Behind The Board With Grammy-Winning Producer D'Mile: How Determination Leads To Success
The first experience Grammy Award-winning producer and songwriter Dernst "D'Mile" Emile II had with music was when he was two or three years old, interrupting a lesson his father, Dernst Emile, was giving a student. The multi-hyphenate hopped on the nearest keyboard and began playing, having no clue what he was doing.
"My dad pulled me to the side and told me I couldn't do that while people were working," D'Mile tells EDITION. "But I was trying to show my dad that I could play even though I didn't know anything about keys, but I just went and did it."
That determination showed D'Mile's father, who happened to be a music producer, the raw talent in his son and had the boy join him and his wife, Yanick Étienne, whenever they would work in their at-home studio. D'Mile got his first-ever placement at just six years old working on his mother's album, and although it was just the beginning for D'Mile, he knew music would be a part of who he was.
D’Mile’s journey into the music industry is described as a natural one. He can't remember a time when he wasn't surrounded by music as he grew up listening to jazz before catching on to the late Notorious B.I.G. and his collective, Junior M.A.F.I.A., on his own. Whether he was listening to albums or crafting his work with a 4-track tape recorder and a mixer, D'Mile was determined to immerse himself in music fully.
By the time he was a teenager, D'Mile had access to a studio owned by a family friend that allowed him to grow tremendously as a producer and songwriter. The Brooklyn native began learning how to use samples and Cubase, a music production software program. As his skills got better, people began taking notice of his creativity, and it wouldn't be long before more placements fell on D'Mile's lap.
"I've been doing this all my life," says D'Mile. "Every experience I've had with music has been a step up, or next-level type of thing for me, and the more I explored and studied, the bigger my passion got."
D'Mile's big break came in 2005 when he landed his first major production placements on Rihanna's debut album Music of the Sun and Mary J. Blige's The Breakthrough. Those two albums helped D'Mile fall on the radar of legendary producer and songwriter Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins through a mutual friend. Darkchild took D'Mile under his wing, and as he tells EDITION, the rest was history.
"We got to sit down and talk, and he was really interested in what I was doing," D'Mile explains. "I joined his team, and we were like the musical X-Men [laughs]. Just seeing how he worked and how he got a record done was kind of like how I felt it should be done, so I knew I had to be there and it worked out for me."
Today, D'Mile's stock is even higher than it was in the past. He almost called it quits after seeing where the industry was headed but working with new generational artists such as H.E.R. and Lucky Daye kept him going, which led to even more success.
D'Mile has several movie soundtrack credits (he scored the coveted Academy Award for Best Original Song for co-writing H.E.R.'s "Fight for You" from Judas and the Black Messiah), a long list of artists at his disposal (some examples include being the main producer for projects like Lucky Daye's 2019 debut album Painted and 2022's sophomore follow-up Candydrip, Victoria Monét's 2020 Jaguar EP, and Joyce Wrice's 2021 Overgrown debut) and some hardware to put on the shelves in his home, including two back-to-back Song of the Year Grammy trophies, the first songwriter in history to accomplish such a feat.
"I had no idea no one else had done that," says D'Mile of his accomplishment at the 2022 Grammy Awards. "I felt I made a mistake or something [laughs]. I didn't expect to win the first year in 2021 [for “I Can’t Breathe,” which he co-wrote with H.E.R. and Tiara Thomas]. I was home that year, and I thought Billie Eilish was going to take it. To do it again a second year was great, honestly."
That second Grammy was one of three that D'Mile took home thanks to his contributions to Silk Sonic's 2021 smash hit "Leave The Door Open" (the other wins included Record of the Year and Best R&B Song). He expected Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak to win, but in the manner they did with a clean sweep was the last thing on D'Mile's mind.
"That night was an emotional roller coaster for me because my mom died a few days before, and one of the last things I said to my mom was 'I'm going to bring more Grammys home,' and that's exactly what happened. I didn't know it was going to be like that, though."
D'Mile accomplished so much in his career, and from the outside looking in, there's nothing else he could possibly want. But he feels there is always work that needs to get done and that only makes him strive for more, whether it be working with his own artists or getting to score a movie.
"I just care about the music," he says. "Every once in a while, maybe I'll have a moment by myself and appreciate what I've done so far. But I honestly just care about the music and how I can get better each time.
"As great as all this attention is and how important building your brand is, I always look forward to the music. I can't ever forget that's what got me here in the first place."
RAPID-FIRE QUESTIONS WITH D'MILE
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Favorite studio moment: I got to meet Whitney Houston. I was with Darkchild at the time, and she came to see him, but we were in the middle of working on Dirty Money stuff. It ended up being a great night where she shared stories about her spiritual trip to Israel, and we played music.
Go-to instrument in the studio: I may go with the keys, like piano and all that. I might start with that but it varies.
Most nerve-wracking moment in the studio: It was the first time I met Mary J. Blige. I was cool before she came into the room, but I closed up once she arrived. I still did my job, but I was hoping to have really nailed it for her. I wasn't confident at all at that moment [laughs].
Favorite songwriter: I love songwriters who are artists because they can write for themselves. I love Victoria Monet, Lucky Daye, but that's really hard to pick.
Favorite producer of all time: Quincy Jones, easily.
Favorite studio in New York City: It used to be Sony Studios, but that doesn't exist anymore. I remember always going and seeing so many people there, like Roc-A-Fella Records. Kanye West also needed someone who played the piano for his first album [2004's The College Dropout] and I almost had the chance to play for him but it didn't end up working out. But that's where I met Darkchild.
Favorite music production program: Ableton. I was a Logic guy but switched, and I'm sticking to it.
Must have studio essentials: I just need my instruments like a keyboard, a sustain pedal and that's pretty much it. I don't really have a ritual; I just want the vibes to be good. I don't have a crazy list of demands like others do.
Favorite song of all time: "Human Nature" by Michael Jackson because it sounds like magic. In my head, the way that song was made came from heaven. No one met up in the studio. It just came from heaven. Michael didn't record it [laughs]. It just happened. How was that record even possible?