If you're a fan of hip-hop, you might've heard Cody Knazze's music and didn't even know it.
His name and face might not be on an album cover, but his distinctive sound has been incorporated onto tracks by artists such as the Wu-Tang Clan.
At just 17, Knazze is part of a new breed of 21st-century musicians and entrepreneurs.
The senior creates song beats and hooks that he leases and sells to other musical acts to be played on their tracks. He has his own website, and he's struck up collaborations with producers and artists across the country.
"Most of my time is spent making beats," said Knazze, a straight-A student. "That's my hobby, I guess, and my future career. That's how I hope to make my living. Everyone wants a job that's fun to go to."
Knazze's musical outlet is something he found by accident thanks to working on computers when he was only 2 years old with his grandfather. The Frankfort teen would help his granddad build machines and install programs from the ground up.
It wasn't until grade school that Knazze started combining his computer skills with a blooming love for music. He and a friend would play around with a music program during recess, creating tunes on the computer. Eventually, the school started using what he was composing during morning announcements.
From there, Knazze continued to experiment.
"Pretty much everything is self-taught," he said. "I just started messing with stuff, making simple beats on (the computer). Just learning and learning and learning and that's been going on for years."
Knazze even took the lessons he learned from his grandfather and applied it to his own music making.
"With a computer, you have all the parts and while you're putting it together you go, 'I need this and I need that'," he said. "You may think you're done, but once you boot it up it doesn't start and it's not finished. Well, I can be making a beat and have all the parts and be listening to it, and I'll think something's missing. This is not finished. Just the same as you would with a computer.
"Over the time making beats, I've developed an ear for music, hearing things that the average consumer won't," Knazze added. "And I'll know to put this small little sound in the background. But it's one of those things that the normal person will be listening to it and they won't even realize that they're hearing it while they're listening. But if I took it out, they'd know something is missing."
Sharing His Sound
At first, Knazze kept his music to himself and a close circle of friends. It's those same friends who encouraged him to start spreading out his sounds to a wider audience. That's when he began selling his beats on a website called RocBattle, which sells beats and hooks for other musicians to use.
"I was always iffy about whether my stuff was good or whether people would think I was good because everybody thinks they're good," he said.
Other people did, indeed, think he was good. Good enough, in fact, to pay for his tracks, something that floored him the first time it happened.
"Wow, someone actually paid money for my stuff!" he said "Everytime (someone buys a beat) it feels great."
And it's been feeling pretty great lately. Knazze says he averages about $500 a month off his beats. It runs about $20 to lease one of his beats, but it can cost a musician $200 or more to buy the exclusive rights.
"That's what pulls in the big money," he said, adding that he earned $1,500 one month from selling exclusive rights to some of his beats. That was the same month he bought his car.
Keeping an Open Musical Mind
Although he primarily creates hip-hop beats, Knazze immerses himself in all types of music. His phone is filled with tracks that run the gamut from rap, pop and techno to orchestral. The most unusual song on his player: "Carol's Theme" by Greek violinist Nicos.
"The more music I listen to, the more ideas I get," Knazze said. "All that helps me make better beats. ... I'll be listening to an orchestral song on my phone, and I'll be like, 'That's some nice violin. I want to use some violin in my next beat.' It helps to branch out to all different types of music."
It's that diversity of sound that he admires--and tries to emulate--in the work of hip-hop artists and producers like Kanye West, Timbaland and Pharrell Williams of N*E*R*D.
"I like the stuff that makes you think critically on it," he said. "That's how I want my stuff to be. When (audiences) are about to listen to something by me, I want them not to know what to expect."
Another way he's broadening his musical talent is by taking instrument lessons. Last year, it was piano. This year, it's guitar.
"They're all helping me a lot," Knazze said. "I'm able to read music much easier and much more quickly now. … I'm getting better with that every day. Playing the guitar is only helping me out. … It's helping me branch out even more."
'I've Never Thought About Stopping. Ever'
Ultimately, Knazze wants to keep climbing the success ladder in the music business.
"I want to keep what I'm doing, make a bigger name, get more sales and eventually I actually want to get out of leasing and become an industry producer," he said.
Knazze plans to attend two-year vocational Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy in Chicago when he graduates. He also is waiting to hear about a deal between him and prominent musician and recording label.
"Even if that (deal doesn't happen), I'm not going to slow down," he said. "I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing because it's fun. I'm not doing this just for the money. The money's nice, of course, but I'm not doing this just for the money. I like making music. It's just great to finish up the track and just listen to it and say, 'Wow I made that.'
"There's always rejection," he added. "That's where a lot of people mess up. … They let it get them down and they just stop. I've been rejected plenty of times. … I just say their loss. There's always going to be more chances. … If I get rejected, I don't let it get me down. I think: Why did they reject me? Let me try and make it better next time. I've never thought about stopping. Ever."