First Steps In Making A Movie Soundtrack by Harvey Mason, Jr.

Watch the video interview on Youtube here

 

Film Courage: Harvey, once you say “Yes” to a project, what are some of the first steps?

Harvey Mason, Jr.: When I take on a project, I start researching it, looking back at what they’ve done before or reading any kind of background material, scripts, outlines, things like that. If it’s an artist, I’m listening to all of the music that they have recorded, what the voices are, listening to who maybe the actors are. And in the case of some of these movies, you’re looking back at the history of the music that is going to be featured in the film and kind of seeing…Okay, what can I do to these songs to make them contemporary and relevant. How can I push them? How careful do I have to be because there is some classic copyrights there that you don’t want to tamper with? So you start researching it and then you start laying out an organizational plan on how you are going to attack the project. The latest film I am working on had about 70 songs in it. So you have to be a little bit strategic with how you do it.

My next project is kind of broken out into three different groups of styles of songs so I kind of start organizing it. The next step is to start casting and thinking about who am I going to use…the director’s casting the film. I am casting the music. Who am I going to use to create the right sound for each individual piece of music? And luckily living in Los Angeles, we have access to the best musicians and best vocalists, so I can pull from an amazing group of talent. But part of my job is to specifically make sure that the people that I bring in accomplish the sound that I want for that particular piece of music.

Watch the video interview on Youtube here

Film Courage: Okay…let’s talk about SING (movie) then. So once they presented you with the script and you knew who some of the voice actors were, how did you fit the different songs for each character?

Harvey Mason, Jr.: Well that was a trick because there was so much material and so many characters but ultimately what the job was for me was to take kind of the playlist that they had put together and figure out what was the personality of each character and how can I translate that into kind of a sonic, genre specific sound for them.

So Ash (Scarlett Johansson’s character) the porcupine is real edgy, rocky. So we just knew the songs that she was going to do just had to have that edge. Reese’s character is kind of pop, a cleaner-cut pop artist. So really it was about recognizing the personality of the artist and then figuring out which songs worked for them and then ultimately making sure that I gave them that consistent sound.

Film Courage: Now once you decided which artist you were going to use, what is your process? Are you contacting the song writer or the artist themselves who performed it? What is the process like in getting approval?

Harvey Mason, Jr.: Once the songs were chosen and approved by the heads of the studio, there is another person who works with us. His name is Jojo Villanueva. He’s the music supervisor. So his job is specifically to go in and license and clear all of these songs. I think he cleared almost 100 pieces of music. So that process involves going to the publisher, going to the artists’ record companies, the performers, all those people, depending on if we’re going to use the actual master recording or if we’re going to recreate it, there are a bunch of different variables there. But he has to reach out and negotiated all those fees and prices and usage and that’s a nutty job. He’s been doing that for SING movie for almost two years. That’s a big job!

Watch the video interview on Youtube here

Film Courage: Wow! Were there some songs that you presented and thought “You know this would be a great match!” I know you had Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Leonard Cohen (songs) in the movie. But what if other people didn’t think it was a match? And what is your process for proving your point or working with them (possibly just turning over the control to what they want). What was this like?

Harvey Mason, Jr.: Well to be honest, I didn’t choose a lot of the songs. I added my opinion and there are a few songs that I brought to the table, but a lot of the songs are chosen by the director. And so because he chose those songs there wasn’t a lot of people we had to prove it to. Maybe Chris Meledandri, the head of the studio, but for the most part it was really knowing the songs he wanted and then how do we make those songs work in the context of the film and that was the position I was in. I mean Garth loves this song but he doesn’t know how to piece it together, how it’s going to fit. He’s not even sure that it is. If anything I am almost taking his idea and trying to prove it back. I’m like “Yeah, Garth. That’s a great song title. Let’s figure out how we can flip it.”

In other cases like the grand finale songs, there was some uncertainty about those songs. We went back and forth. We tried three or four different songs in different spots. We would do little rough demos. Don’t You Worry About a Thing was one in particular where we did a lot of versions of and improvements too. We started in one place, we started here and ended up way over here on that song.

Ultimately you’re just trying to create the right emotional feel, to hit the right beats for the director and the story with the music so you’re choosing the songs based on that. But once they’re chosen you can take a song ten different ways in production. It’s all how you produce it: the tempo, the key, the instrumentation. So as long as I was aware of what the song needed to accomplish, I was able to take those songs and manipulate them to kind of fit the scene.

 

Question for the Viewers: How is your process of incorporating music into a movie the same or different?

CONNECT WITH HARVEY MASON JR.
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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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