Advice For Musicians Starting Their Careers by Harvey Mason Jr. of SING Movie

Watch more of this video interview with Harvey Mason, Jr. here on Youtube

Film Courage: Harvey, when you get a call from someone to take on a project or consider a project, what are some of the first things you do to make sure you want to commit?

Harvey Mason, Jr.: First of all, I look and see if I have kind of the bandwidth to do it, the scheduling and it’s something I can fit into my workload. And then, more importantly, I look at it from the standpoint of is it something that is going to be really, really good, high quality, something that I am going to have fun doing, something that I am not going to be coming into the studio everyday thinking “Oh God, what am I working on?”

In this point in my career, I want to do great things. I want to do projects that I am proud of and that I enjoy creating.

 

“A lot of what I do now I learned early on in my career, so that’s a formative time in your creative process. I don’t think at that point you can afford to be choosey. I see a lot of people doing that like “Oh, I’m not going to work on that” and I think that’s a huge mistake. Because there is always some tiny nugget you are going to get from everyday you show up to work in the studio. It’s repetition…you have to do it hundreds and hundreds of songs to get to that place where you are creating great ones.”

 

Film Courage: Definitely with SING movie, I can see why you would want to take that project on.

Harvey Mason, Jr.: SING was a no-brainer for me because it was so much great music, it was working with an amazing cast and one of my favorite director/studio head combinations that I’ve ever worked with, Chris Meledandri and Garth Jennings. Those guys are just amazing. I always love working with Mike Knobloch at Universal because he’s a real musical guy and when he calls me with a project, usually it’s something exciting. He’s really intense about music and he loves it. When he calls and says “Hey I’ve got a potential project” I stop what I am doing and concentrate on what he’s talking about because it’s usually something fun. Straight Outta Compton I did for him, the James Brown film GET ON UP I did for him and so just real music intensive projects.

Film Courage: In another interview you did with Jennifer Hudson for SING, you two talked about how some of the music is much older and a millennials unfortunately may not know some of these artists, so I think that is great that you are bringing these older artists into the movie.

Harvey Mason, Jr.: That has been my goal with some of this music is to freshen it up a little bit so that young people can enjoy listening to it. Maybe it will make them go back and listen to some of the music that this artist has done before. It introduces it in ways they can digest.

 

Film Courage: Going back to something you said earlier about wanting to enjoy what you are working on, I know you are at a point in your career where you can probably be choosey. This is certainly an excellent place to be. What is it about a project or how do you decide “You know what, I think maybe this won’t be for me?” Was this always the case for you? Were you always at a place where you thought “I don’t want to work on this because I won’t be committed 100%”

Harvey Mason, Jr.: (Laughs) No, I wasn’t always at that place because I used to commit to everything 100% and it got really draining and tiring, taxing my creativity.

For years and years, we were doing records with artists that were not great artists or artists that you might not think would come out. A lot of them didn’t come out. We wasted a lot of really good material and songs on artists that we really shouldn’t have been working on. But at the early stages of my career, I just wanted to create. I wanted to be in the studio. I wanted to be working on my craft, so I used a lot of years doing things that I otherwise wouldn’t have done.

I think it is all a progression. It goes in stages. One thing leads to another and gets me to where I am. I worked with artists that were new. I didn’t know if they would come out, but it ended up that I worked with one of them and it was Chris Brown, who was 14-years-old when I started with him. At that time we were doing a ton of artists for Jai Records. A lot of them were new or unsigned. At that time you never know what is going to hit, what is not going to hit and he [Chris Brown] ended up being a kind of a career artist for me and somebody that I have done tons of songs with.

So early in my career I definitely took the approach of work with everybody, give it your all, pour everything you have into every project. Now (as you’ve said) I’m a little more selective and I concentrate on stuff that I think is going to be great.

Film Courage: I think you started out with jingles in the beginning?

Harvey Mason, Jr.: I did.

Film Courage: Let’s suppose for someone starting out, whether it is in music producing, film, acting, whatever – should they take on every project that they can at first, but then once you get to a certain level, choose which ones are going to fulfill you instead of drain you?

Harvey Mason, Jr.: Absolutely. And I would say no project is too small. You can learn from every project. You can improve from every project. You can also build your name and reputation from every project. Early on in your career, I would recommend anyone in the arts be it acting, creating, anything…start with doing everything you can. Get your hands on any project because you can always improve, you can always get better, you can always build your reputation and your name. You don’t know who is going to hear that song you wrote for that horrible artist and then it leads you to a great artist. And also, you don’t know what you’re going to pick up from any given session, any given artist. You can learn one of the things that can last you an entire career. I learned so many things early in my studio sessions that have stayed with me forever, all the way to this point to where I do what I do now. A lot of what I do now I learned early on in my career, so that’s a formative time in your creative process. I don’t think at that point you can afford to be choosy. I see a lot of people doing that like “Oh, I’m not going to work on that” and I think that’s a huge mistake. Because there is always some tiny nugget you are going to get from everyday you show up to work in the studio. It’s repetition…you have to do it hundreds and hundreds of songs to get to that place where you are creating great ones.

 

 

 

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Watch the trailer to SING here on Youtube

About Harvey Mason, Jr.:

For the past twenty years, Harvey Mason Jr. has not only penned and produced songs for both industry legends and today’s superstars including Aretha Franklin, Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and Chris Brown, but he has been instrumental in producing music for many of the biggest musical films and television shows of the past decade. Everyone from Beyoncé and Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls, Whitney Houston in Sparkle, to the eclectic cast in Pitch Perfect, and Mary J. Blige and Neyo in The Wiz Live! have called on Harvey to deliver music of the highest standards for blockbuster musical productions.

Harvey was born in Boston, Massachusetts where his parents attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music. Harvey’s father, Harvey Mason, Sr., is a noted jazz drummer and founding member of the group, Fourplay. Mason Jr. grew up in Los Angeles where he tagged along to his father’s recording sessions with the likes of Quincy Jones, Carole King, The Brothers Johnson and Herbie Hancock. Harvey wrote his first song, “Love Makes It Better” for Grover Washington, Jr. at the age of eight. Besides being a gifted musician, Harvey was also a gifted athlete and attended the University of Arizona on a basketball scholarship and played in the 1988 Final Four with teammates Sean Elliott and Steve Kerr.

Harvey’s first success came when he wrote the song “Truthfully” for Brandy’s 1998 release Never Say Never. He then joined forces with Rodney Jerkins’, Darkchild Entertainment, and continued to write and produce hits for the likes of Jennifer Lopez, Destiny’s Child, Toni Braxton, Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson. In 2000, Mason Jr. formed the production company, The Underdogs, whose first hit was Tyrese’s “I Like Them Girls”. They continued to top the R&B charts with hits for B2K, Marques Houston, Ruben Studdard, Joe, Avant, and Omarion. Harvey topped the charts in 2009 with the number one hit, “No Air” with Jordin Sparks and Chris Brown and again in 2012 with Chris Brown’s “Turn Up The Music”.
In 2006, Harvey produced the soundtrack for the movie musical Dreamgirls. His work on Dreamgirls was the first to produce three Oscar-nominated songs from the same film in the same year. In 2008, Harvey Mason Media produced the major motion picture More Than A Game documenting the incredible journey of LeBron James’ high school basketball team. The movie garnered a second place People’s Choice Award at the prestigious Toronto Film Festival behind the film Slumdog Millionaire. Harvey also composed the score to the film and served as executive producer on the soundtrack Music Inspired By More Than A Game released on his label Mason Music through Interscope Records. In 2012, Harvey was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for the song “The Living Proof” with Mary J. Blige featured in the movie The Help. Sadly, he was the last producer to work with Whitney Houston when he produced the songs “His Eye On The Sparrow” and “Celebrate” for the movie Sparkle. Later in 2012, Harvey produced all of the a cappella vocal performances for the hit film Pitch Perfect featuring Rebel Wilson and Anna Kendrick. In 2014, he produced the music for Get On Up, the film about the life and music of the legendary James Brown. Harvey again joined with the cast of Pitch Perfect with the addition of Hailey Steinfeld to produce new a cappella hits for the movie’s 2015 sequel. In the summer of 2015, Harvey arranged and produced all the legendary NWA music for the theatrical release of Straight Outta Compton. Most recently, he wrote and produced music for the top rated NBC broadcast of The Wiz Live!. Currently, Harvey is in production on music for the animated film Sing from the creators of Despicable Me and Minions to be released later in 2016.
Harvey proudly serves on the National Board of Trustees for the Recording Academy and serves as co-chair of the Producers and Engineers Wing and the Advocacy Committee. He is also a member of the Board of Trustees for his Alma mater, the University of Arizona. Harvey donates his time and resources to several charitable organizations including GRAMMY in the Schools, MusicCares Foundation, Ronald McDonald House, the American Cancer Society, and Los Angeles Children’s Hospital. Harvey received the Spirit of Excellence Award in 2012 by the T.J. Martell Foundation for his philanthropic efforts.

 

 

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