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COLIN EMMANUEL: Recording Jamelia 'Money', Ft Beenie Man

COLIN EMMANUEL: Recording Jamelia's ' Money', Featuring Beenie Man

Although 'Money' took new British R&B star Jamelia into the top 5 at the age of 17, her apparent overnight success was built on more than a year of hard work by producer Colin Emmanuel. Sam Inglis uncovers the story behind the single.

Despite the massive worldwide popularity of the genre, it's unusual to find a successful R&B single that bears the legend 'Made in Britain'. It's even more unusual for that record to feature both a newly discovered 17‑year‑old singer and the undisputed king of Jamaican music. And it's almost certainly unique for it to be based around real orchestral strings and operatic backing vocals. Nevertheless, that's exactly the combination that British record buyers and radio audiences were treated to earlier this year, courtesy of an inspired collaboration between singer Jamelia, reggae megastar Beenie Man and London‑based producer Colin Emmanuel. The resulting track, 'Money' was one of the most original R&B singles of recent years and became Jamelia's breakthrough hit, peaking at 5 in the UK singles chart.

Although 'Money' was mixed in Los Angeles and Beenie Man's contributions were tracked in Jamaica, the bulk of the song was recorded in the Shepherd's Bush studio complex where Emmanuel is based. As well as being Jamelia's first hit single, 'Money' also represented a major milestone in Emmanuel's career — the difficult step up from programming and remixing to a major production job.

Hard Slog

COLIN EMMANUEL: Recording Jamelia's ' Money', Featuring Beenie Man

Like most producers, Colin owes his current position partly to luck — in his case, however, bad luck: "The original plan was that I was going to be a footballer. But I got run over a week before my trials for Tottenham, and I lost half my foot. And when you're in hospital doing your homework and stuff, all you've got is your headphones. So I started taking tunes apart, working out how they'd put together the drum patterns, and I made up my mind that when the compensation money came through I was going to go into music and get a little setup.

"I used to work in a newsagents, and I used to read all the magazines when I should have been serving the customers, working out what I was going to buy and how stuff worked. I met a guy at the shop who was into music as well, and he said 'You should come down the studio, see if you like it, try it out,' and I joined his band. We were programming on Dr T on the Atari, and they had a Sequential drum machine, which had the samples on EPROM chips. I started as a programmer, and then just picked it up from there.

"I was torn between going to university and going to the School of Audio Engineering, and due to my dad being considerably bigger than me, I did both! I went to university during the week in Leicester, and then I'd come back home at weekends and go to SAE."

With his name as a programmer and keyboard player getting around, Colin was invited to work with pioneering British rappers Definition Of Sound — a relationship that led eventually to his sharing a manager and a studio with the group. Much of his remix work was carried out under the pseudonym C‑Swing, but with his move into big‑time production he has chosen to revert to his real name.

The Origin Of Money

Colin's minimal equipment rack, used to produce most of the sequenced sounds on 'Money': from top, Akai MPC3000 sampling workstation, MOTU MIDI Timepiece AV, Emu Planet Phatt and Roland JV1080 sound modules, Akai S300XL sampler, Esoniq ESQM sound module, Apple Mac.Colin's minimal equipment rack, used to produce most of the sequenced sounds on 'Money': from top, Akai MPC3000 sampling workstation, MOTU MIDI Timepiece AV, Emu Planet Phatt and Roland JV1080 sound modules, Akai S300XL sampler, Esoniq ESQM sound module, Apple Mac.

The convoluted story behind 'Money' sheds light not only on modern music production, but also on the workings of major labels' A&R departments. "I got a phone call from Lloyd Brown who works at Parlophone A&R," explains Colin. "He called up and said 'There's a young girl I've seen at a carnival, she sent in a really rough demo tape, and I think she can sing. I want to put her on development, could you do a session with her, and let me know if you think she's got potential? Oh, and can you pick her up, as well?' I said 'How old is she?' and he was like 'Fifteen'. So I was looking at the phone thinking 'Yeah, right.'

"I drove to pick her up, and this girl came out of the house in a bright blue plastic leather jacket and bright coloured leggings, and that was Jamelia. And I was like, 'OK, this is going to be interesting.' So we drove down to a studio in Brixton to do a little demo, and the first thing I noticed was that she could really, really write. Even for 15, she could write a blinding song. She hadn't learnt to control her voice yet, but we came out with quite a good song.

"I called up Lloyd and said 'I think she's brilliant, there's something definitely happening here.' It went quiet for a bit, because she was 'in development', and I didn't really hear anything for a year. And then I was down at Parlophone to see a Robbie Williams showcase, and I bumped into Lloyd, and he said 'The project's still on, and I want you on board, go and do some writing with her.' So she came down and we wrote about three tracks in two days and then it went quiet again and I didn't hear from them for another couple of months.

"I moved into this building and they put us in for one more session, and suddenly it all clicked. I don't know if it was being in this building, or being with Daniel De'Bourg [another artist and producer who shares Colin's management]. I've developed quite a good writing relationship with Daniel, so we're a kind of team when it comes to writing. I stayed up one night and did about four or five backing tracks, and suddenly everything I'd done before got shelved and they went with those backing tracks — 'I Do', which was the first single, and a track called 'One Day' which is on the album, and a track called 'Not With You'. And then that was it, it stopped, there was going to be nothing else — apart from this track that was knocking about, which became 'Money'."

Money Talks

COLIN EMMANUEL: Recording Jamelia's ' Money', Featuring Beenie Man

The genesis of 'Money' was even less straightforward than that of the other tracks. In fact, it started out as a completely different song for a different artist: "Basically, 'Money' was a Beverley Knight remix. It was a very weird situation, cos I was working on Jamelia's album, and at the same time Kevin Clark [who worked with Colin in Definition Of Sound and is now Knight's A&R man] was asking me to work on a remix of Beverley Knight's 'Greatest Day'. I'd worked on about five or six versions — I'd go away, do a version, bring it back, not accepted, go away, do another one. I was getting really frustrated, so eventually I thought 'I'm just going to stop doing the mix and work on a tune,' because I had this riff going around in my head, this bass line, and I started working on that.

"The idea was to finish off my tune and then go back to Beverley's tune and see how it works. So I'd pretty much got the skeleton of 'Money' done, the bass line and the basic groove of it, and I went back to load up her vocals in Logic, but I hadn't taken off the backing track for 'Money'. And it fitted. Kevin phoned back and said 'This is definitely the one, this should happen,' — and it got turned down. I wasn't really fazed by it, though, because it was a good mix, but it didn't really match the song.

"All the time I was doing the mix, Jamelia was coming into the studio and saying 'Can I have the track?', and I was like 'Well, no you can't, because it's for Beverley, and you're both on the same label and it's going to cause a lot of problems.' This went on for the entire week we were working together, and eventually I thought 'Well, I'll shut her up by saying she should ask her A&R man,' because him and Kevin were on the same floor. I got a phone call about an hour later saying 'Lloyd says I can have the track'. And she ran off with it and came back the next day and said 'I've written something, I've got a song.'

"She sang it, and it sounded really good, so we said 'OK, let's go for a guide vocal'. She threw the guide vocal down, and that's the same vocal that's in the final version. It's just on an AKG C3000 and Joemeek compressor." The vocals were recorded via an Emagic Audiowerk8 card onto Logic Audio on Colin's Apple Macintosh.

"There was no middle eight in it at that time, so I called up my friend James Yarde. He's another keyboard player — I tend to work with him quite a bit if I'm getting a bit stuck on something. I'd got to the point where I couldn't find any more ideas for it. I couldn't find where to take it chord‑wise to go to a middle eight. I knew what I wanted, so I called him to come down and said 'Could you create a middle eight for us?' He spent a bit of time working out a middle eight, and I left the room and came back and he played the middle eight to me, and I said 'No, it's too R&B.' I said 'You have to get into where my head is at, which is classical, so take the chords and the same progressions and bend them!' It was weird, because he could only use the sounds that I used, that was like the only rule — 'You can only use what I've got there already, which is harpsichord, harp, strings, whatever, but you can't put anything new in there, and you can't change it.'

"After about five hours he had it, this middle eight. So we phoned up Jamelia and Dan, and said 'We've got a middle eight, come down and write to it.' And they came down and wrote that part together, then we threw that part down as a guide vocal as well, and that was more or less the song done, until they wanted to go into the studio and do it 'properly'. So at this point in time there was no Beenie Man, no live strings, no opera, it was just the basic track."

Culture Beat

Colin's new room in his studio complex. 'Money' was partly recorded here and partly in his old room upstairs.Colin's new room in his studio complex. 'Money' was partly recorded here and partly in his old room upstairs.

At this stage, 'Money' was a fairly standard R&B track. But part of the job of a producer is to find ways of making ordinary tracks a bit special, and so Colin applied his imagination: "The way I tend to work with an artist, once I get into them, is through imaging. So, for example, when I did Jamelia's first single 'I Do', I'd just seen Zorro, and I wanted to capture the Spanish vibe. I remember her saying to me that she loved classical music, and for some reason I had visions of Dangerous Liaisons characters, the dresses, the ball‑gowns, and those kind of dances, and I thought 'opera.' But I didn't say anything, I said to myself 'Don't be so stupid'. But I came into work the next day and Dean Zepherin [Emmanuel's manager] was listening to it, and he goes 'You know, I had a crazy idea last night.' And we both knew he was going to say 'Let's put opera in it.'

"At the time I was working with an artist whose manager also looks after Charlotte Church, so we said 'Let's give them a phone call and see if we can get Charlotte Church on the track.' So originally it was going to be Jamelia featuring Beenie Man and Charlotte Church, but we spoke to Sony, and they very politely said 'Sorry, but we can't really see it being beneficial to her career.' I asked if they could recommend anyone else, and he said 'Well, there's this new girl who's been hanging about trying to get into session work and opera singing, so try her out.' This was a girl called Davina Adshead. I wasn't sure how opera singers work, whether they'd want sheet music, or whether they'd want to hear the notes, so I had it all scored out and I had it on the computer, the piano notes of the harmonies I wanted her to do. She came down and said 'Oh, I can't actually read music,' so I played the notes and she was like 'OK, fine', and sang it.

"I wanted it to sound like a sample, so we tracked it up, and we did the Omen‑ish bit at the start, and she said 'Is that it?' It had taken 40 minutes. On the part where it's copying the bass line it's two notes tracked up four times, and the intro bit is the same. It was always going to be that big airy sound that I was going for — I was trying to get the impact on that down beat all the time. Once you add certain sounds to it, it sounds bigger than it is — there's a crash in there too, and it never comes in by itself except at the very start."

Taking The Rap

Mix engineer Dave Pensado (in the check shirt) with (from left to right) his assistant Dylan, producer Colin Emmanuel and Colin's manager Dean Zepherin.Mix engineer Dave Pensado (in the check shirt) with (from left to right) his assistant Dylan, producer Colin Emmanuel and Colin's manager Dean Zepherin.

The fact that 'Money' acquired a prominent opera influence was unusual enough; but the next stage in its development was to be equally unexpected. "When we did the first guide vocal, Lloyd came down in the evening to hear it, and he said 'This sounds good, it's a bit left of centre, but it's definitely a good track. Who do you hear rapping on it?' And I was like 'Well, I don't. I don't hear a rap on it.' But then Lloyd said 'I hear something mad. I could hear Beenie Man on this.' Everyone was like 'Oh, right', and carried on talking, but when he said 'Beenie Man' I thought 'Good idea'. Even so, we all thought it wasn't going to happen, because we didn't know how to get hold of him, it'd cost a fortune, and so on. And it was left at that.

"Then Dean [Zepherin] came back in the building to hear what I'd been doing, and I said 'Oh, what about if we got Beenie Man to do a chat on it?' And he was like 'Yeah, good idea. I'll get hold of him. He's worked here.' So by the time Lloyd had gone to Parlophone to ask if it was possible, Dean had the price and the schedule worked out already as to how much it would cost, how we would do it, what he wanted, and it was just a case of Parlophone saying yes."

Beenie Man's contributions were recorded at his own Shocking Vibes studio complex in Jamaica. The prospect of flying to Jamaica to do the recording made Colin quite apprehensive: "I went to Jamaica when I was 10, and I hated it. I had a really bad experience, and I didn't want to go back. From my experience of going to Jamaica I thought it was going to be a load of hassle, a load of arguments, we were probably going to get ripped off, the studio wasn't going to be that brilliant, and I didn't know what we were going to come back with. But it was the complete opposite. Jamaicans are the most professional people I've worked with. They're on time, there's no messing about. The engineers know all the equipment inside out, they know exactly how far to push stuff. The desk they were using in that studio was just a little Soundcraft, but they got a phenomenal sound out of it.

"We did a drum submix and a bass submix, and the rest of the music, and Jamelia's vocals on two tracks, and we basically took over a 2‑inch tape, so he had 14 tracks to go on. We had a DAT as well, as a backup in case anything happened through the airport. So we gave them the 2‑inch reel, and they threw it on — and I don't know if it's the way they hear things and mix things, but it was only at that point that I realised that there was so much ragga in there, such a reggae influence. I had never heard it before, but the way they EQ'd it for him to do his part over, it suddenly came out that way. Then Beenie Man came in, listened to it, loved it, asked me a lot of questions about Jamelia — How old is she? What does she look like? What's she into? What's the idea behind the song? And I explained it all to him, and he sat down and listened to it again, and basically just started working it out to himself in the corner.

"He tends to find a hook first, and then work out his words and a melody later. So he was messing around with a few ideas. The first one, everyone in the room, even he was like 'Naaahh'. And then he came up with 'Money can't buy me love,' based on the Beatles, and I was like 'Yeah, go with that one'. So he went into the booth, and he came up with this singing part 'Money can't buy me love.' Everyone in the room kind of looked, like 'Is he being serious?', because he wasn't getting the note, basically. He was trying to get the same note that the opera singer was getting, but he wasn't getting it, and there was a debate as to whether he should go for it or not. I said 'Leave it alone', because I always remember from listening to stuff like the Sex Pistols, you tend to catch on to things where people don't sing. If they actually make it a deliberate style where they're not singing it properly, you tend to sing along with it. It's like someone having a laugh as opposed to someone who's trying to do it but just isn't a very good singer.

"I've worked with people of that stature before — I've done some vocals with KRS‑One — and the first thing you learn is that you don't say anything. Just let them get on with it, because you want what they do, as opposed to you saying 'Could you do this, or that?' You want what they bring to the game. So unless I heard something I didn't like, I didn't say anything. And we basically nipped through and tracked it up, and did the chatting part, and then went back to do some ad libs throughout the track. He got Jamelia's name wrong, he was pronouncing it the wrong way, and I was kind of sitting there thinking 'Do I tell Beenie Man that he's saying Jamelia's name the wrong way?' and I thought 'Well, it's my track, so I'd better.' So he went back and redid it, and then he was gone — I was listening back to the track to make sure it was OK, and he just disappeared. He's not really an attention‑seeking person."

String Arrangements

The Alesis Quadrasynth that provided several of the sounds used on 'Money', with a Roland A33 controller keyboard.The Alesis Quadrasynth that provided several of the sounds used on 'Money', with a Roland A33 controller keyboard.

The final element of the track to fall into place was the live strings. From the beginning, 'Money' had been built around string patches from Colin's Roland JV1080 and Alesis Quadrasynth, and the decision was eventually taken to augment the synth strings with a real quartet. "I sat down with Dean, and he said 'Well, what do you want to do with the track? It's your first proper job for a label, so the budgets aren't that big. You can either do it on presets and walk away with some money in the bank, or you can really go for it, and you're not going to have much left over.' And I said 'We'll go for it.' We didn't really have the funds to go to a big studio to do the strings, we had to do it here, so we were trying to work out how to do it."

Recording the strings in Emmanuel's studio posed some tricky problems. The Audiowerk8's two inputs were not enough to record four close‑miked string players simultaneously, and anyway the Macintosh was not powerful enough to cope with the number of additional audio tracks that would be generated by multitracked strings. "Wayne Antoine, my engineer, had already advised me that the strings should be recorded onto analogue tape for a warmer sound, and so we had to find some way of sync'ing my Mac to analogue tape whilst still playing audio. We hit upon the idea of running two‑track submixes of the music, vocals and then strings into our Roland VS880, which is excellent for locking to MIDI from most sync boxes. Using a Fostex G16S we placed SMPTE on the tape generated from a MOTU MIDI Time Piece AV. The MTP AV was then used to read SMPTE and generate MIDI timecode, with Cubase VST being used as the sync and tempo controller. A mono mix of the music was then also placed on tape as an additional timing reference.

"Going through a 32‑channel analogue Mackie desk, the strings were laid down onto the Fostex and VS880 simultaneously in blocks of four. The end result was something like three main passes — 12 tracks — and then an additional two tracks. So then we had the strings on tape for that warm sound, hopefully in time, and also on my VS880 so that I could carry on with any necessary pre‑production. This all seemed fine in principle, but obviously myself and Wayne must have overlooked something because the strings on my VS880 had drifted all over the place — to this day I still haven't worked out how — but we knew we had a version on tape which was in time with the backing track.

"Wayne decided to go back to his room and dump the tracks into his Mac, which has an Audiomedia card with word clock and more inputs. But there's no word clock on the Fostex and anything that could generate word clock was hired out. So we placed the four‑bar click from the reference track on the tape at the start of every string track, and then Wayne threw them into Cubase in the same way they were recorded (ie. in groups of four) along with the mono'd reference track. The file formats were then converted and burned onto CD for me to load into Logic."

Mixing Matters

Beenie Man and Jamelia get dressed up for the 'Money' video.Beenie Man and Jamelia get dressed up for the 'Money' video.

By the time 'Money' reached the mix stage, Parlophone had decided to call in the services of top American mix engineer Dave Pensado — a decision which Colin was initially uneasy with. "I was actually quite set on mixing 'Money' over here," he explains, "because by the time I'd come back from Jamaica and realised it had that much of a ragga influence in it, I felt that apart from a Jamaican engineer, the only person who could deal with it would be someone from England. Reggae is part of English culture more than American culture, so I was actually fighting the idea of going to America, but we sat down and looked at Dave's credits, and we saw that he was one of the best mix engineers around at the moment, and so if anything it was going to be an experience just to work with him — and if it came out wrong, we could always do it again.

"When the phone call came through that Dave Pensado was going to mix it in America, we had to get it on to 2‑inch as quickly as possible, which basically involved doing a 48‑track transfer. We had bits in the Mac, we had bits in the VS880, we had bits on the 16‑track, and we still had Beenie Man's vocals on the DAT because we hadn't taken them off the 2‑inch yet. It took me about two days to get all the parts into one place! I also spent a day going through it and making sure the sounds were right. I tend to touch up my sounds in the JV1080, I don't like using straight presets, so I spent a day going through those, programming up the sounds to make sure they were doing exactly what I wanted, getting the quantising dead right, because I knew that once we got to America, we'd be paying for a top mixer, so it had to be all right on tape.

"At the mix, we had two sets of chorus vocals, the lead vocal, the verse ad libs, Beenie Man's part — Beenie Man's got about five or six tracks of ad libs, and he double‑tracks himself when he does his singing part as well. The rhythm part came to about 12 tracks, because there's three bass drums — the drum pattern is weird, because I didn't have it lanned out in my head. Sometimes you can just hear what a drum beat's meant to do, and it's very much a case of taking it a bar at a time and seeing if it works. So by doing it that way I ended up with these different bass drums on it.

"It was a large mix. I remember the look on David's face when he put up all the faders! I gave him the tape, and said 'Do you want to hear the reference mix?' He said 'No, no, I'll just get on with it and listen to your mix afterwards, and any ideas I've missed out I'll take from yours.' He put the tape in the machine, and started pulling up the faders. He put up the drum track, and he said 'Great drum pattern', and I said 'Thank you very much.' Then he put up the strings and he was like 'Ah, interesting strings', and then he heard the opera and the backing vocals, and he said 'I have no idea what to do with this. Can I hear the reference mix?' It's not that he was completely stumped by it, but it wasn't the sort of track he's normally given to mix. If you'd taken certain things out of it, it could have been a standard R&B mix, but the fact that there's opera in there and live strings and the ragga influence and Beenie Man meant that he spent a lot of time trying to work out where to put it. Eventually he said 'What about if we make it sound like Freddie Mercury got lost in Compton?'

"He spent most of the time trying to get everything to sit, because there was so much in there, he wanted to make sure that everything could be heard — that he wasn't compromising the opera for the strings, or the strings for the bass, or whatever. I don't know what I was expecting, because most engineers over here I've noticed tend to mix at a loud level, then mix at a quiet level for a little bit, whereas he tends to mix at a quiet level all the way through, and then every so often play it really loud to check. But he generally works at a quiet level, because it's all about radio with these American mixers, they constantly mix stuff to get it to sound incredible on the radio. He's the only person I know who can make NS10s sound like Genelecs, because he can get some much bottom end out of them without pushing them.

"There's not that much that changed in the track from it being the original demo that she wrote to, to how it sounded when it was mixed. The way Dave works is that he likes to use Pro Tools quite actively in the mix, so some of the effects aren't necessarily off processors: rather than doing straight 16ths or something like that, we'd actually cut up the vocal and make it do something rhythmically within Pro Tools. I think Dave dropped out the drums in one section just to give it a bit of space, but apart from that there wasn't much difference between what left here and what came back, apart from an outstanding mix."

Hard Currency

'Money' is an excellent illustration of the truism that getting a good sound is about knowing the equipment you have, rather than having access to all the newest and most fashionable instruments. Apart from the real strings and the vocals, all the sounds on 'Money' come from Colin's Roland JV1080, Alesis Quadrasynth and Akai MPC3000: "The drums were done on Logic, played from the keyboard. The sounds were a combination of the MPC3000 and the JV1080. The bass drums and the snare drums are primarily from the MPC, and then all the high‑end stuff, the percussion comes from the JV. I've got three shakers on there, and there's a hi‑hat, and a rimshot that goes all the way through the track and doubles up with the snare in certain places. There's a different rimshot for a fill, three bass drums, harpsichords, three bass lines, though we didn't use one of them in the end. There's the one that copies the opera part — that's the one the whole track started from, that little riff, and then there's another different sound that comes in on the rest of the section. The bass that does the opera part is two sounds from the JV; one's a sine wave and one's just a sample off the Vintage Keys. The other bass comes off the Quadrasynth.

"The synthesized strings are all from the Quadrasynth and the JV combined, and the piano's from the Quadrasynth. The harpsichord sound is a combination of an orchestral card and a preset in the JV, I just tweaked them a little bit and fine‑tuned them out of key so it sounded dated. When I do tracks I generally try to make elements of the music sound like samples, and some stuff I'll make sound brand‑new. So a lot of people go 'Where did you sample the opera stuff from?' but I didn't, that's how I EQ'd it up. So that particular song, there's the MPC, the JV and the Quadrasynth, and that's it. Nothing else."