Catching Up With J.R. Rotem: Producer Talks Success, Learning
The Biz & Collaborating
March 22, 2011

Being a success in the music industry today is harder than making it in the NBA. That's right, it is easier to be the 10th guy on the Miami Heat than it is to be super producer like J.R Rotem. Due to hard work, persistence and talent, J.R. has gone from a classically-trained jazz pianist to playing keys for Dr. Dre.

The super producer, responsible for the success of Sean Kingston, has had an awesome career producing a string of #1 hits for the likes of Rihanna ("S.O.S."), Rick Ross ("The Boss"), Leona Lewis ("Better in Time"), Nikki Minaj ("Fly") and more. When he is not making hits for big name artists, he is running his label, Beluga Heights, which boasts a roster that includes Kingston, Jason Derulo and Iyaz.

We had a chance to speak with J.R., who discussed some of the things he's gone through in his career to get to where he is today, his label Beluga Heights, and what it takes to be a super producer in today's music industry. Early on, you had some success with Destiny's Child. Then after that, you didn't get another placement for a few years or so right?

J.R. Rotem: Yea pretty much. I was lucky to get that placement. I didn't know how the industry worked, but I was real excited. I was living in the Bay area and I decided to move to Los Angeles. I figured things would move a lot smoother if I lived in L.A. instead. One of my other goals was to play keys for Dr. Dre. I think it was a good thing that I was naive to the industry. I was running on hope and faith, and I thought things would just happen for me. The faith and hope kept me strong through a period where things weren't happening. Eventually I met my manager and business partner, Zach Katz, who became a guide to me as well. What was the follow up placement to Destiny's Child?

J.R. Rotem: Once I met Zach, he helped me shape my sound. He would give suggestions and critique me while he was working with Aftermath and G-Unit. Through him, I got a lot of placements starting with Snoop Dogg, Lil Kim and D12. Finally, we got in real good with 50 and G-Unit. After that point, we did a lot of hip-hop stuff, but it wasn't all singles. I did a lot of album tracks and stuff like that. After that, I wanted to explore more and get into pop and other genres. So after that, I did Rihanna's "S.O.S.," which was her first #1 record and my first. After that, the doors really started to open up and I did stuff for Brittany Spears and other artists like that. All this success led me to start my label, Beluga Heights, and we then found Sean Kingston. Sean Kingston had a huge hit with "Beautiful Girls." Could you tell us the story behind that record? Some people may not know that it is a sample from a classic song and you put a crazy twist on it.

J.R. Rotem: Yes, it samples "Stand By Me", an old 50's song. We were in the studio and working on other songs, and I think he was in the kitchen. The radio in the kitchen played the original song and he heard it. He came into the studio and hummed the bass line and said he wanted to do something with it. I think we bought the song on iTunes and then I was trying to figure out how to make it sound new and something for him. I figured out a way to flip it and add 808 type sounds and I replayed some stuff. I gave him a rough copy and he said "Leave me alone" ... and him and another writer named Sly came up with the concept and the hook. Within a half hour, Sean had the whole song written and he blew us away. It was a rare time where I saw the process and heard the finish product and we knew we had something special.

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