Tuesday, April 15, 2014

My Xscape to L.A. - A Special Invite to Hear Michael Jackson's New Album Xscape

I was so excited to receive my Invitation for an all expense paid Xscape to L.A. California by the Estate of Michael Jackson and Epic records. I was invited  along with 10 other fans from various parts of the world that represented their fan clubs.  We were not told what the event we would be attending was, but I had my suspicions.  I was very happy to accept the invite. 

I arrived the evening of April 9th at LAX airport and had the privilege to ride to the hotel with 2 fans who arrived near the same time. They were Matt Blank from the UK and Rob ** from Italy.  I was so happy to meet them and we had a very nice chat during our ride, about being fans of Michael, our trip, how excited we were to be there. We discussed how nice it would be if all fan clubs from around the world could put aside their differences and become a united front to support each other to pay homage to Michael.   

The next day at 3:00 pm we were picked up at the hotel and taken to Jim Henson recording studios.  formerly known as A&M Studios.  I was escorted to studio A the very place where Michael recorded “We Are The world" in 1985. It was so surreal to be there.  The other fans were already there when I entered, because I had to be fashionably late LOL.  I was pleasantly surprised to meet some of my Facebook friends and familiar faces from other Fan clubs around the world. Fans were from the UK, Italy Germany, Spain, Japan, the Netherland and USA.  Of course all of us being MJ fans we hit it off right away and had lots to talk about. Our excitement was building as well as we waited.  On the back wall of the studio there was a buffet set up for us with lots of goodies and beverages.  There were rows of chairs near the front for us and huge speakers ahead giving us an indication why we were all there. 

Others present were the MJonline team, Jeff, Alicia and Lindsay, John Branca,  L.A. Reid, Chairman of Epic records, Karen Langford the Estates archivist, Sylvia Rhone president of Epic records and some other executives. There were brief hellos, handshakes and smiles. It was a very casual atmosphere and comfortable meeting them.They all seemed down to earth and friendly. Then we all took our seats. 

It was then that John Branca, Executor of the Michael Jackson Estate, welcomed us all and told us the reason we were there. Which was to listen to the new Xscape Album. He then revealed that L.A Reid Chairman of Epic records and exec producer of Xscape, would be our personal DJ.  Although I had my suspicion that was our reason for being there, it really hit me then and I was so excited as were all the other fans.  I was still skeptical of how good the album could really be but I had hope because of all the reviews we heard recently from the media. They are usually the first to tear anything MJ related down. So I was waiting with great anticipation and even trepidation to finally hear the album. 

While waiting for L.A. Reid, Branca began to explain to us how many of MJs songs didn't always make the albums he recorded them for, for various reasons. They were not songs Michael necessarily discarded as unusable, but just they didn’t fit that particular album or there wasn’t  room for all the songs. He explained that  'Wanna Be Startin Somethin' was recorded for Off The Wall but wasn't released on that album. It was later released on the Thriller Album. Then, 'They Don’t Care About Us' and 'Earth Song' were recorded for the Dangerous Album, but was released on his HIStory Album instead.  Over the years Michael continued to work on and update several songs that he liked and they didn’t always find a spot on his albums.  Branca said L.A. Reid was very passionate about Xscape and worked very hard to make it the best he could as did all the producers who worked on it.  He spent many days, nights and hours, putting his heart into the work. He said L.A. and all of them are fans of Michael as well and wanted to do the best they could on each and every song. 

Then LA Reid entered the room, greeted us all and took a seat in front of us between the speakers. He gave us a brief History about him and Michael and how he came full circle to be able to produce and present the Xscape Album to us. He explained how he and Michael met and became close over the years and that they discussed a desire to work together. But because of unforeseen circumstances that was never meant to be. He was very emotional and sincere when explaining how he always wondered and questioned why he was chosen and made chairman of Epic records. Then when this project came up he knew his purpose was to bring these songs of Michael to the world. He stressed how hard he and all the producers worked on these songs and that they all were fans and loved MJ and it was important to them to do their best by him. 

Reid He said the criteria for the songs he chose was that they had complete vocals, all verses and chorus. Normally MJ would do one verse and chorus to see if he liked the song. If he did he would completed the vocals. Many songs he continued working on over the years.  One song LNFSG 'Love Never felt So Good' although it had complete vocals it had special consideration for the fact , the vocals, snaps and Piano were all on one track. So they had to work with that as they built the song. Then said no one can say for certain what Michael would want for these songs, but he hopes that he would be proud of the work they did.  He feels that he would. He was proud and honored to work on this Album. 

We then listened to the songs one by one with LA Reid before us looking like he was conduction a great orchestra. He was very animated to say the least and really getting into the music. It was fun to watch him. You could tell he was happy and proud and really enjoying Michael and the music as we all were.  From the very first song to the last my ears were tickled with Michael awesome vocals front and center, great beats and instrumentation. They sounded like  current music of today but yet very different and unique from anything out there. To me it was like something Michael himself would do today. 

Xscape Album covers - Gold deluxe edition and Silver standard edition. 

These are the 8 songs he played for us:

Love Never Felt So Good


Lovin’ You

A Place With No Name

Slave To The Rhythm

Do You Know Where Your Children Are

Blue Gangsta


After the last song played every one clapped cheered and whistled. We were all giddy with excitement and pleasantly surprised by how good all the tracks were. You could hear a rumble in the room and voices saying "OMG" "Unbelievable" "Michael" "Amazing" 

Then L.A. Reid asked if he should play them "AGAIN" We all said yes of course.  This time we could listen closer and take in things we may have missed the first time.  L.A.  started the music and then got out of his chair moved to the floor and started dancing. As the music continued one by one the fans got up and started dancing as well. We just couldn't help ourselves.  We were slaves to the rhythm of Michael.  Then as I looked around, I was surprised to see the Sony execs were dancing, the MJonlinteam was dancing, John Branca was dancing and it seemed everyone was grinning ear to ear. It was clear we had one thing in common in those moments. We were all fans of Michael Jackson. Honestly I felt he was smiling down on all of us in that room, watching us dancing, celebrating and enjoying his music in such a special way. 

Now and then I had a tear because I was thinking Michael should be here. It was bitter sweet knowing he was not here to see this and joyful at the same time thinking that the whole world will once again hear him in such a special way.  It was one of those moments when John Branca walked up and asked what I thought of the songs and then put his hand on my shoulder and promised to always try to do his best by Michael. ( Now I can’t remember his exact words, but just the essence of them)  He went around the room chatting with many of the fans and looked very happy to see and hear the response to the music playing.

MJ fans, John Branca, Karen Langford and L.A. Reid at Jim Henson Studio April 10, 2014

I think approval from the fans  meant so much more than the media response, Because the music is for Michael's fans that he loved so much and it is us who have to give the final thumbs up and approval. Not the media.  We then had some time to chat, discuss the album, and take pictures. We left the studio and were treated to a very nice dinner compliments of L.A Reid a few blocks away.

The following morning we were invited to the Sony Music offices in Beverly Hills.  We were escorted to a board room and seated with John Branca, the MJonline team, Karen Langford,  Epic President Sylvia Rhone and other sony executives, some by video conference. While there we were treated to a breakfast  buffet with snacks and beverages. We  were asked our opinions on the songs. Which ones stood out, which ones were our favs, which ones would make good singles, which songs would be club favorites etc. They explained how they would roll it all out. The extensive promotions they are planning and their network and connections all over the world to help them do just that. They were very dedicated to put 100 % into the Xscape Album and that was very assuring.  They did give us the date and name of the first single release, which is before the Xscape album is officially released on the 13th.  But I'm sworn to secrecy as every thing is going to be a surprise for the fans as it should be.  It will get extensive radio/air play around the world and will be released on iTunes I believe at that time. They stated they would also support the fans with their events and endeavors and would help them promote their Release parties and Xscape flash mobs using the new songs. (Branca loves flash mobs :))  Fan clubs should contact MJonline team in advance to see if arraignments can be made

Sony Music office building Beverly Hills CA
Sony Music board - conference room 

MJ fans outside Sony Music Office building Beverly Hills CA. April 11, 2014

I can't wait for all of you to hear the songs and I hope you feel the same joy and excitement that I and the other fans did when we first heard them. I know everyone has their own taste and will favor some songs over others or may not even care for some of the songs. Two of my favorites were 'Love Never Felt So Good' and 'Do you Know Where Your Children Are." Now I may have more favs as I continue to listen, but those stood out for me.  There was one song that I liked the demo better, but I think it's because I am so familiar and attached to it.  So I'm happy I will get that song as well on the deluxe edition.  But over all I really liked every one of the new songs. Some were even GREAT in my opinion. I'm not saying the songs are better than when MJ was here with us, but they are comparable in many ways and Michael's soul, that he placed in all his work, still shines through in these songs for me.  I can honestly say I was excited as I've ever have been with listening to any past albums from Michael for the first time and this album didn’t let me down.  Please make sure to listen to the album twice as MJ himself asked us to do.  It really does make a difference when hearing songs for the first time.  The second time is a charm and I think the third time you will be over the moon :)

John Branca and Mickie (Qbee)  Jim Henson studios April 11, 2014

In closing, I would like to thank the Michael Jackson Estate, John Branca, the MJonline team - Jeff, Alicia and Lindsay, L.A Reid and Sylvia Rhone of  Epic records for this wonderful opportunity and their great hospitality.  ~ Mickie (Qbee) 

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