Ashley Simpson started off using Melodics with virtually no musical experience — yet now she’s realising her musical goals of live performances, producing and recording her own original compositions as the artist Flawed Freedom.
To ice the cake — Flawed Freedom’s debut album ‘Four Thirty’ has just launched.
Read on to start the journey from her beginning, and be sure to check out her new EP below.
Reflecting on her childhood in Sierra Vista, Arizona, Ashley Simpson, aka the finger-drummer and music producer Flawed Freedom’s fondest memories revolve around music. “I used to ride in the car with my mother and sister singing along to Deborah Cox, S.W.V or Xscape,” she recalls. “Thinking about music also makes me think about family barbecues; you already know we always had music going at those,” she continues to include NSNYC, Backstreet Boys and Motown Records. “I played sports as a child, and I really wanted to play drums and piano, but my mother couldn’t afford for me to do both, so that was that,” she says.
But years later, in 2018 Flawed Freedom chanced across a video clip that stopped her in her tracks: a short routine from the well-loved hip-hop producer and finger-drummer Beats By J Black.
“He’d flipped a sample from ‘So Gone’ by Monica and he was finger drumming it,” she remembers. “I just fell in love.” Blown away, she showed the video to her boyfriend and said, “I wish I could do this.” He replied with a simple, supportive question, “Why can’t you?”
“Why can’t you?”
By this point, Flawed Freedom was no stranger to Youtube tutorials. She had purchased a midi keyboard and racked up a bit of digital audio workstation experience recording herself improvising in the Logic Pro program, but that was about the extent of it.
“I’d purchased a controller, and I wasn’t even sure how to map it correctly using Logic,” she admits. All of that changed when J Black’s youtube videos led her to an advert for Melodics.
“I was so intrigued by J Black, and the software had lessons from him in it … I wanted to do all of his lessons straight away, and I just clicked with it. I didn’t have to think about what kick to use or what snare … The plug and play functionality made it very easy.”
With no real agenda or clear plan, Flawed Freedom made a point of trying to do something music-related every day. It’s a simple practice, and one that she still follows.
“I don’t think I had a particular goal in mind when I first picked up finger drumming, I just really liked music and wanted to learn how to flip samples. I was intrigued by the pads, triggering these pads, and the live performance aspect. I really would have never thought that I’d have a YouTube page or an Instagram, you know? It’s been such an interesting, unexpected journey.”
Once she was practising in Melodics regularly, Simpson gravitated towards lessons from STLNDRMS, OddKidOut, Jeremy Ellis, DiViNCi, Jeia and, of course, J Black. “I kept trying to be better, and it was really fun for me. It became such a de-stressor. If I was in a bad mood, I would finger drum. If I was happy, I would finger drum. So it just became part of my everyday life.”
“I think maybe the first or second day I practised for two hours or something,” she remembers. “I just could not stop playing. I really pride myself on my quality, and I wanted to get the three-star rating. I was not happy with one star; I wasn’t happy with two stars. I would just come right back to it. I’d be on there until my arms hurt.”
Daily practice taught Flawed Freedom about timing, hand independence and strength. “It all helped me get my fingers and arms to the strength I needed them to have,” she laughs. “I did not have that at first. I was struggling, but it was so fun.”
Session by session, the pure pleasure of that process helped Flawed Freedom unlock skills she’d never even dreamed of having. “I don’t want to overuse the word mind-blowing, but I continue to surprise myself and the people closest to me because I’ve just picked this up so quickly,” she reflects.
Practising those lessons also reinforced her thinking around the sound that she was dreaming up in her head. “I think I have a lo-fi hip-hop sound,” she explains, while also referencing her fandom for the dearly departed Crenshaw rapper/social motivator Nipsey Hussle and North Carolina rapper, producer and Dreamville record label owner J.Cole “I really like old school samples and that soulful sound. I think I’ll start to incorporate vocals into what I do soon, but really it’s hip-hop and trap with a soulful bent.”
One of the most powerful influences on Flawed Freedom in recent times is XXL Freshman Class 2020, Chika.
“I really respect the fact that she has bars and is such a great vocalist. Her recent album Industry Games was very impactful to me.”
Once she started to feel comfortable in her skills, Flawed Freedom took a few crucial steps. First, she contacted the British Sri Lankan producer, live performer, DJ and educator Gnarly Music for some online music lessons. Gnarly assessed Flawed Freedom’s experience, explained some fundamentals to her, and set her up to play and record on Native Instruments Maschine hardware/software digital audio workstation.”
Reflecting on it now, she realises that she didn’t fully comprehend how much of a foundation Melodics had given her at the time.
“When I started taking lessons with Gnarly, she told me, ‘Wow, you’re picking this up pretty quick,’ there were some advanced hi-hats that she showed me. Gnarly said they took her however long to learn, and I was learning it in our third or fourth session. I’m almost certain that if it hadn’t been for Melodics, getting the basic timing of things down and learning how to work my hands differently, I wouldn’t have advanced so quickly with her.”
Giving practice purpose
After beginning her Maschine journey with Gnarly Beats, Flawed Freedom tackled the nerves that can come with sharing your music in public by opening an Instagram account and a Youtube Channel. She started uploading videos of her routines and improvised jams regularly and was quickly rewarded with warm praise and a sense of purpose.
“In my short experience, I’ve started to really understand the impact of what I’m doing,” she says. “At first, it was all about me, but now it’s about inspiring people. It’s about helping people with anxiety. It’s about showing little girls that it might be a male-dominated industry, but there’s still space for us here; just as much space. I don’t take it lightly.”
From there, Flawed Freedom cut back on her Melodics use while she was honing her recording and live performance skills in the studio. “I got a little gear and software crazy,” she laughs. “Now I use Maschine, Ableton and FL Studio.” Working away, she developed a beat-making practice she describes as a mixture of sampling and music theory. “It just kind of flows,” she continues. “Now it’s about feeling. Do my ears like this? I start a lot of my tracks with piano, and I really like mallets. I try not to overthink it and just do what feels good. If something doesn’t sound great, I’ll save it and come back to it later. I just want people to be moved.”
The future is bright
More recently, however, as she prepares to start releasing her recordings properly, Flawed Freedom has found herself returning to Melodics regularly again. “I’ve recently gone back and stuff that was so difficult back then, months ago, or however long, I can knock out now, no problem,” she enthuses. “I think that’s really cool just to see the progression and know that I really am putting in the time and the work to be better.”
This time around, she’s also found her relationship with the software shifting, reflecting: “At first, when I was doing Melodics, I was just focused on drums and timing”. Now what I take from Melodics is this. If I do a lesson on finger independence and I don’t do that well, I know that’s something I really need to work on. So whether it’s in Melodics, or outside of Melodics, I’m doing things to try and work on my finger independence or my hand independence.”
Moving forward, aside from releasing music, Flawed Freedom has dreams of opening her own online beat store to sell instrumentals to vocalists and rappers. After the pandemic is under control, she hopes to start performing live and pay it forward by teaching finger drumming and production to eager students. And when the time comes, she knows what she’ll say to them:
“Don’t take it too seriously, don’t stress yourself out, and have a good time. Be consistent — and that doesn’t mean you have to set a confined schedule of what you’re going to do — but just consistently work on your craft. Make sure you’re true to yourself. Everyone has opinions. Everybody has feedback, and that’s nice, but do what makes you happy. Make the music that you want to make and be consistent. Be true to yourself, and you can’t go wrong.”
Hopefully, as Flawed Freedom’s profile rises, she’ll continue to communicate these messages to others for years to come.
Four Thirty – Flawed Freedom – the debut EP
Purchasing her first home on 20th April 2021, and with a tumultuous 2020 in hindsight, Flawed Freedom has now entered a transformational period of her life, coinciding with releasing her first EP ‘Four Thirty.’
For her, “April 30th signifies a new beginning” — a fitting symbol of the rapid metamorphosis from the musically-untrained Ashley Simpson, to the finger drummer and producer Flawed Freedom.
With that beginning, I’ve released fear and doubt and shared my very first EP. Four Thirty is a blend of soul, funk, and hip-hop and it’s my hope that it relaxes folks as well as makes you want to move.