When I was 13 years old, I was really into computers. It was 1993, right around the time of AOL 2.5, Juno, Prodigy and a lot of other services that were either before your time or before your experience on the internet. I was really into Photoshop. It’s something that I still use today, 20 years later. But around the time I was 16, my Mother’s best friend’s husband, Mel, walked into my bedroom one day while visiting and saw me on my computer. He asked me what my plans were with it — as in a career. I looked at him like a deer in headlights. The look in my eye let him know I could use guidance. He suggested I get into the music industry since I loved it so much. I turned to him and ask how graphic design relates to music? He said, you know, you can design their album covers and stuff. I REALLY believed him, and the thought of actually doing it hit me passionately.
He asked me if that’s something I wanted to do. I said, hell yeah!, without hesitation. It just so happened that Mel’s brother, Noel, worked in the Production Department of a company called DIGI-ROM in Manhattan who had the Def Jam account. He called his brother and set up a phone interview with the boss, Harry Hirsch. My entire teen life I would walk around Times Square whenever I was in the area and I would go in all the corporate buildings and look at the business directory and see what companies were based in these tall hi-rises. I wanted to work in an office with one of these views so bad when I got older.
When it came time for my phone interview, Harry Hirsch, the owner of DIGI-ROM, told me to come meet with him at his office. I got dressed and went down to his office, on 42nd street, Times Square, on the 23rd floor, Penthouse level. I couldn’t even believe it. I knew I belonged there before I even sat down. 360 degrees of glass windows filled New York City glowing in every direction. I sat down at his desk and all I could see behind him was the crystal ball that drops on New Year’s Eve. His desk was eye level with the ball. The entire interview was a blur. I was too excited. I ended up getting the job and starting that day. I was designing CD Labels and Album Covers for Def Jam’s radio single’s and replicating hundreds of CD’s which would be delivered to the radio stations across the country. Now I was doing work for JAY Z, 112, Foxy Brown, R. Kelly, Sisqo, Mariah Carey, DMX, etc. My introduction to the music industry was born at 16.
Through many roads traveled along the way, I ended up with a camera in my hand. I never intended on being a photographer. Being a photographer never interested me. What interested me was documenting my experiences, what I saw and where I was, which is what I’ve always done, no matter what kind of camera I had. I never did anything with the photo’s, I just cared about having memories. I shot everything and stashed it away. It wasn’t until Instagram came out where the idea of ‘sharing’ interested me. Instagram in combination with all the iPhone editing apps which resembled a mini Photoshop, and now thing’s got interesting. If you want to read more about how I got into photography, my introduction to Ne-Yo and how the relationship came about, you can read more about that in an interview I did with PetaPixel here.
I’ve worked with Ne-Yo several times before, but this would be the first time photographing him in the studio. No matter what the craft is, I really enjoy being in the presence of people who are really good at what they do. In this case, I was witnessing a 3x Grammy Award winner and 13x Grammy Award nominated artist at work.
“Whenever I’m in the presence of greatness, my favorite thing to do is shut up and soak it all in.”
I’ve said it many times before but being in these situations are a privilege. Meeting an artist out in public is one thing, being in a closed off setting while they work is another. While all of my closest friends are out partying, I’m here watching artists make all the music that they party to. Seeing someone put together a song from the ground up and seeing an entire room come to life when it’s played back and only the handful of people in that room are also the only people in the world that know what’s going on. Then to hear it out in the real world and witness it become a hit is something that can’t be explained. Most people will never understand. And that’s what makes it so powerful. The fact that the experience is exclusive and no one will ever understand your experience unless you were there. That’s what makes it so great. You’re chosen to be there because that artist trusts you, respects you, your relationship and your work enough for you to be there — in the same studio where Michael Jackson made HITS! That’s the privilege!
I walked in the room and said what’s up to Ne-Yo and his engineer while noticing a writing session was in progress. I put my stuff down and took my camera quietly. I got in a position in the room where I could post and have a good angle and take some candids. In situations like these, I shoot what’s available. I don’t interrupt and try to change anything, I just look to keep things as natural as possible and if things were to change in the room I wait for them to happen organically.
Good vibes, quality music, talented people, legendary studio, 3x Grammy Award winner and a camera. Not a bad gig….