Source: Superheroyou – By Thomas Bähler | All Things Michael
We were recording at Westlake Studio A on Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles. Quincy Jones was producing Michael Jackson with Bruce Swedien, our masterful engineer. I had just finished recording a special sound on “Beat It,” Michael’s new song.
Michael and Quincy called me in because I owned a Synclavier, a revolutionary new digital synthesizer that was taking the business by storm, even though its cost was that of a small home. Michael wanted a particular sound, that he had heard on the Synclavier demo record the company had sent him, to be the first sound you heard on “Beat It”. He then asked me to play it once again, to announce Van Halen’s iconic guitar solo in the middle of the song.
I had come out from New york to do the gig and hang out at the studio as Quincy, Michael, Bruce and I had worked closely together for years and it was great to be with them again.
I soon found myself in the midst of a search for a snare drum sound for this song that had been going on for almost three weeks.
For those of you who don’t know what a snare drum is, play any pop song and listen to the drum that plays on beats two and four (the beats we clap on at a concert). Snares come in a wide variety of sounds, from sharp ‘piccolo snares’ to booming ‘field snares,’ and Michael had a sound in his imagination that he wanted to find in physical form.
We joined him on that search.
“Beat It” was somewhat of a departure for Michael because it was a rock song, and a killer one at that.
Normally, the production team would have already run its patience to the breaking point, listening to every snare drum type we could find in Los Angeles. But Michael’s enthusiasm kept our spirits running high.
“It’s out there! I know it’s out there!” he’d exclaim.
As he listened to each snare, they were either logged as possibilities or sent back, with Michael saying “I like that one,” or “That one mixed with another could do it.” It was clear he hadn’t yet found what he was hearing in his limitless imagination. But never through this process did I hear him say, “That doesn’t work,” or “No, that one’s no good.” When he listened to a snare that wasn’t going to make the cut, Michael would simply smile and say, “Let’s hear the next one.”
In all the years I worked with Michael as his principal vocal arranger, not once did I hear a negative word leave his lips – from the time he was 13 until his untimely death in 2009. In my opinion, Michael’s determined optimism played a major role in his phenomenal success.
I mean, isn’t that a Superhero quality?
Determined Optimism. It’s a powerful tool.
Determined optimism is what I call using my free will to decide that I am focusing on what I want.
If you’d like to see this process for yourself, watch the film created after he left this planet, This is It, and you’ll see firsthand what I mean. And it was obvious in the studio as we searched for the snare sound only Michael could hear. His positivity shone like the sun as we tried snare after snare, and he repeated often, “I know it’s out there!”
One afternoon, we received a Gran Cassa, a large symphonic bass drum that Michael and Quincy planned on using in another song. It took two guys to carry it, housed in its black fiberboard case.
They set it down in one of the isolation rooms next to the main room in Studio A and began unpacking it. When they set down the top half of the fiberboard case, a fairly large object fell off an adjacent shelf and hit it.
“That’s it!” cried Michael, his eyes gleaming with recognition. “That’s the sound! Svensk (Swedien’s nickname), let’s mic it!”
Then Michael jumped around the booth of Studio A, repeating, “I knew it was out there.”
Next time you listen to “Beat It,” you’ll notice there are two distinctive snare drum sounds. The first is a somewhat normal snare sound on beat two of each measure. The second snare sound occurs on beat four. It’s there you’ll hear the added resonance and weight of that big fiberboard case!
So how did Michael know that this sound he was looking for was out there?
He used his superpower of Belief.
When we believe, we open the door to limitless possibilities. When we doubt, we shut that door. It’s that simple.
If Michael had slumped into his chair saying, “We’re never going to find this sound,” he would have been right.
It’s like putting a fire under a teapot. We don’t stand there and watch it boil because that’s a waste of time. Instead, we pay attention and super-tune our awareness to hear the telltale whistle of the teakettle.
If you notice in this story, Michael was the only one who heard this sound when it happened. None of us responded to it, but Michael did. He was listening for it.
When we declare what we want, like Michael did, we command things to happen. When we declare what we want and it serves others, the universe responds and we get it.
This is another superhero trait, and yet so accessible.
The next time, you feel overwhelmed, stuck, lost, indecisive or full of doubt, stop and ask yourself:
What do I want?
This philosophy of trusting our intuition is an attribute of virtually all the great artists and CEO’s I’ve had the pleasure to work with. From Quincy Jones, Barbra Streisand, Billy Joel, and Diana Ross to Henry Ford II, they all listen to and believe in their intuition. Quincy calls them goosebumps.
I understand and live this philosophy because my father instilled it in me as a young boy. It has worked for me throughout my life and has placed me in concert with the greats I’ve listed here.
Recently, this philosophy revealed itself to me as a tangible formula that has unwittingly ignited my imagination throughout my life. I am now thrilled and compelled to share it with you as a book and virtual program entitled, WHAT YOU WANT WANTS YOU: How to get what you want…every time.
I dedicate this article to ‘Smelly,’ our nickname for Michael, who inspired us with his superhero spirit and limitless gifts. We miss you and are grateful for the mountain of love you have left for us to enjoy for eons to come. You truly are a superhero.
Thomas Bähler has enjoyed a long and distinguished creative career, having composed, produced and served as creative director, songwriter, singer and arranger for numerous movies, TV hits, albums and theatrical productions. He has composed music for Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson and Steven Spielberg. Among the many hits he has penned are Michael Jackson’s She’s Out of My Life and Cher’s Living in a House Divided. Thomas has over 30 Gold and Platinum records. The list of his musical accomplishments is extensive.
Thomas has performed as:
Musical Director for the finale of “Live Aid” and conductor of its finale
Creator of the vocal arrangements and associate producer for “We Are the World”
Creative Director for the 1994 World Cup in the U.S.
Music Director for many events sponsored by the White House including “America’s Millennium,” “Concert of the Americas” and President Clinton’s Inaugural Concert.
Thomas has also served as Creative Director at Radio City Music Hall and also for numerous Superbowl half time shows.
ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE, Thomas’ debut novel, has been called an “undeniable force of nature” by A Bookish Affair. Thomas lives in New York City is preparing to release his newest book and virtual program, WHAT YOU WANT WANTS YOU.
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