Like many in the business, producer-songwriter Jeremy Skaller got his start as a musician. A keyboardist and descendant of 19th-century Hungarian composer Franz Liszt, Skaller evolved effortlessly into a songwriter. He’s a co-founder of Orange Factory Music (OFM), the production team that brought Cash Money Records’ artist Jay Sean to the forefront. OFM has also produced, remixed and/or written for pop artists including Britney Spears and Janet Jackson. Most recently, Skaller produced Sean’s forthcoming Neon and three songs on Big Time Rush’s 24/Seven.
Despite Sean’s popularity and exposure in 2007—10 million YouTube views and more than 150 thousand independent record sales—Skaller had trouble generating label interest in the English artist from the Asian Underground scene. “I shopped Jay to all of the majors,” he recalls. “Every top A&R guy passed. I felt there was a belief that it was impossible for an Indian kid to be successful in America. I knew Slim [Williams] of Cash Money, which wasn’t then what it is now. This was pre-Drake, pre-Nicki Minaj. Within 20 seconds of sending him Jay’s video, he called and said ‘I want you to fly to Miami.’” In 2009, Sean’s single “Down” featuring Lil Wayne reached No. 1.
As a producer who is comfortable jumping genres, Skaller finds that artists and A&R reps can sometimes hold preconceived ideas about what he’ll bring to a project. “People perceive you one way and you deliver music that sounds another,” he observes. “I’ve run into my fair share of writing tracks for rappers and people raising their eyes when they hear it. They can’t believe that I produced it. And there was a time that I’d just completed a dance record but wanted to play a ballad for an A&R guy. All he wanted was another banger. All producers face that challenge.”
Skaller views having fun as a crucial element of a successful song. “You can feel the fun and the joy that was put into making it,” he observes. “That’s the fairy dust. The form and the content of songs change over decades, but the energy that you put into it does not.”
He finds that even as a veteran songwriter he continues to be surprised and educated by the process. “Every time I work with a new songwriter, or even a songwriter that I think I know, I learn something new,” he asserts. “The second you think you know how to write a hit song is the second you stop writing them. You can’t walk in with the attitude of ‘This is how it has to be.’ That’s not musical.”
Skaller suggests that new producers know or learn how to play an instrument in order to increase their chances of success. “There are far too many producers out there that may be able to create some beats and maybe have a few hits, but 20 years down the road, will they have Mutt Lange’s house in Malibu?” he muses. “It’s easy to sample a track and make a hot beat. It’s really difficult to create a musical legacy that stands the test of time.”
Jay Sean’s OFM-produced Neon debuted on June 25, preceded by the single “Mars.” Skaller is also working with Australian singer Elen Levon and Inna, a European artist signed to Warner Bros. Skaller is also excited about the Janoskians, whose single “Best Friends” dropped in May.