As Sam Cornejo stepped off the stage after performing last year in John Brown University’s talent show, he knew that he wanted to do it again the next year. So he started brainstorming—realizing that his act for 2012 would have to be both different and better.
Cornejo, who works entirely by himself, looks for three things when scouting potential songs to perform: popularity, rhythm and vocals. “When you beat box, you have to think what people like,” he explained, smiling as he remembers his father telling him not pursue beat boxing because nobody would like it. His father has since admitted he was wrong.
Originally from El Salvador, Cornejo was first exposed to beat boxing by an online video when he was 13, which he described as, “sick.” However, it wasn’t until 2008 that he became a serious beat boxer; due to continuously watching YouTube tutorials. The tutorials showed him how to master some of the basic sounds of kick drum, high-hat, snares and plate.
“You just practice until you get it right,” Cornejo said.
Some of his favorite YouTube artists to watch and learn from include KRNFX, Reeps One, Roxorloops, Beardyman and Poolpo. Cornejo’s own sound is a mix of those five plus some of his own originality.
For this year’s talent show, he was inspired by YouTube sensation Mike Tompkins’ cover of “Just the Way You Are,” originally by Bruno Mars. Cornejo actually emailed Tompkins asking for advice, and was thrilled when he got a reply. “Start with beat box and then build everything from there,” Tompkins encouraged him.
For three weeks, Cornejo listened to the hit single, picking apart all of the different musical parts in his mind. “I listened to the song over and over and over,” he remembered. Using only his IPod Touch, he then recorded himself mimicking two different high hats, bass, harmonies, piano, drums and a whistle. Not to mention the beat box. And the vocals, which he performed live at the talent show.
Cornejo makes sure to practice every day. Whether he has just woken up or is walking to his next class, you are likely to find him breaking it down with some sort of mad beat.
“There are so many sounds you can do,” he said, many of which he is still trying to learn. “I did things this year that I couldn’t do last year,” he added.
Since his debut in last year’s talent show, he has been able to improve his speed and add dub step to his list of skills. Cornejo characterizes dub step as “throat base or robotic noise:” an electronic sound. “It’s the hardest thing, you have to keep drinking water,” he said.
So what’s next on his agenda?
With the money he won from the talent show, Cornejo is going to invest in a professional recording mic. And hopefully use that to make more YouTube videos.
Cornejo has his own YouTube channel, xamuch182, which features several videos of his beat boxing skills. Although it’s often difficult to find time during the semester to produce new content, he hopes he will find time over the summer to make more videos.
He also, might have the opportunity, this summer, to be interviewed on television back in El Salvador.