On the eve of the 52nd annual Grammy Awards, producer Jim Jonsin (pictured) sits at a swank rooftop lounge high above Hollywood, sipping a lime-garnished glass of water. Nominated for his work on Beyoncé's album I Am...Sasha Fierce, Jonsin exudes tranquility from beneath the brim of his gray fedora, despite the long odds of winning in a crowded field.Jonsin's nonchalance is justified. Just one year removed from his first Grammy win for Lil Wayne's hit "Lollipop," he's already a member of the elite club. And he's seen the financial fruits of taking home music's most prestigious hardware.
"For me, it was huge -- life-changing," Jonsin says. "If I really wanted to, I could charge a good 20% to 30% more. I didn't raise my prices, though. That's just me, personally. Budgets are pretty low right in the music business right now, so I want to keep it friendly."
Without the aid of Grammy-induced cranial trauma, record labels typically pay producers $30,000 to $50,000 per track. The job entails coming up with the musical backbone of a song -- a feat usually aided by synthesizers, drum machines, Auto-Tune software, and other gizmos. With a trophy in tow, a producer's fee starts near $75,000, Jonsin says, and crossover superstars like Timbaland and Pharrell Williams can earn twice that.
When Jonsin Met Beyoncé
Born James Scheffer in Brooklyn, the Grammy-winning producer grew up in Florida and made his music debut at 14, as a skating rink DJ. At 18, he produced a single, "Cut It Up Def," that sold 40,000 copies and was later expanded into an album of the same title. Known first as Jealous Jay and later Jim Jonsin, the young producer soon found himself on tour, opening for 2 Live Crew and Cypress Hill.
By the time Solange Knowles introduced her sister, Beyoncé, to Jonsin, he was already a well-known producer. That didn't stop Beyoncé and her team from doing their homework before embarking upon a collaboration. "It was this whole process," Jonsin recalls. "You had to meet the [artist & repertoire team], had to meet her father. It was almost like a big background check."
Jonsin passed the test, and Beyoncé traveled to Miami to hear some of his beats. The first one he played was "Sweet Dreams," a funky ditty he hoped would catch her fancy. Beyoncé liked it so much so that she immediately went into the booth and started recording.
"You could tell she's very strong with her convictions and knew what she wanted," says Jonsin. "It was like working with a brand new artist -- somebody that was hungry, super nice, super-kind."
On Sunday night, Taylor Swift's Fearless bested Beyoncé's I Am...Sasha Fierce for Best Album. But Jonsin, who produced two other tracks besides "Sweet Dreams," may get a second chance at a Grammy this year, as he plans to work with Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, Cypress Hill, and Britney Spears. He's also getting ready for the album release of B.o.B., the first artist signed to Jonsin's Atlantic Records–backed Rebel Rock label.
Taylor Swift's producer, Nathan Chapman -- a first-time Grammy winner -- might want to play hardball with the record labels on his next project. Jonsin says with a chuckle, "It opens the opportunity to beat them over the head."
A Grammy-Winning Producer Explains How an Award Turns into Cash