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JumpinJack AJ

KICKIN' IT WITH CARVIN (OF A TOUCH OF JAZZ)

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For those that need a brief refresher, let's take it back to the mid-90's. When JJ+FP went on a hiatus after Code Red, Jeff used the money he was making from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and his other endeavors to build his existing production company, A Touch of Jazz. Around 1996, Jeff put together an incredible team of producers that took A Touch of Jazz to a new level. They were unknowns, inexperienced in the industry, but learning quickly and shaping the face of modern R&B/Soul. Next thing you know, they are producing for the Hip-Hop and R&B's finest, both for the mainstream and independently. Millions of records sold and collaborating with the likes of Will Smith, Michael Jackson, and Justin Timberlake.

Carvin Haggins and Ivan Barias are perhaps the most successful and most active group of producers to come out of A Touch of Jazz. They developed Musiq Soulchild, as well as new artist, BriaMarie, as well as producing and writing for Justin Timberlake, Mya, Brian McKnight, Amerie, Joe, Faith Evans, 2Pac, Keisha Cole, Jazmine Sullivan, Jill Scott, Mad Skillz, Dawn Robinson (of En Vogue), Bell Biv DeVoe, and the list goes on. He recently participated in The PLAYlists "Chasing Goosebumps." For those on this board, he was a producer and/or song writer on Will's "It's All Good," "La Fiesta," "Willennium Interlude," and Chocolate Form's "Neutral" off the Wild Wild West soundtrack.

Anyway, a couple of years ago I was able to meet Carvin at BriaMarie's album release party. We've remained friends on Facebook and Instagram.  One of my best friends is an incredible singer. The closest thing I can compare her to is Joss Stone, though she can handle any Adel, Sara Bareilles, Feist, or Civil Wars song too. When Carvin liked a picture of us, I was like "you should hear my friend sing." I later sent him some videos of her singing, asking if he had advice for her, or if he'd want to meet her. He was like "she has a beautiful voice...I'd love to meet her." The cool thing is, he was responsive and followed-up about it with a genuine interest.

Fast forward to today, we met him at Forge Recording Studios.  He was super cool and accommodating. We spent two hours talking about my friend, his journeys in the music industry, and other things.  It was truly a great time with lots of laughing.

The advice he gave my friend was invaluable. She learned in that short period time, what takes many people years to learn. He told here where she needs to register as an artist and how money is made between a vocalist, producer, and song writer. While I've always known the artist makes very little, I was surprised to find that they don't make a sense if they simply sang on the song. ZERO. He did mention how they artist does get paid through Sound Exchange though. He broke down how each song has a watermark, so every time a song is played on the radio or on a TV show, it's captured and the artist is paid. He also talked about the evils of big record labels, who the vocalist truly is a puppet and how most of the money they get ends up having to be paid back to the label since it's essentially loaned to them, then they have to pay the label back, and are set up to be in dept for the rest of their life.

He then talked about his own label. Most of this I already knew, but he was sharing the info with my friend. He talked about how his company's goal is to make good, timeless music that isn't explicit to the point that it will offend anyone. He talked about how he doesn't require artists to pay for things up front and how he works with each artist to tailor a song to them. He talked about how he will learn about the artists he works with by visiting where they grew up, exploring their social media, having long talks with them, etc. He said how his team at the studio all helps each other, works on each other's projects (if needed) and how they promote each other. He then played the new single by Montina.

Let me tell you, there is no experience like hearing a brand new single pumping through the speakers that are in the actual studio it was recorded in. She's from Beyone's camp. Montina is currently going through a divorce, so they are releasing an EP about the pain, followed by an EP of the healing. He also played us a song by Ms. Lynx (I may be spelling her name wrong). She's a female emcee and the new single is coming out in a week or two.

When exchanging email addresses, I gave him props for still using his AOL email address (like yours truly). We started talking about how gmail go hacked a few year ago, and since so many artists email song back and for these days a lot of songs and albums were leaked, put on Napster, and then shelved. He was proud that Musiq Soulchild's didn't leak since he was using AOL.

When he talked about wanting an artist to be themselves, flaws and all, we began talking about  Whitney Houston, who he knew. He talked about how it was the label's mission to make her the perfect pop princess that lead her to drugs. He shot down the idea that Bobby Brown was Whitney's downfall and that it was ultimately her label and her not being able to be herself all those years.

I asked him if the established artists have him send beats out, or if they come to his studio, which is in a nice suburb area outside of Philly. I specifically mentioned Kenny Lattimore. He said artists like Kenny create songs there.  When bringing up the topic if faith, he revealed that he's actually a reverend and that BriaMarie is on the worship team at his church. Needless to say, myself and my friend will one day attend a service.

He also gave us a tour of the studio, going to various studios and booths. Some more intimate and some bigger.  He had frames all over the walls of CD's that had come out of the label. He also had a wall that featured plaques from his work with Will Smith, Music Soulchild, and Jill Scott. Another wall featured artists who had recorded there, such as BriaMarie, Jazmine Sullivan, Ginuwine, members of The Roots, Jon McLaghlin, and many more.

All in all, it was an incredible day. It ended with Carvin saying he did want to work with my friend and that he'd love to have her around as projects were being recorded, to find out more about her, and eventually start on a song.

 

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I forgot to tell two stories from today.

Carvin talked about how he entered the studio life deaf, dumb, and blind, teaching himself everything that Jeff didn't train them for. During the mixing of Musiq's album, he said he just looked over the shoulder of the engineer and that he'd occasionally ask a question. The engineer kept taking cigarette breaks. He would fiddle with the board while the engineer was on his smoke break. By the fifth smoke break, he told the engineer "I got this...you can clean up anything I mess up.

One thing that's really interesting about their hit "Love" is that everyone thought it was an undercover gospel song, the song actually is about singing to love as if it were a person. In fact, a gospel group has recorded it, replacing the word "love" with "Lord." At the time they did the song, Carvin was Muslim. He has since become a Christian and credits that unintentional tie in to faith God at work. When talking about Musiq today, he said that after the first album, Musiq saw a vocal coach, who ruined his singing style somewhat. They tried to change how Musiq hits and holds that high not in "Love." The technical correction of the vocal coach created a mental limitation, and Musiq no longer tries to sing that note. 

 

Edited by JumpinJack AJ

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This is amazing! Carvin, Ivan, Dre, Vidal, Keith & Darren did some amazing music at a touch of jazz and afterwards. They were responsible for the neo soul movement and sold a lot of albums but their production was always on point. So good to hear you got to hang out with Carvin and that he's a great guy!

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thanks for sharing your experience with carvin with us, those are some incredible stories he shared with you!

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Another part I think that's worth sharing is sharing how Carvin started as a songwriter.  He came to Jeff as a rapper, but other than writing his own rhymes, he had never written an R&B song. He said that what he would do was take multiple hit songs and look at their structure and compare them to each other. He would take what he took away from the comparisons and add his own touch to it to write songs.

 

He said how he's not a singer and can't play instruments, but that he can hear the music and talk to a musician about what he wants to hear and how he communicates that to the musicians to get the sound he wants. I've previously heard him touch on that interviews, but I thought that was pretty incredible. The music he makes isn't like Puffy's where he plays no instruments and just jacked beats.

 

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Another thing he shared about song writing is that he has a term called "generally specific." He advises against writing songs that are so overly specific to yourself that you risk your fan base responding with "who cares?"  He suggests that you represent yourself completely in your lyrics, but that you are selective about the details of the song because you want the listener to hear the song and to be able to relate and make it their own.

 

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that's some awesome insight from carvin, good stuff dude...

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