Whether working with Beenie Man on the club favourite, “Who Am I (Sim Simma)”, Tanto Metro & Devonte on “Give It To Her”, or helping dancehall music break into the mainstream with his own artist, Sean Paul – music producer & manager, Jeremy Harding has been influencing pop culture for years.
I had the incredible opportunity to speak with him about production, getting into management and the overall music business.
Read the interview below, where he offers a wealth of knowledge and insight:
Being a proud Montrealer, I have to start off by asking you about your connection with my hometown. I’ve heard you mention it in a few interviews in the past & I know we have some mutual friends; so what exactly is your connection to Montreal?
Well, I left high school in Jamaica in 1986, then went to boarding school in Ottawa, a place called Ashbury College, for 2 years, then came to Montreal to go to McGill University around 1988-89. I did a couple of years there in Chemical Engineering.
While I was there, I got really into the nightclub scene there. And actually, let me say, I played music when I was a kid; I went to a music school here in Jamaica, so I learned to play guitar and I sang in the choir – all that stuff.
When I went to high school, I wasn’t too interested in music anymore, but I really got back into it when I was in Montreal and started hanging out at the clubs.
Then, there was a friend of mine on campus who came up to me and said we should do a radio show together. I’m from Jamaica, he’s from New York, and we both have this love for Reggae music and Hip-Hop. So, he wanted to do a radio show on McGill college radio.
So, we got a show on CKUT on Tuesdays from 3pm-5pm, called Native Tongues with DJ Genius & The Prophet. We would play a mix of dancehall reggae, hip-hop, and sometimes house music.
We did that for about 3-4 years, and while I was doing that and going to university, another friend of mine told me about a school called Trebas Institute, where they teach production and engineering; and he told me I should check it out.
So, I checked it out and decided to enroll. I ended up graduated from there in 90-91.
While I was doing that though, I still had the radio show and a friend of mine & I also managed and produced 4-5 acts at the time. I would produce them and play them on the radio show, and my friend would book them at all the big concerts coming in town.
I met a lot of people doing that; I still have a lot of good friends there. Yeah man, Montreal was where I really came into my own and developed as a producer.
You mentioned going to music school. This is one of the most difficult decisions aspiring producers are faced with; whether to enroll or not. From your own experience, do you recommend others to go to music school, or to develop themselves on their own?
If you go to a music school, you’re going to be miles ahead of people learning on their own. Because when you learn on your own, you’re going to miss out on certain fundamentals that you can learn from someone with experience.
Learning on your own is great, and you have to do a lot of learning on your own anyways, even when you finish the school. But, you know, I meet a lot of kids who want to be in music production, and you know, they buy their keyboards and software and they’re talented.. they know how to play the keyboard and know how to work a drum machine, but then they may be missing on certain basics like connecting patches or even something like not knowing what MIDI is and how it works.
That’s a basic building block of electronic music, but they just never got to that part. They may know how to use a plug-in but if you give them the hardware, they won’t know how to use it; they’re just lost.
So you can learn on your own, and it’s great to – you need to – but there’s going to be gaps.
Even when you go and work in studios in Florida or New York; all the interns there are graduates from Full Sail or other schools.
I have friends who are dope engineers with tons of experience, that have done live engineering and studio recording for all kinds of major artists but some of them can’t get jobs right now because there are some people who look to see if you have formal knowledge or not, so that there’s no gaps in your knowledge.
So, I would definitely recommend, if you have the opportunity to go to music school, then go. Even just for the fact of getting hands-on experience with some of the equipment they have. It can take you years, if ever, before you can get your hands on some of that equipment when learning on your own.
Also, the whole music-making process, it’s about working with people. Unless you’re going to sit down and record yourself, make your own beat, engineer yourself, place the mic, sing it yourself and do everything. But realistically, you’re going to have to work with people at some point; other producers, other musicians, other engineers, other artists, A&R guys, managers, record label people, etc.
When you’re in that school environment, you learn how to interact with others in the studio environment. You can distinguish that line between who’s the engineer and who’s the producer. You get to work with other artists; coach them, talk with them and make an actual record with them. It’s all about that experience.
I wanted to discuss Auto-Tune with you. Before it became a trend in hip-hop, you were already using Auto-Tune as more than simply a pitch correction, but in the full vocoder effect it’s used in today. Can you tell me a bit about that.
Well, I’ll tell you this; when I came back to Jamaica from Montreal, and I had my little studio here, I was one of the few people here using a DAW (digital audio workstation). Jamaica was still mainly big studios where you have to rent time, buy your 2-inch tape to record analog in there.
So, I was one of the first guys there using a DAW system. I had an early Digidesign system called Session 8, which was a PC based system. I used that for a while, then graduated from that and kept moving on to bigger systems.
Digital studio technology was still pretty cutting-edge in Jamaica – most were still using tapes and analog systems. So just from me using a lot of this digital technology, of course, I discovered Auto-Tune. Since most people in Jamaica were still using tapes at the time, they didn’t really know about Auto-Tune.
So anyways, I found out about it and had it in my plugin collection, so I started using it in the real way it was intended – as a pitch-correction software. But of course, with my background DJ’ing dance music, I was listening to records from Daft Punk, Kraftwerk and whatnot, and they use a lot of vocoder effects, then I heard Cher had a certain vocal effect on “Do You Believe In Love”. Also, in hip-hop, everybody kept sampling Roger Troutman, so there was already something there.
So you get to hear all these things and all these uses of vocoder effects, and when you read up on the songs, they discuss the effects and mention that Cher’s song uses this plugin, but they used it in a different way. So I would read this and think, “wait.. I have that plugin”. So, I would go in and mess around with it, try different things, and it worked!
I put that on one vocal, for one person, which was an artist named Loukey D. He loved it. Then, I recorded Devonte & Tanto Metro for a song called “Give It To Her”, and they heard what I did for Loukey D, and wanted to try it, so I put it on their record too, just for the hell of it.
But all this while, I kept thinking it’s still kinda corny and just something to try, but still a gimmick, you know. But actually, I was using Melodyne from back in the day, since version 1. And the whole purpose of that was to do pitch-correction, so I was already using this technology for a while, but the Auto-Tune effect, to me, was always kinda cheesy.
I don’t think the effect necessarily had anything to do with the song doing really well, other than the fact that it got your attention – it was still a great song without it.
I never intended to use it ever again on another record [laughs], but a lot of cats in Dancehall started using it on every single song. But you know, once everybody started discovering tools like the Digi 001, and they see that they can get Pro Tools themselves for a couple thousand bucks, and then when people started to roll over the Digi 001 system, dudes started getting M-Boxes, and everybody got hip to the plugin game, then they started to use them and do the same thing. To me, I just thought it was becoming too misused and overdone; they put it on everything – on their singing, on their deejaying.. dancehall deejay, I mean, like rapping. It didn’t make sense, it didn’t sound good.
But with that said, let me say this; a lot of people criticize T-Pain, but T-Pain is writing great songs regardless of Auto-Tune. He has really catchy hooks and great songs. He doesn’t need that. But people notice his success and think it’s only because of Auto-Tune, but really, he’s just a really great songwriter. Kanye made great records before using Auto-Tune too.
But of course, T-Pain decided to make that his sound, so people are going to say that he’s only good because of Auto-Tune.
I just think it’s overused though, I would get bored creatively. How many records can I make with the same effect? I’m the producer, I would just get sick of it.
I like it when people use it in smaller amounts to accentuate parts of the vocal. Black Eyed Peas does a good job of that, in “Boom Boom Pow” – they used it in little sections, they didn’t use it for the full song.
Then again, it’s a production style. It’s there to use, so people use it and make money off of it.
Production goes through phases though, you know. Everybody used to use the 808 kick drum, then everybody uses that Korg M1 organ sound on every House record – you know that Crystal Waters sound – everybody had to have that.
It’s the same thing; they use it and overuse it until they eventually get sick of it. It’s just another phase to go through.
Being that you were already making movements as a producer, how did you transition into management?
It was more of an accident than a transition actually. Sean (Paul) hadn’t really had much success working with other producers before, but then we started working together and I did a couple records for him – and those records got a lot of play in Jamaica, so we knew had something there.
So, he used to be by my studio a lot after that, and people used to call my phone to get in touch with him and to get information about him.
It was funny, people would call and say they want to book Sean Paul in New York and ask me how much, I’d tell them to hold on, and Sean was right beside me in the studio so I’d tell him they want to book him for a show in New York and ask him how much he would do it for. He’d say “I dunno. Tell them… $1500?”, so I’d go back on the phone and say “yeah, Sean says $1500”, and they say “okay cool, how many tickets should I send?”. I’d look at him and say “I’ll go with you if you want”, and Sean will say “yeah man”, so I’ll go back on the phone and tell them send 2 tickets, so I’d just go with him.
It actually used to cost me money to go with him, because $1500 isn’t really anything for 2 people. So I would have to go to the bank and withdraw money, so that I could go on a show with Sean. At that time, I was already making money producing records anyways. So, it was more of a favor than anything else – I never really viewed myself as his manager, per se; I just saw myself as one of his producers.
But after about 2-3 years of that, I realized I was already dealing with all of his affairs, so I figured ‘shit, I guess I’m managing you then’.
But it developed really out of working together in the studio and making some good records with him; not really from a business standpoint, where I said I can spot talent and I wanted to be his manager. It just kind of developed from the us working together closely and getting along well.
I’d been a fan of Sean Paul since the early years, so I know it took him some years to break through to the mainstream; however once he did break into the mainstream, it seemed to be an incredibly quick transition to the very top. In your opinion, what is it that enabled Sean Paul to go from a Dancehall secret to a mainstream superstar?
I think it’s a cultural thing that Sean managed to overcome. Whenever there was a reggae show, a lot of us would travel together: Merciless, Lady Saw, Elephant Man, Mr. Vegas, Beenie Man, Red Rat, Spragga Benz, and tons of other guys. So, we’d go do shows with them, share buses with them and all that. And when we’d go to the places like the US or London, you’d start to notice how people were when they’re out of their environment – socially.
We’d be in Manhattan and everyone would be hungry, but some of the dudes would say they need to drive to Brooklyn because they have to find a Jamaican restaurant. They need that Jamaican food, they don’t want to eat anything else. And Sean was like “well, I don’t need to go all the way to Brooklyn, we’re already here in the city. How about we just stop and get some Italian or we go by Ruby Foos and get some Chinese food or whatever”, and half these guys would look at him like “What? we can’t eat that, we need Jamaican food.”
But, you know what I mean though, it’s just a cultural thing. This is just an example of how quickly Sean was able to assimilate to US culture. When we used to go to New York, we always wanted to stay in Manhattan, because we wanted to stay close to the record companies and close to all the action. We didn’t want to spend time just hanging out in some of the other areas because it didn’t make sense to us that we were in New York, and we’re just going to hang out the same way we can back home. If we’re in New York City, let’s take advantage of the fact that we’re in New York City.
So because of that, Sean spent a lot of time in Manhattan and spent a lot of time with the Puerto Rican and Dominican communities, and doing shows in Jersey, Queens and Manhattan. In doing so, he got on the radio and got to go to Hot 97 and meet Angie Martinez and DJ Enuff, and others at the station. So whenever he would be at the station and would promote a show, it gave him a whole new level of exposure, so people got familiar with him very quickly.
These other Jamaican artists would never go into Manhattan, period, and the promoters they’re were working with were doing their thing out in Queens or Brooklyn and didn’t need to advertise on Hot 97. So, he just assimilated very quickly in New York.
Miami, it was the same thing. He assimilated to their culture very quickly. Sean plays basketball a lot in Jamaica, so whenever he’s up in New York or Miami, he’d play some basketball with the people there and they’d remember, “that’s that reggae dude, Sean Paul”.
You understand what I’m saying though, it’s a cultural thing. People used to tell us, they just felt comfortable with Sean. As a Jamaican artist, he didn’t feel so alien. A lot of people used to tell us that; even the DJs used to say to us “yo, I like your kid Sean Paul man. He got a regular name – Sean Paul! He doesn’t have some crazy name like Admiral Something or some shit I can’t pronounce. He’s got a regular name that I can pronounce.”
And when Sean would go up on stage and adjust the Jamaican Patois, so it wasn’t so thick, so this way he could talk to people and they could understand what he was saying. He would do that when he would be on air with Angie Martinez; he would swing it back & forth, and they felt comfortable with him; they could vibe with him.
So you know, the fact that he could assimilate early on to American culture was a big help to him. And that just opened the doors and people just got the vibe – he left a great impression on a lot of people and they helped him give that same impression to the fans.
Let’s talk about the current industry for a minute. Is there anything that you’re doing differently now in order to adapt to the current climate in the music business?
Well, one thing we can all agree on is that the whole idea of record sales is slipping away – in terms of being the main driving force behind an artist. Great artists with great records are selling way less than what you’d expect them to sell. The whole concept of selling records has changed and the whole concept of income streams from music has also now changed. Anybody who doesn’t adapt is going to be left behind.
You gotta re-organize how you deal with music and how you deal with being able to earn from music. Everything from licensing to endorsements, and making music for TV shows and video games – and just re-thinking the overall usage of music, and not so much about the sale of your music.
Also that usage of your music can generate other streams of income, for example touring income, merch, or getting endorsements or partnerships with a mobile provider. The streams of income are a lot different.
It’s an adjustment, because we get into this business with dreams of selling millions of records and having plaques on the wall, and all that, you know. I think, one of the first times it really hit home to me was on Sean Paul’s “The Trinity” album. We handed in the record, and the label was so excited when they heard it; then they told us that when we get back to Jamaica, they want us to send them 15 & 30 second snippets of all the songs.
I didn’t even know what it was for, I was confused; so I asked them why they want that. They told me they need the snippets for ringtones. Now, understand; as a producer, I was thinking here I just produced an entire album of music, and now they’re telling me to go and cut the songs to 15 seconds each? It was almost like I was disgusted. What the hell is the point if you’re just gonna use 15 seconds of the song on a tiny little cellphone speaker, where you can’t even hear the beat? There goes my creation, you know what I’m saying?
That was something that was really offputting, and made me think about it; but then the reality was, they told me on iTunes we’re going to be selling our songs for 99 cents – the complete song – and the ringtones were $2.99.
The thing with iTunes is, kids need to have an account and set it up with a credit card, so they have to ask their parents or older brother or sister for that. There’s a lot more to go through, just to buy a song off of iTunes. But with the ringtones, once a parent buys their kid a phone, they have access to everything right away. Some phones have a ringtone section that they can just navigate to and download ringtones from, or they can just text a phone number to get a ringtone, and it bills right to the phone bill; which the parents are paying for anyways. They don’t have to set up a separate account or ask their parents for their credit card information, just to download a ringtone. So for kids, buying and downloading ringtones is easier than buying songs off of iTunes.
It’s just funny how the human psyche is, where people have a problem paying 99 cents to buy a full song off of iTunes, so they go to Limewire to get it, but yet they don’t have a problem paying $2.99 for 15 seconds of the same song. You know what I mean? It’s just funny.
But you have to get your head around the usage of music and how people see music.
You see, I’m coming from a DJ background; I want to listen to music loud and on massive speakers. That’s where I get my enjoyment of listening to music. Nowadays, people are getting used to just listening to snippets on the tiny, little speaker on their phone – that’s enjoyment to them. So, once you stop and think about that and realize the usage of music, then you get to understand it a little better.
That’s one of the biggest adjustments you have to make, in the current state of the music game. You have to start realizing how your music will be used by the fans.
Lastly, you have to keep up with technology, obviously. You can’t be stuck behind. I remember when blank CDs were first coming in, and people could burn their own CDs – back then it was something to burn your own CDs, you know. But now, you can’t even give a CD to a disc jockey; they don’t want your CD, just email it to them. Now you gotta have your email list, and send them out through there. Of course, some will still tell you mp3s don’t sound as good, but it’s also about convenience.
There’s still a lot of guys out there, especially in Jamaica, talking about they want to put out a CD and saying they need an investor so that they can press 5000 CDs for distribution and all that. But really, for what? Where are you going to sell them? What are you even talking about? CD stores are closing all over the place.
But it’s hard for some people, because we’re so used to having a physical medium, so digital is funny for a lot of people. Some people don’t want to have a Blackberry, some people don’t want to be on Twitter or Facebook. In Jamaica, it’s hard man. Imagine a country like this, you got a lot of musicians and all kinds of people, and a lot of these people don’t have internet access, or even own a computer. It’s a totally different culture. It’s a funny time, you know – you really have to make some adjustments. Nowadays, you have to be up on your MySpace, your Facebook, your Twitter, Blackberry, iPhone, email, mp3s… there’s so much technology to be up on to be involved in the music business right now, and in a place like Jamaica, not everybody is equipped with that access yet.
A minute ago, you brought up an interesting point when you mentioned the usage of an artist’s music when fans download and play a song on their iPods and their cell phones. I’ve noticed, there’s also a change in terms of production, when artists begin to see some level of touring success. The first time around, they put all their energy into just making good music period, but once they achieve some level of success and get bigger bookings, they focus much more on performance tracks… stadium songs. As a producer, is that something you’ve noticed being a common trend, and if so, how do you approach a song differently than you would otherwise?
That’s a really interesting point. It’s funny that you say that, I never thought about it that way. Usually, on the second time around, there’s a bigger focus on making records that are more Top 40 friendly, where it might have 3 choruses and less verse material, so the whole record pretty much sounds like a hook.
We used to make records where the verses would sound very quiet and calm, and when the chorus came, we’d throw in all these instruments and raise then energy – then remove them all again for the next verse. Nowadays, most records sound like one big chorus, that’s always running, from beginning to end.
Production style definitely changes on an artist’s second-time around, because the label wants it to be high-impact; everything to jump out on radio and sound exciting. I guess it does translate to performances as well. Especially urban music, it’s a lot of call-and-response music.
When Rihanna sings “Just live your life”, the whole crowd will yell back at the stage “ay ay ayyy”, or Souljah Boy will yell “turn my swag onnnnn” and the whole crowd rocks back “yeahhhhhh”.
You know what I mean? Call-and-response is big in urban music, so I can definitely see that, as you said. I know it definitely changes towards radio, but I see how it could change towards live shows too; that’s a good point.
Also, I wanted to mention something – I heard a comment a little while ago; my label president was talking with Clive Davis about Whitney Houston’s project, and about radio in general. Clive Davis said to him “Imagine, I have a number one album with Whitney Houston right now, and I can’t even get a song of hers on the radio. When have you ever seen the industry this topsy-turvy, where the radio and sales are not correlating at all?”
This was a few months ago, when Whitney’s album came out, but you know what I mean? It’s a weird time. People love Whitney and everybody went and bought her comeback album the first week; so she was selling units, but she had no record on the radio. And it’s not because they’re not trying to put records on the radio, but because she’s not making the kind of records that radio wants to play. I’m not quoting him directly, but he was basically saying that he’s never seen a stranger time in music. You can have a hit song being sold, in stores or as a download, and yet, not even be on the radio.
Even Darius Rucker from Hootie & The Blowfish; he had a platinum record, and wasn’t being played on radio. I’m sure he feels pretty good about his music career right now though. He wasn’t being played on radio, but he has real fans who went out and bought his records. He’s been building his fanbase for years, with Hootie & The Blowfish.
I think artists need to start thinking that way; they have to build their fanbase and get those people who will still go out and buy their music, even when it’s not being played on the radio, or they’re not putting Auto-Tune on their voice.
It’s a funny time in the music business, and everyone is still trying to figure out how to make sense of it all, so we all kinda have to keep our eyes and ears open, you know.
Definitely. So, let me ask you about something that people are always strongly opinionated about. What’s your take on 360 deals?
That’s a strange one. Here’s my thing about 360 deals. It’s very dubious in my experience with labels, in terms of how much they can do for your artist – outside of what the label normally does.
The idea of the 360 deal is that the label takes on more work; so in addition to being your record label, they’re also going to help you with your touring, put their hand in merch, and this and that. So in exchange for all of that, you sign a 360 deal with them, so they get a piece of all the action. That’s the argument the label brings to you.
In my experience, I found it very difficult to realize what they can do outside of the regular record business. I’ve seen them struggle with trying to do merch, and I’ve seen them struggle with trying to do touring and all that; which leads me to thinking, well… why would I sign this with them, if they can’t really handle all these other facets of the music business.
It’s like a separate industry when you start dealing at that kind of level. Some people would be shocked to know that the people in the marketing department at the record label have no idea of the A&R process; they’ve never been to a recording session or have a clue about that process. They don’t know anything about graphic arts, or doing an album cover, or printing something on a t-shirt; much less being able to book a show and know how to read a rider. I’m sure some might know some things here and there about these other areas, but my point is that some artists mistakenly assume that because they’re signing with a big company like Sony, Universal, Warner, or whatever, they think that these guys must know everything about everything. That’s not necessarily the case.
The label’s point of view is that since they’re not selling records right now, so any income the artist is making, they want a piece of the action. So artists get put in a position, where it’s almost like they don’t even have an option.
But you have to be very careful. Some of them try to go after your publishing, which I think is wrong, and I think you should stay away from that completely. For touring – well for reggae, we’re different – because we have our own touring market, even when we’re not signed with a major label. If you’re in R&B or hip-hop, it can be really difficult to book a tour based off of only 1 single. For that, I could see where a label can be helpful, to help put you in a promo tour and putting you in with a booking agent. I can see where they can be helpful there, but there’s still an argument there – it just depends on your particular situation.
For merchandising, it’s kind of the same thing. They’ll start of doing merch for promo usage; so they’ll do some free promo merch, and then that turns into them thinking that they can just expand that and start selling that merch. They’re already in a position where they’re making the t-shirts, and printing baseball caps, and wristbands and all that, so they start thinking, since they’re already making it, why don’t they just start selling it and that’s how they weasel their way into a merch situation.
A lot of people don’t have that sort of outreach, to put their hand in all those different areas. So, for a really young band out there, that really has nothing, maybe just a manager that’s a smart person, but doesn’t really know much about the business; then it could be a good situation for them to be in a 360 deal. Because then they’ll be mothered, and shown these different sides of the music industry.
For people with more experience in the music business, it’s probably not the best situation for you. Because you’ll become so savvy by this point, you’re going to have your relationships with bookers and doing your own shows, and all that.
If you started as an indie guy doing your own shows Moe, and you had to print up your own t-shirts and all kinds of merch for your own shows; then you know you can do all your own stuff. What would you need the label to dip their hands into these things for? You don’t need it, because you can already do that stuff on your own. You have to leverage all this stuff to what makes sense for you.
The big scary thing the label tries to tell you, is that if you don’t commit to a 360 deal, then they won’t spend that much time or money on your artist; which I believe is a bluff anyways, because if they’re going to go through with the deal anyways and commit a budget to your marketing, your videos, your packaging and everything, then they’re already into you. They’re making so many drawbacks already, they’re not going to let their money go to waste just because you don’t sign a 360.
Right. It’s a negotiation tactic. Their job during the signing process is to get you to agree to as many of their terms as possible. That’s why it’s so important to hire a great entertainment attorney; so not only can they fight for your terms, but also, they know which of the label’s tactics are bluffs.
Exactly! That’s it. Most artists that are just starting out and getting their first deal or maybe their second, but don’t have strong guidance, they don’t know that; they don’t realize that.
Don’t let your label trick you by showing you what their left hand is doing, while doing something sneaky with their right hand. When they take on more responsibility with a 360 deal, they’ll try distracting you by telling you how many hits you’re getting on your website and how many shirts they might be selling, but what they’re not telling you is that you aren’t selling any records. Don’t let them fool you into thinking they’re doing a great job because they sold 1000 of your t-shirts or they got 10,000 people hitting you on your webpage.
Who the hell cares? If I have 50,000 people following me on Twitter, I don’t need their record company webpage. I have my own online game on lock. I got my boy Moe blasting out my song, getting it retweeted for me, we’re getting more downloads ourselves than the record company can do for me.
So, you have to figure out what the best situation is for you, but limit how much they can put their hands into your pocket. Their main job is to sell your music; whether it’s digital downloads or physical albums, their main job is to sell your music – don’t let them distract you.
Great point! To expand on what we just spoke about; there are so many stories and warnings out there about getting into the music business, but of course, the best lessons are ones we learn from our own experiences. Can you share a lesson that you had to learn the hard way?
To be honest with you, I think I’m fortunate that I’ve never really been screwed over that badly in this business.
I don’t know if this is really a hard lesson, but I can definitely tell you about this one thing that I had to adjust to when I first started getting into the music business.
There’s music, and there’s the music business. Some people are in it for the music, some are just in it for the business, and some who like it for both. When you’re a person coming from the creative side, and you dig music because you’re a musician, an artist, or DJ – you dig music for music’s sake only. It doesn’t really matter to you what the marketing plan is, or what everybody’s selling – you like a song because you like that song; that’s it. You make music because you feel like you have to make music. You enjoy the expression and listening to all kinds of music.
You have some people who are just in it for the business of music. In other words, they love the hustle, they love the deal-making, they love the afterparties, they love the album launches, they love the fancy dinners, hanging out in the clubs, riding in fancy limousines – they love the excitement, the spectacle, the show, people screaming and cheering. It doesn’t really matter to them what the music is, the actual song itself. Just as long as it’s working and it’s generating sales. It’s like the people who like Hollywood for the sake of Hollywood – they’re not film critics or anything. They don’t really care. All they really care about is the blockbuster movies and who’s the hottest star, and just wanting to be in Hollywood.
Same thing in the music business.
You need the music side to exist to have a music business, and you need the business side to exist to have a music business. If you take away either part, the whole thing disappears. If you take away the music, it’s just business then; nothing to do with music. If you take away the business, then it’s also disappears because we’re not just making music for ourselves in our basements. We have to buy equipment and instruments and all of this costs money. At some point, business gets involved.
Whether you’re playing at the local bar on the corner, and you’re making a few bucks – or if you’re selling platinum across the world, or if you’re selling some tracks on your website – there’s still going to be some business at some point or another, to keep things going.
The big mistake is ignoring the fact that there are people on the other side of the coin who you have to work with, that have an opposite view of the same picture. So, if I walk into the record label with my artist’s new album, and I’m all excited because I think it’s the greatest album there is – the chorus for this track is a hit, and the keyboard part of that song is incredible, and the beat on that track is a smash – if I walk in there with that kind of excitement, I have to understand that 99% of the people in the record label could not care less about any of that.
What they’re going to care about is, is the record on the radio? How many spins are we getting per week? Do we have the marketing plan done for the artist? Have you finished the album cover? Do we have a photo shoot? What does he or she look like now? How are we going to make the music video? What’s the budget that we have to spend on this record? What’s the total spending on this album all together? What’s the demographic of this artist? Is it Urban, is it Pop, is it Rhythmic Crossover… what is it? What are the strongest markets for this artist? Is it Miami and New York, is it Eastern Seaboard, or is it out west? Is it California, or even Hawaii? Or what about Mid-West? Do we have the South?
This is what they think about when you walk in the door with your record.
They’re not listening to the record. It doesn’t really matter to them. They just need somebody telling them that the record is working. “There’s spins on the radio? Okay great, it’s a smash.”
They’re not listening to the records, they don’t care.
It’s funny, the A&R Manager that used to work at Atlantic Records before – he’s the one who handles all the A&R work for all the artists on the label; he gets all the mixes and the masters, gets all the studio budgets in, and makes sure all the credits are right, all that – so anyways, I asked him one time what he listens to. He asked what I mean. I said “what do you listen to? Not work related, just what you listen to.” The man told me he mainly listens to Billy Joel.
Nothing’s wrong with listening to Billy Joel, but you’re overseeing an entire label of artists making music for today and you don’t even listen to today’s current music? Forget urban music, just current music, period! He doesn’t care; it’s just business to him.
That’s one thing that’s very hard to grasp when you get into this business. Some people just don’t care about music; it’s all business.
I remember, years ago when I was living in Toronto, going to a Cool Runnings soundtrack launch party with Supercat and all these guys. So, I’m at this party and I met the head of Urban Music at Columbia Records at the time, who was a white lady around 58 or so. I just thought to myself, “this lady’s head of Urban?”.
I’m thinking the head of Urban’s supposed to be somebody’s who’s “urban”, you know.. somebody who’s ethnic and young, and who knows hip-hop and reggae music. They told me she’s good at her job; she’s good at marketing, she knows her numbers, she’s from here in Canada so she knows how it works and what worked at radio and what the stores were asking for and all that.
When you get into the music business being in love with music, we don’t think that way in the beginning. There’s kids right now making beats, thinking “yo man, I gotta get up in Interscope and talk to my boy. He’s gonna put me onto this dude…”
They’re thinking they’re going to go in there with that attitude and meet people like them. They think they’re just gonna walk in and some young guy is going to be there yelling “Ohhhhh snappp! THAT BEAT’S CRAZY SON! That track’s a SMASH son!” and get all excited the way them and their friends do when they’re in the studio making music.
But you’re not going to get that. You’re going to go in there and they’re going to get straight to the point:
“So, you said you have a MySpace page. How many hits do you have? Do you have a viral marketing campaign? Are you on Twitter? How many followers do you have? What else have you done? Have you gotten this on your local radio stations? How many spins are you getting? What about shows? How often are you getting booked? How many people came to your last concert?”
That’s what they’re gonna ask you. They’re not going to ask you about your music.
That’s one of the rough things about being in the music business, as a musician. You’re in it because you just love the music so much, and you think it’s all about the music alone, and that’s what’s going to make it work, and your music is just going to touch people, and when they hear that beat, they’re going to go nuts, or when they hear that hook, they’re going to go crazy.
You just have to be aware of that.
Also, there might be a kid making beats right now thinking “Man, I have the greatest beat. If only Sean Paul could record on this beat. I need to sell it to his manager.” Or Lil Wayne, or 50 Cent, or whoever. They think they’re not blowing up because they don’t have Sean Paul or 50 Cent on their beat.
But you can’t get 50 Cent on your beat just like that. You can’t start with 50 Cent. You can’t just start with Sean Paul. You know what Sean’s been through? It’s been 15 years of doing music and working with all kinds of different producers, and going through all kinds of situations. You have to build yourself up and start seeing things from other perspectives instead of just your own.
It’s a lot of work to build yourself up, and you have to think if you’re really built for this. That’s what I can’t understand; crazy kids with their hands out.
I don’t consider myself a particularly talented musician, per se. I have lots of people all around me, way more talented than I am, but it’s about taking things step-by-step and doing things like DJ’ing and going to music school, and always trying to find ways to put myself in situations to be involved in music.
You can’t just sit in your bedroom, make music on your laptop, and think that you’re just gonna sit there and send out music over the net, and you never have to go out and meet anybody, you don’t have to go to studios, you don’t have to hang out with people, you don’t have to get to know artists or anything. You can’t think you’re just gonna grab some email addresses and send beats to people, and then you’re gonna get put on. That’s nonsense.
And the funny thing is, you would be so unprepared if that every really happens. If you never worked with any other artists or released any music before, but ended up getting a magic placement with a major artist somehow; you wouldn’t even know what to do. You wouldn’t know how to tell the engineer to EQ your kick drum because you never actually spoke to a person about it, you wouldn’t know much to charge, or how to negotiate the contract. You would be completely lost with the business side of it, and figuring out publishing and all that.
At the end of the day, most artists can’t do business with a person like that because it takes too long to get anything done since the person has no experience dealing with any of it.
So you know what I mean; it’s not just about talent anymore; you have to go out there and earn it. Gain your experience. You need it.
And again, you have to remember that the music business is a business; your music is the product. You have to realize that.
He can also be found offering even more valuable insight through his Formspring page – http://www.formspring.me/misterharding