- by Michael Goldberg
Earlier this year, Michael Jackson's business advisers negotiated a new $65 million contract with Sony Music that gave him not only profit participation in his album's earnings but also his own record company and the opportunity to make films for Sony's Columbia Pictures. It is an unprecedented deal.
"The deal we made - and I don't think it's appropriate to discuss the details - we think is economic for us," says Michael Schulhof, vice-chairman of Sony U.S.A. "If Michael continues to perform the way he has in the past, both he and we will do very well. He's thirty-three years old. I don't think anybody, including Michael himself, can predict how he is gong to exercise that creativity. It may be in music, it may be in film, it may be in totally new areas of entertainment, That fact that the contract with him is unique reflects the fact that he is a unique talent."
Jackson spent an estimated $10 million to record Dangerous.(Epic's Glew denies this figure as well.) He used seven recording studios in the process. For over two years he had exclusive twenty-four-hour-a-day access to Record One Studios, in Sherman Oaks, California. That studio alone, which contains two complete recording studios, is estimated to have cost $4000 a day. Then there were the three rooms at Larrabee Sound Studios, in Los Angeles, which Jackson also secured for about nine months. That added another $3000 or $4000 a day to the budget.
"Usually there wasn't a whole lot going on in any of the studios unless Michael was there," says a source who worked on the album. "When we were at Larrabee, they still had Record One booked. It's a little eccentric. Nobody makes records like that. It would be fun to be able to spend that kind of money, I'll tell you."
"It's just 'cause he has so much other stuff going on," the sourse says. "Trying to help kids. Like if all of a sudden up in Sacramento someone shoots a bunch of kids, he has to go up there and spend time with them. There was a lot of that stuff going on every day. Every day he'd want to go do something else. There were a lot of distractions. Liz is getting married, and he goes and deals with that, but still the studios were booked."
Says one artist's manager: "I simply don't understand how it's possible to spend $10 million making an album. People have spent $2 million. But $10 million? That's just beyond comprehension."
Jackson worked on the album off an on for nearly four years. "Michael started the day we finished Bad," says Swedien. "The next day he was doing demos."
Originally, the plan was for Jackson simply to record four new songs for a multi-CD greatest hits package called Decade that was to have come out before Christmas 1989. Jackson began work on some new songs and came up with about half an album's worth of strong material.
Jackson, in consultation with his associates and Sony Music executives, decided that the new songs he had written were strong enough that he should just make an entire album. The greatest-hits package was thus shelved.
Booked studios accounted for a mere fraction of the high costs. Jackson went on to record about sixty songs for Dangerous. In addition to working with Riley and Swedien, he cut tracks with several other producers: Bill Bottrell, Bryan Loren and L.A. Read and BabyFace. Bottrell describes working with Jackson in near ecstatic terms: Every time he sings or tells me about a new idea for a song it's... Let me just say there were plenty of extraordinary moments!"
According to Bottrell, "Black Or White" developed from something originally recorded for Bad. "That piece of music, the beginning part that Slash plays on, was first recorded at Michael's house," Bottrell says. "Michael asked me to dig it out of the vault in august of 1989. He had in mind to use it as the intro to 'Black or White.' It took a long time before we got Slash on it."
Bottrell paved the way for Jackson and Slash to work together. Although Slash is credited with playing on "Black Or White," he's actually only on the introductory groove. Jackson wasn't even there for the session when Slash recorded that bit. "He was disapointed," says Bottrell. "He was frustrated that Michael wasn't there."
Slash, however, didn't have time to record the solo. "I was leaving for Africa," he says. "Our schedules were not in sync. So they were going to blow me off, but Michael managed to work it out so we could do it when I came back from Africa. I got off the plane and drove to the studio."
"I basically went in and started to play it - that was it," Slash says. "It was really spontaneous in that way. Michael just wanted whatever was in my style. He just wanted me to do that. No pressure. He was really in sync with me. I don't come from this heavy-metal school of guitar playing. All the stuff that I do or dig is from the same place that Michael Jackson comes from. We may go in seperate directions or be on different sides of the fence, but when it comes down to it, it all comes from the same shit."
Working with Jackson in the studio can be tricky. A firm believer in the power of positive thinking (in Jackson's office at Neverland are a batch of books by self-help guru Dr. Wayne Dyer, including The Sky's the Limit and You'll See It When You Believe It), Jackson almost never comes out and says he doesn't like something. "He doesn't like to be negative," says Bottrell. "He has his own indications, and you just learn what they are. Walking out of the room is one way."
Jackson's approach to coproducing songs is unusual. "He starts with an entire sound and song, musically." says Bottrell. "Usually he doesn't start with the lyrics, but he hears the sound and the whole arrangement of the song in his head. I suppose there are exceptions, but this is generally the way it is. He fills in the lyrics later. He hums things. He can convey it with his voice like nobody. Not just singing the song's lyrics, but he can convey a feeling in a drum part or synthesizer part. He's really good at conveying those things."
While Jackson was happy with a good number of the songs he'd completed, he felt the dance grooves didn't cut it. "Michael's desire was to present something very street that the very young people will be able to identify with," says Swedien. "That was a conscious decision on his part."
Enter Teddy Riley. Said to have been the brains behind Bobby Brown's phenominal "My Prerogative" (although production was credited to Riley's former partner Gene Griffin), Riley was apparently suggested to Jackson by Eddie Murphy as the right producer for delivering the killer grooves.
"He wanted to work on grooves" says Riley. "So I came in with ten grooves. He liked them all."
"Teddy was very professional," says Swedien. "No problems. He'd come in with a groove, we'd say it wasn't exactly right, and there would be no complaining. He'd just go back and then come back and blow us away with something like 'Dangerous'."
Jackson would listen to the music they were working on at window-breaking levels. Riley says they blew a speaker at one studio. "Michael likes to listen even louder than me," says Riley. "His volume is past twelve. I'm maybe nine or ten. His volume is twelve-plus. Oh man, he loves loud music. And he jams! Only way you know your music is right is if he's dancing all over the studio. He starts going 'Yeah, whoa!'"
Once Jackson and Riley got into it, they just kept coming up with songs. "When the deadline came, he wanted to do more and more songs," says Riley. "And his manager came in there and said 'Teddy and Michael, you're not up to your sneaky stuff. Do not write another song.' And then when Michael saw the commercial for Dangerous, the David Lynch thing, we started working hard to get it finished."
One particular day, Swedien found Jackson crying in a room he used as his office at Record One. He was upset because the song he had been trying to sing was in the wrong key. "The day had come for Michael to put the lead on 'Keep the Faith'," says Swedien. "He sang the first and second verses, and then he disappeared. It was very unlike Michael. I found him standing in the corner of his office crying his eyes out. He was absolutely heartbroken, to cut to the quick."
"I told him 'Michael, it's not that big a deal,'" Swedien says. "'I'll just record it in the other key.'"
We'd tried two keys and, unfortunately, picked the wrong one. He was really upset. "I told him, 'Michael we've got to face this right now.'"
I called the sync player and programmer. I felt we had to get the right key and get Michael to face it before it turned into something ugly.
"I thought we'd have a major, major problem," says Swedien. "I was visualizing headlines. I told him 'Pull yourself together, face this now.' And it was late. I said, 'We're not going home until you've sung this all the way through. Then we'll go home and be able to sleep and continue.' That was scary. But he did it. He pulled himself together. We went into the studio, cut a whole new demo and recorded a scratch vocal all way through. A situation like that could have been a real block. We didn't leave the studio till dawn."
To be continued...