Reporting Shannon Carlin
“I’m not making music for the radio.”
When an artist says this, it usually means they’re going in a new artistic direction, like Kanye West, who railed against radio during his performance at Governors Ball, telling the crowd, “Honestly, when I listen to radio, that ain’t where I wanna be no more.” It was his way of explaining why he didn’t release a radio single to promote Yeezus, but more importantly it stood for something big. He was saying, “I’m making something more than just pop music.”
Of course, after having his lowest first week sales ever with his latest album, he did end up sending his song, “Black Skinhead” to the airwaves. Whether Kanye’s anti-radio screed was just his typical bluster, or whether he realized how many millions of people still tune in, saying you don’t want to make music for the radio, could ultimately mean you won’t be heard by a majority of America.
But even with that disclaimer, Jay Sean is bold enough to say that his latest album, NEON, was not made with radio in mind.
“It sounds like a crazy thing to say, ‘I’m not making this for radio,’ because if you don’t make it for the radio and it doesn’t get played no one will hear it, right?’” Sean said. “But what happens in songwriting is you’re writing just so it becomes a hit. There’s no heart in it. I have to write with heart.“
Sean explained to Radio.com that he doesn’t even let other people say the words “hit” or “smash” while they’re in the studio with him. He’s afraid it will go to everyone’s head and the magic the song once had will be lost.
“When you listen to radio there’s certain things you have to keep in mind,” Sean explained. “It has to have tempo or you have to talk about this subject because people like to sing about this right now. Or asking, ‘Can this song get played at five in the afternoon when people just finished work and they want to have fun?’ And you start getting too scientific with it.”
Sean cited Sade, an artist who never seems to care about the trends. “She’s singing from her heart, writing from her heart,” he said. “Guess what? When her album comes out, it sells in the millions because her fans believe it. She doesn’t make it for the radio or for sales or for album charts…She just makes music she loves.”
By making music she loves, she in turn satisfies her fans. “Fans believe her,” he explained. And in the end, that’s really what it’s all about: earning the trust of those who love your music.
“As long as the fans know you made this music for them it will always be good because you kept the fans happy,” Sean said. “It’s the only reason I’m still around after ten years.”
The British singer released his debut Me Against Myself in 2004 earning himself three Top 20 hit singles in the UK for his unique combination of R&B, hip-hop and Indian music. But it wasn’t until his four-on-the-floor dance hit, “Down,” featuring Cash Money Records label mate Lil Wayne, came out in 2009 that he earned himself a name in America. That song, off of his third album, All Or Nothing, reached No. 1 on the Billboard 100 and later became the fifth most searched song on the Internet, according to Google. It was also a song that you couldn’t turn on the radio without hearing. Something that became a problem for some of Sean’s friends.
“It got to a point where my friends in L.A. would call me up and say, ‘Hey, seriously, could you get off the radio? You’re on every half an hour, every hour,’” he said laughing.
It’s been four years since Sean’s last album and most of that time was spent fighting for his sound. Sometimes literally. The singer was embroiled in a lawsuit with a former label, which forced him to scrap an album’s worth of material. Sean now says this was a blessing in disguise. The time allowed him to buck the current EDM trends to make something a little more mature.
“There’s this concept in mainstream music at the moment, Keep It Simple Stupid or KISS. It’s this the way to satisfy the general public,” he said. “But for me, when you apply that, you take out some of the soul, some of the substance, and I don’t want to do that. “
Sean added, “You have to breathe the music. When I’m making that music, it’s coming from the heart and there’s nothing more open and honest to just say and sing what you feel.”
His latest single, “Mars” is the best example of this new sound, which takes influence from sexy singers like D’Angelo and Maxwell. It also shows off his falsetto. “Those songs, when you sing like that, tend to be sexy,” he explained of using his higher head voice.
Sean had written over 60 songs for the album and ended up with a mix of 15 soulful, sexy tracks that he says will not only get you in the mood. He also has a few club bangers, though he says his dance songs move away from the pounding house beat currently on the radio to make something a little more soulful. On songs like “Where You Are,” he’s not talking about getting with a girl but his personal relationship with music.
“I think people are getting sick of music that lacks substance,” Sean explained. “I switch on the radio and I listen to a lot of the commercial hits, I’m like, ‘What are you talking about?’”
Sean paused and then backtracked a little. “I’m not bashing all of Top 40. It’s not like that. You’ve got people like Ed Sheeran, singing about beautiful stuff. But I think because of the fact that a lot of kids will buy gimmicky records, that tends to fill the airwaves, fill the charts, and I think people just want some real music.”
The singer says he wants to join the ranks of the current male R&B singers like Miguel, Frank Ocean and Robin Thicke who are making passionate music. Sean just hopes the world will like his sexy new style as much as he does.
“It’s like when you show your baby to someone and you’re like, ‘It’s always going to be cute to me, but does it have a big nose?’” he said laughing. “It’s a special moment for me.”