Interview with SOULDIGGAZ, producers for Missy Elliott, Mary J Blige, Beyoncé - Feb 23, 2006
“The best way to present your demo is having a CD with a cover that’s looking correct. The more you go out for the look of all your stuff people might respect you more and open that CD and listen to it. Everything in this business is about appearances,”… says Bless, a.k.a. LaShaun Owens, one of three producers in the production team Souldiggaz. In 2003 they signed a major production deal with Missy Elliott and have also worked with Mary J Blige, Beyoncé, Fabolous and Monica.
They have also produced music for television, including the Gap (copyright) commercial starring Missy Elliott and Madonna, Beyoncé’s L'Oreal campaign, and original intro music for The Eve Show.
Read about their advice for aspiring artists and producers, what equipment they use, and how to make a good living with commercials while developing artists.
How did you get your break into the industry?
When I was younger a lot of people were trying to sign me and my brother. We met different people, were playing music, going from door to door, starting off the old fashioned way. As time passed we broke down a few barriers and ended up getting more and more records. Recording the track “For the Love of This” on Pras’ solo debut ‘Ghetto Superstar’ helped to open some doors for us.
Then, in 2001, we were working on another artist and Corte Ellis came to us. He was the only person that we hooked up with that we really matched with. We were already doing hip hop and r&b, and he came in with lyrics and arrangements that were incredible. So we added another partner. In between that short period of time we ended up meeting Missy Elliott.
What kind of success did the production deal with Missy Elliott in 2003 generate for you?
For the most part, it got us a lot of exposure. It opened a lot of people’s eyes of who weren’t sure about writing a check for us. It was like, if Missy sees something in them they must got something. We’re a production company that got so much potential to grow and even be beyond everybody’s expectations.
What is your vision for the company?
To brand the company overall as a mass production team. It started off with me and my partner K-Mack, but we have other producers down with us now. We’re trying to have a team where everybody can go to. If there’s something you need done, send the artist to SoulDiggaz. It’s like a factory. They go in a little out of shape, they come out in great shape.
What styles of music do you focus on?
Hip hop, r&b and rock are the main things. Last night I got finished working with this guy named Matt. A few people from Sony sent him over. He used to be a part of a rock band called New Blood Revival. We recently did an Ashlee Simpson remix for “Love”. We’ve done r&b records. We did the original intro for the Eve sitcom. We did the Gap® commercial with Madonna. We’re getting into more television stuff.
Do you provide artist management?
Yes. We work with Tonia Kempler (Emerge Entertainment). She’s an excellent manager. We got a whole management team that puts it all together.
How do you pick the right partner?
It’s good to know a person’s good points, but know a person’s bad points too. Because the bad points are what is going to get you through and get you respected through the game. You might have somebody you work with who’s good at doing music but then they might go around and burn a lot of bridges. It’s good to know who you are working with. It’s like a marriage. You got to know who you are dealing with.
Where did you learn the business side of things?
We learned a lot about the business side of things from doing everything ourselves for a long time. It’s good to be that way, but it’s also important about having an aggressive strong management team. One of my main things is that I love to stay in the studio and just work. I hate having to go on the phone and be an industry guy.
What advice would you give to aspiring producers / songwriters?
Just stay consistent. Try to be in all events and meet people. Then eventually you meet somebody who’s connected to somebody. Don’t weigh yourself in. Don’t sign on to nothing unless you know that it’s really worth it. Always make sure that the terms are right. That anything that you do you can get out of everything that’s not correct.
How should aspiring producers / songwriters present their material?
The best way to present it is having a CD with a cover that’s looking correct. The more you go out for the look of all your stuff people might respect you more and open that CD and listen to it. Everything in this business is about appearances. Basically, like smoke and mirrors. You got to make people believe that you’re more than what you are.
Which mics do you use?
For the most part I use Neumann mics. I even like a lot of the M-Audio and Blue mics. They got a real good warm sound.
Technically, can vocals be recorded differently depending on whether they are rap, female or male?
Yes, they could, but for the most part I do it the same. Back in the Motown days, they used to have a booth in a bathroom and they had pillows in certain rooms to make a studio. We have a professional studio that’s new, but if you’re just starting it’s a good thing. You got to make sure you haven’t got a lot of background noise and that you don’t have fans on while you’re recording.
Get some books on recording techniques if you’re a new starting artist and you’re starting with a new basic set up. Now they’ve got all this new equipment and programs that you can use that basically you can do everything compared to years ago. In 2001 me and my partner we bought a two inch machine, and two years later we got ProTools and didn’t touch the two inch machine since.
How much in equipment does your studio cost?
It varies a whole lot because when we got our equipment it was thousands and thousands of dollars. Now you can have three thousand dollars and you can record, do a track, do everything. Back in the days, you couldn’t leave the studio. You had to be in a big studio to get that certain sound.
Do you only use a laptop?
For the most part I use a laptop, but I got a stationary set-up too. When I’m in the studio I use my iMac G5. I got the same exact set-up built into my laptop. If I got to go to a hotel or if I’m on the road I got the same exact thing that I can bring with me.
Which plug-ins do you use most often?
I use so much different stuff. It depends on the situation. If I’m mixing I like to use a lot of Wave stuff. I use Logic sometimes if I transfer stuff from system to system, depending on the project.
When did you feel for the first time that you had done something that sounded like a “real” record?
It was practiced when I was younger. I’ve been doing music since I was 10 years old. Me and my partner were in the studio in the early hip hop days. We were always in studios playing together, making demos. Even back then we felt like what we have was hot for the time. It’s hard to say when I felt it, because it’s a natural process.
Which production are you most happy with?
Everything that we do I’m happy with. Everything that we’re letting get released I’m happy with. But sometimes, A&Rs and different people don’t get the vision right away. They might not want to release a song as a single. Or they might want to hold back on something because they’re not sure.
In this business you got to stay different from everybody else, because when you’re different you have a longevity record. It’s like color. If you got a white wall and you’re white, you’re going to blend right in. But if you got a white wall and you’re exotic color, people are going to pay more attention to you. You got to be a little bit different.
Which beat is your greatest beat?
It was a song on a Honey soundtrack called “Hurt Sumthin.” That was a record that we did with Missy Elliott. And I think it’s one of the greatest records that we did with her. They wanted to put it on a soundtrack instead of making it her first single.
How did the idea originate?
When we first started with Missy, she came into the studio and said: “I got all the beats that you guys send me. I love all the beats you gave me. But I don’t really know if you all really did those beats. So, you ought to do all new shit.” We thought we were comfortable and sit in the studio with Missy and she was just going to record to all the beats we sent her. We sat down in Miami and she told us that we were going to stay for a week. We ended up there the whole month literally doing ten to fifteen beats a day. Out of the first couple of days that’s when we did that track.
Which instrument started out first?
I used to use the MPC 4000. It really started off with me doing drums. And from that point it just got better.
What input can managers and A&Rs have?
I’m a fifty-fifty person. We’re both fifty-fifty guys. We listen for the most part, but if a song is just crazy we could say: “Hey, it’s a good idea and we will try it, but if it doesn’t work then that’s it.”
How did you get involved with those major productions for commercials and advertising agencies?
We got started with Missy and then from there other scouts that were looking for guys who did hip hop and different styles started giving us calls. They’ve looked and seen what we were doing. SoulDiggaz has been on the radar of a lot of people for a few years now. It has made a way for us to get that certain next explosion track.
How much money is involved for a commercial deal?
In some situations you might get from a couple of grand to almost five zeros or more. It’s depending on the situation and the budget. Or you could take less on the front and then get more on the back end from actual syndication royalties.
How does working for a commercial differ from sending demos of an artist?
With a commercial it’s a bit more difficult because you got to get everything into a thirty second or a one minute or a ten second. It’s like a conversation. If I had to get my point across in ten seconds, thirty seconds or in a minute, you got to get all the basis of the music. If there’s lyrics involved it’s even harder because you got to know what to chop off to get to the point.
In what way does it benefit producers to work for commercials?
It’s longevity money. It’s a good investment because it’s money that doesn’t stop. Once you got a commercial and it is a good commercial, they’re going to play it all the time. Over here we got this TNT cable TV network with a special bunch of old films, but the cool part about it is they show old commercials. You might see an old commercial from 1970.
Do you build strategies on how to target your market?
We try to strategize on who’s going to hear it, what they might need or who’s the A&R to talk to. Or who’s the person that could get us straight to the artist if we don’t know the artist ourselves already.
How can you be different nowadays with all these media influences?
You got to bar yourself from it. Music is music. And there’s not going to be no new keys invented. There might one day be a new instrument invented, but it’s not going to be any time soon. Music is based on point of view. If I give you a keyboard and I give another person a keyboard, the first thing you hit on the keys is like totally different from the next person. As long as you keep a tunnel vision on what’s in your heart and in your mind, you’ll be okay. But if you try to think about what the next person is doing, that’s when you fall into the trenches.
What are your plans for the future?
We plan on continuing doing music but also get involved in some other things. Films. Possibly scoring. We have a lot of different big plans. We got a big plan for this summer, but I can’t expose on that.
We’ve got an artist named Yung Kuntry. He’s an artist from Valdosta, Georgia. He’s incredible. He’s going to be the next biggest name brand artist coming in general.
Interviewed by Kimbel Bouwman
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