Music engineer Mario Meadows of Albany, whose Platinum Sound Studio has been influential in the careers of a number of local urban musicians, is celebrating his 14th year in business at his 500 N. Slappey Blvd. location.
ALBANY — Mario Meadows’ good friend Reginald Baldwin had been after Meadows to come back to Albany and start a recording studio together from the time he first left to intern at a studio in Atlanta.
Meadows spurned his friends’ entreaties for as long as he could, but one day a light came on.
“I’m doing the things that an intern does — the street-level stuff — and guys like Jazze Pha and all the other Atlanta hip-hop stars are coming into the studio every day,” Meadows said of those days in the early ‘90s after he and Baldwin graduated Westover High School. “I wasn’t allowed to go into the studio. I was like a kid staring into a candy shop without a key to get in.”
In June of 1999, Meadows folded his tent and left the ATL for home. A short while later he and Baldwin opened Platinum Sound Recording Studio at 500 N. Slappey Blvd. Baldwin, ironically, left for a job in Orlando shortly after Platinum Sound opened its doors, but for the past 14 years Meadows has pretty much gone it alone, playing the ultimate behind-the-scenes role in creating a fertile urban music scene in the region.
“Mario doesn’t get enough credit for all the success that’s come out of Albany,” Darien “Smoke” Crawford, half of the hip-hop duo (with Shawn “Shawn J” Johnson) Field Mob, said in an interview with The Herald Thursday. “We were really one of the first artists from down that way to get a recording career going, and a lot of what we did early in our career we did with Mario at Platinum Sound.”
Field Mob signed with MCA in 2000 and charted nationally with singles “Sick of Being Lonely,” “All I Know,” (featuring CeeLo Green), “Georgia” (featuring Ludacris and Jamie Foxx) and their biggest hit “So What,” which featured Ciara, and albums “6:13 Ashy to Classy,” “From tha Roota to tha Toota” and “Light Poles & Pine Trees.” Shawn J and Smoke are perhaps the most significant area artists to have worked with Meadows at Platinum Sound, but they are by no means the only ones. Such national and regional stars as Lil Scrappy, Yung Joc, Blood Raw, E.J. da Witch Doctor, Ghetto Mafia, Big Nod and current regional favorites Swisha Man Slim and Unbreakable Bloodline have also laid down tracks in the North Slappey studio.
“There’s never nothing but good vibes at Platinum Sound,” said Slim, who dropped his latest album, “Smoke Sessions II,” recently. “Mario’s a great guy, and the reviews I got of the studio from all the other artists in the region convinced me I wanted to work with him.
“I’m setting my goals right now, and that’s to by the end of the year or in the first three months of next year, have my record deal in place and get national distribution for my music. Mario’s working hard with me to make that happen.”
Relying only on a little family financial backing and DIY labor from an unclue who helped convert an old office building into a recording studio, Meadows recruited talent the old-fashioned way: He went out and looked for it.
“Big Nod and Suthern Klick were doing really well around here at that time, and Reggie knew the guys in Innocent Felonz and Scandalaz,” Meadows said. “We did some work with them, and Big Nod was the first artist to really take off. Once he started telling other artists about the good sound he got in our studio, we got busy.”
Meadows had learned his way around a studio mostly through trial and error and working with Dr. Nathan Lawson at Lawson’s West Albany home studio.
“Mario was just getting started at that time, but it was obviously he had skills,” Lawson, an Albany chiropractor, said. “He’d gotten some new software, and I went over to his house to help him learn how to use it. I was more of an R&B, blues, rock kind of guy, but I thought the young rap guys were very creative. I was happy that someone came along to help bring out their talent.”
Meadows booked the then-red-hot Lil Scrappy to perform at a local venue, and when the show turned into a bust, the artist went with Meadows back to his studio. They started messing around with some things Scrappy was working on, and Meadows fired up the sound board.
“He took what we did back to Atlanta, and Lil Jon said, ‘That’s going on your new album.’ I went up to Outkast’s studio and watched Lil Jon work with Scrappy. I was able to soak up a lot during those sessions; Jon made it look so simple,” Meadows said.
From the work that initiated at his Albany studio, Meadows received his first gold album for Scrappy’s “Bred 2 Die Born 2 Live.”
In addition to his studio work, Meadows is helping manage Calhoun County native Swisha Man Slim’s career through his World South Ent. Slim broke through last year with his “Smoke Sessions” mix tape, and his sequel to the album — which includes the already hot regional hit “Flex Up” — is starting to generate major buzz.
“We did a showcase (in Atlanta) with a lot of acts from up there, and we were the only one they called back,” Slim said. “B Rich, who works with (Atlanta-area superstar) B.O.B, said he’s been keeping up with me and plans to get back with us.
“We’re also getting feedback from people all over the place, even as far away as Australia.”
Platinum Sound’s reputation as a Mecca for South Georgia urban artists owes itself primarily to Meadows’ laid-back mixing and engineering approach.
“I don’t coach the artists unless they ask me to,” he said. “I’ve always looked at it like it’s up to the customer, so I’m careful with suggestions. This job has kind of turned me into a psychologist; I have to be able to read people pretty quickly. Luckily, I’m a people person.”
Smoke agrees with Meadows’ self-assessment.
“Mario is more lenient than most engineers,” the Field Mob veteran said. “He gives the artists their freedom, allows them to do what they do. I think mine and Shawn’s career would have been different if we hadn’t gotten that freedom early working with Mario.
“Every rapper in the world had to get all up in that gangster stuff back during that time, but me and Shawn were just country boys. Mario’s one of the ones who told us to just be ourselves, and we developed that niche.”
Lawson, too, lauds Meadows for his patience.
“Mario worked with some groups who were pretty tough customers, but he had the patience to get the best out of them,” Lawson said. “He was always a good businessman, but he also had good creative chops. I felt he was a really stand-up guy.”
As Platinum Sound moves into its 15th year, Meadows is still changing with the times. He’s “dibbling and dabbling” in app technology and has some ideas for social networking sites, and he’s using the skills and contacts he’s picked up over his years in the music business to help Slim move to the industry’s next level.
Others are noticing.
“(Meadows) is the kind of young person we need to come back and stay in our city,” Albany Mayor Dorothy Hubbard said. “He obviously cares a great deal about the community, and we as city officials should not only applaud him, we should encourage him and help him any way we can.
“He has the kind of mom-and-pop business that I call ‘tried and true.’ I, for one, congratulate him on what he’s accomplished in his 14 years in business.”
No doubt, Mario Meadows has come a long way since he was a lonely intern doing grunt work for superstars who didn’t give him more than a second look. Look who not only has his own key now, but owns the whole damned store.