By Gabriel Rodríguez- [email protected]
Back in 1999, for the second season of the English version of Pokémon, the dub producers decided to launch a soundtrack for the show and special music videos with some of the songs of the album to accompany the upcoming new episodes. The album was called Pokémon 2. B.A. Master and the new segment would be called “Pikachu’s Jukebox at the end of each episode.” The CD was released on June 29th, 1999, while Pikachu’s Jukebox music videos would premiere first on special presentations that began on Sunday nights in August 1999 at the now-defunct WB11 and later on Pokémon Season 2, which would premiere on September 1999. One of the songs included in Pokémon 2. B.A. Master CD that also appeared on Pikachu’s Jukebox was “Together Forever,” sung by 14-year-old J.O Hartmann.
On the occasion of the upcoming 25th anniversary of the Pokémon franchise, we reached out to singer-songwriter J.P Hartmann who kindly answered a couple of questions for us regarding his career, the experience working with the Pokémon soundtrack, and his advice to future musical artists.
1) Can you tell me a bit about yourself? (Early life, what were your music interests when you were younger?)
My dad was a semi-professional singer-songwriter in his teens and twenties, and has continued to play guitar and sing in the decades since. From a very young age, I would harmonize with him. I’m told that one of the first songs we sang together – reflecting our shared love of baseball – was “Take Me Out To The Ballgame”. My parents introduced me to their favorite music, in particular ’60’s and ’70’s pop and rock.
2) When did you decide to get into music, and what inspired you?
Thanks to my parents, I’ve been interested in music and have loved singing for as long as I can remember. I started taking vocal lessons when I was nine, and began performing in musical theater productions shortly afterward. When I was thirteen, the mother of a cast-mate of mine asked if I’d like to join them at an audition she’d set up for her son. The audition was for a manager that represented singers of commercial jingles. I ended up signing with that manager, and have been represented by her company for the last 23 years.
3) What did you know about Pokémon before participating in the show’s soundtrack?
I recorded “Together Forever” in the spring of 1999. No Pokémon movie or video game had been released in the United States yet, so Pokémon’s presence here was basically limited to the TV show. As the show was marketed to a younger demographic – I was fourteen at the time – it wasn’t really on my radar.
4) How did you get involved with the show? (Casting, etc.?)
My manager was known for representing several of the most talented child and teen-aged singers in the New York area. She got me an audition to record “Together Forever”.
5) What do you remember about the recording process? Were you given any notes? (Tone of the song, emphasis, how many takes, etc.)
What I remember most clearly is that it was a lengthy evening recording session. I believe I was in the booth for four or five hours.
6) Did you get to choose the song to perform, or was it already selected for you like: “J.P, we want you to sing Together Forever.”
I was only hired to come in and record the vocals for that song. I had no role in choosing songs.
7) How much were you paid back in 1999 to perform the theme? Did you receive or still receive any residuals/royalties from the song when it played on the show, The 2b a Master and Pokemon X CD?
I was originally paid a flat fee for the song’s inclusion on the 2.B.A. Master album, and later received a further flat fee for its inclusion on the TV show (along with the right to use the song in other media). I don’t receive any residual or royalties from my performance on “Together Forever”.
8) Did you or your team ever thought Pokémon would become a huge thing?
When the 2.B.A. Master album shot up to #1 on the Billboard Kid Audio charts, then was certified as a Gold Record, it was clear that the Pokémon brand could sell more than just a TV show. That said, I certainly didn’t think Pokémon would have the cultural staying power it’s shown.
9) What did you learn from the experience working in Pokémon that you applied to other projects?
This Pokémon project was one of my first experiences with contract negotiation, so its most lasting lessons related to the entertainment business rather than any artistic aspect.
10) Have you seen Pokémon since 1999 or at least tried one of the games?
While I haven’t played any of the Pokémon games, I did have the opportunity to record one more song for the franchise. I sang the lead vocal on “Pikachu’s Coming”, from the short film “Pikachu’s PikaBoo” (which can be seen as an extra feature on the DVD of the movie Pokémon 4Ever).
11) Why do you think Pokémon was so successful in film, television, and music?
I don’t know why Pokémon became a cultural juggernaut, but I’m glad I had the opportunity to be a part of it.
12) What are your current musical projects and plans for your career?
I’m still working as a jingles singer and voice-over artist, having recorded TV, radio, and new media commercials for dozens of brands over the years. I also write and record my own songs.
13) Do you have a Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Youtube profile where the fans can listen to your music?
Yes, please check out my website jphartmann.com, and follow me on twitter @JPTheSinger, on facebook (https://www.facebook.com/SINGERJPHARTMANN), on Soundcloud (https://soundcloud.com/j-p-hartmann), and on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCYG3HuBZfrgaGmH_ZFbaYvw).
14) What are your favorite musicians?
My absolute favorite musical act is The Beatles. Some of my other favorite artists are James Taylor, Randy Newman, Paul Simon, Steely Dan, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, and Billy Joel. My favorite singers are Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra.
15) What advice would you give to aspiring musicians?
The technology available to music-makers today is incredible. We have access to high fidelity recording, mind-blowing synth modelling, and shockingly accurate plug-in emulations of analog effects, all for a tiny fraction of the cost of a traditional recording studio. As music-makers have embraced this reality over the last two-to-three decades, much of what we hear has moved far from anything that could be played or sung live without effects. I use modern recording and mixing tools and techniques myself, but feel strongly that this technology should serve and enhance songs and the talents of the singers and musicians who perform them. So, my advice to aspiring musicians is to sing, harmonize, learn an instrument – or multiple instruments – and play music with others. By all means learn how to use modern recording technology, but remember that that technology exists to help you best present your musical ideas. Develop your skills and creativity as a musician, and then seek the technological tools that will best serve your sound.
Stay tuned at soundcinemas.com for more interviews with key players of the English & Spanish Pokémon dub.