It’s no secret that to be successful in the music business, you need more than talent: You need a strong work ethic, patience, and persistence, and you must take advantage of the opportunities and connections that come your way. Lisa Simmons and her partner Flinstone (Francisco Santa Cruz) exemplify this combination. The two hard-working singers, songwriters, and producers pay their dues willingly and make their opportunities count.
Simmons started her music career when she was a student at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. As a young singer, she connected with the Danish songwriting and production team Soulshock & Karlin, best known for such hits as Whitney Houston’s “Heartbreak Hotel” and Fantasia’s “Truth Is.” That led to a record deal with Elektra Records, where she worked under the direction of Sylvia Rhone. At Elektra, Simmons began her songwriting career by writing 9 of the 12 songs on her debut album, including her first single. Following up on her first songwriting attempts, she placed two songs with Juice, an all-female Danish group. But she wanted to write for more American artists, and she wasn’t getting the opportunity she needed to break through.
Enter Flinstone, a native of Tucson, Arizona, who also got his musical start while in high school. There, Flinstone met songwriter and producer Harvey Mason, Jr., of the Underdogs, who has written and produced for a long line of superstars, including Aretha Franklin, Elton John, Whitney Houston, Luther Vandross, and, more recently, Britney Spears, Jennifer Hudson, and Justin Timberlake.
Under Mason’s tutelage, Flinstone signed with MCA Records, but when MCA went through changes, he got lost in the shuffle. However, his connection with Mason paid off again when Mason teamed up with Damon Thomas in 2000 to form the Underdogs. That opened up new connections for Flinstone, who started producing projects for RL (Next) and Kevon Edmonds. These experiences led to a chance to work with songwriter and producer Warryn Campbell (Mary, Mary; Kanye West; Alicia Keys; Mos Def; Dru Hill; and many more).
Flinstone’s hard work, talent, and well-earned connections led to a chance to work with Soulshock & Karlin. That’s when he met and started writing, singing, and producing with Lisa Simmons. From there, the new team went on to work with several artists, including Fantasia, for whom they cowrote such songs as “Said I Wouldn’t, No More.” The pair formed Heatrox Entertainment and went on to write and produce music for an assortment of artists, as well as for movies and television. Among their film credits are two songs in Preacher’s Kid, written by Simmons and produced by Simmons and Flinstone. Simmons sings one of them, “Where My Heart Is.”
To do this sort of work, of course, you need to have a great sound; that’s why the Heatrox team depends on PreSonus gear. “Flinstone and I both started off as recording artists with major record companies as teens,” says Simmons. “The people we looked up to used the best music equipment to get the best sound quality. After hearing how we sounded with great equipment, we got hooked, and we wanted to always use the best, even if that meant that we would need to save every dollar. Many times we are not afforded days or months to work on specific projects and have to get that great sound quality in a matter of minutes, so its vital that we have the best quality and functionality for the work that we do. We found that great quality in PreSonus products. Pricing is reasonable, and the quality in each product is unbelievable.”
Simmons and Flinstone first got into PreSonus gear with the Eureka channel strip, which they use on all of their recordings. “We love how the Eureka compresses the vocals, and we are always amazed at how we are able to get a clean, even sound with the preamp,” she explains. “And the functionality of the parametric equalizer lets us add color to our vocals.”
Their satisfaction with the Eureka led them to acquire a Monitor Station. “We feel the same way about our Monitor Station that we do about the Eureka,” states Simmons. “We needed a monitoring system that would allow us to switch between speakers and headphones, and between various computers’ outputs, without disruption. We found exactly what we wanted and more in the Monitor Station. The talkback is so cool because the mic is built into the Monitor Station, so we did not have to buy a separate mic, which was a plus.”
They also added a PreSonus FaderPort, which, according to Simmons, “makes it effortlessly possible to record vocals with ease. We found ourselves using the mouse and keyboard less. We have the fader and the pan right there on the FaderPort, along with the mute, punch, and so on. The FaderPort makes recording and pre-production so much easier!”
Simmons and Flinstone collaborated on the song “Ghetto Blaster” for Malaki, from Substance Over Hype. Flinstone and Malaki then performed at the 2011 Dance Track magazine Artist Awards, held on March 27, 2011, in Hollywood, California. Of course, the Eureka was a key tool on that recording.
The Heatrox/PreSonus relationship doesn’t begin and end with hardware, however. Simmons and Flinstone recently made the switch to PreSonus Studio One® Professional 2—and started using Nimbit® along the way.
“Years ago when I first decided that I would transition from songwriting to production, I thought it extremely important to learn all of the DAW programs in order to work at any large studio,” Simmons recalls. “Pro Tools was the program the major studios were using no matter where I went, so I purchased and learned to use it. As we began to add on to our studio and purchased some PreSonus products, I heard from a colleague of ours about Studio One, so we gave it a shot.
“Our colleague was right,” Simmons continues. “Studio One is very fast. For instance, rather than having to open up many windows just to manipulate a specific sound, I can just drag-and-drop any effect on any sound right then and there. I love the fact that we can just mix the song, master it, and then upload to Nimbit without leaving the DAW.
“In this ever-changing music industry, we producers are not always allowed the time we would like to have to learn new programs,” Simmons muses. “Learning Studio One—and I am still learning new things each time I use it—didn’t take too much time away from my everyday work. I didn't feel like I was learning a new DAW; the process actually felt very natural.”
Simmons is quick to point out some of the team’s favorite go-to features in Studio One. “Celemony Melodyne, which is integrated into Studio One Professional, makes a world of a difference. If I have recorded an artist who possibly did not deliver the mood, feel, or pitch that I needed, Melodyne fixes it in an instant! The processing sounds completely natural, as if the artist had sung it that way all along. Now that it’s integrated with Studio One, you’re really getting two great products for the price of one. For the quality that both of these programs bring, one would think it would cost thousands of dollars.
“I have to mention how easy it is to comp vocals when recording,” Simmons adds. “If I'm trying to get the best take on a specific track, I use Record Takes to Layers from the Track menu. After recording a few takes, they are all displayed within a single track. This makes it really easy to audition each take to find the best elements of each performance. With Pro Tools, I would have to cut-and-paste and adjust the timing, but Studio One automatically does the job for me. It takes no time at all to drag-and-drop specific takes into the actual track.”
Concludes Simmons, “PreSonus is the best way to go, especially if you are looking for that quality sound one hears so many times on the music you love. The pricing is reasonable for what you get from each product. We recommend PreSonus for all of your recording needs!”