From his early years as an engineer in Atlanta, Recording Connection mentor Josh Monroy has worked such names as Justin Bieber, Elton John, OutKast and The Notorious B.I.G., to name a few—not to mention that he has worked consistently with rap icon Ludacris for the better part of a decade. Today, Josh co-owns Studio 1 Zero in Los Angeles, and most recently produced, co-wrote and recorded three tracks for pop/R&B star JoJo’s latest album Mad Love, including the title track itself. Released last month, the album is JoJo’s first in 10 years and is already generating plenty of buzz.
In a recent interview with RRFC, Josh chatted with us about how he got his start, how being in the right place at the right time helped him land his gig with Ludacris, and gave some stellar advice Recording Connection students need to heed. Enjoy!
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RRFC: What was it that first got you interested in music and recording?
My father played guitar. I would see him playing, and he had his guitar room. He would have me come in and he’d play me a song or whatever. It was just like a wow factor like, “Wow, my dad is so cool. He’s got all these guitars.” That kind of thing. I think as I got older, my love for music just got bigger and bigger…As soon as I graduated high school, I went to study music.
RRFC: So after school, what was your early experience in the studio like?
Early on it was…cleaning toilets and vacuuming and dusting consoles and that kind of stuff, regular grunt work stuff, going on food runs, of course. And then that led to becoming an assistant. So I’d set up rooms and carried down microphones and set up for drum tracking sessions and all that kind of stuff. I had a little more responsibilities and, of course, the natural progression led to becoming an engineer. My first engineering gig… I guess my first engineering gig was actually Keith Sweat…Keith actually taught me a lot on how to record quickly. He was very demanding, very fast-paced. So he was a really good client to have as a learning process, too…During that time, I actually met Ludacris, too.
RRFC: How did you end up getting to work with Ludacris? What made them put you on as the assistant on that session?
It’s a crazy story actually…I lived very far away. I drove a Jeep and I couldn’t afford the gas money. On one hand, it was because I was broke that got me that gig. On another hand, it was always because I would stick around the studio…At my house with my brothers where I was living there wasn’t anything to do besides drink or play video games…A lot of times I’d find myself sleeping at the studio. There were showers. There was a kitchen. There was coffee. There was a snack room. I pretty much had everything I needed….one of those nights, I was up there. It was just me in the studio, you know, the late night manager, and Ludacris called, and I happened to be the one to answer the phone. I took the order for the session, basically. I called the studio manager. She couldn’t get anyone. It was very late. She was like, “Well, Josh, it looks like you’re going to do your first assisting gig for Ludacris.” And there you go. She found an engineer, luckily, and I went in and set up the room and all that kind of stuff. Then, as they say, the rest is history. That engineer ended up quitting…I knew the whole session, and I knew the files, and I knew Luda very well. So I took over. That led to him offering me a personal engineering recording position for the next eight years. That dictated almost a decade of my life right there. You really just never know. I think if there’s anything that kids can take away from that, it’s like you never know what saying yes to one client or one person, or just making yourself available…is going to lead you. You never know how that person’s going to affect your career. Treat everyone very well.
RRFC: So let’s talk a little bit about JoJo and the album and that whole journey. Can you talk to us a little bit about working with the artist or is there anything about the sessions you want to talk about?
Absolutely. I think with JoJo, she’s such a… She knows who she is and she knows what she wants… I try to plan for everything but plan for nothing at the same time. I do a little listening research prior to the sessions, kind of get familiar with the artist, and then I feel like at least know who they were. But then I think it’s important for my own process anyway, not to predetermine in my own mind who I think they are, if that makes sense…I let the session dictate and just be ready for anything, but just let the artist just tell me who they are. I think that’s how I get a lot of good takes…
If you listen to my three songs on the JoJo album, for instance, they’re all completely different songs. “Like This” is an 808 driven hip-hop urban record. “Clovers” is more of a new pop dance type record. Then “Mad Love” is a throwback, Motown-meets-contemporary production thing. They’re all very different. I think the reason I have three songs on there is because I got into JoJo’s head and by allowing myself, my process, to be open and free like that. She is awesome, and she is just so easy to work with and comes prepared as well. When she walks in the door she is like, specifically with “Mad Love” she was like, “You know what? I had this idea. People say mad love, like ‘I got mad love for you.’”…”Mad Love” was born right there. It was literally the first chord progression I played.
RRFC: Let’s flash back 10 years ago; what would you have done if a full-fledged famous artist just walked into the studio? Would you have shaken their hand or what would you have done?
“iGLOo’s Suite” room in Studio 1 Zero
I’d say being polite and kind and being just very likable and pleasant is probably the best thing that you can do. I tell my students at Recording Connection that studio etiquette is probably, at the entry level, the biggest thing that you have to learn. It doesn’t matter about any of the technical stuff because if no one likes you, you’re not going to get the job anyway… I would always offer them a handshake if someone’s coming through, “Hi, I’m Josh. It’s very nice to meet you.” I wouldn’t go into, “I’m a big fan,” or any of that stuff like that. They don’t want to be fan bombarded in the studio. They want to be treated like they’re paying $200 an hour for this place…I think the genuine approach is what people latch onto and they’re like, “Okay. Man, this guy or this girl, they seem very serious about what they’re doing.” You’re setting the tone for that professionalism there.
RRFC: Any other advice you want to give Recording Connection students? Like let’s say I want to come in and start training with you next week; what would you want me to know before I walk in the door?
How much you put into it is what you’re going to get back…I never had a plan B. I don’t know if this is great advice or terrible advice, but I’ve read that some financial people say this kind of thing, too, but I just never gave myself another option. It was never even a thought in my head that, “Well, if this doesn’t work out…” That was never an option for me. It was, “This is what I’m going to do.”
And also, the B-side to that is not letting the technology of all this stuff overwhelm you as a new student. Being passionate, being driven, that’s going to get your foot in the door. Then, just allowing yourself to learn all these advanced concepts and realizing that it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years. It takes years to develop this because it’s art.
Being patient I guess is the other side of that…You don’t get into this to make a million dollars. You do it because you can’t do anything else, because you love doing music. It is a process, and it’s something that you have to stick with and to dedicate years to. I’ve been doing this since I was 18 years-old. I’m 34 now. I’ve dedicated half my life to this business and to knowledge, and I’m still learning every day. I love working with new people and finding new ways to do things.
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