Jerry ‘Wonda’ Duplessis is an extremely successful Haitian musician, composer and producer. His natural musical ability and extensive knowledge of the music industry paved the way for his successful career. He currently owns Platinum Sounds recording studio in New York City. Some of his clients are Justin Bieber, Beyoncé, Rihanna, Wyclef Jean, Whitney Houston, Mary J. Blige, Akon, Miguel, Santana, Shakira, and Estelle. I caught up with him for a quick interview on his way to an event for the Grammys.
I caught up with him for a quick interview on his way to an event for the Grammys.
Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me! How are you doing today? You said you are on your way to an event right now?
Yes, I am a governor for the Grammy’s for the NY chapter, and I have a Grammy event right now… You know, my goal is to be a part of New York. A lot of people move to L.A., and please don’t be mad at me if you’re in L.A. now, but I go to L.A. to work sometimes, and I come right back to New York, because I am a die-hard New York person. NYC is my heart.
When did you move to NY?
I moved to NJ first in the 80s straight from Haiti. I landed with a bass guitar in my hand, and I said, “I’m gonna make that bass my best friend”. I started by playing bass in church, and then I found out I could make money playing bass, so I started playing with a band. I started playing Bruce Springsteen covers, Michael Jackson, Bob Marley, you know all the music you would play in a bar or at a wedding. Then I asked my friend more about what he does, and he said, “Well I’m a keyboard player but I’m also a producer”. I didn’t know what a producer was at the time, so he explained what he does as a producer, and I said, “omg song infrastructure I get it. I want to do that.”
So, I grew up in Jersey and my first recording studio I built was in Newark, NJ. The first album I worked on was called “The Score” with the Fugees (Killing Me Softly), and I produced that in the basement of my house in 2001. I decided I wanted to have the top recording studio in New York City, so I built a studio called Platinum Sounds in Times Square 46- restaurant row. Artists love it. I was there for 20 years, but I just moved the studio to Tribeca, because I like it more. It’s more sexy, more trendy. I don’t know if you know my work but its anywhere from Carlos Santana’s Maria Maria to the Fugees to Rihanna to Wyclef music. I produced for Beyoncé, Justin Bieber ‘s “You Smile”, Shakira…
How did you learn how to produce/compose?
I learned how to produce on the fly. But I went to school to be a recording engineer. I went to IER. When I got there, I was always doing the live music, because that’s where I made my money. They started trying to teach me stuff like how to fix a cable etc. and I said what the hell? I can buy a cable. I don’t have time to be doing this shit! So, I left, and I didn’t graduate. I just went and got myself an internship in a studio for a house of music in NJ. Wyclef was doing some stuff there, so that’s how I got an internship. And that’s where Kool and the Gang came into the picture. For the first three months I was interning there, they never let me go into the main studio. I was just getting coffee doing stuff like that, so I said I need to get my own studio. My brother, Wyclef, and I decided we were going to build our own studio. I invested my first $30,000, and they both put money in too. My Dad gave us his basement to build it in.
Oh, wow, so you put quite a lot of money into that basement studio?
Oh yeah, but you know at the end of the day, we had Bono from U2 in there, and we sold 25 million copies from that basement. And later I ended up creating a band called “City High”. It never stopped. I was always on the road, always on tour.
I was doing a lot of studio work in the big New York studios, but I decided I needed my own. I wanted to have the biggest recording studio in NYC, for clientele - not just for me.
I remember traveling with the Fugees, and we were always recording on the road. I took a little piece from every country that I went to, and every studio I recorded in. I recorded all over the world: U2 Studio, Abbey Road, Germany, Japan, even Haiti. I used what I learned to build my own top recording studio, and I called it: Platinum Sounds.
Why did you choose the name Platinum Sounds?
Because when someone puts an album out, you want to go platinum. So, I say if you want that platinum sound, you want to record at Platinum Sounds Studio. That’s where all of the platinum artists go, so you might get lucky if you do too. Haha. I always say you are who you surround yourself with.
Was it weird, producing music for other artists while you’re on the road traveling and touring at the same time?
Oh my god. It’s the best feeling. I did a song “My Love is Your Love” for Whitney Houston, and most of that song was done on the tour bus. We used to have a recording studio in the tour bus. I also produced an album for Wyclef, and I’d say 70% of that album was done on the road.
Jeez, when do you sleep?
Haha! There was a time where I didn’t really sleep at all. When I was on tour, I’d go in the studio with Wyclef or Lauren Hill, then people would go to the after party, go to a studio, get ready, get things going, get dressed. Then we’d go to soundcheck, from soundcheck go back to studio, then go to the hotel, check in and change. Then we finally go to the show and after the show it’s back to the studio. Then we’d go straight to the airport and move on to the next place.
I tell artists, “People think it’s the champagne and the limos and the hype, but it’s really a lot of work. Enjoy your sleep while you can.”
I mean you do the American tour and once you finish that tour, you go home to say hi to your family for a week and then you go right back and start the European tour for a few months. Then the Asian tour. When you have a hit album, “Sorry, you’re hitting the road!” Eventually you have to say OK I have rules now. Like every 2 shows I want a day off. If you don’t ask for it, you’ll end up doing a show every night.
Was there ever a time where you were just sick of it and needed a break?
Oh yeah - a lot of artists get to that point. I’m working on a project right now with a major artist that came to my studio. And he was on tour and said I want a little time off. And when you go on tour it’s a lot of first class and hype, but this guy said I want to go to Africa instead. So, he went there and recorded in this village. These women sang chants for him, and he was really touched by it, so he asked to hear about their story and their village. What he found out was that it was an entire village of women who all had AIDS. He recorded them singing, and now all of the funds from the album go toward helping that village. But when I worked with him, right, he came into my studio and he played me a little bit of the chant on his phone, and I took that voice and I created a song. Usually when I create an album the songs are finished like “boom, boom, boom” and its quick, but I can say I’ve been working on this song since 2011. The song keeps growing. Every time I’m working with an artist and I play them the song, they say can I get a little piece of it. I have 15 artists so far on this song. I’m talking about from Akon to Busta Rhymes to Melissa Etheridge. For example, the top artist from Israel. The concept is I have artists from a bunch of different countries that each have a few lines and the lead part of this song is the voice of these women. That’s the project I’m working on now, and it’s gonna be about 17 songs. I hope to use my WiC for Computer to record a lot of the stuff on it- that’s gonna make it a lot easier.
This project is really important to me, because I believe that no matter what we do, we have to make a difference. We have to act because we have to think about: in the future “How is this world gonna be?” and think globally. I go everywhere for my work, so I want to share music with everyone. Because I can. I want to be a bridge for music and artists around the world, not just for money, but to make a difference. You know there shouldn’t be any politics with music, just education and connection. That’s the key for me.
Are you working on anything else right now?
Right now, I’m working on a whole new generation of young artists. I’m in the process of picking up a few artists that I like right now with talent, and I’m doing artist development and helping them get to a level where they don’t have to go through a lot of crap- mentoring them.
How do you recognize talent in an evolving artist?
First of all, you have to have the artistry in you, and the integrity, and then you ask can you really be a star? And how do you find a star? When you find an artist like Kanye, Kendrick Lamar, Dr. Dre, Wycliff, Lauren Hill. You already know if they’re good, but can they hold on to the fame, can they be famous, can they build themselves up? You need more than just the talent. In this generation, you gotta have it all. From working with so many artists, I can recognize who will last in this industry.
When you are producing a song, how do you know when the song is done?
Well, I say it’s done when its mastered. You do pre-production, then production and then a few rough mixes, and then once you feel good you start doing the mixes. It’s like this: When you are cooking and you go grocery shopping, you know you buy every ingredient you might need for what you’re going to cook, but you might not end up using everything. When you create songs, you have parts in there that you might realize, “Well this part is great, but there’s too many sounds, too much going on, so you might take something out or add something in (for example more background vocals on a certain section). Or, “Oh, well that bridge needs to be tweaked a little bit.”
What do you consider your biggest accomplishment?
I just got an award the other day, and I was able to have my Mom come accept my award with me. That’s when I said to myself, “I made it.” I brought her on stage to accept the award with me, and she was smiling so big the whole time.
When I was little, probably 11 years old, living in Haiti, my mom used to put me on a donkey, and we would go get avocados and mangos to sell at the flea market. That’s where I learned that you could buy or sell something, and that’s where I got my entrepreneurial spirit. To be able to share how far I’ve come with her was just amazing.
Can we take a minute to talk a little about your experience with WiC?
Oh yeah. Of course! One of the kids I’m producing with my label right now is a really good guitar player and he came here showing me some other wireless system, and I said to him, “that’s great but let me show you this piece, let me show you how I record straight into my computer from the guitar without any interface… I write music with guitar so what you guys have with the cordless is really great for producers. And I show him how I’m recording the guitar in Ableton without a cable and he’s like, “how the hell do you do that?!” There’s a lot of wireless out there you know, but some of them you get really bad latency, and there just wasn’t a good wireless to record into the computer before, so the WiC for recording [WiC for Computer] is such a great thing. When I showed it to him, he went crazy! So he said, “hold up, how can we perform live with this?” He’s a live performer, so he wanted to know how he could use it himself. I went into my bag and pulled out the other version, “WiC for Guitar”. There’s no latency and it’s just really great. It’s a good product, and I’m really excited. I just wanted to say that.
I’m so glad you like it! I was meaning to ask you, I heard how you got your WiC in the first place… You, how do I say this, “borrowed indefinitely” from Paul Pesco?
Oh my god! Haha! He came in to see me, and he showed me his WiC for Guitar, and I said, “Noooo you’re not leaving with that! There’s no way I let you do that.”
So, he gave me the WiC for Guitar, and I love it so much, because I perform live with my bass as well, you know. But then I asked, “well how do we just go ahead straight into the computer for recording,” because I am a producer too- it’s my main business [Jerry has sold over 300 million records], so it’s more about the studio work for me. He told me not to worry because they have the other version too [WiC for Computer] and I said “WHAT?!”
How do you use your WiC for Computer?
The way I produce a song: I pick up a guitar and just record. Sometimes I’m in a hotel room or my bedroom (I always have a guitar and a bass in my bedroom and travel with them both), and I’ll just want to record an idea or a couple chords. It’s hard to plug in a cable and set it all up when you’re just trying to get something out real quick, so it’s really easy with that USB. And, sometimes I’ll use it for a jam session in the studio.
Thanks, Jerry! Well, I know you have to run, but I really appreciate your time and all of the background.
We’re delighted that you endorse our wireless technology, and we can’t wait to show you what’s next!
To keep up with Jerry go here: