4 tips on leveling up your sound design from Kilamanzego

Kilamanzego (pronounced “kill a man’s ego”) is a Philly-based producer who brings a unique sonic identity to today’s electronic music landscape.

Her genre-defying sound seamlessly weaves together intricate textures, off-kilter rhythms, and organic elements into a distinctive but cohesive whole.

Kilamanzego recently shared her sonic building blocks with the music producer community via her new Black Weirdo sample pack. Her collection of powerful one-shots and loops also simultaneously represents the debut release for Nova, a program launched alongside SoundCloud to amplify the work of the most promising and undiscovered creators around the globe.

In celebration of the pack’s release, we sat down with Kilamanzego to hear about her experiences and sound design lessons she’s gathered across the span of her career—read on for highlights.

1. Embrace spontaneous creative ideas

A lot of small ‘ear candy’ elements constantly come and go throughout the duration of many of Kilamanzego’s tracks. Through her sound, she encourages producers to not be afraid to explore spontaneous creative ideas. “I find it impossible to dedicate myself to just one main idea, and tend to lean into each sporadic thought circulating in my head,” Kilamanzego tells us. “From there, I piece it all together, which I think many music composers would immediately write off as ‘too messy’ when these ideas spring into their thoughts.”

That said, capitalizing on sporadic thoughts doesn’t mean your music should feel cluttered or unorganized—even as she navigates numerous fleeting textures, Kilamanzego meticulously arranges her sounds in a way that’s both accessible and memorable. “The catchiness comes from a playful call-and-response energy that my melodies have with the drums and drifting percussion elements,” she explains. “I love using Arturia’s Oberheim to come up with fun, tiny bleeps that can dance around just as much as they exude melodic flavor.”

2. Find inspiration in unique places

When we think about finding sources of inspiration as music creators, we often look towards the work of other artists we admire. While this is perfectly valid, Kilamanzego shows us that we can look a lot broader to spark interesting ideas for our sounds. “My favorite sound in my pack is definitely the one named ‘bingy,’ which is an effects loop,” she says. “The story behind it, just like many of my sounds, isn’t just a singular one. Remember the show Gullah Gullah Island on Nickelodeon, and that yellow frog named Binyah Binyah Polliwog? I used to watch that when I was a kid, and I always loved how it would be incoherent babble whenever a character would talk, but it would make sense at the same time. Others would always know when it was sad, mad, or even excited—you can also hear the same idea in Steven Universe episodes with Watermelon Steven. I think people hated those ones, but they’re among my favorites because you still know what’s going on with zero words, and the viewer is always having what-the-f moments when hearing these sorts of characters speak [laughs]. So in that same manner, I made a sound that garners the same reaction from listeners—yet, it’ll still make sense in context of a composition when you work with it.”

She gives us an even closer look into her creative process by breaking down how she constructed a cascading sound effect out of a kalimba. “I grabbed the attack of a kalimba sound, added a comb filter, and played around with the depth,” she explains. “I recorded that result in a separate audio track below it as a layer. Then, I applied a transient shaper to make it more staccato, and added a frequency shifter to pitch it up in just the right spot; sometimes if it’s too high, it’ll end up becoming a singular high-pitched sound, and the same is true for the other way around. But, if you steadily move it somewhere in between (I think it’s higher than what’s pictured below since I was still editing it), it’ll come across as layered pitches. The notes were also placed in a descending pattern to give the impression that something is falling.”

Take a listen to the final sound


3. Always challenge yourself to try something new

Kilamanzego also emphasizes the importance of continually building on your sound and pursuing new creative possibilities. “My sound has evolved from when I first started in that I’m starting to get more comfortable with how I piece sounds together,” she reflects. “I’m personally trying to take my style to a different level now, where I start using more live instruments. I’ve played bass and guitar for over a decade, and I also committed myself to orchestra and band classes growing up, where instruments like violins, trombones, etc. were always in my hands. It’ll be nice to apply a more organic feel to some of the elements of my music, because I’ve been doing a lot of digital work since I started composing.”

4. Don’t limit yourself to what’s expected

“My advice to anyone who’s an aspiring producer or artist is to not limit yourself to just one way of thinking or conventionalities,” Kilamanzego says. “If someone says that synths should be steady and dead center, give them movement. If someone says that 808s should have a compressor, leave it off if you want. If someone says go left, go right! But seriously, I think we have a tendency to believe that there’s only one way to do things. Yes, there may be universal truths out there, like the results you get from clipping. But that just means you have to ask yourself, ‘Is this the sound I’m going for that I hear in my head?’ rather than, “Is this what everyone expects me to sound like?’”

Craft your own sonic identity with Kilamanzego’s genre-defying sounds:

March 16, 2022

Harrison Shimazu

Harrison Shimazu is a composer, content strategist, and writer who’s passionate about democratizing music creation and education. He leads the Splice blog and produces vocaloid music as Namaboku.