FORWARD OPERATING BASE WARHORSE, Iraq – The term “recording studio” spawns mental images of small, dimly lit rooms, one blanketed in an eerie silence with a lone microphone in the center, the other sporting a control panel littered with myriad dials and sliding adjusters. Staff Sgt. Raymond Ostil has redefined this term based on his environment.
Staff Sgt. Ostil, a Hayward, Calif. native and paralegal noncommissioned officer for 2nd Advise and Assist Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, is a music producer and recording artist that brought his talent and tools with him to Iraq.
Being deployed was not going to stop Staff Sgt. Ostil from indulging his creative passion; he packed all the necessary equipment in overseas containers that were shipped to the Middle East.
“I knew I wanted to bring my studio because it was just sitting in my house, and I wanted to do something creative with this stuff,” Staff Sgt. Ostil said.
This “stuff” comprised a laundry list of professional-quality recording tools that help him capture, place and edit audio in a digital format. The costly equipment required three large, plastic storage boxes for packing and shipping.
“I brought my keyboard, which is a Roland EM305, my Macbook Pro and my Akai MPC 1000 for sampling and drumming,” Staff Sgt. Ostil said. “I also brought two studio monitors, a mixer, an MBOX 2 for audio interfacing, a terabyte external hard-drive for storage, studio headphones and an AKG Perception microphone with microphone stand.”
Staff Sgt. Ostil noted the time and effort he invested in securely packing the various monitors, sampling tools and seemingly endless supply of cables that were required to make the studio fully operational. In contrast, he also said the unpacking and set-up process was much easier.
“I brought a lot of records for sampling and a lot of cables,” Staff Sgt. Ostil said. “Packing it all up was hard, but when the container arrived in Iraq, it took me no more than 15 minutes to put it all together.”
The set-up has a complex appearance with enough buttons and dials to intimidate novice producers, but with some formal training on how to utilize the equipment effectively, Staff Sgt. Ostil said that anyone can master the art of producing music digitally.
“It’s really easy to do, anybody can do it,” he said. “You spend the money to get the equipment, you go to school and play around with the equipment and learn how to use it.”
Staff Sgt. Ostil said he started buying all his current sampling and editing equipment in 2004, but he has been rapping since he was 17. Funds for professional equipment are typically difficult to acquire at that age, so Staff Sgt. Ostil used the tools that were available to him at the time.
“I used to make beats myself – I’d take a tape recorder and beat-box into it while it was recording, then rap over it,” he said.
The quality of the recording and editing equipment used is of no consequence if the producer lacks the creative mind and ambition to put it to good use. Fortunately, Staff Sgt. Ostil draws from his own experiences as well as the talents of musicians around him, striving to constantly improve as an artist as well as a producer.
“I’m inspired by life, but I’m influenced by other musicians,” he said. “It doesn’t even matter what kind of music they play.”
“I just like to be surrounded by talent,” Staff Sgt. Ostil said. “If the people I record with are good, it makes me want to be better as an artist, too.”
Inspiration coincides with creative talent to form unique sounds, but creating a beat, the instrumental basis for a song, is much easier said than done. Staff Sgt. Ostil will use samples, sound segments from existing songs, to create a starting point for his beat. The complexities lie in the editing and fine-tuning, which Staff Sgt. Ostil said can span several weeks.
“I can lay down the simple foundation for a beat in a couple minutes, but to be happy with it and make it sound like it belongs in a song, that takes forever,” Staff Sgt. Ostil said. “I have beats that I have been working on for weeks that I haven’t finished.”
After he fine-tunes an audio file, Staff Sgt. Ostil stockpiles his beats, raps over them and offers them to other vocalists that need background music.
“I play my samples for other people so they can rap to them, too,” he said.
Staff Sgt. Ostil has worked with a number of Soldiers in 2AAB, 25th ID, providing beats and even recording with them. Major Matthew Vinton, a Burke, Va. native and the officer in charge of the Legal office for 2AAB, 25th ID, collaborated with Staff Sgt. Ostil on a few songs.
“It just so happens I play bass guitar, and I have since high school,” Vinton said. “We decided to merge our creative efforts and throw together a couple songs with Hawaiian-themed background music.”
Modern music trends require producers to be versatile and open-minded, and Staff Sgt. Ostil fits that mold like a glove. He listened to a variety of artists from different genres growing up, from The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac to Marvin Gaye and Tupac Shakur.
One of the qualities that sets Staff Sgt. Ostil apart from most modern artists is the intrinsic message in his music. It’s not about the money or the fame; his songs, inspired by his own challenges, tell stories with deeper meanings than those that can be dismissed at face value.
“Once you step into that rabbit hole and you realize that making music is relatively easy to do, you’re surrounded by a bunch of people who know it’s easy to do and they want to do it too,” Staff Sgt. Ostil said. “It’s like a bucket of crabs; everyone is climbing over each other trying to get to the top and gasp for air.”
“Anyone can go out and get the equipment, but at the end of the day, are you putting out a message?” he questioned rhetorically. “Are you saying something to somebody or do you just want people to hear your voice?”
Staff Sgt. Ostil has no specific audience in mind when he writes and produces his music, but he said certain songs will strike a chord in people that can relate to the meaning of his lyrics.
“I have a song called ‘Looking For Soul’ where I’m mostly talking to my son who is five years old, and I guarantee you, there’s another kid out there who is like 13 years old in California or Missouri that can relate to it,” Staff Sgt. Ostil said.
There is an obvious appeal in being able to touch a wide audience through an alternative form of communication, and Staff Sgt. Ostil said that was one of the driving forces behind his initial interest in producing music. He also said he finds gratification in providing other Soldiers with an outlet that allows them to figuratively escape the stress of being deployed.
“What made me want to get into it was that I can express myself this way and it gets the message across,” Staff Sgt. Ostil said. “You can reach somebody through music more easily than just through spoken words.”
“My number one payoff is when people come over here, make some music and they leave happy,” he said. “They forget that they’re in Iraq for just that short amount of time.”