“I always know in a few seconds.” Music mogul Reid reveals the secrets of the producer’s trade.
Exhibit A is a young man named Usher Raymond IV, who came into the Atlanta headquarters of LaFace Records at a time when the label was suffering the inevitable growth pains, among them demands from its lead act, the hip-hop group TLC, for more money. Money is, as might be expected, a constant presence and preoccupation in Reid’s narrative, but happily, not at the expense of the music. He writes of having grown up in Cincinnati in the shadow of the King Records building, James Brown’s label. “Rhythm intoxicated me,” he writes, “and eventually it occurred to me that I wanted to play along.” He did so as drummer and driving force for the regionally popular combo called The Deele, which crafted hits for itself and other acts—notably Pebbles, whom Reid would marry. None too star-struck with himself, the author writes of learning his way around the music business, motivated in part by the desire to get out of his mother’s home: “I had no real prospects in the music business,” he notes, “but that didn’t occur to me.” Instead, he kept at it, realizing, critically, that he had a good brain as well as talent. He worked hard to learn as much as he could about that business and eventually stepped from behind the drum kit to take the lead first as a producer, then as a label owner, and then as an executive for the biggest hit-makers—a job, he notes, that is full of infighting and ugly politics. Throughout, Reid conveys his love of music and his open-minded search for new talent, no matter what the genre, including recent discoveries the Kongos and Meghan Trainor. (Incidentally, Usher passed that audition in a few seconds, and the rest is history.)
An entertaining, thoughtful account of the music business, one that would-be machers will want to study closely.