Harvey Mason Jr
By Kevin Zimmerman
The Multi-Faceted Talents of Harvey Mason Jr.
You could say that six-time Grammy-winning songwriter and producer Harvey Mason Jr. was born into the business, being the son of famed jazz drummer Harvey Mason Sr. In fact, Harvey Jr. has no problem saying it himself.
“I was with my dad all the time,” he says, “going to work with him at studios and watching him and the other musicians. It was exciting to me, and seemed like a cool way to make a living. My dad showed me a lot, taught me about the business.
“But I never thought that certain doors were opened for me because of my dad,” he continues. “There’s a certain point where other people don’t care who you are. The industry can’t afford to cut anyone breaks because of their pedigree. You could be Michael Jackson Jr., but if your music is no good, they can’t use you.”
Still, being his father’s son did help young Harvey place his first song with Grover Washington Jr., with whom Harvey Sr. was recording. “I was nine years old and had written this song, ‘Love Makes It Better,’ on the piano,” Harvey Jr. says. “My dad thought it was really good, and took it to Grover, who really liked it. I remember thinking, ‘This is great! People must be able to place songs all the time!’”
Soon disabused of that notion, Harvey Jr. eventually turned his attention to basketball, winning a scholarship to the University of Arizona and appearing in the 1988 Final Four. Knee injuries prevented Mason from future basketball glory and he returned to music, writing and producing for a number of Motown acts and working for Rodney Jerkins. “He really taught me how to run a company, interact with A&R departments, and what worked best,” Harvey says.
After co-writing with Damon Thomas the track “I Like Them Girls” in 2000 for Tyrese, the pair formed The Underdogs, a production/songwriting partnership that’s since worked with everyone from Beyonce, Britney Spears and Jordin Sparks to Chris Brown, R. Kelly and Snoop Dogg.
2008 saw the launch of Harvey Mason Media, which encompasses film and record productions, music publishing and websites, and whose output includes the LeBron James film More Than a Game and the social networking site Sweety High. “We’d done so much music for film soundtracks and themes that [movies] seemed like the next logical step,” he remarks.
The Underdogs are now doubling down on their songwriting. “There’s really no set schedule in terms of songwriting,” he says. “If I have an idea in my head, I get it on piano or sing into my answering machine. If we know the artist going in, we have some songs or tracks ready so that we can write something relevant to them.” The Underdogs are also extending their A&R efforts. “We want to work with someone we feel is unique and identifiable,” he says, “underdog artists who we can help grow as producers and executives. We’re not interested in signing someone who has a common sound that’s already in the marketplace. We’re looking for people who have the potential to be stars, who already know how to dress, speak, command a crowd, work a room … people who have the x-factor and are ready to take the next step with all those elements.”
Through it all, Mason expects to continue expanding his own interests. “I want to work in whatever genre offers these kinds of people – rap, singer-songwriters, folk music, whatever. It’s all about finding someone with an extra, special gift.”