From being the songwriter on a long list of hit songs to producing tracks for well-known international artists, music producer Jason Strong has become a sought after force behind the scenes.
Tapped to work with artists on major labels such as Capitol Records, some of Strong’s most recognizable work includes producing the song ‘Que Los Mares No Se Enteren’ by Nico Farias, which earned the coveted award for Best Song of the Year from the 2015 Latin Billboard Music Awards and placed No. 1 on the Itunes Charts in Guatemala, and Capital Records’ artist Naïka’s hit single ‘Ride,’ which has been streamed nearly four million times on Spotify and placed No. 2 on the platform’s popular Global Viral & US Viral Chart. He’s also been a songwriter behind a plethora of tracks that have garnered viral fame, such as ‘Wrong’ by Far Out ft. Emilia Ali, Lauren Carnahan’s ‘Criminal,’ ‘No Conversion’ from Thoreau ft. MNYS, and many more.
So how did a 20-something from Johannesburg, South Africa make it in one of the world’s most competitive industries?
The powerful position Strong finds himself in today comes from a combination of the creativity, innovation and skill that he brings to the table, but even more valuable is his talent for producing and writing tracks that defy genre-imposed limits.
“I think the success of a producer in a day and age where technology drives such rapid changes in creative possibilities is determined by their ability to adapt,” says Strong. “My intention is to continually learn from different styles and take from different musical words to create a blend of elements that makes for something unique and interesting. I will however, always focus on making music that is accessible to the masses, i.e. popular music.”
Strong, who began playing music in his youth, earned extensive praise for his skill as a guitarist and songwriter back home in South Africa where he was named the winner of the VIEBZ Music Competition, as well as the First Prize winner for National Eisteddfod Academy in the Best Contemporary Instrumentalist category. Forming the band Vacant Sun, Strong found himself playing alongside South Africa’s most recognizable groups, including Crash Car Burn, DJ Roger Goode, Graeme Watkins Project and others. However, upon earning a scholarship as a songwriter and guitarist to attend Berklee School of Music in the states, his dream school, leaving the world of local fame behind was a no brainer. And it was there that he first discovered his love for working as a music producer for other artists.
“Sitting down with an unproduced song leaves an endless realm of possibilities. The idea that I could dig into that creation and make it into a million different versions to appeal to a million different types of people, all within the comfort of my bedroom was insane to me. I’ve also just always loved sound and having the tools at my fingertips to manipulate sound into the crazy things I imagine in my head, and having the ability to do that got me obsessed.”
Though the numerous songs he’s written and produced for popular artists around the world have gained major attention, the interesting thing when looking at all of his works combined is just how different each one is from the others.
Strong says,“I like to think my journey thus far is unique in that I come from a diverse musical background and have experienced and lived through different cultures with different interests and diverse forms of art, which all influence who I am today and what my taste is.”
‘Que Los Mares No Se Entheren,’ the award-winning song Strong produced alongside longtime collaborator Peder Etholm-Idsoee for Nico Farias, sticks out clearly from the rest with its blend of a classic Latin vibe and an old-school British sound.
With layered instruments reminiscent of popular tracks by The Beatles, the working process Strong and Etholm-Idsoee enlisted as producers, for Strong at least, was quite different than most of his previously produced tracks.
He explains, “I usually program drums electronically as most music does nowadays, but on Nico’s project every instrument was live and played by musicians simultaneously. We would record live drums with over 20 mics on the drum kit playing at the same time as the bass guitar into a recording console in a big studio.”
The success of the song not only speaks to Strong’s astonishing talent as a music producer, but even more vital, to his ability to adapt to the needs of the artists he produces for, which often means taking an alternative approach to the process than one is used to– but that’s how new pathways are created, and it’s one of the reasons he stands out.
“My goal is always to make something that is the perfect combination of familiar and unfamiliar. Unique and unfamiliar enough to catch the listener’s attention, but familiar enough to keep the listener engaged. I love sound and am always hitting the most random objects to see if there’s any sound I can record that will make listeners go ‘woah what was that?’ I think many producers are scared of thinking outside the box, but I try to live outside the box.”
Despite having achieved a rare level of success as a music producer, Strong continues to expand on his already impressive repertoire of work. One of his newest forays is into the world of film and television. Strong’s original composition ‘Loaded’ will be featured in the first episode of the highly anticipated premiere of the FOX Sports series “Phenoms,” which airs May 25 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Fox.
Strong admits, “I’ve done a lot of sync work for social media platforms but in the realm of television this is my first, of many to come.”
A five-part global sports documentary series “Phenoms” depicts the journey of the world’s greatest soccer players as they prepare to represent their respective countries in the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Created by award-winning storytellers including Jeff and Michael Zimbalist, Leo Pearlman, David Brooks and more, “Phenoms” gives viewers behind-the-scenes access to iconic players such as Dele Alli, Davinson Sanchez, Marco Asensio, Paulo Dybala, Gabriel Jesus, Ousmane Dembele, Adrien Rabiot, Leon Goretzka, Corentin Tolisso, Hirving Lozano and Marquinhos.
About the composition featured in the first episode, Strong says, “I aimed for something that was uptempo and danceable, with big and aggressive sounds to echo the high energy that you would experience when watching a great soccer game in a stadium.”
Much of what makes audiences remember scenes from a film or television series comes from the level of emotional attachment they develop from a combination of striking visuals and the music synced up to the unfolding story. Just as the music is key in eliciting emotional responses within viewers and effectively drawing them deeper into the story, it is vital for the composer to know when to hold back.
“Composing for film is humbling in that you have to learn to take a step back and let the visuals do the work. My job is to enhance a very sense stimulating experience, and to over stimulate multiple senses for the viewer is detrimental,” explains Strong.
“Knowing how to keep things simple and find ways to enhance the visual experience is key. This is similar to pop music in that I have to leave space for the song and vocals to speak, but at least in that case it’s only one sense being stimulated and the listener’s attention is less easily diverged.”
Approaching every project with intention, Jason Strong’s knowledge of how much to give and to hold back when it comes to the music he produces for other artists, as well as taking into account the medium the music is being used for is one of the reasons he’s been so successful at his craft as a producer. Make sure to keep your eyes and ears peeled for his work in the premiere episode of “Phenoms” on May 25. He also produced the album for Capital Records artist Naïka, which is due out later this year.