GUY RAZ, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

We have the latest now in our series about hitmakers, the people who create and sell chart-topping songs. Today, NPR's Zoe Chace takes us to New York to visit producer Jerry Wonda Duplessis. He's been making platinum records for fifteen years, and he's going to walk us through one of his latest projects step by step.

ZOE CHACE: How does a hit song start?

(Soundbite of music)

CHACE: Right, piano intro. Lots of big songs open with piano.

Mr. JERRY WONDA DUPLESSIS (Music Producer): That piano, there's a lot of things we add to it to make it that smokey, zoney, vibey but hard when the drums drop.

CHACE: If you're trying to make a number one record, you begin in a room like this one. Jerry Wonda built Platinum Sound Studios ten years ago. He says it's the loudest studio in New York City. Everything you could possibly use to build a song is in here, like Julia Child's kitchen.

Jerry Wonda is the top producer at Platinum, Serge Tsai the top engineer. There's an enormous soundboard as big as a rug, with 80-plus faders on it, keyboards, bass, a box labeled autotune, two soft couches and a Macbook. Now where were we?

Mr. DUPLESSIS: Headphones back on.

CHACE: Bring the piano back in.

Mr. DUPLESSIS: Now, what we're adding, you hear that little clap? Stadium sound.

CHACE: Many of today's hit songs start with a track: instrumental music first, before there's any concept of what the song will be about or even who will sing it. I ask Wonda where he got the clapping sounds. The answer really surprised me.

Mr. DUPLESSIS: I was going (unintelligible).

CHACE: That's actually people's hands?

Mr. DUPLESSIS: Yeah, people's hands, and we have different sonic.

CHACE: He stores the sound in a vast library of what he calls sonic, the way you'd grow sage in your garden and store the dried leaves in your spice cabinet. On this song, he uses the sonic to create a feeling that you're in a stadium.

Mr. DUPLESSIS: Now here are the drums.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DUPLESSIS: And once we get it to a level, sometime I get a writer to come in to write the lyrics and melodic on the top of the song.

CHACE: For this particular song, that writer is R&B superstar John Legend. Wonda played the track for Legend.

Mr. DUPLESSIS: He said: Oh my God, oh, I love this. Oh my God. And he just went and created a crazy hook on it.

CHACE: The hook is often the most important element of a pop song. It's the part that you remember, that you sing at the top of your lungs at a baseball game or at prom.

Mr. DUPLESSIS: Now can you add a - let's add John Legend vocals right here just to show a little...

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JOHN LEGEND (Musician): (Singing) Take me to that old, familiar place. Take me to memories (unintelligible).

CHACE: But even someone like John Legend, an accomplished vocalist, needs a dose of that sonic, not autotune to correct his pitch. As Wonda says, real singers don't need it.

Mr. DUPLESSIS: The only thing we add on John is a nice verb and a delay.

Mr. LEGEND: (Singing) ...to all that we have, good and the bad. I'll never forget you. I'll never let you go. I'll never forget you.

CHACE: How much reverb and delay is on John Legend's voice, how much sonic to make this song sound like a pop song? Just enough, like adding salt to a dish, says engineer Serge Tsai.

Mr. SERGE TSAI (Sound Engineer): You know you don't put a handful of salt in your food. So it's kind of a similar thing.

CHACE: Now Wonda has a music bed, a melody and a hook.

Mr. DUPLESSIS: And a middle youre leaving empty, the space to rap on it.

CHACE: Jerry Wonda sent over a sound file to rapper Lupe Fiasco. It had three blank spaces, 12 measures long, for Fiasco to rap over. And this is what he sent back without ever stepping into a studio with John Legend.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. LUPE FIASCO (Rapper): (Rapping) (Unintelligible).

CHACE: There's only one thing left for Jerry Wonda to do: test the record for that stadium sound to make sure he got the sonic right for where this song is going to be played. So he takes the headphones off and turns up the volume up as loud as it goes, and he plays it loud as Madison Square garden.

Mr. DUPLESSIS: The verb and that little delay and a vocal, (unintelligible), that little verb and that delay and sound like (unintelligible).

CHACE: According to Wonda, without that sonic, you don't have a global hit.

Mr. DUPLESSIS: A producer is the person that really creates I call the foundation of a song, a song infrastructure because it's all about the sonic. That's what a producer, in my world, that's what I do.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. LEGEND: (Singing) Take me to that old familiar place. Take me to memories (unintelligible).

CHACE: "Never Forget You" will be the second single released off Lupe Fiasco's new album.

Zoe Chace, NPR News.

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