For “Studios Sessions,” we delve into the stories behind the long hours in the studio and all that goes into making an album by talking with artists, producers, engineers, photographers, and more who are intimately connected to the recording process with some of the biggest artists in the world. These are the stories that rarely leave the booth.
Tory Lanez has released at least one project every year since 2009. Michael Romero has only been one of Lanez’s main recording engineers for a few of those, but has already seen his superstar-level work ethic.
“We were in Miami after ‘The Chixtape 5 Tour’ and he got pulled in to do a writing session for an artist. He was like, ‘Yo, we got an hour and a half. Load ‘em up.’ He went and recorded five songs in an hour and a half — verses and hooks,” Romero told REVOLT.
In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” the engineer details working with Lanez, an unreleased Swae Lee collaboration, and how honest he is when working with artists. Read below!
How did you first start working with Tory Lanez?
I was assisting at Record Plant and was in one of his sessions almost two years ago, and got to experience the amazing artist that is Tory Lanez. Every single time he tried to book a studio, I would ask management, ‘Yo, could you let me work that session?’ He’s so creative. When I first started engineering for him was when I recorded him for the fourth song on Chixtape 5, “Beauty In The Benz.” From his producer, Play Picasso, formulating the beat to him listening to it, vibing to it, going right in the booth and laying the track down, it took about 30 minutes. In that same session, he did a few other ideas and projects that were really left field like something that was all acoustic guitars...that was a little upbeat in tempo.
What other artists were you in the studio with when he was working on Chixtape 5?
Ashanti pulled up to the studio and we did her part on “Fool’s Tale.” I had no idea. I come to the session thinking it’ll be a normal session. Then, they said, “Oh, Ashanti’s coming.” I was like, “OK, cool. Wait….what?” She came and killed it. Recording artists is like trying your best not to jump out and be like, “Oh my god, you’re awesome.” You’re trying to keep that professional face. We’ve all heard Ashanti sing and she can sang. Listening to her vocals come through the speakers, you’re thinking, “I’m recording this?”
Mario also came in the same day to do his part on “The Cry.” The people from that time in R&B went through the whole old school way of warming up your vocals and getting your body ready to perform this part. [Ashanti and Mario] went in the booth and performed their vocals the same way they probably would perform live. Tory was the same way.
What was Tory’s reaction to working with the legends he grew up listening to?
He was real cool. They would walk in and he’s be like, “Yo, I’m a big fan. You inspired me and that’s why I pulled you in here.’’ He expressed his appreciation, but still kept it professional. If they’re co-writing a part or they brought him in to help with vocal production, he’ll give them the real professional work. He’ll tell them, “Let’s do it again. That was trash.” He has no filter, but he still keeps it professional. I think that’s why a lot of people respect him so much.
What did you have to learn about Tory in order to work with him?
Tory’s a team. Tory is pretty much deciding the direction he wants to go with music, but it’s a whole team that makes him Tory. I’m not trying to take anything away from him. When I first got brought into work with Tory, his producer Play Picasso was like, “I sort of want to just focus on producing. Let Mike engineer.” The first few sessions were a bit rough. I was adjusting to his work flow. He works fast. Adjusting to his workflow and him adjusting to my rhythm was a bit rough at first. But, we got through it and it’s sort of flawless. We can do seven, 10, 12 songs a night.
No way you’re doing 12 songs a night.
We were in Miami after “The Chixtape 5 Tour” and he got pulled into do a writing session for an artist. He was like, “Yo, we got an hour and a half. Load ‘em up.” He went and recorded five songs in an hour and a half — verses and hooks. None of those songs have come out yet.
So, for The New Toronto 3, what was the timespan for recording those 16 songs?
For the album, there were a lot of songs recorded for it. The recording was done between me, his engineer in Miami Johann Chavez. It’s hard to say exactly when recording for the album started, but my part started around January or February of 2019. There were a few songs recorded a while ago, and some were recorded in the last few weeks and days. I think “Letter To The City 2” was recorded a few days before the coronavirus quarantine hit L.A.
Did Tory express any different ideas for the making of The New Toronto 3 compared to Chixtape 5?
The only thing different about the recording process was that it was smoother. He already got in a groove from working on Chixtape 5, so we hit a groove. The only other variable thrown into the recording process was that we went on “The Chixtape 5 Tour” for a little bit and we were in Chicago for All-Star Weekend for a few appearances. At first, I wasn’t supposed to go to All-Star Weekend, but he wanted to get in the studio and wanted an engineer, so I got the call. My girl hates me for this (laughs). I woke up on Valentine’s Day, my girl went to the gym, and I was like, “When she gets back, we’ll figure out something for the day.” My manager called me like, “Yo, Tory wants you to come to Chicago and he has a session at 8 pm.” I called back and was like, “There’s a flight at 2 pm.” It was 10:30 am and my girl had just left to the gym. She was actually super excited.
What ambiance does he like in the studio?
He likes it bright in the studio. He doesn’t really like dim lights. He’s like, “I ain’t trying to go to sleep in here. I’m trying to work.” The weed is going (laughs).
What’s the most weed you’ve seen him smoke in a session?
Let me paint you the creative process of how Tory Lanez works. He’s like, “Alright, play me some beats.” We go through beats and while I’m going through beats, he’s rolling up a blunt already. He’ll go, “Next. Next. Next. Wait, hold on.” He’ll start flowing with the beat and then will go, “Nah, next. Next. Hmm, OK.” He starts vibing and he’s still rolling his blunt. He then goes, “OK, put this in.” I load it into Pro Tools, and get the mic leveled and everything. As he’s walking into the booth, he’s licking the blunt to seal it. He gets in the booth, puts his headphones on, and goes, “OK, play it for me again.” Then, he lights the blunt. “Yo, bring it back.” Then, he goes and starts writing the song right there in his head. Then, 15-30 minutes later, the song is done. Sometimes, if we’re spending a lot of time on the song, he’ll get to a point where he’s done with his blunt and will go, “Shit, hold up. I have to roll up again.”
When are we getting that Swae Lee collaboration?
I hope soon. That was the night of the Chixtape 5 release. We came back from the release party and went right to East West Recording Studios. It was packed. It was a good vibe. It was my first time recording Swae, and he’s creative and talented. You remember how “Unforgettable” hits you? Swae and Tory’s song is going to hit you even harder. When I was listening to it, I thought it could be played during the holidays, spring time, summer, at a fall party. I think it’s one of them songs.
You all were watching “Dragon Ball Z” in the studio during the recording of The New Toronto 3, right?
Yeah. We were going through “Dragon Ball Z” from the beginning. I think we were in the middle of the Frieza battle with Goku with the iconic first Super Saiyan transformation. I think Tory was channeling a bit of that.
You were also a runner for a studio. What was that like?
I was a runner at Record Plant Recording Studio right after graduating from Art Institute. One of my first days working there was when Justin Bieber and Chris Brown had sessions booked. It was 2014 and it was pretty wild. I thought since I graduated that my resume and accolades are going to be better than the next person to get ahead in the job. But, they were like, “Oh, this looks cool. You’re going to be a runner picking up food, scrub toilets, and take out trash.”
How has Coronavirus affected you?
At first, I thought we were just going to be in the house for a little bit and I could get rest. But, when it kept going, I was like, “I haven’t been home in a while like this. I have to settle back into my house.” I had to find creativity again. It’s picking back up. Tory lives in Miami and I’m in L.A. and we aren’t working as frequently as we used to. It’s been a little difficult, but I’m still hopeful and optimistic.