Harmony Samuels on Crafting Hits With Fifth Harmony & Nathan Sykes, Plus Exclusive JoJo Video

Jose Cardoza
JoJo and producer Harmony Samuels in the recording studio.

What do Fifth Harmony, JoJo, Nathan Sykes, Mali Music and newcomer Kehlani have in common? They've all been collaborating with Grammy-nominated songwriter/producer Harmony “H-Money” Samuels on new projects.

First out of the gate on Aug. 14 was Fifth Harmony’s catchy “I’m in Love With a Monster,” the theme song for the upcoming animated sequel Hotel Transylvania 2 (Sept. 25). The song rises 35-22 on the Billboard + Twitter Top Tracks chart dated Sept. 12. Then JoJo signaled her long-awaited return with the simultaneous release of three singles on Aug. 21. The singer/songwriter’s “tringle” includes Samuels’ “Say Love,” which debuts at No. 34 on Billboard’s Pop Digital Songs chart dated Sept. 12. (In the exclusive video below, watch the pair get emotional in the studio while recording the power ballad.) The busy producer is also executive-producing Sykes’ forthcoming solo debut album after his exit from The Wanted.

London-to-Los Angeles transplant Samuels knows his way around a studio. After producing and co-writing pop star Ariana Grande’s 2013 multi-platinum breakthrough “The Way” featuring Mac Miller, he hit the charts earlier this year with Ciara’s gold-certified single “I Bet.” Along the way, Samuels has also racked up credits on R&B and gospel projects by Chris Brown, Ne-Yo, Fantasia, Michelle Williams, Keyshia Cole and Tamar Braxton.

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During a phone interview from his North Hollywood studio, Samuels reflected on his diverse track record. “People will say, I didn’t know you made that,” he says with a laugh. “I’m not an urban producer, I’m a music producer. Many people don’t know that my first-ever placement in L.A. was with Maroon 5. I was born in England and my parents are Caribbean and Nigerian. I have too much culture going on to not be open to everything.”

The divine circumstances behind “Monster”: This song had been created before I even went to visit [Epic chairman/CEO] L.A. Reid. I’d wanted to re-create a whole different vibe, something like the ‘50s in 2015 but also incorporating Motown and the 808s. While visiting with L.A., it just so happened that an executive from Sony Pictures was in an office next door looking for a song for Hotel Transylvania 2. I played the song for L.A., who looked at me kind of funny and asked, what’s this song called again? And I said, “I’m In Love With a Monster.” And he said, “You’re joking.” It was like it was too easy. I think God kind of aligned it.

JoJo’s return after nearly a decade between albums: I’ve been a big fan ever since she was a child. Then it just seemed like she disappeared off the face of the planet. I first met her two or three years ago in L.A. I think the second song we ever did together was “Say Love.” She is one of the best artists I’ve ever worked with vocally: She brings out the best in the music. Hers is a voice we haven’t heard in a while, so I think she’s going to do wonders.

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Crafting Sykes’ solo debut: If you look back at Ariana’s first album Yours Truly, there’s a duet with her and Nathan that I wrote and produced, “Almost Is Never Enough.” At that point I kind of knew he was going to go solo because the song really showcased his voice. We’ve since created a sound specifically for Nathan. It fits his voice, young and so fresh. He’s very gifted.

Working with female artists vs. male artists: Everyone who says I work with more female artists than male artists, I don’t think that’s 100 percent true. I’ve definitely worked with some male artists. But it’s very hard to work with anyone who’s not a great singer, period. The stronger the vocalist, the better the song. That’s the honest truth.

How he got tagged as H-Money: It’s a nickname I picked up when I used to work in Paris as a DJ. They would call me that in French. And it’s stuck with me ever since then, about 10 years. It also distinguishes me from another Harmony in the game, Chuck, who’s a good friend and a great producer.

Doubling as music director at One Church L.A.: If I’m in town, I’m in church. That’s the core and the base for how I make music.