Sean Lebreeze is a RIAA Gold and Platinum certified songwriter/producer having worked with Captiol, MCA, Jive/RCA and Polygram. In this Q&A, Sean shares his beginnings, stories on Jacci McGhee, Salt-N-Pepa, Teddy Riley and Michael Jackson, as well as his sync licensing successes.
BSM: How did you get involved with Hi-Five (Jive/RCA)? What was your contribution to their music?
Sean Lebreeze: “Great question that no one has ever asked me. I have 2 songs on their debut album “Hi – Five.” I had been doing a bunch of projects for Jive/RCA with a friend who had a production deal with Zomba. We had submitted some shit that got picked by a few of their acts so I was pretty active up there, though unsigned. We were doing a lot of UK shit for them and it was all rap, so I was shocked when I got the call and they were like can you write an R’n’B song for some kids? ‘Sure I can.’ I had no clue how to actually write an R’n’B song. All I was equipped with was a notebook full of rhymes. So that’s what I used. We ended up taking an entire rap song and just had someone sing it. ‘Sweetheart’ was born. Then we realized that there were too many words and it was messy. Singers say maybe 5 -8 words per 4 bars, a rapper will say about 20. So, there was some work to be done. The vocal arrangement was changed a few times. I probably changed the drum track to that song about 4 times until we settled on the one that’s there. The recording sessions with the members of the group were fun. They were young teenagers full of energy and excited to be making their album. Most memorable part of that session was when it came time to record the rap verse, we were like who’s gonna do it? Tony looked at me and said, “Tori rap like Rakim. He good!”. Nobody said anything. It all worked out because we had them split the verse into 2 parts. I still don’t like the final version of ‘Sweetheart.’ It’s not what I heard in my head, or the last time I left the studio. It was partially my fault as well, because I did not know how to communicate exactly what I was hearing to others properly at the time. I’m actually on that album. There’s 2 emcees on that album, me and Prodigy (Mobb Deep). I ended up on the song ‘Merry Go Round,’ because they really couldn’t rap. I wrote the verse for the song and laid the reference, but they couldn’t get it. So, I was called in to lay it for the record. I met 2 members of Hi- Five during the recording of the songs, ‘Sweetheart’ and ‘Merry Go Round,’ the lead singer Tony Thompson and the other singer that left the group Toriano Easley, he was replaced by Treston Irby. Great experience for a number of reasons. It was my first time writing R’n’b songs and they were a good enough to be on an album that went Gold. A lot of the time I was allowed to sit in the drivers seat because I knew how it was supposed to go, as long as I worked within the parameters set for me. The experience helped me perfect the art of observation. I just watched and learned.”
BSM: Can you tell us about your experience working with Jacci McGhee at MCA?
Sean Lebreeze: “Working with Jacci… Let’s see…I was nervous. She probably doesn’t even know it or remember, because I knew her already, and I probably shouldn’t have been. But she was Jacci McGhee. She was killing all that Keith Sweat shit, Salt-N-Pepa, ya know what I mean? She was working on her ‘Jacci McGhee’ album. I called her for some reason and during that conversation I somehow ended up getting featured on a track. It was a House track called ‘Believe in Yourself.’ At that time I was not into House music at all, so that added to my nervousness. On top of that, it was pro Black, uplifting, enlightening, super positive…and here I am trying get on, rapping about 40s and Blunts, knocking boots and hittin’ skeezers. Total contradiction of the song. So my anxiety level was through the fuckin roof. And to even add more to it, it was being produced by Bernard Belle, who had just finished working on the Michael Jackson ‘Dangerous’ album. Aside from those in your face things to deal with, the process of writing to the song wasn’t easy. I only heard it over the phone. Maybe 1 min 30 sec. And was told what it was about… see you in the studio on Wednesday. You gotta remember, in the 90s we weren’t sending files back and forth. It could have gone better. It definitely could have gone much worse. Ended up with the original and an extended 12′ remix version with a different verse. It was more of me relaxing and settling into the environment and getting comfortable with the people in the session. They were fuckin’ up as much as I was, and that helped. They also treated me exceptionally kind. They actually helped me through the session and never grew frustrated with me. That was one of the most important things I took away from that session. The respect.”
BSM: What was the most memorable aspect of that project?
Sean Lebreeze: “Most memorable aspect of that was when Teddy Riley walked in. They were all friends. Now both the producers of Michael Jackson’s latest hits were there… and so was I. He said listen to this, and proceeded to set up 3 MPCs and played the most banging track I ever heard. At that time 3 MPCs running together was mindbogglingly to me. I knew dudes that could barely use 1 efficiently.”
BSM: Even though you were uncredited, can you shed some light on your work with BBD’s “Do Me Baby”? What role did you play in the production?
Sean LeBreeze: “That actually is pretty much an unknown. That music track was another one that was cut as a demo for someone else at the same label. Totally different song lyrics, maybe even just a hook. Then they didn’t want it, for whatever reason, and then it got shopped for minute as a song on my rap demo because we had it sitting around. Again, totally different lyrics, but this time the melody kinda stayed the same. But, if you think about it, there’s really no other melody that would fit that beat. Unfortunately, and thankfully, that went no where and ended up where it was supposed to be as a classic hit song. When I heard the bass line, it was some ol’ Heavy D bouncy shit. My shit would have flopped. It’s bittersweet, but I’m not mad about it. My man, Carl E. Bourelly, that produced it was in the right place at the right time and he put together a great finished product. He was working a lot in the R’n’B genre at that moment. So for me, in the beginning you always think like, damn… that should’ve been my shit. It’s a fucking monster. But in reality, you know that it wouldn’t have been the same results. I remember people saying to me, ‘yo… that demo you cut, that’s that smack it up, flip it, song?’ I’m happy how it turned out knowing where it started.”
BSM: She Rockers (Jive/UK) – can you tell us more about your work with them? How did you contribute as a producer?
Sean Lebreeze: “Working with the She Rockers was cool. It actually was just one of them, Donna ‘She Rock’ McConnell. We did a song called ‘Love Heartbreak.’ It was back and forth rap song. It was my first time recording for a major label, Jive/RCA. Putting that song together was a lot of fun. A got a call to come to Harlem and hop on a track with this girl from London that’s signed to Jive. I jumped at the opportunity. I had no clue who she was or what the track sounded like. Really didn’t care. No matter what it was, I was gonna be on that song somehow. And once I got there and all formalities out the way, we got to work. It was really R’n’B’ish, and that’s not where we needed it to be all the time. So I kinda broke it down and made my part a little rougher than hers. Simple change of the drum pattern and I dropped a piece of ‘Brooklyn’s In The House’ in there. Demo was cut. Track was accepted, and we went into the studio and made a record. Those sessions were amazing. I learned so much in 3 days. I’m very grateful for it.”
BSM: Wee Pappa Girls (Jive/UK) – what was your role as a producer on this project? Any interesting stories or challenges you faced during its production?
Sean Lebreeze: “Write them songs. Period. From start to finish. They stayed in the UK and we did part of their session via speaker phone. But that’s not how it starts. My role was to make the music, write the rhymes and cut the demo. That was interesting because I had to write the lyrics from female perspective And the song was called “Best of My Love.’ Of course my plan was to go with the Emotions sample, but they replayed it instead. I don’t know what happens when songs go overseas, the UK in this particular instance, but the tempo was increased drastically and the drums went everywhere except where I had put them. My first question was, why is this shit so fast? I understood that the hip-hop was a little different over there at the time, but I also thought that was why they had me doing songs to give them a more American hip-hop feel. I was sooo fucking wrong. That song got mixed and mastered and I never would have known I had anything to do with it if you didn’t tell me. This is at the same time I had just did the record with the She Rocker. They didn’t give a shit about me. I wasn’t signed either, so I was just happy to work. Another lesson learned early: Labels are gonna do what the fuck they want.”
BSM: With over 200 songs licensed for TV and radio through BRG Music Works, could you give us some insight into your approach to sync licensing?
Sean Lebreeze: “How do you choose the right songs for these placements? Sync licensing is an interesting arena to be in. I approach it probably more aggressive than I do any other area when it comes to moving music. My thing is very simple. I want my music to heard by as many people possible, in as many places possible. So licensing music for others use is the most efficient way to do that. There really are no rules to it. If you’re a singer/songwriter/producer and you write a lot of music in a lot of different styles and genres, this is a lane for you. You can never choose the ‘right’ song for the placement. You base what you send off of the description they give you of what they’re looking for. It could be a description like: night driving high speed chase scene, driver is freaking out… need ambient, dark intense, groove. With or without vocals. Sometime the information provided is limited. If you’re lucky, they’ll give you a few examples of what they’re looking for exactly. You never know what they want. So send it all… within reason. Another thing to get into is writing for music a library. When I first started writing for BRG, that’s what I did. I would write short 1 minute clips for them that they would put in their next box set of CDs that went out to the radio stations, TV and media outlets every quarter. You have no clue whats gonna happen to it. Neither do they to be honest. But I had music end up behind the news, sports shows, game shows, bullshit radio spots, that would play in different markets at different times throughout the day all day. There is no right song for you to choose. They choose the right song when they hear it. Find music supervisors and build relationships with them.”
BSM: Can you mention a specific TV or radio sync licensing experience that was particularly significant to you? What made it stand out?
Sean Lebreeze: “There’s this old dating game show called ‘Change of Heart,’ it was my first ever sync. I didn’t even know it happened until the check showed up and I read the statement. I somehow still get checks from that show today, lol.”
BSM: How do you balance your responsibilities as a producer with the demands of sync licensing?
Sean Lebreeze: “It’s all the same. Not really much for me to balance at the moment and I kinda like it that way. My focus is creating music for multiple uses on a daily basis. Everything goes towards being progressive, forward thinking and moving, and always being prepared for what is required of me. I’m selective with what projects with artists I get involved in because that takes a lot of energy, dedication and time. Not many are willing to give all 3 all the time. And I need that from you when I take on a project.”
BSM: What qualities do you believe make a song suitable for sync licensing?
Sean Lebreeze: “Something that tells a story. It needs to set a tone or mood. I soon as you hear it , you should be able to see something happening. Like the music puts you somewhere. Get right to the point.”
BSM: Can you tell us about any challenges you have faced while working on sync licensing projects? How did you overcome them?
Sean Lebreeze: “There shouldn’t really be any challenges. I cant see it being any more than maybe move something around in the arrangement. Adjust something in the mix? I personally haven’t had any issues.”
BSM: Can you share any insights or tips for aspiring producers looking to get into sync licensing?
Sean Lebreeze: “Use the internet. I know it sounds cliché, but that’s where everything is. The key is knowing what not to search for. A typical search would be for “sync licensing”. But that’s not it. That’s gonna give you all your sites like music xray, producer grind, taxi, shit like that. Which are all services that have postings for you to submit your music for different sync opps and pray. My suggestion is search ‘Music Supervisors.’ These are the people that are looking for the music and make the decisions. Many of them will have information about where and how to submit your music for current projects directly to them or where they source their music from.”
BSM: “What role do you play in the creative process when working on sync licensing projects?
Sean Lebreeze: “Just 100% creating the music. I have no say or control over what happens within the project it is being used for.”
BSM: “How do you handle feedback or requests for changes in a song when working on sync licensing projects?
Sean Lebreeze: “Change request are usually pretty simple and they don’t happen that often. It be could be something like change a sound, or get rid of sound. No big deal. Feedback… depends on who’s giving it to you. Some people have a better approach than others. Communication is key. Sometimes, feedback can come off as criticism and not in a constructive manner. I think people get dealt with accordingly. But rarely any issues that are difficult.”
BSM: What sets you apart as a producer in the sync licensing industry?
Sean Lebreeze: “I sound different. It’s neither a good thing or a bad thing, but it is a thing and it sets me apart. I make sure to keep my music authentically me, meaning I don’t try to emulate the music that I hear on a certain show and then go after placements on those types of shows. I like creating new shit and this allows me to create whatever I want without having to search for a place it fits. The place it fits is looking for it.”
BSM: “How do you ensure that your songs stand out among the countless others submitted for sync licensing opportunities?
Sean Lebreeze: “Really good mixes. Great arrangements. My sound.”
BSM: Can you describe any strategies or techniques you use to effectively negotiate licensing deals for your songs?
Sean Lebreeze: “Nahh. These agreements are pretty straight up. No need for strategies.”
BSM: Looking ahead, what are some of your goals and aspirations as a producer in the sync licensing field?
Sean Lebreeze: “Place as many songs in as many places as possible. That’s my goal. TV, film, games, podcast, radio… everywhere. And nobody needs to know it’s me. Just quietly dropping gems all over. I would like to collaborate with artists for some of these opportunities, but that will come in time. No rush.”