My name is Will Wells, and I am a 7th semester Film Scoring/Music Production and Engineering student. I recently had the opportunity to work with recording artist/producer Wyclef Jean, a musical monster most known for his work with the Fugees, and many other artists such as Shakira, Lil’ Wayne, T.I., and Lauryn Hill just to name a few. Having recently claimed Berklee as his official college, Wyclef was interested in providing a special opportunity for some of his peers to participate in the recording of his new album, The Haitian Experience.
In the last week of May, Wyclef sent Roger Brown’s Chief of Staff, Carl Beatty, three rough demo mixes and asked him to find student arrangers to write string arrangements, and student players to play them. After collecting recommendations from around the college, four arrangers, including myself, received a phone call explaining the opportunity. I was a little bit nervous, but more excited than anything else to write these arrangements. With only two weeks to work, I placed the rough mixes on my iPod, at the top of my playlist. Finally, after the two weeks had passed, I turned the arrangements and demos in to the Office of the President, and I waited. Nine days later (which felt more like nine months), I received word that ‘Clef wanted to use the arrangement that I was assigned for his project. The following day (the night before the session), Carl Beatty told me that Wyclef actually wanted to use me for all three!
It was Saturday June 19th, and the session day had finally arrived. After a long night of formatting, printing, and taping, I arrived at Q Division Studios in Davis Square, ready to make history. This was the first real studio album recording that I was doing as an arranger/conductor. Wyclef arrived at the studio at noon, excited and ready to have a good time. He spent an hour greeting everybody, having coffee, and setting a comfortable vibe for the session. Adam Hand, one of my fellow MP&E classmates, was setting up the microphones in the studio, while Alex Blum, one of the other selected arrangers, was preparing his parts to be played for an alternate version of the song “C.”
When it was finally time to get going, ‘Clef gave me the signal to gather everyone into the studio to tune. The first tune that we recorded was “A,” the most upbeat song, with the most notes for the string players. Since I received no artistic direction from Carl or Wyclef before writing, I was nervous for what was to come. After the first pass, ‘Clef said, “Hey Amadeus, come into the control room.” Much to my surprise, he told me it was exactly what he was looking for! He gave me a brief history lesson about how, in the music of Motown, they took these lush string arrangements and placed them atop these smokin’ grooves to create their untouchable sound, and he was trying to do the same thing with his contemporary music.
After blazing through “A.,” and moved on to “B.”: a much slower, “four on the floor” groove. I had to write an entire string harmony on the fly, which was exciting. It was a challenge, and I was shouting out note changes to the violas! After taking a while to work through the intricacies of this song, which was the most difficult, we broke for lunch. Wyclef was intent on giving us the most memorable Haitian experience, so he told us he was going to bring in lunch from the Haitian hood. You should have seen the looks on these string players’ faces! After everyone had a chance to indulge and have a few laughs, we were finally ready to get back to business with a lot of time to spare.
Finally, making record time, we moved on to the last song, “C.” This was the simplest of the arrangements, and we worked very efficiently, but still left room for experimenting with alternate takes and versions. Reflecting on the experience, this was perhaps the best session, and definitely the most memorable session to this day. Carl Beatty, the administrator that was present, and also a very seasoned engineer, said that in his years of engineering, and recording string sections, this was one of the better sessions he’d seen. The circle of communication between Wyclef, Adam, and I was very clear, and everyone was very relaxed. At the end of the session, we ate some more and relaxed, and Wyclef’s video blogger/assistant Jason Turbyfill shot a few videos of us having fun and playing through the all of the songs once more, to compile for promotional purposes. Everyone was laughing, dancing, and having a wonderful time, coming to the end of a “dream come true” session!