fresh Produce audience is also an active participant. As well as enjoying a fun evening filled with music and entertainment, they are tasked with being the fifth judge of the competition. Sawicki uses a noise meter to gauge which win is the most popular with the crowd and decide who moves on to the next round.
James Bishop has judged Fresh Produce since 2015 and now serves as the head judge for the battle each month. He said despite the competitive nature of the event, there is no rubric on which the judges base their decisions.
Bishop said, “I’ve heard beats from rap to trap to boom bap to r&b to pop to EDM. All different kinds of styles. What stands out to me is just the creativity, whether you’re using sample music or original music…level of transition and how you can mix different rhythms. If you give me a beat that for 30 seconds goes in one direction, then the next 30 seconds goes in a completely different direction? It automatically gets me.”
For more on building a community of music producers in St. Louis and the outcome of last month’s Fresh Produce Championship, listen in St. Louis on the air on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, Stitcher or by clicking the play button below.
Fresh Produce brings music producers out of the background and into the spotlight
What: Fresh products Beat Battle
When: Monthly from Wednesday, February 1, 2023 at 8:30 p.m.
Where: Sophie’s Artist Lounge 3333 Washington Ave suite 102, St. Louis, MO 63103