Q&A: Scott Storch

An in-demand songwriter/producer, Scott Storch is busier than ever, working with Nas, the Game, Jessica Simpson and Paris Hilton, among others, and planning to launch his own label.

Leaving school in ninth grade, Scott Storch implemented his own course of independent study.

"I was cutting school and doing sessions as a keyboard player at Ruffhouse Records for [co-founders] Joe Nicolo and Chris Schwartz," the Philadelphia native recalls. "Those guys gave me the first open door to the real music industry."

Subsequent real-world lessons with the Roots (as keyboardist on the group's pivotal 1993 album "Organix"), Dr. Dre (the keyboard riff on the artist's 1999 comeback single "Still D.R.E.") and Xzibit (co-producer of 2000 single "X") laid the foundation for what was to come.

Today, Storch is an in-demand songwriter/producer whose credits include such crossover hits as Terror Squad's "Lean Back," Mario's "Let Me Love You," 50 Cent's "Candy Shop" and Chris Brown's "Run It!"—each of which reached No. 1 on The Billboard Hot 100 and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs charts.

Having finished work on Paris Hilton's forthcoming debut, "Paris Is Burning," Storch is busy sifting through other projects for his Tuff Jew production company. Recent and upcoming studio dates include the Game, Jessica Simpson, Beyoncé and West Coast rapper Bishop Lamont. He's also in distribution talks for his own label, Storchaveli.

Q: One question immediately comes to mind: Why produce Paris Hilton?

A: I was hesitant at first. But we did a trial run in the studio, and the first song we did was a smash.

It's not always about working with the hottest artist. I sometimes go for challenges although people look at me strangely like, "Why are you doing that?!" However, with a risk sometimes comes a huge reward. It's about having the vision to be able to turn a challenge into something, and then you win the Heisman.

Q: How would you describe Hilton the music artist?

A: She has a certain tone that's reminiscent of Cyndi Lauper and Blondie. The album doesn't have one particular sound. It's just good music; a combination of R&B, hip-hop and pop. It will surprise a lot of people because there's real artistry coming from Paris.

Q: By working on pop projects, do you risk losing credibility in the R&B/hip-hop arena where you made your mark?

A: Not at all. It just shows more versatility in what you do -- unless you try and cross the barriers. I keep my hip-hop as hip-hop, my R&B as R&B and my pop as pop. The ability to cross those boundaries and do all these things effectively is not commonly done.

People just want the hottest records. It's not really about all the names attached to the project. It's about the work.

Q: Are you worried about spreading yourself too thin?

A: No. I love making music and work at the pace that feels comfortable to me. It just so happens that my pace of working is insane [laughs]. I don't ever push the creative sponge and squeeze it out too much. I try to do it as it flows.

I'm always making tracks. I find that when you make tons of tracks, you stumble upon genius. You can't always turn the drum machine on and right away there's a hot track. Sometimes you luck out. But it can take a lot of time between thinking about the artist, listening to music for inspiration or going to clubs. It's about making as many tracks as you can. Then the odds of there being some hits in there are higher.

You also get better at the craft and start reaching a little further. You get bored by certain easy things that you do; you notice that you're using too much of a particular sound or element. So you try other stuff. A lot of producers get comfortable doing what's easy and not reaching. There's always room for reinvention every time you work. I learned that from Dr. Dre and Timbaland.

Q: There's a school of thought that beats are becoming a more important franchise than the song itself.

A: It's all important. There are songs that have gotten over because of a good track, and maybe the actual song isn't as good. But the opposite applies as well. There have been plenty of songs with incredible hooks where it doesn't matter what the track is doing. There is a lot of B-class music doing A-class numbers.

Q: Who is more important in this equation: you as the songwriter/producer, the artist or the song/track?

A: The song and the artist's image create the success. As far as producers go, that just gives a little stamp of approval the same way a cameo appearance does on a record. It's hit or miss sometimes when you hire name-brand producers. You're not always guaranteed a hit. But if you get a smash from a name-brand producer, that's a whole other way to market that record.

Q: What's the going rate for a top producer's services?

A: It's about $100,000 a track. That's upper-mid or lower-high. At the low end of the scale, it's $5,000 to do a beat. And you might have to provide the studio too out of that $5,000 [laughs].

Q: What artists are still on your production wish list?

A: One is actually happening as we speak: Nas. He's been a friend for many years, and we've worked in the capacity of doing cameos on songs for other people's projects. However, owing to geographical or scheduling issues, we had never got it together for a straight-up Nas album. So this is the first. And now that he's aligned forces with Jay-Z, it's an even cooler situation.

Q: What trends are you hearing in R&B and hip-hop?

A: Everybody is trying to capitalize on the Down-South thing. It came from the streets and is now a respectable art form that is dominating everywhere. But I also see a major return of the West Coast in the coming months in terms of hip-hop, partially due to the Game's work. He has groomed himself up to be huge.

Hyphy is a cool vibe. I see that definitely being big on the West Coast and in the Midwest. As for reggaeton, there's a need for more development. There needs to be more artists and other people pushing the parameters of that art form to develop it to another level. Latin hip-hop, that's the direction where the whole art form is going toward.

Q: In an interview last year, you described yourself as the Meyer Lansky of hip-hop. Do you still view yourself that way?

A: Yes. I mean, you have to have thick skin in this industry. You've got to be able to take a lot of rejection and deal with such problems as cheating, stealing, lying, lawyers. At the age of 32, I sometimes feel like I'm 50 already [laughs].

At the end of the day, you really have to separate yourself, have a split personality. When you go into the studio, do whatever you have to do to relax. Take a minute and get into Zen mode and turn on the artist light.

At the same time, there's always something you're getting hit with in terms of business. You've got to be strong because people will try to take advantage of you, especially when you get to a certain point in your career. You become prey for the rest of the world who's trying to do what you do.

Q: You were very vocal about not receiving a 2005 Grammy Award nod for producer of the year. However, you were recently honored by the Philadelphia Chapter of the Recording Academy. Did that alleviate some of the earlier sting?

A: Yeah [laughs]. I guess that was their way of making up for it. But you know, it's cool. I'll get over it. My life doesn't revolve around the Grammy world. I'm still making records.

Q: If you were not a songwriter/producer, what would you be doing right now?

A: I'd probably be playing piano in a bar and doing weddings and bar mitzvahs. I'm really just a regular person who loves music.