"What I do when I write is that I'll do a raggedy, rough version just to hear the chorus, just to see how much I like the chorus. If it works for me that way when it's raggedy, then I'll know it will just work... Listen to that, that's at home. Janet, Randy, Me... Janet and I are going "Whoo, Whoo... Whoo, Whoo..." I do that same process with every song. It's the melody, it's the melody that's most important, If the melody can sell me, then I'll go to the next step. The idea is to transcribe from what's in your mentality onto tape. If you take a song like "Billie Jean," Where the bass line is the prominent, dominant piece, the protagonist of the song, the main driving riff that you hear, getting the character of the riff to be just the way you want it to be, that takes a lot of time. Listen, you're hearing four basses on there, doing four different personalities, and that's what gives it character, but it takes a lot of work."
"One morning MJ came in with a new song he had written overnight. We called in a guitar player, and Michael sang every note of every chord to him. “here’s the first chord first note, second note, third note. Here’s the second chord first note, second note, third note”, etc., etc. We then witnessed him giving the most heartfelt and profound vocal performance, live in the control room through an SM57.
He would sing us an entire string arrangement, every part. Steve Porcaro once told me he witnessed MJ doing that with the string section in the room. Had it all in his head, harmony and everything. Not just little eight bar loop ideas. he would actually sing the entire arrangement into a micro-cassette recorder complete with stops and fills."
Rob Hoffman, sounds engeneer
"I normally record a singer about a dozen times before getting enough to mix together a perfect vocal track for an album. With Michael, it only took two to four takes. And one of those takes would be perfect on its own. But hours of preparation preceded recording. We would change lyrics, tempo and pitch, working for days and hours on getting the song just right before finalizing the track. Thriller was recorded and completed in six months."
Bruce Swedien, engineer and music producer, author of 2009 book, "In The Studio With Michael Jackson"
“‘Heartbreak Hotel’ was the most ambitious song I had composed. I think I worked on a number of levels: You could dance to it, sing along with it, get scared by it, and just listen. I had to tack on a slow piano and cello coda that ended on a positive note to reassure the listener; there's no point in trying to scare someone if there isn't something to bring the person back safe and sound from whe...re you've taken them."
Michael Jackson in his autobiography Moonwalk (1988)
“Before the advent of digital technology, you needed to be creative acoustically and electronically. In the song “Billie Jean,” when Michael sings the line “Do think twice” at end of the third verse, he’s singing through a cardboard mailing tube. We often would record elements in the bathroom (tiled) because it would give it a short early reflection quality. The main percussion sound on the song “Beat It” was Michael beating on fiberboard drum cases with 1x3 inch pieces of wood in the mirrored room of Westlake Studio A.”
Matt Forger, a sound engineer
"In the studio, Michael was a hard worker, a really hard worker. He would stand there until he got it right. He likes to perform with the lights out and just a single light on the stand. And he likes to do some of his dances during songs. On "The Lady In My Life", I needed Michael to express an emotion that goes way, way back. I said ‘Smelly, I need you to beg on this. I want a serious beg on this one, which is convincing the lady that this is the way that she should go. Michael knew exactly what I was talking about. He got all embarrassed and started to blush. But he did it and then he ran out of there."
Quincy Jones, legendary producer/composer
MJ recording in studio: