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Super producer and tech junkie Dallas Austin spoke to GlobalGrind about the Beat Thang, his new music making device which is presently on sale in the Musical Instruments department Best Buy stores across the country. 

Beat Thang has 3,000 original, sample-free sounds, hundreds of original beats, loops and 65 digital effects, including waveform editing, mixing and mastering capabilities, a 3.5 inch full color LCD screen and a four-hour rechargeable battery.

We spoke to the Atlanta-based producer by phone. Check it out below!

GlobalGrind: How did you get involved with Beat Thang?

Dallas Austin: I was actually working on the Air Phone product and I met the guys, AJ and Rev. They had started out with doing a virtual version of the machine and making a prototype for the Beat Thang when I met them.

I wanted to do an electronic company and so I was starting around electronics at the same time and that’s one of the reasons why the person introduced us. When I saw it I said, instead of just making an OK machine, let’s take it to the next level. So, we spent the six months or so just looking at the things we didn’t do and made sure the sounds and stuff are right, testing it back and forth with one program and different programmers.

We finally felt like we got it right and we were like,’OK let’s go!’ We put out the first round, started seeing a lot of people come around; people started testing the product and now we’re in the first wave of seeing it actually go out to people, which is a trip! I’ve been the only one with it for so long, me and the guys. I feel like it’s my baby because I make all my records with it. I put so many sounds in it and stuff.

Above: Austin with the Beat Thang at the 2011 BET Awards.

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My engineers and friends will sit there and they’ll cut through my sounds and they’re like, ‘Man, are you sure you wanna give these sounds away, man?’ I say, that’s the whole point of making the machine. I got so much equipment, even when they came in where everyone started to use Pro Tools and everything else, I’m like, you can get rid of all that, but I’m not getting rid of none of my stuff.

So I got rid of every SP 1200 and everything else I had. For the longest I was trying to find partners and make a beat machine and something to work with Logic and Pro Tools and all my stuff. It was like I would just aggravate the hell out of my engineer. We went back so it was engineer proof and really loaded it up with sounds that are off the chain! I remember like when I had an SP1200, it  had a certain ring to it. When we started making components for the box we had to make sure it sounded great.

Above: Austin with the Beat Thang at the 2011 BET Awards.

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How heavy is the device? It looks big!

It’s pretty heavy. It looks light, but it’s heavy. We didn’t want to make it huge. We wanted to keep it fresh and portable. I’m spoiled, I walk around with it all the time. 

Beat Thang looks like it was pulled from Star Trek!

I’m a space head so when we were making it, I was thinking about Tron.

What artist did you make tracks for using Beat Thang?

I made tracks for Chris Brown, Gaga, Leona [Lewis]. The Gaga record is probably the best registration of it.

Talk about the price point. $1500 is a little expensive.

It’s a limited edition and I didn’t want to devalue it. One of the things about the machine is that you have sounds by producers. We have sound packages because it’s high quality. This is not a toy, this is 4x more powerful than MPC-60. The real secret to production is the sound. There are so many secrets to this box.

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Beat Thang, it seems, cuts production time in half.

I show up at sessions in California and all I have is the machine! The other day I had a party at my house and I had seven different machines set up with headphones and one that ran live so people could get a chance to mess with them.  This is very different from anything you’ve seen before.

Can you talk about how music has changed in terms of marketing and the devices used to make make music accessible to consumers?

We’ve seen the cycle where machines are backed by professionals. When you look at Beats By Dre, the reason people are walking around with $300 headphones when they could be listening to $24-$60 headphones, they do it because they take Dre’s word for it, from a creative standpoint, that it’s supposed to sound a certain way. It then becomes another vehicle for our music. It has always been Sony that makes the music and the player. Magnavox had Seagrams. Its always been the company that made the hardware make the software, the software being the music. Corporations lost the way of doing that when the internet hit. We had to think of new ways to make music translate to different devices.

Now we have people walking around the world with great headphones! It’s gonna go back to where people will want to listen to music together: boom boxes will be coming back! The devices are starting to become more social, more fashion friendly than anything else. What we’re doing is opening up the door and saying, ‘Alright! Y’all want to be producers, you wanna be fresh, here’s the next step to it.’ Here’s all the stuff you couldn’t get ahold of before. Here are sounds, here’s the easiness. You don’t have to get to five things to get to the tempo. Beat Thang is everybody friendly.