By Rob Putnam
New York-based hip-hop producer Salaam Remi was born into a musical family and started mixing and producing in the early ‘90s. In 2013 alone he was nominated for four Grammys, among which was a nod for his own album ONE: In The Chamber. In addition to a substantial personal discography, he’s worked with artists including Alicia Keys, Ne-Yo and Amy Winehouse. Recently Remi’s branched into composition for film and TV. He also runs his own label Louder Than Life.
When this producer first sits down with an artist, he digs deep to find what makes that person unique, what it is that sets him or her apart. “I find what’s in them that everybody needs to hear,” he explains. “I draw out what they’re saying. That might be the idea that no one’s done before.”
What he often finds problematic is when an artist has talent but lacks conviction. They’re not always the paragons of confidence that the industry would have us believe. “It bothers me when an artist has a magical record-—a great song—and they don’t think so; they skip over it,” he says. “Sometimes they’re looking for the music to make them say something. But to me, the artist makes the music more than the music makes the artist. If a song strikes at some emotion, whatever that emotion is, that’s what’s going to make it work.”
Remi underscores the importance of serendipity in the studio. In short, an accident isn’t always a problem. “When I was a kid, I wanted to press every button,” he recalls. “Now pushing all four buttons is a common setting. The talk-back mic used [for recording the drums] on Phil Collins’ ‘In The Air Tonight’ is the kind of mistake that we need to happen. There’s a kid with a backpack doing something illegal with his computer now that’s going to change all of our lives. I’m looking forward to it.”
To Remi, lyrics are paramount. Not surprisingly, his favorite microphone is the Neumann U 47, a large-diaphragm condenser mic, which he’s used since 1999. “It captures the artist’s voice and personality,” he asserts, “but it also captures their emotion. That’s always what I’m looking for.”
In 2013 Remi launched his label Louder Than Life as a subsidiary of Sony, the company with which he’s the Executive Vice President of A&R and Production. Through Louder Than Life--and associated labels Flying Buddha and Re Mi Fa—he works with eight artists. His association with Sony came after a meeting with CEO Doug Morris. “I was at a point where my career was based on having hits with first-time-out artists,” he explains. “My talent isn’t just producing records. It’s also helping an artist become a better writer; helping move what they do into a better space. To me, it’s about utilizing that talent. I help the artist see how they can become stronger and I help the label understand how to market them. Most of my successes have been out of the box, not just something that sounds like the hit record from last week.” In Remi’s future is work with Liam Bailey and executive producing—that is, overseeing—a number of other projects such as EPs with Jazmine Sullivan and Jordin Sparks. A repackaged ONE: In The Chamber dropped in March.