Brett Epstein and Tony Ghantous are a team of talented musical producers/songwriters that comprise Contagious Songs. This talented team mixes drive and heart to produce hit pop acts. Keep reading for full interview by Franceasca Seiden.
Collectively their work has been featured on FOX, MTV, Radio Disney, CBS, Reelz Channel, PBS and more.
[Story by Franceasca Seiden, photos by Erik Fischer]
In an era where music quickly changes to fit evolving trends and ever-evolving genres, where lyrics and beats become blended cocktails of diverse sound involving equal parts rhythm and melody, it would seem strange to forget about pop music and its evolution through the decades. Popular music contains equal parts history and innovation. In my quest to understand market trends and what it means to have cutting edge content produced by passionate musicians and songwriters, I decided to talk with one of the most innovative production duos in town who are busy successfully tackling popular music.
Brett “BetheBuddhist” Epstein and Tony Ghantous are a team of talented musical producers/songwriters that comprise Contagious Songs; a fully equipped recording studio located in Burbank, California. This talented team mixes drive and heart to produce what could be any number of up and coming hit pop acts.
I recently visited the dynamic duo to get a feel for their studio and discuss their future plans.
Q. How did the two of you initially meet and decide to form Contagious Songs?
BE: We met at a high-end music equipment place. Tony walked in holding this special kind of mic, which I’ve been hearing a lot about but never used. It sparked up a conversation between the both of us. We realized we had a lot of the same music people in common and exchanged info. A couple weeks later we connected and played each other some of our original stuff.
TG: This led us into a writing session which eventually became our first demo together for the all girl pop – rock group Dollface from Orlando, FL. (A pop like version of The Donna’s, the group Dollface plays all their own instruments and look great doing it.) After what should have been a three song demo the girls and their manager decided to push aside the rest of the songwriters/producers that they had meetings with out here and use almost all ten original songs that we wrote with them.
Q. That’s amazing. Why do you think you mesh?
BE: They are a band and we allowed them to sound like a band. We let them be the group they wanted to be while maintaining a pop rock sound. I think as producers, we’re not just beat makers. A lot of producers now a days are guys who make the track and beats. It’s not something we are dogging on at all and it’s not something we haven’t done or can’t do. We really like to get in there and see what the artist is all about and then really try to tailor the song towards them, instead of, ‘okay we have to do a track we really don’t know who its going to, lets compile a shit load of tracks.’ It’s a little bit disconnected.
Q. So, this process of collaborating with an artist is really intimate for you?
BE: Sure. It’s more organic, and since we are writers ourselves and vibe (when we can) from the ground up on a guitar or on a piano then hand them the writing demo. We really think about how should we produce the song, who’s the artist? What do they sound like? What key does it have to be in? What are the elements that make up this record that support what the artist is doing? So our style is more old school, like it used to be. You start with a song and then you produce it. That’s how we prefer to work. Start with the song and then let the song dictate the production.
TG: We just work off each other’s ability very, very well… and we both like to eat.
Q. You both are musicians. What kind of instruments do you play?
TG: Synth, percussion.
BE: Piano, Drums, Bass, Keys, Guitar and a Soda Can…we rarely ever outsource anything. Everything is done in house from the writing, production, delivering a final record. The only thing that is outsourced is a master.
Q. I know both of you have had individual success. How is it working as part of a creative team?
Both: We have the same taste and style so it just worked. I feel like I’m working alone but with more power. There are a lot of talented people out there but to me it’s really how you work and your drive to work. How you network and you work together. These guys must think he’s so young, he doesn’t know what he’s doing. But then they meet us, and they’re like …they know what the fuck they are doing. The more time we spend doing this shit, we are honing such a strong Kraft, sharpening that sword. So when people call, we are ready.
TG: These songs must sound the best that they can because the competition is so stiff. We’re not about to lose production. We’d rather have a great song written with a great hook and then go from there.
BE: We do know that there are a lot of great guys out there and the guys that we look up to, specifically for me David Foster and for Tony, Max Martin. These guys are the real deal, they are musical, they know how to write great music, and they can connect with an audience. And that’s where we see ourselves and hopefully others will too, we know how to get the job done and we’re not just faking it.
Q. What genre(s) do you like to cover?
BE: Anything popular on the radio. It could be pop-rock, pop-country, adult contemporary, Rn’B, hip hop is considered pop music.
TG: Most people hate pop music, I actually listen to it. You can have fun with pop; you can make it real catchy and real clean, its open. I’ll go buy a Britney Spears record and pump it like I’m a 13 year old girl.
We all laugh.
BE: Obviously pop can be extremely formulaic but in the creation of it, its really challenging. One wrong side, one wrong lyric as a producer you can blow it pretty quickly. Its like a film, you pick the wrong color, or wrong production design on a period piece and the audience is expecting something else, there becomes a disconnect, so there’s a challenge in making it and we enjoy it. It’s really challenging to make it right.
TG: It’s like you’re telling a movie in 3 minutes. It’s a lot harder.
Q. You recently had a visit from Sean Kingston?
BE: Yeah, Sean Kingston was here. He liked our stuff. We’re looking forward to seeing him again.
Q. For having such similar music tastes and similar approaches to work, you both come from vastly different backgrounds.
TG: I’m from Peoria, IL. I grew up with an Antiochian Christian priest for a father and spent three years growing up in Saudi Arabia. I’m Lebanese and I speak, read and write Arabic. I went straight out of high school into the music business and within my first year in LA I produced a track for the TV show Shake It Up. It was like #13 on the Disney chart.
Q. Wow! That’s fast. I mean to move to LA and get such a huge break. When did you start making music?
TG: I started making music at 13 in my parent’s basement. I moved into the garage and then moved into an actual studio that I built. Two years ago I moved to LA and worked my fucking ass off. I got my first cut with a major label artist through MySpace. I met a ton of people through…get this… MySpace.
BE: He really made MySpace his bitch for a little while.
Q. You’re from Miami, and you’ve been playing instruments since like the age of 5 or younger right?
BE: I’m originally from Miami Florida, and moved to LA about nine years ago, after graduating from the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
Q. You’ve worked with some pretty well known artists before getting together with Tony, can you name some?
BE: “Kimberly Caldwell” (American Idol, Capitol Records) “Carly Patterson” (Universal) “Big Mama” (Sony Korea) Crystal Kay (Universal Japan)” songs for the Hilary and Haley Duff film “Material Girls.”
Q. How did you come up with the name Contagious Songs?
BE: We wanted to have a brand that was catchy. We try to have a hook, we try to get under your skin and annoy you a little bit, you know, being contagious.
TG: I want people to really appreciate the people behind the music, if they like us, they’ll like the music.
Q. I’m sure they will! Looking forward to seeing what’s next for Contagious Songs. I have a feeling we will be hearing a lot more from you. Thanks, guys.
For more information on Contagious Songs contact email@example.com follow them www.twitter.com/bethebuddhist www.twitter.com/TGcontagious www.twitter.com/ContagiousSongs and like them on facebook www.facebook.com/ContagiousSongs
Also check out www.facebook.com/wearedollface for more info on the band Dollface