Harmony David Samuels, also known as H-Money, is an English record producer, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter. His success is down to natural ability, determination, and his faith – and fibbing to his parents, as George Luke discovered.

Walking through the corridor of Harmony Samuels’ BOE Studios in North Hollywood is like taking a walk through a Now! That’s What I Call Music album, if it were possible to do such a thing. The walls are lined with plaques for records produced by Harmony for British artists while he lived in the UK (Jamelia, JLS, Chipmunk) and for American artists he’s produced since moving to the US (Maroon 5, Jennifer Hudson, Brandy, Fantasia, Chris Brown, Michelle Williams, Janet Jackson). Pride of place goes to the record that really established Harmony in America’s music industry: Ariana Grande’s debut hit, The Way

But Harmony’s amazing career almost never happened. In fact, he was on the verge of packing it in to become a music teacher when – thousands of miles away – a little miracle occurred. The legendary record producer Rodney ‘Darkchild’ Jerkins (Michael Jackson, Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Spice Girls, Mary J Blige) was in a business meeting at the headquarters of Interscope Records when he overheard music playing in another room in the building. He was so impressed by what he heard that he got up, made his excuses, left his meeting, went into the room the music was coming from and demanded to meet the person who’d created it. And that was how Harmony found himself at LAX Airport one day in 2009, with 12 bags containing everything he owned, and with one of the world’s biggest record producers about to become his mentor.

“There’s a verse my mum always quotes from the Bible, which says your gift will make a way for you,” says Harmony. “I never understood it before, but I get it now. My musical abilities have put me in places that I don’t think any other thing I’ve done could have got me into – from working with Destiny’s Child to eating Chik-Fil-A with Chris Brown. But it all humbly started from a small town in London.”

Actually, make that two small towns in London. First there’s Abbey Wood in the south, where Harmony was raised. Then there’s Tottenham in the north, where he moved when he left home at 17, determined to establish himself as a musician against his parents’ wishes. The walls of Harmony’s studio in LA are painted the same shade of blue as the walls of his first studio in Tottenham – one of the ways he remembers where he’s from. 

“When people go to LA, there’s always that risk of them getting lost in LA,” says Nathan Sykes, former singer in boyband The Wanted, and whose debut solo album, Unfinished Business, Harmony produced. “But LA hasn’t changed Harmony at all. He’s incredibly loyal to the people he works with. Everyone’s got a pivotal role in Harmony’s studio, from the engineers doing mixing to the intern running out getting coffee. Everyone feels valued.”

Harmony’s father Matthew emigrated to the UK from Nigeria in the 1970s to study engineering. He met Esther, Harmony’s mother, in January 1979. They got married in December of that year and Harmony was born at St Thomas’s Hospital in Westminster in May 1980. The signs that the Samuels’s firstborn son would be musical started showing even before he was born. “When I was pregnant with him, whenever music played, I would feel him dancing inside of me,” Esther remembers. Once he arrived, the signs became more obvious. Before Harmony could walk properly, he was using anything he could lay hands on as a drum – even his nanny’s husband’s head. 

None of this came as a surprise to his dad. “I’m a percussionist and my mother came from a family of musicians,” says Matthew. “You could say music runs in our blood.” But that makes it all the more ironic that Harmony’s toughest struggle was trying to get his parents on board with the idea of him becoming a professional musician. 

The Samuels children had a strict Nigerian upbringing. “A lot of responsibilities were on me, being the eldest,” Harmony recalls. “Dad worked two day jobs; Mum was in school; I had to pick my three siblings up from school and take care of them at home. That was hard. And then I had to sneak music in, because my parents didn’t want me to do music. I had to make music seem like something I wasn’t interested in, even though I loved it. The only time they were okay with me doing music was in church.”

Church became the place where Harmony honed his skills – first on the drums, then the piano, and later on guitar and bass. Meanwhile, at school he was learning how to use computers to compose and produce music. But despite glowing reviews from his music teacher, his parents wouldn’t budge. Things escalated when Harmony went to university. “I got into the University of Hertfordshire for Music Tech – which I hid from my parents. They thought I was going to study architecture. I got in for architecture, but then changed courses. Hiding that from my parents was traumatising. But the thought of giving music up was too much for me. I didn’t want to give it up. I refused to give it up. And I was going to show them that it could work.” 

All that feels like a distant memory now. Not only has Harmony built a successful career in music, his younger brother Moses is now a producer too. He’s one half of the production duo Sons of Sonix, signed to Harmony’s music company and working with him in LA, with their production credits including work on Stormzy’s album Gang Signs & Prayer

“My parents are super happy and proud of me now,” Harmony says. “They’ve apologised multiple times: ‘We didn’t know; we didn’t understand, we didn’t want you on drugs’, because there’s a stereotype that comes with being in the music business, that you can’t have a normal life; that people have unhealthy lives and just party, drink and smoke. I’m quite healthy and I don’t smoke or drink. But it was an interesting time growing up. And it’s all part of my journey.”  

One piece of advice Harmony has held on to in his work is: “Don’t look down on the up-and-coming, because you never know what they’re going to turn into.” It’s advice that paid big dividends for him in 2012, when a children’s TV actress by the name of Ariana Grande paid his studios a visit. But before we hear that story, let’s rewind back a year to 2011, when Harmony produced former American Idol winner Fantasia Barrino’s Side Effects of You album. “That was the first time I’d produced a whole album from top to bottom,” he recalls. “We did 15 songs. It was probably one of the most exciting times of my career, because I’d always wanted to produce someone’s album. 

“While I was doing Fantasia’s album, I wrote some other songs that were intended for other people. These were R&B-poppy records that were more for a mainstream artist than an R&B act; more for a Mariah Carey than for a Beyoncé or a Rihanna. A year after writing those songs, this girl walks into the studio one day. She’s 17 years old, she’s got a polka dot dress on and she looks like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. She said hello, told me that she sings, and I found myself thinking, ‘I don’t know if I want to work with this child; my music’s way too mature for her!’ She had a following because she was on Nickelodeon, but I just wasn’t sure what to do with her. 

“Anyway, she starts to sing Mariah Carey’s Emotions and she sang it pretty well. So well, I thought she was Mariah for two seconds! I said, ‘Do you like R&B?’ and she said, ‘Yes’. So I played her The Way, which was one of the demos we’d done the year before while I was producing Fantasia’s album. She said, ‘I love this song! Can I have it?’ I gave her the song. She took it home, and then she came back later and said, ‘I did the song – and Mac Miller’s on it!’ I was shocked; I was a huge Mac Miller fan at the time. I asked, ‘How did you get Mac Miller on this?’ She said, ‘Oh, he’s my friend!’ Seven songs later, the single comes out and it’s a huge top 10 hit, probably one of the biggest songs I’d done at the time. Nobody saw her coming. Not the labels, not the executives, not the streaming outlets. Everyone was like, ‘Who’s Ariana Grande? The girl from Nickelodeon?’ She had two more hit singles from that album, Yours Truly – two of which I did, so I had four singles on that album. And she was the first girl to sell 250,000 streams.”

According to his mentor Rodney ‘Darkchild’ Jerkins, the key to Harmony’s success is his faith. “He’ll be making music all during the week for different artists, but that doesn’t stop him going to Bible class in the week or doing the music at his church on Sundays,” Darkchild says. “Our industry will try to tell you that you don’t need to do that. But he’s stuck to those principles. He put God first in it all – and that shows what his character is right there.”

The rapper Chip (formerly Chipmunk) agrees. “One quality in Harmony that I think has helped him build the career he has is his love for God,” Chip says. “I can’t remember speaking to Harmony and the subject of God not coming up somehow. There were times when everyone in LA would go to church and I wouldn’t go, but if I see him play the bass, I’d ask ‘Where did you learn to do that?’ and he’d say, ‘Church!’ I’d see him go to the piano and play and I’d ask again, ‘Where did you learn to do that?’ ‘Church!’  So that’s what I think it is: God, and just saying ‘thank you’ for the way his fingers have been blessed. That’s what Harmony’s secret is. In fact, I don’t even think it’s a secret!”

When Harmony first moved to LA, it was not uncommon for him to have marathon studio sessions that started at 2am and went on until late. These days, his approach to his work is much more balanced. “I didn’t want to miss any opportunity back then,” he says. “And I was also afraid that opportunities would diminish. Fear is dangerous; it’ll have you in your head thinking that you’re the worst when you’re actually in a great place. Then there was what I saw from other producers: the ‘out of hours’ they would put in, or you’d hear comments like, ‘You don’t want to be great! You’re at home sleeping while others are working!’ You never want to be on the receiving end of those conversations. 

“Becoming a father forced me to learn balance. My son is one year old, and playing with him is part of my morning routine, along with my daily workout and spending time meditating. My son and I have our moments, and then I slowly bring myself into the day. Some days can pretty intense, so we start earlier. Some days are not, and I would choose to go home and choose to have a healthier routine, whereas before it was ‘I have to stick with it!’ 

“There’s something about British culture and the way we move as British people that helps you keep your head in LA, but I’d say that the main thing that’s helped me find balance in life has been me just being open to being guided by God. That’s been the best thing. There are so many times I could have given up and walked away. But there’s always that thing that keeps you going – and that thing is what I acknowledge. And because I acknowledge it, it responds.”  

George Luke

George is husband to Karen and father to four-year-old Sylvie and three-year-old Ruby. They all live in Chesham, where they attend Emmanuel Church. George loves music and can often be found DJing at events when he isn’t writing or producing radio programmes. When not doing either of those, he’s probably either baking, swimming or windsurfing.

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