Harmony Samuels: Man Behind the Music
Michael had Quincy Jones; Whitney had Clive Davis; Brandy had Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins; Toni had Babyface; Aaliyah had Timbaland; Biggie had Puffy; Pac had Dr. Dre and Stevie Wonder had…well, he had himself. The point is, where there is great music, somewhere in a studio behind a piano or a mixing board is the mastermind. This is the guy (or girl) who usually stays in the background, while the artist is publicly recognized for the crown masterpieces. Producers are fascinating because of the great responsibility they have in the musical process, and one mastermind who is quickly emerging as one of the greats is British producer and musical phenom Harmony Samuels; the genius behind two of the biggest albums released this year— Fantasia’s “Side Effects of You” and Ariana Grande’s “Yours Truly”. Heed had a pretty open conversation with the producer on everything from working with Fantasia, to landing the executive producer role for the “Best Man Holiday” soundtrack, and it was rather exciting to speak with the man behind some of this year’s best music.
Having already produced hits for Chris Brown, Kelly Rowland, Keyshia Cole and Lil Wayne, adding Fantasia and Ariana Grande to his impressive resume comes as no surprise. Of the success of the two albums Harmony, who is one half of the duo behind BOE Global, says, “In some ways 50% of it is an amazing feeling, it’s an achievement and it’s a dream come true and then 50% of it is pressure, because now you’re forced to have to deliver all the time…[it’s] a lot of pressure to make sure you deliver consistently. You know, consistency is what keeps you in this game…” Let’s be honest, that type of pressure would weigh heavily on someone without a proper perspective, but Harmony quickly reminds me, “first and foremost, all glory to God because He’s the one that’s really how I got here in the first place…”
So, what goes into making a hit record? Every singer, songwriter, producer, and musician has his or her own regimen, and when asked Harmony said, “My process is really simple…” He explained, “When you live music and you live and breathe it as your lifestyle, you make music all the time. Even when I’m walking down the street or taking a shower, getting ready for the day, I’m literally making music in my mind…” This was the exact process for Fantasia’s hit “Without Me” with Missy Elliot and Kelly Rowland. “…I would wake up and hum melodies like ‘Without Me.’ I actually told everybody ‘Without Me’ was going to happen before it happened. I told the label, we’re going to do a record and it’s going to be huge! We’re going to put Missy Elliot on it and maybe Kelly Rowland or Brandy…and they looked at me like I was crazy! Like, what the hell is this British dude talking about?” [Laughs] He went on to say, “I could see what Fantasia needed and I knew what was going to cause people to pay attention…and I’m more of an architect.”
Interesting, yet perfect description of Harmony and how he works…as an architect. Listening to his productions, you can feel the level of attention he pays to detail; to the intricacies of what’s going to make the listeners say “wow!” He did it with Ariana’s ‘The Way’ and he did it with Fantasia. “I like to design and create from scratch and give it different colors and different avenues, and Fantasia was able to that. She had ‘Lose to Win’ which was more adult/contemporary, and then she had the young kids with ‘Without Me’…and just a broad open album. People were like, it’s a more commercial album for us and that’s what we wanted to do. We wanted to show that she was more universal.” And a #1 album later, I think they showed just that.
It doesn’t hurt that the 33-year-old super-producer is a bona fide musician. Learning by ear and honing his craft in church, by age 12 he was his church’s musical director, and it’s quite admirable that he still serves in ministry at his present church as the musical director. Twenty years later, we have the multi-instrumentalist we’re used to hearing on our radios. He notes, “Being a musician gives me longevity. That’s number one. Timbaland’s a musician, Pharrell’s a musician, Darkchild’s a musician, Quincy Jones is a musician, Teddy Riley is a musician…Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. I’ve mentioned a few names, but what makes them stay longer is that musicianship because now they can adapt to the new. The core of music is always going to be music, and music is musical instruments…they’re apart of human nature, so if you don’t know how to use them or utilize them it limits your range in motion. For me, having that allows me not only to have an extra 10 years in the game or maybe even 20, but it gives me the chance to work in different fields.”
One of those fields include working on motion picture soundtracks, like the highly anticipated Best Man Holiday (in theaters this Friday). “I was the first one to get a call,” he says. “The same label that did Fantasia’s album did the soundtrack. They said ‘the Best Man movie is coming and we wanted you to be involved with the soundtrack and I was like ‘hell yeah, of course!’” The true fan he is he went on to say, “The first movie is like one of my favorite movies. I was quoting lines from the movie and explaining different scenes and they were looking at me like, you really do like this movie!” Different from a conventional album, however, the recording process took on a more sensitive nature.” We had to make sure we matched the music with the movie. It was not about making music for the public…it wasn’t just us in the studio trying to make a hit, it was just fusing great music together to make this movie pop. So that’s why it was special. I think it’s going to actually bridge the gap between the generation before and this generation.”
For someone as gifted and musical as Harmony, is it surprising that one of his favorite albums comes from one of greatest musicians of all time? As a music lover, I often find it difficult to pin point one album as my favorite. For me, it’s everything by Emily King, and when I asked Harmony, like clockwork he assuredly said, “Stevie Wonder, ‘Songs in the Key of Life’…” He goes on, “I was drawn to the fact that he made every record himself. That’s genius to me! [Laughs] He plays the drums, he plays the bass, and he plays the keys…I mean who does that?” Stevie Wonder is one of the great musical architects of the 20th century and Harmony bares a modern day reflection of his genius. He’s managed to revive soul back into mainstream music, making it palatable enough for the new generation, while keeping the integrity of its foundation, a lesson he learned from Mr. Wonder. “I think he helped mold music for a generation and give people like me the ability to feel like we can do more than just hit a keyboard or hit a drum. It’s more like now we can create the picture and we can create the avenues for these artists.”
And it seems to me that Harmony is not only focused on creating avenues new artists like Ariana Grande, Adrian Marcel and B. Smyth, but also reigniting the avenues for existing artists like Jazmine Sullivan and Monica, two artist he admittedly wants to work with in the future. “I just think we’re gifted at starting careers. The future is more important, so if I can invest in it and help groom it so that it has passion and has content and has educative reason behind it…I believe I can help a generation. Not necessarily change it, but help it.”
With success comes great lessons and great lessons make for great advice. There are a lot of up and coming artists, musicians and producers interested in going to the top. Harmony encourages all artists to “find a producer to be inspired by…do research…and be the best at whatever you decide to do. Whether it’s songwriting or producing, make sure you can produce at a higher level before you try and make any money from it. And you know you have to have passion, and work very hard. One thing about this industry is there are a lot of barriers to jump over and a lot of middlemen to get through. And when I say middlemen, I mean people who promise you heaven and earth and really can’t deliver. So, you have to really work hard and know the business…know the labels…know who’s running the labels…know who’s above the people running the labels [Laughs]…educate yourself…and lastly, pray! Make Him be the center of it all. I mean it got me here!”
To hear some of Harmony’s incredible tunes, be sure to pick up “Yours Truly“ by Ariana Grande, “Side Effects of You” by Fantasia, “Talk a Good Game” by Kelly Rowland and “The Best Man Holiday Soundtrack”, all available now on iTunes!
Photos courtesy of www.boeglobal.com