LEANDER, Texas (KXAN) — It was a call any musician would like to get, but Brian Malik Baptiste was hesitant at first.
A producer for pop star Ariana Grande, Tommy Brown, was on the other end. Baptiste, 22, who goes by just “Malik” as a musician, had been to Los Angeles earlier this year to meet producers as he worked on his own debut album he plans to release in 2019.
The beat, bass track and a few accents he put together for Grande were the result of being in the right place at the right time.
“I was at the house and she was recording,” Malik said. “And Tommy hit me and was like, ‘Hey, we have this track she’s working on. She wants to go in a different direction with the production; see if you can come up with something.'”
He spent a couple hours on the song “Better Off.” He had the vocal and keyboard tracks already, and went to work finding drum and bass sounds he liked and layering them into the project. The 2014 graduate of Leander High School sent Brown the final product and headed back to Central Texas.
Then came the call. “It turns out she loved it,” he said, trying to conceal a smile, “and he hit me and was like, ‘Hey, it made the album.'”
“I was, like, ecstatic, but also, I’m going to wait. I’m going to wait until I hear it when it comes out.”
Grande’s album “Sweetener” debuted last month at No. 1 on the Billboard chart. He heard the song along with hundreds of thousands of others who bought or downloaded the album. For Malik, it represents a milestone he’s been working up to since before he even knew what it was he was working toward.
His first introduction to music came as a child, searching through a toy store for just the right thing he’d like to see under the Christmas tree. He saw a guitar and his mind was made up.
“I, like, instantly fell in love with making music,” he said.
Now, using primarily a digital music production program and keyboard at his Leander home, Malik has been working on his own first album for the last year and a half. He hasn’t revealed the name but plans to release it early next year.
Neither that nor his work on Grande’s album comes as a surprise to Tim Dittmar, Malik’s former professor at Austin Community College.
“He would always stay after class and play me his songs, play me his mixes,” Dittmar remembered, “so I knew about his talent, like, day one.”
Malik took a few classes in ACC’s Music Business, Performance and Technology program, taking a break last year to regroup and save up. He views his time there as a means to cultivate opportunities and to know how to capitalize on them, both of which he did in L.A. earlier this year.
“They fed a lot of positivity and gave me a lot of knowledge on how to go about things,” Malik said.
Now, with a production credit on a hit album to his name, he sees his future opening up. “There will be a next time,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of next times, and there’s going to be a lot more great music coming.”
Dittmar believes him.
“This is the coolest thing you can do, obviously, but it takes a lot of work,” the professor said, “and a lot of people aren’t willing to put in the work.”
Malik is willing to do it, and it’s already showing dividends. His friends and family have been very supportive, and he’s not worried about what people he doesn’t know might think of the song. It’s good, he says, so there’s no need to be nervous. His mind is on the future.
“I can’t sit back and [think], ‘Alright, we made it. We did it, you know, we’re here.’ It’s that much more urgency to achieve all my goals and dreams.”