The No. 1 most downloaded song on iTunes this week is “Party in the U.S.A,” an irresistibly catchy dance track performed by Miley Cyrus. It’s part of a 7-song mini-album called The Time of Our Lives, which will be released Aug. 31 exclusively through Wal-Mart. Cyrus’ four-month world tour starts in mid-September.
By then, it’s pretty likely that “Party in the U.S.A.” will be on the radio every 14 seconds, and on the lips of adolescent girls everywhere.
Others, too. Shoot, even that old cynic Chelsea Handler said on TV the other night that it’s her new favorite song (and she wasn’t being sarcastic).
If The Last Song wasn’t enough to put Savannah on the pop culture radar, then “Party in the U.S.A.” will seal the deal. It was recorded here, while Cyrus was making the movie.
In fact, the teen star laid down all of her vocals for The Time of Our Lives in the state-of-the-art recording studio inside 3180 Media Group, during breaks in the movie’s shooting schedule.
“Because of her Screen Actors Guild contract, she couldn’t leave the city for any amount of time, so she couldn’t go to Los Angeles and cut the vocals,” says 3180’s owner (and resident audio genius) Phil Hadaway, who engineered the sessions.
Cyrus’ label, Disney-owned Hollywood Records, needed a Savannah-based studio in order to meet its release date with Wal-Mart, which is also introducing a Miley Cyrus clothing line.
“We had everything they wanted,” Hadaway says. “We had the gear they were looking for, that was the main thing. And we had done a lot of big projects.” (Hadaway’s engineered for dozens of A-list recording artists, including Mick Jagger, and his studio does a lot of audio work with film studios.)
Here’s how it went down: Producers Dr. Luke (Britney Spears, Kelly Clarkson, Katy Perry) and John Shanks (Clarkson, Ashlee Simpson, Melissa Etheridge) cut the basic tracks in Los Angeles (after Cyrus hand-picked the songs). The producers would then bring the recordings to Hadaway – sometimes this was done over a high-definition internet line – and work with Cyrus as she added her vocals. Hadaway was a key component of every session.
The process took six weeks; sometimes Cyrus (always accompanied by her mother, Tish, and a personal assistant) would sing for eight hours at a stretch.
“She’s great,” Hadaway says of the 16-year-old superstar. “She’s pretty extraordinary. If you were to just close your eyes and not look at her, you’d think she was probably 35 years old. It’s that she’s smart – she’s really an intelligent girl, very wise for her age. I can’t imagine at 16 being that in tune with worldly events and everything else.”
He was impressed, too, with Miley’s knowledge of the recording studio.
“She knows what she wants to hear in her headphones, she knows what key is best for her to sing in. And she’s a good guitar player. We’d sit around between session times and just play guitar and sing. She’s a great girl. I had so much fun working on the sessions. I wasn’t expecting that.”
Session times varied, according to the Last Song schedule. Cyrus, Hadaway says, was always in a terrific mood.
“She would give me as much crap as I’ve give right back to her,” he laughs. “It was always fun. There was never a tension convention, ever. If it wasn’t fun, it was always time to go to Sonic and stop traffic for a couple of hours.”
Indeed, Cyrus and her mother frequented the nearby hamburger joint (they also walked from the studio to a nearby Starbucks) – and inevitably fans would come out of the woodwork.
“She’s not jaded yet,” Hadaway explains. “I think she’s young enough to where it’s still really a lot of fun. I think she enjoys talking to the fans and meeting with them.”
Hadaway, 48, says he feels like he made lifelong friends in Cyrus and her mom.
“Tish and her together are just a riot,” he enthuses. “They’d go in the bathroom for an hour, and I’d be going ‘Where are they? What are they doing?’
“They’re doing each other’s makeup. They’d say ‘We’re going for a sesh,’ and I’d be, ‘Oh, noooo…..’ She’ll take the laptop in there and take pictures of them putting each other’s makeup on, and dance around, then come out and say ‘OK, we’re ready!’ And they’d have different clothes on – ‘We just bought some new T-shirts!’”
Security, he says, never became an issue. “We have a pretty low profile, and we didn’t advertise it. We didn’t tell anybody. We had enough people there to take care of any issue, if it were to come up.”
Still the word got around. “On one of the days, there was a family out just standing in the rain, by the bus stop. Two little sisters and their mom. We were looking out, thinking they were waiting for the bus … then we realized, they weren’t waiting for the bus. They knew she was there. I think they lived in the neighborhood.
“So finally, Miley walked outside and said ‘Y’all come over here.’ And she got them inside. They were soaking wet – we had some towels and we dried them off.
They just wanted to take a picture. The mom was shaking so much she couldn’t take the picture.
“So Justin, my assistant, took it for them, and they were thrilled to death.”