After 18 years of installing his systems, Brad Sundberg saw
everything from the pop starís work ethic to his behavior to his
August 16th, 2010
When Brad Sundberg, owner of BSUN Media Systems,
mentioned his work on Jacksons infamous Neverland Valley
Ranch during his CE Pro of the Week profile, questions came
What was Michael Jackson like as a client?
What was he like away from the cameras?
Sundberg, who says he worked with the famous performer on countless
personal and professional projects over 18 years, wrote about
his experiences in a long essay in a BSUN e-newsletter sent
a year after Jacksons June 2009 death. Following are some
On meeting Jackson
Michael was working on Captain EO for Disneyland and Epcot Center.
He was fresh off the Victory Tour, the Thriller album, his dominance
of MTV, and he was back in the studio. I wish I could remember
our first meeting, but it was likely just passing each other
in the hallway. He was always warm, yet shy. Over time we would
chat now and then, but it took time to build the trust.
On Jacksons nickname for Brad Sundberg
Early in 1986 the team moved into Westlake Studio D in Hollywood
to record the Bad album, and welcomed me in. I worked other
sessions during the day, but at night I was invited to sit in
and learn. Eventually I worked my way up to technical director
for the team, and the trust was solidified. It was during this
time that Michael nicknamed me "Really Really Brad,"
a twist on the chorus, "Bad, Bad, Really, Really Bad."
Check the album credits, its there.
On what Jackson was like
Not for a moment do I pretend to have been a close friend of
his, or a confidant. Rather I worked for him and with him, and
considered it an honor.
He was a consummate professional. If his vocals were scheduled
for a noon downbeat, he was there at 10 am, with his vocal coach
Seth, singing scales. Yes, scales. I would set up the mic, check
the equipment, make coffee, and all the while he would sing
scales for two hours.
He typically drove himself to the studio alone. For a while
he drove a big Ford Bronco with dents and scrapes on it. He
was not a great driver. More than once he called into the studio
to say he would be late after being in a fender bender.
He was intensely curious about "normal life." He asked
me about Christmas once, and couldn't understand how kids could
wait until Christmas morning to open the gifts. You see, he
was raised Jehovah's Witness, so Christmas was not celebrated
in the Jackson family.
On working in-studio with Jackson
A "typical" MJ album would take between 10 and 16
months in the studio. His budget allowed for as many as 100
songs to be recorded for any given project. Some would be discarded
early on, while others were fine tuned. Musicians would be brought
in to add their textures and ideas, but in the center of it
all was Michael.
The team was remarkably small given the scope of the projects.
Each project was slightly different, but typically there were
less then eight of us working day to day, from the first day
until the project was mastered. No entourage. No Elephant Man
bones. No groupies. No drugs. Just music. And food.
On Jacksons love of food and "family day"
During the [making of the] BAD album, Fridays quickly became
known as "family day." He would have his two chefs,
affectionately known as the Slam Dunk Sisters, prepare a large
dinner for the crew, musicians and any family members that might
be around. Since I was working sometimes 80 hours a week, it
was not uncommon for Deb to come have dinner with us. Michael
loved these family get togethers.
In later projects I would bring my girls, whom he loved and
would play with. There is one moment in time in my head when
Deb brought my daughter Amanda, who was just a baby at the time,
into the studio for the afternoon. She set up a play mat and
brought some toys, and Michael sat and played with her for a
while. He looked at Deb and said, "This is her own little
world, isn't it?"
On celebrity visitors and chimps
It was not uncommon for celebrities or VIPs to stop in. One
day the Secret Service searched the building for a couple hours
before Nancy Reagan came for a visit. Next it was Princess Stephanie
The chimps were common guests in the studio,
as was a giant snake, both of which I would wind up holding
during MJ's vocals.
On watching Jackson write songs
I have watched him write many songs, and the process is amazing.
I asked him where they came from, and he said they were gifts
from God. He could hear the entire song in his head before we
could get tape on the machines. He would sometimes sing the
drums, bass, percussion, keyboards, etc., and we would later
bring in musicians to replace his demo tracks.
On Jacksons childhood
I remember him telling me about grown women throwing themselves
at him when he was just 9 or 10 years old.
One story I will never forget was him telling of flying with
his dad and brothers through a lightening storm at night. The
plane was being tossed around, lightening was flashing, and
he started crying in fear. His dad ignored him, embarrassed.
A flight attendant sat with until the plane cleared the storm.
Hearing him tell that story, with tears in his eyes, gave a
glimpse into his life.
On working at Neverland
Somewhere around 1991 he asked me to visit a ranch he had purchased,
and design a sound system for a carousel. The next thing I knew
I was at Neverland Valley Ranch, in Santa Ynez, CA. There was
construction everywhere, and the amusement park was in the early
stages of installation.
Over the next few years Michael asked me to build system after
system, putting music on the bumper cars, in the petting zoo,
on two trains, all around the amusement park, the boat lake,
the train stations, and eventually inside the house, and inside
his bedroom and bathroom. Deb loves to tell of the times Michael
would call at 2 in the morning (his sleep schedule was never
normal) to talk to me about a new attraction he had coming to
Neverland, and if I would put music on it.
I still have an old answering machine tape of him thanking me
for one of the systems we had built.
on Working for Michael Jackson