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.
From Beyonce, Sevyn Streeter, Omarion and others, producer/songwriter Cam Wallace has gotten the best out of the artists by tapping into who they are at their core.
In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” the producer describes how Mathew Knowles helped him produce Beyonce’s “Upgrade U,” advice from Ty Dolla $ign, and Sevyn Streeter’s meticulous writing process. Read below.
How did you get to produce Beyonce’s “Upgrade U”?
Number one, I’m from Houston. Growing up, I was always producing and making beats. I ran across this friend of the family who was an entertainment lawyer in Houston and I gave her a CD with 20 of my beats. She got it to Matthew Knowles. She actually did two of my records. He heard it and that was my entry into the Beyonce world. There’s another song of Beyonce on my beat out there. It took two months after I gave the CD for it to be cut. My manager called me and played me the song over the phone. First, I heard Beyonce singing and then JAY-Z came on. I didn’t even know Jay was going to be on the record. It was a blessing.
When did you and Sevyn Streeter link up?
You mean us actually having records that came out? That was in 2017, but I knew her before that. She’s a Cancer, I’m a Gemini, and she’s a very emotional artist who’s super intricate with her wordplay. It was really an amazing experience. I learned so much from her from a writing perspective. She taught me how to word check your stuff. She’s the first artist I ever saw take hours to pen a record, but it came out fire because she took that time.
What was her creative process like?
Talking; just conversations. When we got in the studio before we got into making music, we would just talk about whatever we had going in our life. We’ll take those conversations and turn them into music. For her song “Shattered,” we recorded that song in Delonte Murphy’s basement in Atlanta. We were just having deep conversations about relationships and breakups.
Cam Wallace (left) watching Ty Dolla $ign (right) work a session.
How’d you link with Ty Dolla $ign?
Do you know how they say, “Six degrees of separation”? I worked with Ty years ago through this songwriter Mika who has done stuff with Jhene [Aiko] and a bunch of other people. When I met Ty, I told him I already worked with him when I produced a song Omarion cut that he was on. I think it was on an Omarion mixtape or something. My managers at the time, Brooklyn Johnny and Daryl Jones suggested Sevyn wanted to put him on a record. She was the link between us actually linking. I met him on the set of the music video for “Fallen,” her collaboration with Ty and I that I produced. It wasn’t until I got in with [Big] Sean in 2019 when I started going up doing sessions in the studio with Ty.
What did Ty teach you?
I’ve been in the studio with a lot of different artists and songwriters. Over the years, you know the guys into it for the musical purpose. Ty is a musical genius. A lot of people don’t even know he comes from the church background and can play multiple instruments. I sat back and watched his process on how he writes his records and mixes. He records himself in the studio. I took a lot of what I learned from him and put my spin on it. Aside from the music, there would be tons of other artists coming in and out of the studio — Big Sean, Hit-Boy — and I watched how he maneuvered and interacted with these big artists.
I remember one time he hadn’t shown up to the studio yet and I was there early. They had a beat pulled up and I was writing to it for him. He came in and loved what I did, but he told me, “Bro, make sure you’re having fun with the shit and not overthinking.” I know I can be in my head a lot. He was like, “Go with your first thought and follow your intuition with records. Don’t do something for an artist. Bring the artist into your world rather than you trying to be in their world.”
Ty Dolla $ign (bottom left), Cam Wallace (center), Metro Boomin’ (right)
Some of the biggest artists can just stroll through a random studio session in Atlanta or L.A. and completely change it. When has that happened to you?
It started off as Ty and I in the room. The next thing I know, Metro Boomin shows up. Then, Jetsonmade came. There were all of these different producers pulling up. Then, Big Sean and Hit-Boy pulled up. I was able to low-key give Big Sean his roses because he’s an artist who I appreciate… This was before Detroit 2. I was able to tell him, “Bro, your shit is like reading self-help books.” G-Eazy pulled up. Tay Keith ended up pulling through. Roddy Ricch came through. It ended up being like a party (laughs). This was around December 2019 when Ty was cutting records for his album. I’ve met the most artists by being in sessions with Ty.
What was the most impressive thing you’ve seen done in the studio?
The speed with which Ty cranks these records out and how they’re all really good. You would think it would take a long time to do what he does vocally. Shit’s about to start moving in 2021.
Are there any unspoken rules when you’re in sessions with these artists?
I’m big on tact, bro. I’ve always been big on studio etiquette. I feel it out. When big artists come through, everyone is on a different type of time. You have artists who are super cool and personable. Then, you have some who be on the “I’m an artist shit.” What always works is always remaining yourself. I like things to happen organically. The studio is like a safe haven for the artists. When they’re out, they’re always getting pressed for pictures, so I will just be in the cut. I feel it out. For anyone, make your presence felt but don’t be extra.
Vice President of A&R for Motown/Capitol Records Shawn Barron (left), Cam Wallace (right)
What do you need in the studio to make your best music?
Not a lot of people (laughs). I really fuck with the music aspect of the music industry. I just need water, fruit and I’m good. It starts off with just me, so I can feel out what I want to do. For me, making music is like playing video games. I’m trying to beat the next level to get to the next boss. I can still have that freedom when there are people in there. But, I’m a workhorse trying to knock out five or six joints good enough to play in the car on the way home.
How did the pandemic affect how you made music in 2020?
When the pandemic first hit, none of us thought this would be an ongoing thing. I’m already sort of an introvert and in the crib cooking up. The pandemic helped me double down on my work. I was just knocking out records. I have albums and albums worth of music. The only thing I didn’t like was being able to handle a lot of business. Honestly, the day I was supposed to go up to talk with [Motown Records CEO] Ethiopia Habtemariam was the day the offices closed, when the governor said everything was shut down. At the time, I thought we’d be back open in a few weeks.
What do you have coming up in 2021?
A lot. All I do is record, workout, and go back to recording. I have tons of projects right now. I have a project out called 6Rings. I have another EP coming out after that. Then, I’m working on my album called Earth Tones. It’s a really good body of work. The world is in a crazy space right now and music has always been a cure. So, I want to drop some shit people may have forgotten they loved. I feel music is sounding the same right now. I love Travis Scott, Lil Uzi Vert, and Playboy Carti. I want to be the guy who bridges the gap, merges these sounds, and comes with great records. That’s really what Earth Tones is.