Monthly Archives: February 2008

Can Industry Veterans Shape The Future Of Music?

Musicwerks Online Label Group

I got an email the other day about this new company/website called MusicWerks.com, which I’m sure most of you already read about on other sites. To recap, industry veterans, Andre Harrell and Eddie Ferrell (hey their names rhyme), have just launched a new “online label group” that provides “digital distribution, marketing, promotion, publicity, video production, and other services.”

I went to check out their website, but they require you to register before you can even look at it. If you choose to go through with the registration, you have to enter your fake info every time you visit because the website doesn’t recognize you as a returning visitor.

Not really the best approach when you’re trying to get word out about your new site.

Anyways, I ended up taking a look at their site and honestly, even though parts of it are similar to my business, I’m not really feelin it. I think it’s okay, but it doesn’t seem to be anything too special – in my opinion.

Here’s why:

ITUNES/DIGITAL DISTRIBUTION PLACEMENT

They’re pitching themselves as an iTunes/digital distribution placement service. They offer other services as well, but online placement is their main selling point according to their website. Instead of taking a commission from your digital sales, they charge an upfront fee to use their service: $29.95/song or $78.95/album (max of 20 songs).

Online placement is fine and all, but that’s not really what I’d consider “the future of music” as their tagline reads.

A&R REVIEW SERVICE

They are trying to sell their A&R Review service for $99/song or $499/album. Pay them the fee for this service and in return, their “experienced A&R team” will send you a feedback form reviewing: song structure, lyrical content, vocal delivery, music production quality, vocal production quality & overall song rating.

How many of these types of A&R review services can there possibly be? I’m already predicting a bunch of artists/groups that don’t know any better, placing their “feedback form” on MySpace and sending copies to every A&R and industry cat they know, believing that it’s some kind of certificate that validates them as the next big thing.

INDUSTRY VETERANS

Andre Harrell, Eddie Ferrell and the others on their management team come from the old world. Don’t get me wrong; I respect the older cats in the industry, I’m not saying anything negative about them. They have a lot of experience and they still make most of the major decisions; but these are guys who’ve gained their experience and knowledge from the old model.

The reality is that we’re living in a completely new world. Nobody knows what will work and what won’t. So although industry veterans are very knowledgeable and deserve a lot of respect for what they have accomplished, the reality is that when it comes to this new “no model” model of the music business – they are just as clueless as you and me.

The truth is, we (the younger cats) have an advantage. We understand and adapt to technology quicker. Remember last week when I wrote about my first job at a major label? I mentioned that I took the job so that I could understand how the system works from within and then use that knowledge to my advantage. The same goes for playing in today’s world. If you want to change something or work in the same alley as something, you have to understand that something by being a member of it.

Today, the general audience base is all about torrents, online TV & movie streaming, blogs, MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, Google, RSS feeds and a slew of others. These technologies and trends are created and embraced mostly by younger cats.

Who remembers the Tonos disaster?

So I respect their initiative on trying to participate in developing solutions, but how do these older cats believe that they are going to create “the future of music”, when they are on the outside looking in?

New Music – Treal, Trazz, Talib & Grand Hall

Treal ft. Cupid – I’m Not Lockdown
[audio:treal_ft_cupid-imnotlockdown.mp3]

Trazz ft. Wayne Wonder – Gonna Love U

[audio:trazz_ft_waynewonder-gonnaloveu.mp3]

Talib Kweli – Independent Hustle
[audio:talibkweli-independenthustle.mp3]

Grand Hall – Still Raw
[audio:grandhall-stillraw.mp3]

Don Cannon – Anthem 1.0 The Cannon Hip-Hop Instrumentals – Download

The Cannon Hip-Hop Instrumentals - Front Cover

I don’t know about all of you, but I love listening to instrumentals by themselves sometimes. It keeps my ears happy and my mind focused. I’m not an emcee, but I’ll throw on an instrumental CD and just let it play for hours while I do my work. It gives me a beat to live by.

Usually I’ll make my own compilation of instrumentals, but once in a while, we’re blessed with a full instrumental CD from a dope producer (one of my favourites is Dr. Dre – Chronic 2001 Instrumentals).

This time around, Aphilliates CEO/DJ/Producer, Don Cannon has dropped his own instrumental mixtape – Anthem 1.0: The Cannon Hip-Hop Instrumentals.

I’m feelin this one. Cannon’s been bangin out some serious beats for a minute, so this is definitely a good look.

Click here to download Don Cannon – Anthem 1.0: The Cannon Hip-Hop Instrumentals

*in my deep voice* CANNONNNNNN!

Industry Talk With Bad Boy A&R Conrad Dimanche – Part 2

Conrad Dimanche

Earlier this week I featured Part 1 of my interview with Bad Boy A&R, Conrad Dimanche.

Below is the second half of the interview, where we discussed artist development, the importance of songwriting and… jerk chicken.

What do you look for when somebody pitches you a demo or somebody is trying to pitch you an artist?

Well some of the normal things that I always ask if the artist isn’t there and somebody’s talking to me about the artist; how old are they, what type of music, what’s the weight, how’s the personality, how long have you been working with them, what do they do for a living…things like that. I kinda check their character.

On top of asking about the music or before I hear the music, I kind of check different things about the person’s character, because no one wants to have a headache artist.

Are you able to hear past bad production or a bad engineer when listening to an artist and hear their individual talent?

I can definitely hear talent past bad mixes and bad production – just hear somebody who’s great with melodies or just a distinctive tone, even if the music is all fucked up. Just the wordplay that they use, be it a rapper or singer. I’ll be able to pick that out – past the nastiness.

Realistically speaking, how often will Bad Boy sign an act?

Well, there’s no science to that really. It’s just really as they come along. If we found 15 incredible artists that we love in one year, we would sign all 15 of them. I mean, if the budget permits really, because it comes down to having the money at the time for that quarter. You might have to wait until the next quarter and have an artist sit tight, if they’re gonna still be available. But there’s really no limit to that. It’s just about how our passion is for that artist

What steps do you take when developing an artist?

Artist development – there’s a lot of time spent in the studio I would say. This is before media training and making sure the look is right and getting a stylist in, but it’s a lot of time spent in the studio, just pinpointing the direction. You might test out and try different things, different songs, before we nail it. Because you could really build an album from one song.

Once you get that one song and figure okay this is it, we build off of that. And all the songs are going to be different, but there’s going to be a sonic continuity throughout the album that you could really find from one song.

How important is live performance when signing or developing an artist?

Live performance? Shit, I mean that’s very important. That sells a lot of records when an artist can put a show on. It can make or break an artist really. You could have a great album and great singles, but if you can’t do your thing on stage man, they’re gonna throw rocks at you. [laughs]

How important is it for an artist to be a songwriter? Is that a deciding factor for you to sign an artist?

Not really, but it’s definitely a bonus. It’s not a deciding factor – it can be, but it’s not a dealbreaker. If you have an incredible artist with an incredible voice but he or she can’t write. More so for a rapper. A rapper, I feel, needs to be able to write their own stuff. Especially because their budgets are usually smaller than an R&B act or a Pop act. So it’s like, where you might have the money allotted to be able to pay writers to come in – it’s not really a luxury most of the time with rappers – unless it’s somebody like Puff, where we’ll use budget.

What do you think about that though? In every genre of music, we acknowledge the fact that singers have songwriters. Yet in hip-hop, it’s taboo to have somebody write your lyrics. Do you think it’s unfair to rappers?

With rappers, I think a part that plays in that is as a rapper, you always want to have your street credibility, so if you have somebody writing about things you were supposed to have experienced, it kinda takes away your credibility. Somebody else gave you those words, you didn’t really experience all that shit.

What do you do to get over a creative slump?

I don’t have creative slumps.

[laughs]

I promise you, I don’t.

So let’s run through a few quick questions. I’ll ask you something and you just say the first thing that comes to mind.

Okay.

Favorite Artist

Now or of all time?

Of all time

Michael Jackson

Favorite Song

That’s hard. I have so many of them. I can’t pick just one.

Favorite Food

Probably Jerk chicken.

Oh, and lasagna.

Favorite Gadget

That’s gotta be my Blackberry.

Favorite Website

PMPWorldWide.com

Rap or R&B

[laughs] Good music

Lil Wayne or Jay Z

Lil Wayne

Chris Brown or Omarion

Chris Brown

Creativity or Marketability

Creativity

Old School or New School

Old School

Industry Talk With Bad Boy A&R Conrad Dimanche – Part 1

Conrad Dimanche & Moe Arora

I’m not a journalist by any means, but I had a chance to sit down and speak with Conrad Dimanche recently and figured why not interview him for the site.

For those of you who are not familiar with Conrad; he’s the Senior Director of A&R for Bad Boy Records. He’s responsible for all the music that comes out from Diddy’s music machine

During our conversation, we spoke about getting into the field of A&R, developing artists and the challenges he faces on a regular basis.

When did you first become interested in hip-hop; as a fan and also professionally?

Oh man as a fan, that would probably have be [pause]… 89…88. I was just a kid. MC Spoonie G, Flash and the Furious Five. As a business, that was 95. I started making the transition like 94-95. That’s when I picked up my DJ. I started off as a manager [for] DJ D-Lyfe.

There aren’t any programs or schools that teach you to be an A&R; how can someone get their start in the A&R field?

Well absolutely, I would say as an intern. That’s the only way I have ever known anyone to get their start because you it’s not like something you can go to school for. You can’t go get a Doctor’s degree in A&R.

It’s only the experience and learning how to make music. A&R is more than making music, more than signing good acts; it’s a lot of business that goes in between. A lot of business.. you can read about the business, but it’s nothing like the experience also. It’s also a lot of managing relationships. The most powerful A&R is the guy who can pick up the phone and get the hottest producer on the phone, the hottest artist on the phone and get them to the studio like that.

Is there something in particular you look for in an intern? A certain kind of background maybe?

Well you know I don’t try out interns too much in the A&R department. I find that a lot of people are not built the way I was built and the way Harve [Harve Pierre, VP of Bad Boy Records] and Puff are built. The grind you have to do, what you have to be willing to sacrifice to do it. A lot of interns that I’ve tried, they’re there for a few months and then they’re gone, telling me they’ve got to get a job and they don’t even have a family. So me, coming from the perspective of a person that… I had a family and gave up everything to work for nothing to follow my dream. It’s like, you’re telling me you need a job because you can’t buy lunch for yourself and I couldn’t buy dinner for my family – I can’t even understand that.

Describe a typical day in your life.

A typical day, I get up about 9 in the morning, I jump right on my Blackberry; emails make the world go round today. Man, a bunch of phone calls – I deal with all the artist managers, the artists themselves, the producers. So I spend my day having meetings with producers, writers… in the early part of my day; once I get into the office.

3–4 o’clock there’s recording sessions. The artists come in; at Bad Boy we have our own home base studio, Daddy’s House. I live at Daddy’s House; I’m rarely in the office. So I have all my meetings [with] writers and producers, in the early part of the day. When the artists come in we start recording. In between that time, I’m on the phone. Damn near all day – walking in and out of the sessions, checking on the sessions. I work very closely – hands on – with the artists and the producers. I’m not a producer that makes beats, but I work very closely telling the producer, what the sound is supposed to be, what’s the sound for every artist. It’s almost like a director for a movie, picking out the scenes and making sure the casting is correct. But it’s really just building the movie, which is the album – from the first ad lib that’s laid to mastering and sequencing the album.

There’s a lot that goes in between; there’s a lot of negotiating with the producers, keeping the artists in pocket… even [laughs], even consulting the artists. Sometimes I’m like their psychologist. You got a roster of 20 artists and everyone has different personalities, all their managers have different personalities, they all have different issues with the company – so it’s like I have to put out the fire, keep the creative juices flowing, keep all the negative talk to a minimum and keep everyone with a positive attitude no matter what’s going on or who’s cheque might’ve been late or whatever happens – and deliver the albums on time and within the budget.

What’s the toughest part of your job?

Probably the hours. The hours and just keeping up with somebody like Puff – the pressure of constantly having to deliver great records. Any A&R’s job, it’s like you’re only as hot as your last hit record or your last great album. Fortunately, I think it was 2006 into 2007; I had three number one albums – in the one year. So I maintain and bust my ass, but I think the hardest part is just keeping up – stamina. Just keeping it going.

How do you find new talent?

Music is the gas for any record company to move forward. Without music, there’s no marketing, there’s nothing to promote. If that’s the gas, then I gotta pump premium gas into our machine constantly. And with that is constantly having fresh new songwriters, fresh new producers, from all over the world. So I gotta get out there, and when I can’t get out there, I keep a network of people all over the world who keep their ear to the streets for me and let me know when there’s something I need to listen to. And then, I’m just the first line of defense that takes it to Puff; just the first pair of ears and if I think it’s good enough then I take it to him.

What are some of the craziest stunts people have pulled to get their demo to you?

Oh man, people have snuck into the studio, bought a one-way ticket from wherever they were coming from and don’t even know how to get back. I’ve seen people sleep inside of their car, parked in front of the studio for days at a time, until they could get somebody to listen. I remember one guy had a big long t-shirt on – it was white and it came down to here [stands up and reaches to his knees] and it just said “I Make Beats” on it.

[laughs]

I stopped. I listened to his beats on his walkman, cause I thought was cool. It was a real innovative idea – you make beats, well let me hear something. I just walked up to him like “let me hear something”. So that was cool.

Click here to read the second half of my interview with Conrad Dimanche.

Taking Advantage Of Opportunities

Sickamore

“In order to take advantage of an opportunity, you must first recognize it” – Ivan Berry

At 17, he owned his own record store – and dropped his first mixtape.

At 19, he was one of the biggest names in the mixtape game and launched his own artist development firm.

At 21, he took his first job at Atlantic Records, under the guidance of Kyambo “Hip-Hop” Joshua.

And now at 23 years old, Sickamore has just resigned from his position as Director of A&R for Atlantic Records.

The net is going crazy talking about it. And now, I’m adding to it.

According to his blog entry about his departure, Sickamore left Atlantic because he lost faith in the major label system.

“I’m not going to sign talented people to a label and have them sit. I rather bet on myself and get them hot in the streets.”

A couple of sites and bloggers (haters) attack Sickamore’s decision saying “he’s too soft” or “that’s how the game works”.

Bullsh*t.

Personally, I respect his decision and think he’s a smart guy for leaving before it sucked the passion right out of him.

While maybe not on the same level as his position, I remember being warned when I got my first job at a major label. A friend and mentor told me “it might seem like an exciting opportunity right now, but the second you step into those doors, your passion for music, your passion for business and your passion for life will continue to die until you want absolutely nothing to do with this industry all together.”

I can’t front, that shit scared the hell out of me. I was confused. This was the first time I actually doubted myself and began to question if I was actually following my heart or just chasing an empty dream. I even had one of my “anti-system/indie rocks” friends tell me I was “selling out” by going to the majors.

I thought about it or a while, but I couldn’t take too long before giving them my answer, otherwise they would have easily given the position to somebody else.

So, what did I do?

I took the job.

Why?

Well at this point, I still wasn’t exactly sure where I wanted to fit in, but I did know that no matter what I ultimately chose, there was no way I would be able to gain the experience and learn the mentality of the major label system, from the outside. I was going to have to go through those doors and lock myself inside if I was going to learn how they work and if it was for me. If I didn’t like what I saw, then at least I’ll be able to say what I don’t want to do and use my experience to my advantage in another avenue.

If you don’t dare to try – you don’t dare to succeed.

In the case of Sickamore, don’t focus on the fact that he left a high position at a major at the age of 23. Focus on the fact that he accomplished and received a high position at a major at the age of 21.

Sick’s still got a long way to go; with a very promising career ahead of him. The fact that he’s already accomplished so much at 23 is a testament that opportunities can and will arise, but it’s up to you to make something happen.

Opportunities will always present themselves to those who are actively in a position to take advantage of them.

Make sure you’re ready when yours come knocking.

Taking Over Your Spot

Yesterday was a long day for me – well, longer than usual. Amongst all the running around and flood of phone calls I had to deal with throughout the day, I met with an artist and his team in the afternoon to talk about the plans for his upcoming record.

The artist himself has had pretty good success in the past with his previous albums; medium-to-heavy rotation on radio and music tv, national and international tours… all that. I’d been a fan for a while and knew a few things about the behind-the-scenes of his previous records, but this was the first time I actually sat down to work directly with him.

As an independent artist with his track record, I assumed his team was already established and had their stuff together. Turns out, a couple members of the camp are getting dropped because they’re not holding their own (reason why they’re calling me).

I can’t lie, I was actually happy to hear that people on his team weren’t taking care of business. Not because I don’t like the artist – I told you, I’m a fan of his – I was happy to hear it because it gives me the opportunity to really showcase how on-point and professional my work is. They’ll appreciate it more. Their expectations aren’t as high anymore because of bad experiences. When they don’t expect much and you go above-and-beyond to deliver the world in their hands, you not only created a strong rep with them; you now created a salesperson who’s going to spread the good word around and strengthen your overall reputation.

Word-of-mouth is a powerful thing. It can bring you to the top or toss you to the bottom.

Keep this in mind, because like some of the guys in this artist’s camp – the second you slip up, I’m taking over your spot!