Music

Harvey Mason jr. on Serving as Executive Music Producer of ‘Bob Marley: One Love’: ‘It Was Something I Couldn’t Pass Up’

Harvey Mason jr. is having a very good month. On Feb. 4, as Recording Academy CEO, Mason oversaw the 66th annual Grammy Awards, which were well-received by critics and saw an uptick in ratings.

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Ten days later, wearing his other hat, as a long-time music supervisor for film and TV, Mason saw the release of the film Bob Marley: One Love, on which he is credited as executive music producer, and for which he recorded and mixed the songs. The film has been No. 1 at the box office in its first two weeks, and is already one of the top 10 highest-grossing music biopics in history.

Bob Marley, who died in 1981, has long been one of Mason’s favorites. “I grew up listening to his music,” Mason says. “When I was in college, he was probably one of my top five most played CDs. I loved his music, so the chance to work on this project, even though it was a big one, was something I talked a lot about, thought a lot about and ultimately decided it was something I couldn’t pass up.”

The film includes a generous amount of Marley music as well as other music from the period, such as punk and disco (the Bee Gees’ “You Should Be Dancing”). “It was a fruitful time in music, for sure,” Mason says. “The filmmakers [led by director Reinaldo Marcus Green] did an excellent job of showcasing everything that was happening around different genres and the music and the culture at that period.”

When Mason signed on as Recording Academy CEO, he insisted on being able to continue his outside music projects on his own time. He believes it makes him a better CEO. “Being involved in music and getting a chance to create and have that outlet is a huge value to me as an executive,” he says. “That’s my life – making things and creating, collaborating.

“Each feeds the other,” he continues. “I really think there’s a value in doing both.”

Mason, who became interim president and CEO on Jan. 16, 2020 and assumed the role of permanent CEO on May 13, 2021, is a master at compartmentalizing. “I do Academy business 18 hours a day and then I get a meal and get back to the studio at night and create until I fall asleep. … I’m giving a ton of focus to the Academy, but fortunately I’m able to still be creative. For me, that was really part of being able to do this role at the Academy – could I stay creative? Could I remain connected to music and working with artists, songwriters and producers? I thought it was very important for me to continue doing that.”

Mason quickly adds, “It’s also something that the search committee and the executive committee felt was a good thing. It wasn’t something that I had to negotiate. They said, ‘We love that you’re a creator; that you do this work and you’re still involved in creating music. We’ve never had a CEO like that.’”

Mason doesn’t have to clear each outside music project with the trustees, but stresses, “I think there’s a mutual understanding that I wouldn’t want to do something that takes away from my job at the Academy. But also, the Academy understands the value in having a creator in this position. So, there’s not a formalized process, but I’m very respectful of my role and my obligations that I’ve made to not just the board but also the music community.”

Before he became CEO, Mason received five Grammy nominations – three of them for his work in film and TV, on the soundtracks to Dreamgirls, Pitch Perfect 2 and Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert.

But he has taken himself out of Grammy contention as long as he is CEO. “I’ve committed to not putting my name on the ballot because I wouldn’t want my job at the Academy to influence how somebody viewed a project or voted for a project.”

But other people who work on those projects can submit their own names. “I don’t want to punish people that do great work. So, others can submit, I won’t submit and I will not be getting a nomination or win while I’m in this role.”

Mason has a different view about Recording Academy trustees competing for Grammys. This year, three current trustees won Grammys. Michael Romanowski won best immersive audio album for a deluxe edition of Alicia Keys’ 2004 album The Diary of Alicia KeysJ. Ivy won best spoken word poetry album for The Light Inside. P.J. Morton won best traditional R&B performance for “Good Morning” (featuring Susan Carol). All three had won previously in those categories. Some have questioned whether their high-profile involvement in the Academy gives them an unfair advantage in the voting.

“I think as long as all the processes are sacrosanct and pristine, which they are, it’s great to have relevant music makers being celebrated,” Mason says. “Having members of board being people at the top of their craft says a lot about who our board is.”

Asked if he can see a sensitivity to having current board members competing for Grammys, he replies, “I can understand people wanting to make sure that it’s fair, which I do believe that it is. I don’t think people are just voting for people because they’re on the board, or because they’re friends. Our voters listen and go through the ballot and vote for people they think are doing great work. Some of these people are going to be on our board. I would love to have as many people on our board as possible that are relevant and contemporary and doing work at the top of their game. I’d hate to see us become an Academy where we didn’t want people who were thriving and winning and succeeding in the music industry on our board.”

Mason’s current, three-year contract with the Academy runs through July 31. Mason won’t say what’s going to happen after that. “I don’t think either side has made a commitment yet or firm decision as to what’s going to take place after July,” he says.

Jay-Z criticized the Academy’s voting processes in accepting the Global Impact Award from the Black Music Collective on this year’s telecast. Billboard’s headline, typical of the way the speech was characterized in the media, read: “Jay-Z Calls Out Grammys Over Beyoncé’s Album of the Year Snubs During Acceptance Speech.”

What did Mason think of the speech? “I’ll just say that when someone that we respect speaks out you always are going to listen,” he said. “Jay is one of the most prolific, most talented and most influential people in our industry. We respect his art and we respect his opinion … We listen and we try to take it in as constructive criticism and get better from it.”  

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