Raphael Saadiq

Producing The Way I See It

Published in SOS June 2009
Bookmark and Share

People + Opinion : Artists / Engineers / Producers / Programmers

Artist and producer Raphael Saadiq has channelled his love of classic soul records to create something convincingly vintage, yet fresh‑sounding and alive.

Richard Buskin

Raphael Saadiq

It's one thing to recreate a legendary sound, quite another to authentically recapture a specific feel, and to do so with completely new material. That's what Raphael Saadiq has achieved on his latest opus, The Way I See It. Released last year in the US to widespread praise and recognition, including a trio of Grammy nominations and iTunes' selection as the Best Album of 2008, it's finally had an official release in the UK.

Born Charlie Ray Wiggins in Oakland, California, in 1966, Saadiq was a self‑taught multi‑instrumentalist by the age of six, playing guitar, bass and drums, with the bass already his instrument of choice. By the age of nine he was singing in a local gospel group, and it was under the name Raphael Wiggins that he commenced his professional career, supporting Prince on his 1986 Parade tour before joining forces a couple of years later with brother Dwayne Wiggins and cousin Timothy Christian in Tony! Toni! Toné!, who enjoyed mainstream success with their 1990 second album, The Revival.

Assuming the name of Raphael Saadiq during the mid‑'90s, he began to expand his operations into the production sphere, with projects material by fellow artists such as Macy Gray, TLC, the Roots and D'Angelo, earning the last a 2000 Grammy Award for the song 'Untitled'. Then, just over two years later, he released his first solo album, Instant Vintage, on his own Pookie Entertainment label. A collection of what he calls "gospedelic” tracks blending samples, soul, gospel and R&B, it made him the first artist without a major label affiliation to garner five Grammy nominations.

For The Way I See It, Saadiq signed to Columbia Records, but his unique retro‑futuristic vision remains intact. "While I was making the record, I watched videos by Gladys Knight & the Pips, Al Green and the Four Tops, and fused them all together,” he says. "Once I got into this, I got almost stuck in character, the character of the old‑school singers I listened to… This album is the culmination of a lifetime of experiences informed by the music I grew up on.”

An Inspirational Trip

Raphael Saadiq (left) and engineer Charles Brungardt at Blakeslee Studios during the sessions for The Way I See It.Raphael Saadiq (left) and engineer Charles Brungardt at Blakeslee Studios during the sessions for The Way I See It.

In planning the album, Saadiq also drew on his experiences on a trip to Costa Rica and the Bahamas. "I was surfing and ran into people from all kinds of places,” Saadiq explains, "and I noticed everybody was listening to this classic soul music. When I came back home, the music for this album flowed organically, naturally, and since I have my own studio I was able to perfect it and take my time to make it right. I was able to live with it day after day, and I think that had a lot to do with how the album turned out. It took about four months to put it all together.

"I've always wanted to be able to sing a two‑ or three‑minute song and make people want to hear it again. Stax did that, and so did Motown and the Beatles: artists who made real popular songs that touch my soul. It's the music that brings people together, the music that can even make animals stand there and listen. I always like to make music that will appeal to other musicans, as well as to people who listen to very commercial music; the cool cats of 40 to 50, the cool kids of 15 to 16, the cool black rapper – I want to bring all of those people together, because that's how music should be instead of how it is right now, which is really segregated.”

A case in point is the part‑Spanish‑language, doo‑wop‑flavoured "Callin'”, which Saadiq describes as "a jump back to the music of the '50s. I wanted to make a track that would get the lowriders. People talk about the division between Latinos and blacks, but we all grew up together loving the same music. This song is a reminder of how we do when we get together.

"Honestly, when I made this record I wasn't paying attention to trying to recapture a particular sound. I was just being me. I wasn't trying to do a Temptations song or a Smokey song – by the time I snapped my fingers and tapped my feet on the floor, I was there. I really lived it. I wasn't immersing myself in a role. It was like having a great dream and not wanting to wake up. That's why when people ask, 'What's your next album going to sound like?' I respond, 'What do you mean? This is me.' That's why the record is called The Way I See It. It's me, more than anything else I've ever done. In fact, making it has made me feel like I've never even done another record.

"I wrote all of the songs on the fly, most of the time with a guitar in my hand. I'd come up with some riffs, sing the song in my head, and I basically did this on my own. I would love to bounce ideas off other people, do some writing with them, take the material to my band and say, 'OK, let's cut it,' with the orchestra already there. That's my dream. I'd crank records out weekly if I had staff writers like they did at Stax and Motown, whereas right now, given the state of the industry, I had to sit in a room all by myself except for Chuck Brungardt, sing each song to myself while playing the drums, and then play the guitar over the top of that, play the bass, play some basic piano, do the vocal and record the strings later.”

About The Soul

Raphael Saadiq

"I find it easier to produce my own vocals with nobody in the room,” Saadiq asserts, "otherwise I'll be looking for answers from somebody who may not really know. I tend to record complete takes, and if something isn't quite right but it's got a feel that I know I can never ever capture again, I'll leave it, even if it's flat. I mean, there are flat parts on my record, because it's not about perfection, it's about the soul.

"I'm pretty good at knowing when something is complete. It's pretty easy for me to figure out when it's done. The way I live with it, I like to listen for hours late at night. That's part of producing it; listening to it and knowing when it moves me. I feel like it's marinating, sitting it in the pot overnight and letting it soak. When I play it, I know how it moves me and I feel like it'll move consumers in the same way. Having said that, I do work on multiple tracks at the same time, and that's really the only way I can work. I can work on a song for one or two days, but then I'll jump to another one. I might also get an idea for a song while I'm in the middle of working on another, but ADD [attention deficit disorder] does play a part!

"I grew up playing in a quartet, and these days, even when I'm playing on my own, I'm just grooving. I'm in it and you can't take me out of it. If anyone watches me, they'll think, 'What is he doing?' Once you start clapping along to something, you're locked into it, and that's what I bank on.”

The Old School

The control room at Blakeslee houses an SSL 9000 desk. The control room at Blakeslee houses an SSL 9000 desk.

Saadiq's Blakeslee studio in North Hollywood combines Pro Tools, an SSL 9000 and other state‑of‑the‑art equipment with a plethora of vintage gear, including a kick‑drum mic that was purchased from Abbey Road. Indeed, as a means of preparing for the aformentioned sessions, he and engineer Charles Brungardt familiarised themselves with old techniques by reading books such as Mark Lewisohn's The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions.

Accordingly, the recording setup was fairly basic in terms of both the miking and the outboard gear, with a Neumann U47 providing character to the guitars, and a U47 and U67 alternating as the overhead on Saadiq's specially purchased '60s Ludwig drum kit, while a combination of AKG D12 and C414 were employed on the kick, and a variety of fairly standard mics were used to attain a solid crack on the snare. Some second‑hand Ampex tape machines were also acquired to add extra warmth to the kit; Brungardt followed the advice of the salesman in removing the preamps and using them as a front end for Pro Tools.

For his vocals, Saadiq sought to embellish his characteristically clean delivery with a little edge, thickness and distortion by way of singing into a Shure SM7 dynamic mic, while Brungardt added some compression before employing a Fairchild compressor and Massey Tape‑Head plug‑in during the mix.

Cheating On The Girl

The main live area at Blakeslee.The main live area at Blakeslee.

Just like many of the classic Motown recordings of the '60s and early '70s, The Way I See It boasts an energy and an infectious quality that grabs the listener and keeps his or her attention throughout the two‑to‑four‑minute duration of each of the album's 13 tracks. And this, in turn, lends itself to some prime material for Saadiq's ongoing concert performances, having already toured Europe last summer, before spending November and December supporting John Legend.

"That's what music always used to be about,” he remarks. "People were in love with buying records because they were in love with the artists. These days, they're not in love with them, and that's why they're not in love with buying records. When you're in love with a girl, you buy her everything she wants, but the state of the industry right now is like we've been cheating on the girl. If you do that, she's going to leave you. So we've got to start loving the girl again. We've got to start making music to go perform it in front of people, and if they love it they won't care what format you put it in. They'll buy it digital or on vinyl.”

Which is why The Way I See It has been issued both on CD and as a collector's edition box of seven‑inch, 45rpm singles. Regardless of the medium, the content signals a return to the joyous and liberating feel of '50s and '60s popular music, and it is a feel that Raphael Saadiq wishes to retain well into the future.

"I want to continue to make this type of popular music,” he says. "It's the ride I want to ride on. Of course, it could change a little bit, but I don't want to do anything too slick. I love making people move in a bluesy way.”  

The Wonder Stuff

The Way I See It features a number of star turns from celebrity guests, most notably Stevie Wonder, who contributes his idiosyncratic, instantly recognisable style of harmonica playing to the Motown/Marvin Gaye‑flavoured 'Never Give You Up'. A smooth, mid‑tempo number co‑written with Charles 'CJ' Hilton, Jr, it sees the main artist interrupting his lead vocal to announce, "I'd like to invite Mr Stevie Wonder to my album. Come on, Stevie!”

"It was one of those things where the stars kind of lined up,” Saadiq remarks. "CJ Hilton actually played the drums and keyboards on that song — he was in the 'B' room — while I was on bass and guitar, and I said, 'CJ, you sing your verse, I'll sing my verse. Let's get it done.' We'd both been procrastinating in terms of writing the lyrics, so we went in and got it done, and I did the whole Stevie rap before Stevie was even on the record. That meant I was either going to have to erase that part or, if Stevie himself didn't play it, sing the harmonica solo and act like it was Stevie, jokingly saying, 'Doesn't it feel like he should be here?'

"I already knew Stevie, and whenever I'd called him in the past he'd never answered the phone, but this time he actually picked it up and said, 'What's up, fool?' Those were his exact words. I told him, 'Man, I've got this record and I need you to play a harmonica solo.' He said, 'When do you need me?' It was like 12.30, so I said, 'In an hour.' He said, 'An hour, man?' 'An hour.' 'An hour?' Stevie won't go nowhere for nobody in an hour. If you say an hour, he'll show up in two weeks. However, he showed up in an hour and a half. He walked in the room, played some songs on the keyboards for a minute, and then he said, 'OK, let me hear the song.' So I played it, and he did the harmonica solo and said, 'Is that what you need?' I said, 'That's it.' 'That's good for you?' 'That's good.' 'Do you want me to do it again?' 'No, it's great.' 'Let me do it again, let me do it again.' So, he played it again, and then he said, 'Let me do it one more time.' Which is what happened, and that's what ended up on the record.”

Similar articles

Peaceful Protest: The PAIX Project | Media

Audio files to accompany the article.

A project that was started to help unsigned bands show solidarity with victims of the Paris attacks has grown to unite musicians, artists and film-makers from around the world. And it’s not finished yet...

Mandy Parnell: Mastering Audio

Video Feature

Thumbnail for article: Mandy Parnell: Mastering Audio

We talk studio secret weapons and walk through a session with Björk and Tom Jones’ Grammy-winning mastering engineer.

Inside Track: Pentatonix

Secrets Of The Mix Engineers: Ed Boyer

Thumbnail for article: Inside Track: Pentatonix

In their conquest of the pop charts, Pentatonix’s only weapons were the human voice — and the skills of mix engineer Ed Boyer.

Rush: Recording & Mixing R40 Live

R Is For Rush

Thumbnail for article: Rush: Recording & Mixing R40 Live

The best engineers thrive on pressure. Which is handy when they’re recording the farewell tour of one of the world’s biggest rock bands, and timecode trouble is brewing...

Scott Jacoby: Producing Ronnie Spector

Video Feature

Thumbnail for article: Scott Jacoby: Producing Ronnie Spector

This month's in-depth video interview features Grammy-winning producer Scott Jacoby. He welcomes us into his own Eusonia studios in New York to show how he created a ‘60s-inspired track for the former Ronnettes lead singer.

Ben Folds

Recording So There

Thumbnail for article: Ben Folds

Fans of singer–songwriter Ben Folds expect piano music — but a full–on piano concerto is certainly a new development!

Inside Track: The Weeknd

Secrets Of The Mix Engineers: Carlo ‘Illangelo’ Montagnese

Thumbnail for article: Inside Track: The Weeknd

Engineer, mixer and producer Carlo Montagnese likens his work with the Weeknd to painting — and he’s not afraid to use plenty of colour!

Thank you to all our readers over the last 30 years...

You are in good company!

Thumbnail for article: Thank you to all our readers over the last 30 years...

“I admire Sound On Sound as the survivor amongst the professional media"...

Jean–Michel Jarre

Producing Electronica

Thumbnail for article: Jean–Michel Jarre

New album Electronica sees Jean–Michel Jarre making connections with a galaxy of other legendary figures from the world of electronic music.

Inside Track: Bring Me The Horizon

Secrets Of The Mix Engineers: Dan Lancaster

Thumbnail for article: Inside Track: Bring Me The Horizon

Where does a young mix engineer learn the techniques to deliver hit rock mixes? In Dan Lancaster’s case, right here!


Lauren Mayberry, Martin Doherty & Iain Cook: Producing Every Open Eye

Thumbnail for article: Chvrches

Like any good SOS readers, Scots electro-pop trio Chvrches used the success of their debut album to buy more synthesizers...

Inside Track: Muse's Drones

Secrets Of The Mix Engineers: Tommaso Colliva & Rich Costey

Thumbnail for article: Inside Track: Muse's Drones

Working on Muse’s hit album Drones gave Tommaso Colliva and Rich Costey unique insight into the extraordinary methods of hitmaking producer ‘Mutt’ Lange.

Rupert Neve: The SOS Interview (Video)

Video Feature

Thumbnail for article: Rupert Neve: The SOS Interview (Video)

In this month's video interview  we meet a living legend of the audio industry, Mr Rupert Neve himself. Over 25 minutes, we talk transformers, software modelling, and get the story of how he created the world's first high-Q equaliser.

75 Years Of The Shure Unidyne 55

One Direction

Thumbnail for article: 75 Years Of The Shure Unidyne 55

In 1939, Shure revolutionised the music industry with a microphone so successful that it is still in production today!

Inside Track: James Taylor's Before This World

Secrets Of The Mix Engineers: Dave O’Donnell

Thumbnail for article: Inside Track: James Taylor's Before This World

The art of music production lies in serving the song — and working with James Taylor, Dave O’Donnell felt that modern production trends would hinder his aim of capturing emotive performances.

John Chowning

Pioneer Of Electronic Music & Digital Synthesis

Thumbnail for article: John Chowning

A visionary in the field of electronic music, John Chowning invented FM synthesis and set up CCMRA, one of the world’s most influential research centres.

Richard King: How To Record Acoustic Ensembles

Recording Yo-Yo Ma

Thumbnail for article: Richard King: How To Record Acoustic Ensembles

Engineer Richard King has brought the art of ensemble recording to new heights in both classical and folk/pop spheres.

Throbbing Gristle ‘Hamburger Lady’

Classic Tracks

Thumbnail for article: Throbbing Gristle ‘Hamburger Lady’

Throbbing Gristle’s highly individualist approach to music extended as far as making their own instruments and, ultimately, their own genre.

Inside Track: Josh Groban’s album Stages

Secrets Of The Mix Engineers: Andy Selby & Bernie Herms

Thumbnail for article: Inside Track: Josh Groban’s album Stages

A combination of technical wizardry and old-school craft helped Bernie Herms and Andy Selby bring Josh Groban’s Broadway album to life.

Pete Keppler

Mixing Bowie, NIN & Katy Perry

Thumbnail for article: Pete Keppler

Pete Keppler’s career has seen him mix shows for some of the biggest artists in the world. We asked him how it all happened.

Slaves - Are You Satisfied?

Jolyon Thomas: Producing Are You Satisfied?

Thumbnail for article: Slaves - Are You Satisfied?

The success of Slaves’ debut album depended on producer Jolyon Thomas finding a way to bottle their raw live energy.

Vlado Meller

Mastering Engineer

Thumbnail for article: Vlado Meller

As one of the world’s leading mastering engineers, Vlado Meller has enjoyed great success — and his share of controversy.

‘Voodoo Ray’ by A Guy Called Gerald

Classic Tracks

Thumbnail for article: ‘Voodoo Ray’ by A Guy Called Gerald

Hailed as the first British acid house single, A Guy Called Gerald’s sublime ‘Voodoo Ray’ has since become a classic in its own right.

Faith No More

Bill Gould: Recording Sol Invictus

Thumbnail for article: Faith No More

Recording and producing your own music is always a challenge — especially if, like Faith No More, your previous albums have been done by the best in the business!


Home | Search | News | Current Issue | Tablet Mag | Articles | Forum | Blog | Subscribe | Shop | Readers Ads

Advertise | Information | Privacy Policy | Support | Login Help


Email: Contact SOS

Telephone: +44 (0)1954 789888

Fax: +44 (0)1954 789895

Registered Office: Media House, Trafalgar Way, Bar Hill, Cambridge, CB23 8SQ, United Kingdom.

Sound On Sound Ltd is registered in England and Wales.

Company number: 3015516 VAT number: GB 638 5307 26


We accept the following payment methods in our web Shop:

Pay by PayPal - fast and secure  VISA  MasterCard  Solo  Electron  Maestro (used to be Switch)  

All contents copyright © SOS Publications Group and/or its licensors, 1985-2016. All rights reserved.
The contents of this article are subject to worldwide copyright protection and reproduction in whole or part, whether mechanical or electronic, is expressly forbidden without the prior written consent of the Publishers. Great care has been taken to ensure accuracy in the preparation of this article but neither Sound On Sound Limited nor the publishers can be held responsible for its contents.
The views expressed are those of the contributors and not necessarily those of the publishers.

Web site designed & maintained by PB Associates | SOS | Relative Media