Calculated Creativity: Phil Brice Plays the Lead at Brainstorm Productions

As we sit in a rustic Brooklyn café waiting for a raucous smoothie blender to simmer down, Phil Brice playfully twists one of his foot-long dreadlocks before our interview is set to begin. His bus back home to Philadelphia departs in less than two hours, but he does not rush me or show any sign of concern. His composure reflects his personality — relaxed, soft-spoken, humble — traits I realize are especially useful for a music producer dealing with the egos of pompous front-men and lead artists.

Listening to Brice speak confounds me because I am not quite sure how he manages to blend this strange mix of offhand modesty with determined confidence. His words exude the impression of a simple man having fun, but with a plan. It’s a calculated plan that has propelled him from making stodgy beats during lunch period in his high school’s library, to an acclaimed producer and musician already earning income from the production business he founded several months ago. The early success of Brainstorm Productions has enabled him to license his music on Spotify.

Like so many creative people, Brice was surrounded by inspiration from an early age. “My Dad is a painter,” he tells me. “I was inspired by his drawings growing up. He also collected records and kept them all over the house. When I first started we would sit together — I would play and he would be painting at the same time. I was always surrounded one way or another.”

Influenced by his father’s love of classic jazz and funk records along with the burgeoning generation of hip-hop, Brice began to explore avenues that would allow him to create his own music. “I started producing music before I learned how to play,” he recalls with a smirk. “I started on Garage Band and I was messing around on programs like Fruity Loops before I decided I wanted to play a live instrument.”

Unlike most novice musicians, Brice rejected typical starter instruments and began learning the bass guitar. Here’s the thing about the bass: it’s absolutely essential to achieve the resonance a song needs to sound complete, but because of its deeply rich and sometimes inaudible pitch, it often doesn’t share the limelight amongst a stage of louder melodic instruments. Kids grow up wanting to shred Zeppelin-esque guitar solos. Perhaps they dream of reducing an audience to tears with a delicate piano chorus or grabbing the crowd’s attention with a boisterous drum fill. Bass is the instrument you play because all of the other positions in the band are taken. Bass is the instrument you play because it seems easier.

But Phil Brice didn’t start playing bass because it was easier. Nor did he harbor ambitions of impressing women or landing on magazine covers. Playing bass was just a part of his plan. “I was making beats and it felt like it was missing something. I would mess around with all the sounds and I realized the bass kits didn’t sound natural. I started with the guitar first just to, you know — get the feel of the instrument, and I was living with people who also played. From there I decided to get a bass myself because I knew what the songs that I wanted to make needed.”

It’s not just out of necessity — Brice actually does prefer the bass above all others. His reasoning is remarkably uncomplicated, which is why it resonates with the basic instincts that make us human. I try to prod more explanation from him, but he simply insists: “Bass is rhythm. People feel rhythm — rhythm makes people move, and I like that.”

This is why I find it so challenging to put a label on Brice. On one hand, he strikes me almost as some sort of meticulous robot programmed to master musical theory, but at the end of the day, he just wants to make people dance. He accomplishes such by fluidly blending genres and styles, but owes this ability to practice routines combined with self-education. When I ask how he attempts to improve his craft I anticipate some detailed regiment laid out, but again, he keeps his answer straightforward. “It’s just a matter of having a question, going to the library to look it up, and reading. That, and Google.”

Brice loves to read. And not just in the way I love to read novels or you might love reading this article. I assume that he appreciates literature as art, but it’s clear that written words serve him another valuable purpose. To him, they are tools for action utilized to extract information and empower his creative goals.

“I just have a lot of questions, especially when it comes to music. How does stuff work and how can I make new sounds? I always want answers to those questions.”

As a Black inner-city kid from Philadelphia, one might expect this piece to feature some type of harrowing challenge(s) that Brice faced on his path to the present. He refuses, however, to dramatize his situation. He comes from a respectable middle-class family and chose to surround himself around the right friends. His musical journey has only featured personal dilemmas, and even that sentiment is a bit far-reaching. “Every path is always rugged; it’s just a matter of how determined you are,” he says coyly. “There haven’t necessarily been setbacks, but slow-downs, but I always push through because I know that I want to achieve my end goal. The little successes in between are what keep me going.”

I push him further. Surely there were moments where he contemplated giving up? He continues on, stating: “There were times when I practiced and it just didn’t seem like I was getting any better. I was like, ‘Is this it? Is this as far as one can go?’ But then you put it down [the instrument] and you get a different perspective or you get inspired in a different space, and you pick it back up and you have a whole new light and appreciation for what you’re doing. That drive comes back and you go in like you’re starting from day one.”

With that mentality it’s clear to see why Brice has rapidly attained musical fluency and has launched his own company, Brainstorm Productions. Specializing in a variety of services ranging from custom audio tracks for films and commercials, mixing/engineering and even songwriting, Brainstorm is the culmination of, well — brainstorming. “It started as an idea back in college. You know how you go through college and each year you just prepare for the next semester… then the last year comes around and suddenly you have to prepare for life. I knew I wanted to start my own company and be self-sufficient and I knew I wanted to do music. I did a lot of research on how I could realistically make that happen. Last year I finally took the plunge.”

Having just turned 24, Brice is already miles ahead of his peers and competition with the formation of Brainstorm. What’s most striking is that it appears that he genuinely does not view the company as an opportunity to get rich. His answers suggest this is solely a man who wishes to live a modest life by doing what he loves. “There are a lot of talented people out there but they don’t have a solid idea to get their vision out to the world. I like helping people get that vision out for others to see and appreciate it. As many people as I can help do that for — that is the goal of the business, the goal of Brainstorm Productions.”