From a Small Macedonian Town to Sunny Los Angeles, Dragi Ivanov Makes an International Name for Himself in Music

Macedonian Music Producer Dragi Ivanov shot by Deondre Jones

It’s commonplace to hear about talented music producers from Sweden, the UK, Germany and America making a global name for themselves in the industry, but rarely, if ever, do we hear about musical talents hailing from a country like Macedonia. But producer and recording engineer Dragi Ivanov is changing that in a big way, and it’s not difficult to see why — he is uber talented in the studio!

Recently Dragi’s become known for his work as the producer behind a rather impressive range of music, such as the fiery hip-hop track ‘$3.99 (model 1)’ by Terrell Hines, the alt-rock Wake Child’s soothingly intoxicating single ‘Hangup Blues,’ Swedish singer/songwriter Matilda Jonsson’s catchy electro-pop single ‘Queen,’ and many more.

“My mom says that I’d always bring all the pots and pans out and bang on them as if they were drums,” recalls Dragi. “I’d fill up different amounts of water in glass bottles so that I could play different notes on them with spoons, I guess those were the first indicators of me being interested in music.”

Born in the small town of Gevgelija, Macedonia, Dragi grew up spending the school year in the capital city of Skopje and returning to Gevgelija each summer which, being two hours away, put an understandable damper on his ability to maintain a consistent social circle.

He admits, “I ended up never really having a fixed group of friends and never really got comfortable being around people so naturally I was comfortable being by myself which I later on learned is called being an ‘introvert.’ I would say this played a big role in being a musician since you spend a lot of time by yourself practicing and getting better at music.”

Today, Dragi is the head recording engineer at KIDinaKORNER, the LA-based record company founded by famed British producer Alex Da Kid, who’s produced numerous hits such as Dr. Dre’s ‘I Need a Doctor’ and Nicki Minaj’s ‘Massive Attack,’ and has been nominated for a hand full of Grammy Awards, including “Album of the Year” for his work on Rihanna’s “Loud.”

Alex Da Kid says, “Dragi really understands how to approach the recording process in a way that is comfortable and easy for everyone involved. Part of this comes from his great understanding of the technology and his technical skills… another part is from his understanding of people and situations as well as his musicianship.”

Dragi at his home studio shot by Jana Trofimova

As head engineer at KIDinaKORNER, a subdivision of Interscope Records, Dragi has been a key figure in recording hit songs for the likes of big name artists such as A$AP Ferg, H.E.R., Jamie N Commons, Sabrina Claudio, Rapsody, Gashi, Charlotte Day Wilson, Allan Rayman, Aloe Blacc, Kelsy Karter, C.S. Armstrong, Taz Arnold and many more.

One part of Dragi’s personality that has proven to be an asset in his work as both a producer and recording engineer, and something Alex Da Kid touches on, is the way Dragi creates a comfortable space for creative collaboration between himself and the various artists he records and produces.

Dragi says, “Being an introvert I don’t necessarily talk too much and I am very sensitive to situations that I know how to stay away or step in when I need to and that’s way I am able to make people feel comfortable in the studio and give their best performance.”

When global artists like Dr. Dre, Jay-Z, Beyonce and the like release a hot new track we generally don’t hear too much about the people behind the scenes that worked to make the project come to fruition, but without them, many of these tracks would never reach the soundwaves. From leading the vocal recording and mixing on former CharlieRED member C.S. Armstrong’s EP “Spooky Love” to being the recording engineer on Alex Da Kid’s latest single “Go” featuring H.E.R. and Rapsody, which has streamed nearly two million times on Spotify, Dragi has been an integral counterpart in bringing numerous celebrated projects to the masses.

Though his skill as a recording engineer has since brought him quite a bit of attention, for him, engineering is a necessary piece of the puzzle in his work as a producer, a journey that first began when he dove full force into learning guitar in his early teens. Ironically, one of the moments that influenced him to begin cultivating his talent on guitar came from none other than a Coca-Cola commercial.

“It showed a man with a guitar playing in the street and as he was walking down the street people would join in and sing together looking really happy, and I thought if I can make people happy like that, well that would be incredible,” recalls Dragi. “Once I started playing guitar I just couldn’t stop… it gave me a safe place where I could be completely myself and be proud of what I do.”

Like many top recording engineers, Dragi first began his journey into the field after feeling that the collaboration between his band, Dan Rice, and other engineers, wasn’t delivering the results he’d envisioned.

“I was never satisfied with the results I was getting when recording with my band at different studios back home,” explains Dragi. “As a result, I thought it would be a great idea if each of the band members learnt how to record their own instruments so that we could eventually come together and record ourselves and create an album. This was the first time I actually dove into music production and engineering and tried to figure out a way to record myself and have it sound the way I wanted it to sound.”

As the lead guitarist in the alternative funk rock band Dan Rice, Dragi helped the group come into their own when he began recording and producing their projects. Though it was still early on in his career, “Garage Demo,” the second self-produced project he released with the band and its accompanying music video earned international attention when the were awarded by ESRA. Dragi also earned another award for a music video he created for the Odyssey 2050 Project organized by the British Embassy in Costa Rica.

Excelling at record speed, Dragi left Macedonia and went on to attend the prestigious Berklee College of Music which, ranked as one of the world’s top four music conservatories, is highly competitive and only admits the best of the best from around the globe. There his work spoke for itself and ultimately earned him two scholarships, the Music Production and Engineering Award and the Dual Major Award for Electronic Production and Sound Design.

While his seasoned technical skill as an engineer and keen knowledge of music combined with his creativity has been key to his work in producing music for other artists, there’s more to Dragi than sheer skill that’s led him to become such a respected music producer.

“I understand that it is not about me but rather the people I’m working with or working for, and the music. I don’t use my experience as a musician to show off but rather to help others around me and the music,” admits Dragi. “When I am producing for an artist I am most definitely taking care of all of the music, that means I’m taking care of the arrangements and instrumentation for the song where as the artist takes care of the lyrics and melodies.”

One of Dragi’s recent producing projects, the single “Queen” off Matilda Jonsson’s EP “Drifting By,” is one of several recent releases that reveal his mastery as a producer. Careful to keep the song in the pop genre, the soundscapes and musical arrangement with key pauses that Dragi created for “Queen,” combined with his incorporation of R&B, jazz and electronic elements, powerfully support Matilda’s vocals and the underlying melody, while making the song more interesting.

Dragi explains, “Matilda wanted the song to sound minimalistic, she didn’t want to much going on but then I felt that the song could sound bigger so we decided to go for something somewhere in the middle.”

He adds, “I made the full instrumental and did all the vocal production for the song. What I got was a rough demo of just vocals and piano and what you hear now is what I did.”

Aside from producing and recording for other well-known artists in the industry, Dragi’s solo EPs “Sky Blue Part I” and “Sky Blue Part II” which, not surprising, he produced and recorded himself, shed even more light on just how gifted he is in the studio.

From ‘This is…,’ the sexy opening track off “Sky Blue Part I,” that’s driven by some seriously groove-worthy drum beats and elements of funk scattered sparingly throughout, to the electronic downtempo track ‘Redondo’ off “Sky Blue Part II” with its futuristic vibe, carefully crafted soundscapes and the synth’s smooth modulation, listeners get a chance to discover just how creative and original Dragi’s personal work as a producer is.

Going from a young boy growing up in Macedonia who spent time filling up water bottles simply to experiment with sound, to making his way as a producer and recording engineer and churning out tracks that continue to garner international attention, Dragi Ivanov’s journey is one inspirational success story that proves it’s possible to start out in one of the smallest and least prosperous countries in Europe and make a name for yourself doing something you love.

“I never really thought I would have a career in music, because where I’m from you don’t really choose music as your career… I just kept doing it and loved it so much that it eventually worked itself out,” admits Dragi. “My goal is to help people, do good and hopefully make them happy.”

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Portia is a journalist & poet from Los Angeles. You can find her work through №3 Magazine, ElephantJournal.com, Gypsyrich.com, Stillstoked.com and more.

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Portia Leigh

Portia Leigh

Portia is a journalist & poet from Los Angeles. You can find her work through №3 Magazine, ElephantJournal.com, Gypsyrich.com, Stillstoked.com and more.

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