SAE Institute Nashville Audio Technology Program graduate Ray “DJ Orig” Riddle is a co-star of “Big Smo”, a new reality series on the A&E network that follows the developing career of larger-than-life country rapper and Unionville, TN resident Big Smo. The series debuted on June 11, and will run for 10 half-hour episodes.
“We’d been shopping a pilot for the show for around a year, and we’re thrilled to be on A&E,” says Orig, who is also the co-producer of Big Smo’s debut album “Kuntry Livin’” on Warner Brothers/Elektra Records (released on June 3). “Viewers will see the development of Smo’s sound – which combines country, Southern rock, and hip-hop – and how he balances the complex demands of his work with his family responsibilities.”
Orig grew up in Shelbyville, TN. While he wasn’t cut out for formal music training (he tried piano, but didn’t get past one lesson), he loved a variety of music artists, including Michael Jackson, Pink Floyd, Phish, Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, and Def Leppard. He was also a huge fan of the futuristic beats of early electro hip-hop, including Afrika Bambaataa, Run DMC, the Fat Boys, and the Beastie Boys.
He picked up DJing in 1994, and by the time he met Smo in 1996, Orig was developing his studio skills with a drum machine, sampler, and four-track tape recorder. He worked with local artists, promoted and produced live shows, and helped area rappers put together their demos.
“I graduated from Shelbyville Central High School in ‘99, and then I took some time off,” says Orig. “After a few jobs, I realized that I wanted to make a music business career a full-time pursuit, and that’s when I discovered SAE Nashville.”
Initially, Orig was primarily interested in learning the studio science behind hip-hop and electronic production. But after starting his Audio Technology Program studies at SAE in 2005, he realized the importance of also learning basic recording principles, including microphone placement for live drums and guitar. He was impressed by the helpfulness of the SAE faculty, and their willingness to provide advice, anecdotes, and support for his lab projects.
“The SAE curriculum and staff really made me passionate about learning,” says Orig. “The whole experience inspired me to get together with other students and hold study groups, and every time I walked into the school, it was a great environment to be creative and seek knowledge. Also, having a laptop and interface as part of my tuition helped me to further explore recording and production at home.”
While still a student, Orig parlayed his energy and talents into a consistent string of small engineering gigs. By the time he graduated in 2006, he was able to support himself with DJ gigs around Nashville while also looking for jobs in area recording studios.
“In my interviews at Nashville studios, I was told the same thing: find a band or an artist and use any gear that you have to help them sound better,” says Orig. “I decided to take that advice and focus on producing Smo to make his ‘hick-hop’ vision a reality.”
Orig believes that attending SAE made his current success possible. The acoustic recording techniques that he studied in his first year were used on Big Smo’s album, and this contributed to Orig’s ability to combine rootsy country instrumentation with his innate sensibilities for hard-hitting hip-hop production. This bold genre combination has helped to generate more than 16 million views of Big Smo’s videos and sell over 150,000 of his digital tracks.
“My advice for SAE students and grads is to stay focused and determined,” says Orig. “The music industry is tough, but one thing that helped me tremendously was networking. I lived in a small town without other aspiring engineer/producer types to link up with, so when I had the opportunity to build up my connections after graduating from SAE, I did it. Also, it’s essential to be easy to work with and cool with the people who you meet, because you never know who will become who. Last but not least, follow what I’ve been told many times: ‘find an artist or band and use your gear and knowledge to help them succeed.’”