Fresno State alumnus turned music producer hopes to pave the way for other Valley kids

Jacob Rivera, who also goes by the stage name Pilotkid, performing a DJ set on top of a mountain at Malibu in May earlier this year. (Photo courtesy of Jacob Rivera)

In 2019, a doodle of a flying character in a Fresno State classroom marked the beginning of Jacob Rivera’s work as a music producer under the name Pilotkid

Two years after Rivera’s graduation in 2020, he’s now stationed in Los Angeles producing songs for artists he once listened to in his free time, including the rapper Russ, who released the single “Yes Sir,” produced by Rivera last June. 

When promoting the single, Russ called Rivera “a young legend” on his Instagram.

But Rivera’s biggest goal isn’t another star-studded collaboration or an award – it’s to pave the way for kids from the Valley to pursue music the way he has.

“I hope to be the door to open up to other kids who didn’t know that this was a possibility,” he said.

Rivera’s passion for music began at a young age. By the time he was in middle school he’d developed an interest in the drums and guitar, taking lessons for basic chords and “YouTube-ing” the rest. 

He was a self-described band geek through high school, which landed him a scholarship to Fresno State. 

During high school he played trombone in a Dixieland Jazz band, the Reedley River Rats, under Sam Gipson’s mentorship. Rivera performed with the group for over two years, during which time Gipson said he could already tell Rivera was driven.

“He was definitely very involved in as much of the music as he could be at the school that we were offering. He was just a part of everything he could be,” Gipson said.

Rivera’s passion was already all-consuming before he stumbled on a YouTube video of J. Cole explaining the process behind production of his hit song “Power Trip.” Rivera bought everything he saw J. Cole use in the video and set to work becoming a music producer himself.

“All throughout my entire college career was me making music as much as possible, every waking moment,” Rivera said.

By the start of his fifth year at Fresno State as a psychology major, he was producing albums for himself and found that he had extra beats with nobody to give them to. He made a YouTube channel, and within a few months he was getting work.

When he graduated during the pandemic, he was making enough money producing music to quit his job and move to LA. 

As a music producer, Rivera said his main task is to “bring an idea to life.” But his second task puts his psychology degree to work.

“It’s kind of my job to understand what [musicians are] trying to say and get inside of their head. As soon as I meet them, I ask questions and try to understand where they’re coming from and put that out in the form of music,” he said.

Working that closely with musicians he’s admired and worked with has been one of Rivera’s favorite parts of his work. 

He noted the excitement of hearing artists he’d previously listened to over his own beats, as well as telling well-known musicians like Russ about his college town of Fresno, which he called “surreal.”

“I know this guy personally now. Like, this man knows about Fresno and where I’m from,” Rivera said.

Most importantly to Rivera, it was in LA that he found the community he’d been searching for.

“Having had no one to really play my music for back in the Valley, I found myself in this little bubble by myself. When I came out to [Los Angeles] it was like I got tossed into a giant lake,” he said.

Knowing what it was like to feel alone in his pursuit of music production in the Valley, Rivera hopes to open up the possibilities for other kids who have similar aspirations.

“I think I want to be that for anybody else who doesn’t know that this is possible. Because I didn’t know this was possible, I had to figure it out,” he said.

He’s finding early success in that goal, too. Already he said that a friend’s little brother, who previously knew nothing about music production, now hopes to be a music producer himself one day.

Rivera’s music can be listened to on Youtube, Beatstore, Spotify, Apple Music and SoundCloud.

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