Please, allow me to introduce you to James Jeffery – a kiwi producer and drummer you need to familiarise yourselves with right now, you know, before the world’s up on this shit. He’s recently signed a publishing deal with Rondor Music, is currently based in LA and working with people that will blow your minds just a wee bit. I kinda feel like I have the scoop as there have been whisperings of a couple of the biggest names in Hip Hop jumping on ones of his tracks. I was lucky enough to catch up with James Jeffery just before he left for LA and the story of how he came about his deal is fascinating. He also gives a really great insight into how the music industry works.
This story begins, like many modern stories of discovery, on youtube –
Lets talk about how the deal came to be. Did that begin with your youtube videos?
Basically it’s a publishing deal with Rondor, they’re under Universal. It started out with the youtube videos. I was actually trying to push myself as a drummer at the time. I did these remix videos to show off my drumming, but it really ended up showing off my production more than anything. I’d already played drums for David Dallas, on ‘Say No More’, and I’d done drums for a B-side acoustic of this Tinie Tempah and Kelly Rowland song called Invincible.
I then started doing drums for this kid in the States called Julian Swirsky, he’s produced for a whole bunch of pop artists like Nicole Scherzinger. He didn’t pay me, he just said ‘I’ll post one of your remixes on twitter. He has 100 thousand followers on twitter. This guy, Sean Pace, who was managing him at the time, found me on facebook after seeing his tweet.
At the same time, mind you, Boy1da had posted one of my videos. Boy1da did ‘Not Afraid’ for Eminem and ‘Forever’ for Drake. Boy1da posted at least two of my remixes, so I’d had that going on as well. And another songwriter had been in contact, Heather Bright, who’s written for Toni Braxton and Usher. So, Sean Pace, who’d been Julian Swirsky’s unofficial manager at the time, added me on facebook and said, ‘Start sending me tracks, I think you’re really talented’. I started sending him tracks, and he loved all of them.
My dad said, ‘Why don’t you go to LA and just meet all of these people?’ I’d been to UCLA for a year in 2008, so I had friends out there and places to stay. I went out there originally for a four-week trip. Sean Pace picks me up the first night and talks about trying to get me signed, but I didn’t know how serious he was. About 3 weeks later he took me to a random studio and I met Cassie and Rock City.
Did meeting Cassie buzz you out?
It was real trippy. Basically we went to this studio in Hollywood and it just looks like a big concrete cube. It doesn’t look like a studio, it looks like a storage facility. We get there to the parking lot and there’s all these blacked out Escalades. We went up this fire escape, and the guy was like, I’ve got somebody I want you to meet, and he throws the door open. But we enter the building through the vocal booth by accident, and Cassie was actually recording. So we walked in and she was like, ohhhhhh, bummed out you know.
Then I met Rock City and their manager and engineer. They all listened to my tracks and their manager, Ray Daniels, was like, ‘What’s your main instrument, where are you from?’ And he was just tripped out. He listened to all my stuff and he loved all the tracks, and he said, ‘I wanna take you to Universal’.
The following Monday he took me to Rondor and I met the senior-vice president, and played him all my stuff. They weren’t sold on me immediately. It took them awhile. What happened was Rock City went to New York to work with Puff, and I started sending tracks across to them, and Puff kept picking my tracks. They realized then that they liked my stuff and the deal went through shortly after that.
So, Puff kind of got you your deal in a way.
In a way, it wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for Sean, it
wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for Ray Daniels, it wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for Rock City, and I think I just pushed a little harder too. I didn’t want that opportunity to go away.
If you hadn’t gone to LA though, none of that would have happened ay? And that was all off your own bat right?
Yeah, and the trip was supposed to be 4 weeks but I ended up staying for 3 months. So that was that. I came back and signed the deal, and now it’s just getting in with the writers and stuff.
So what does a publishing deal mean for someone like you? What does that entail?
Well, most publishing deals, like if I signed with a bigger publishing company for example, they don’t do a lot for you, its more like they just collect. But Rondor are different. They’re a smaller publishing company, they sign early talent and build you up and help you get your name out there and work with various people. So that’s what it is for me. It’s building my name up and they help push the songs to artists and stuff like that. I’ve been using their studios, lots of writing sessions and stuff.
So, that’s not just you on your own? What goes on in a writing session?
The way it works is, they would book studio time and I would go in with tracks that I’d already made, usually with an artist in mind, sometimes not. Then a ‘top-liner’ will come in, who’s like a vocalist, singer/songwriter. They’ll put the lyrics and the vocal melody down. We track it and get it to sound like a radio-ready demo. The next step is actually pitching it to artists for the albums or singles. That’s how it goes.
Are you able to say whom you’ve pitched for?
There are two really big rappers who have apparently jumped on one of my tracks. I can’t say, but they’re big.
When you say you write with artists in mind, does the label come in and tell you who you’re writing for?
Rondor will be like, for example, Nicki Minaj needs stuff, or B.O.B needs stuff, so you just make stuff with them in mind. Sometimes you’ll make a track that you think will suit an artist, and the next thing you know, everyone’s talking about it going to someone else, that happens a lot. But that’s how it works.
Do you have any say with the person who writes the lyrics?
Yeah, I guide them a lot actually. It depends, some come in and they know exactly what they wanna do and you can’t step in too much because if you do you’ll mess everything up. It train wrecks them sometimes. But it’s usually giving them a little nudge in a certain direction. Sometimes a writer will almost completely co-write with you, and I’ll have input with melody and lyrics. It just depends who you’re working with.
When you said you started out trying to push your drumming, but they noticed your production – does that mean you were drumming over your own beats on those youtube videos?
Yeah, it was this gradual transition. Basically I used to play a lot of rock music and I didn’t listen to a lot of Hip Hop, because Hip Hop is all drum machines you feel kinda alienated as a drummer, initially. But after that I was like, I’m sick of playing rock, I wanna do something different. So I started playing drums over rap and Hip Hop. It just felt weird, because you’re playing over a drum machine already and it doesn’t really work. So I started getting the acapellas and doing everything else myself and just tried to make the song bigger and better. It’s all my stuff underneath, towards the end.
When you’re writing the songs, do you ever see the artist at all?
It depends. When you’re someone like me, I’m just at the beginning stages of my career so I’ve had a couple of artist sessions but its smaller names that you probably don’t know. I did meet Ciara while I was there and that was because Epic Records were having a writing camp, so they flew a bunch of producers and song-writers in. I wasn’t supposed to be there but Rock City took me in with them. Ray Daniels and L.A Reid and Ciara and Jay Sean were there. They were there because the writers were playing them their songs right there and then.
They would sit down with the A&R of the label, and they were playing through all of their songs and deciding on the ones that they wanted. As far as I know she was cutting some of her songs, recording her vocals on top of them in the studio upstairs.
You’re at the beginning of your career so there’s a lot I’m sure you are wanting to achieve, do you dare say all the things you’re wanting to get out of this?
I would like to be known for a certain sound, you know. You’re always evolving, but Ray Daniels, Rock City’s manager tells me I sound like the 80’s. Which I suppose is true, a lot of my stuff has a lot of melody and it’s generally pretty big sounding. Right now it varies a lot because you have to be versatile. The stuff I do for Rock City is kind of ‘Weekndish’, dreamy sounding and kind of minimalist.
The goal I think is for people to hear my tracks and be like ‘Oh, that’s James Jeffery you know, they can tell. I don’t just wanna be a producer, I want to find my own artists too. There’s no real limit, I just want to take it as far as I can.