BREEDING GROUND Part 2: What Do A&R’s Look For In An Artist?

The A&R’s We have Lenny S, Vice President of A&R at Rocafella/Def Jam who has been a staple of the Roc since its inception in 1996. Having worked on every album the Roc has put out; there is just no …

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The A&R’s

We have Lenny S, Vice President of A&R at Rocafella/Def Jam who has

been a staple of the Roc since its inception in 1996. Having worked on

every album the Roc has put out; there is just no denying Lenny’s

appreciation and dedication for the culture in which he is submersed.

Riggs Morales, another industry heavyweight. Having uncovered some serious names while at The Source

scouting for the “Unsigned Hype,” Riggs is now situated at Shady

Records where he is Senior Director of A&R. His highlights have

been his involvement on the whole 50 Cent deal going through and

signing the Atlanta rapper Bobby Creekwater.

Jason Mazur, A&R Coordinator/Scout at TVT Records who has made a

name for himself at the label famed for artists such as Lil Jon, The

Ying Yang Twins and Pitbull.

Conrad Dimanche is famed for breaking and signing bands such as Danity

Kane, Yung Joc and Boyz N Da Hood in his role as Senior Director of

A&R of Bad Boy Worldwide. Conrad has a staggering 30 albums to his

credit and all but two have entered the charts in the top ten.

Next we have Sickamore, the new kid on the block who plays the part of

Director of A&R at Atlantic Records. He is famed for his

introducing Saigon to Just Blaze and for his work with Tru Life.

Kenny Scalido, AKA Tick, is the Director of A&R at Warner Brothers

Records adds his take to the mix. Having played a major role in

bringing Snoop Dogg’s producer, Terrace Martin to the fold and securing

a deal for Breeding Ground Alumni Young Dre at the label it is all go

for ‘The Tick.’Part Has the job or A&R changed say since 5-10 years ago? Conrad Dimanche: No, I mean I think the Internet has made things a little bit better for me. You have so much more access; you know I do go on MySpace once in a while and breeze through and check out artists as I might find something really hot. You have to go through a lot of rubbish but you never know.Tick: I think it’s all relative.  There are crazy intangibles on comparisons.  It’s like saying would Tyson have knocked out Ali when both were at their peak.  Two different eras, two different movements. I can say that it is a more singles environment now than it probably was 10 years ago, but my pops collected R&B albums from the 50s/60s and those records were single driven as well so it all comes How have advancements in technology helped or even hindered the role of A&R? Riggs Morales: It hasn’t made my job harder and I would rather you sent me a link and then send me a package as I will check out the link and the good thing about a Myspace is that everything I need to know is there. Can he make songs, what kind of songs can he make, can he perform, does he have footage on there and if it is something that is adventurous then I will go ahead and reach out to him and if not I listen to it and keep it moving. Everyone has a myspace or should have as it is pretty mandatory at this point.Lenny S: I think it has helped. It only hinders when it comes to sales but I am in the music business and of course I have to worry about selling the records I am making, but I mean I try to stay more on the creative side and not worry about the sales side and how much downloading is hurting us. I think it has helped in more ways than one as it is easier to transfer music these days, it is easier to get songs done and songs recorded and it is easier to get two artists in different states or even different countries to do songs together on the same night. You know be able to record it and mix it and get it out there the next day. I just think it is much more convenient and I am not trying to make my life easier, but it also saves money. As much money as we are losing we are saving. Before you would fly a partner of five or six to California to do a record because that was where the artist was at and you would have to play for all the flights, the hotel, the studio where as now you don’t have to pay for s###. You just e mail the session right over and you save $15,000 not to mention the fee you have to pay. I just think things have become way more convenient and I wouldn’t change it for anything. Besides the downloading, iTunes I don’t really agree with as if you just sell songs for a dollar it just kind of devalues the music because if you can get two or three favorite singles off the album for a dollar each, then you don’t need the rest of the album, I just think that hurts giving people that option. I didn’t mind before when we bought singles for 3.99 or 4.99, you didn’t mind as you were getting the single and the instrumental and you get the B side. I mean I go out and buy CDs and I enjoy going into music stores strolling around and checking out music old and Because of the changes in technology where it is to the point that an artist can market themselves, brand themselves without majors behind them, does that play a part?Conrad Dimanche: Technology plays a big part, but there is a lower risk when you sign as artist that already has a built in audience to some degree or a buzz, which they get from say Myspace and just from being hot in their home town. It is a necessity now and that is what it is, it is hard for artists to get signed without those fundamentals locked in and it does only make sense as the business tightens up for them to have these things in place and we can feel more comfortable going in and spending money on the deal and then shooting So you do actually take into consideration Myspace? Jason Mazur: Absolutely, every A&R that I work with now, hits myspace for at least n hour a day give or take. They see what’s spinning, they check out some pages. Why wouldn’t they? It is one of the biggest fads; you know it is part of pop How important is it for an artist to have his own website?Riggs Morales: Well you get a solid idea of what this person is about based off this site and unfortunately myspace or no myspace, a s### demo is a s### demo. A lot of links I get are like hyped up for nothing, which makes people skeptical and me personally, I am always skeptical of the hype, if people come at me with the hype. Where do you go looking for talent in your role as A&R and is it easy to find new talent?Sickamore: You can find talent anywhere, but with rappers people tell you about them more than anything. I do go to showcases to find raw talent, you know the talent you can develop and keep your hands on, and of course I have my company I Can Make You Famous, where I help develop new talent to the point that they are ready to get signed. But not everyone is ready to get signed right out of the gate you get signed when someone wants you. You have to get to that point where you are desirable and once you are desirable you have to perfect your shows, you have to perfect your craft the whole way through. You know a lot of the time rappers think they are ready but they are really not Is that one of the biggest misconceptions people have about themselves, them being ready when they really aren’t?Sickamore: You meet people who think that because they started rapping six month ago they should get a deal now, or they have put out a mixtape and they don’t get why someone isn’t trying to sign them. I have seen people put out fifteen mixtapes and ten twenty thirty singles and you have to be able to sell them. Everyone comes in in different ways but it is still about establishing your own moves and your own buzz and people pick up on that. Even if you have a great show, a lot of artists don’t know how far a show performance can go. If you have a great show, you know by practicing your act, and then you will get a record deal a lot quicker because that’s about show business.  Lenny S: An artist should be doing everything, showcases, they should be battling if they are that type of rapper, and you should be pitching your records to all the mixtape DJs, just anything possible. There is one thing I feel strongly about, I am not going to look for the next Beanie Segal or the next Jadakiss or Young Jeezy at the MTV, BET, VH1 battle showcases. Maybe at the AllHipHop showcase I will because these guys are more in tune with street Hip-Hop and what is going on and I think artists from the street will feel the same way. I am not discrediting the VH1/BET/MTV thing in any way, but look at American Idol and the people that show up to those things. The Jadakiss that is on the block in Yonkers and the Beanie Segal that is on the corner in Philly is not showing up to that thing. He is a street guy, he is not standing on that line, he isn’t doing none of that; but an artist like Jae Millz, his management who are street guys and smart guys will say ‘we are going down to this AllHipHop thing.’ I would look at things like that as opposed to the MTV battle things.Tick: It’s not hard if you stay focused and are able to pay close attention to what you’re investigating; is this artist a star, how are his records, crazy live show, Do you find some artists have the potential to be stars but fail to lay the right foundations by having a good team behind them, like strong management?Riggs Morales: Having the right team behind you is very, very, very, very add six verys after that, important. As nowadays people have the misconception that once you get signed the label is going to do everything for you. If you have a good squad around you it is up to you and them to formulate a grass roots plan to get your buzz up to the point that the labels are interested and then they are going to push the button and say ‘we are ready to invest all these millions into this artist and break him.’ It is important and they have to be well equipped people too who have a serious work ethic. As an artist you have to have a work ethic that you instill in these people and these people have to be under command. It is very important.Conrad Dimanche: Absolutely, you know a very big part of it is having the right team to meet the right people to be doing the right things. You could have a great car getting to the right place but if you map is wrong you are never going to reach your destination, you are just going to run out of gas and sitting on the side of the road. It is about having the right manager, lawyer and doing all the right things, you know putting yourself out there. If you just want to rap in your basement in front of your friends but you never hopped on a stage or ever put out a mixtape or tried to shop your songs, it is never going to happen for you or it might take a really long Do you find originality has been forgotten about? Jason Mazur: I do think that there is a lack of originality and what I attribute that to is there is a difference between an artist and an entertainer. An artist is going to be who they are and do what they do naturally as that is what they do, that is them, they are artistic. Then an entertainer, not to say that it isn’t an art, but they are there to say that they entertain and they are going to go and do whatever they think is hot; we as an audience are to blame and we as an industry are to blame as we sort of like that. If it is working we go to try and replicate that and put it out there. There is a great lack of originality right now. Riggs Morales: You know people are playing the safest and you see the way sales are right now. No one is willing to take a chance on something different; meanwhile that something different is probably something that will work. But most of the staff at these companies don’t know how to work different. It is like a product line, they just keep bringing them out, this is the pattern, the template we are using for this artist and this is what we are using for that artist and we will market this guy the same way we marketed that guy’ so no one does different. How can that be combated?Riggs Morales: By having people in positions that know what they are doing. There is a fine line between the business and the music and if you find people that understand that fine line then you will be good to go. No one expected Gnarls Barkley to be as big as they were and not for nothing that record is amazing; it is just an amazing record and it basically showed that people were receptive to it, it didn’t even have to be marketed, it was just that dope. It also helps if artists make better records. Nobody is making good music. I can’t say nobody. There is actually a demographic of people who want to listen to something different and just not what is going on; they don’t want to hear the ring tone raps, they really want to hear something that stands out from the beginning of the album to the end instead of having to select the tracks from I Tunes. Is there a right way and a wrong way in getting attention? Sickamore: Wrong way is ‘Yo I am nice, sign me.’ Right way, “I am making my music because of this, this is my plan, this is where I want to go and take it and this is where I want to be. I want to market myself this way.’ The wrong way is just to go up there and sit in front of a label and rap all day and beg someone to get on. No-one wants to deal with that type of Has video played a part in devaluing how hard you have to work in Hip-Hop? Jason Mazur: I absolutely know it has as you know people see the cars and think ‘I want that car, did you see that car?’ They don’t realize that all this s### is rented, the cars, the jewelry, although some of it may be real, well real as it can be. You know hey might get to keep their clothes through an endorsement but all the other stuff goes back. These rappers in some cases don’t survive at all. You see them everywhere but they are one step away from broke as they don’t know how to handle their money or they got jerked by their label, they just don’t care or they don’t realize. How important is packaging for an artist?Riggs Morales: Well if you want to be different, you want to sell the different and it is very important. Nowadays these kids are really into that s###; you know ‘are you really believable?’ Image is important depending on what you are Does the ‘diamond in the rough’ still happen?Conrad Dimanche: Absolutely, it still happens, it is just harder. But like I said just having a talent doesn’t mean that that person can sell records and it is the turn around today has to be faster. As soon as a single comes out, three months later the album comes out. There used to be what was called a set up for artists, at labels there isn’t that much time to do that anymore because the business is so hard and CD sales are down; it is like the turn around has to be quicker. It is not a good thing, but that is just what it is in this business, so we have to move accordingly. How important is a co-sign today?Conrad Dimanche: It is pretty important; you know it is very important. Take for example myself; I have a network of people all over the world whose ears I trust, managers, production companies, publishing companies, DJs that I respect, so when they tell me they have something that is what I am going to go listen to. So a co-sign is important. It really is literally impossible to go through all the demos that we get. But I do get to them when I can. So taking it to the negativity surrounding the Hip-Hop culture….Riggs Morales: Yeah with reason, not for nothing. A lot of people talk about Hip-Hop and the downloading and how it has killed record sales and to be honest I have seen Hip-Hop turn a lot of people off. For example I know that white people are the majority purchaser of Hip-Hop when you do the research and I think Hip-Hop turned them off because we are giving them b#######. Look at the people who are selling, they are the ones providing people with content from A through Z, s### that is danceable, s### that has substance to it and s### that is just entertaining, just look at it and you are looking at it one hand. You are looking at Kanye, TI, 50, Ludacris and these are people who know you are going to get your moneys worth from. They have a loyal fan Do you think people are more likely to go to a concert now as opposed to buy a CD?Riggs Morales: Well Hip-Hop performances suck in general now anyway, the performers need to step their s### up. Me as a fan, I will go and see my favorite rapper but they better be giving me a hell of a show. To put on a good show you want to interact with that audience, you want the audience involved and you want the fans to feel that they are being spoken to. If I am going to go and see Nas and he is talking in a New York State of Mind, talk to me, take me back to 1994. Now we are gravitating and we are online and bam, fans at the end of the day want to be like the person they like. In terms of getting your name out there what advice can you give?Riggs Morales: I wish it was as easy as ‘get your s### together and get your portfolio together,’ but no basically it is, just make good music because eventually if it is that good, it is going to make its way to me or somebody else in my field, that is the reality and this is an assessment in however many years I have been here. People send these demos and believe it or not, I do listen to the stuff that gets sent but there is never ever anything good. Eventually we will find a success story where the demo was found in the garbage or whatever but that is just one in a million.Conrad Dimanche: Well with the whole production quality being poor I want to suggest that artists start to use this new website that will be revolutionary to this business. It is and that is where I find a lot of my beats and there are a lot of popular producers on there that the average artist can have access to in helping them build their projects. Jason Mazur: If they are going to get their grind on, aside from the music, they are going to have to put down the way they are going to do it and they are going to have to desire to be the best. If they are going to go out there and do a mixtape for example; then they have to go out there and put out the best mixtape possible. They have to go out there and counter all these other people that are putting out all these other tapes. They have to consistently drop and have good concepts when it comes to the colors and the titles and they have to get in the hands of the right people and if possible they have to get some of the hotter DJs until their name stands strong. Getting co-signed can be very important at times, it is the difference between getting your CD popping and heard or not. Granted people may still not like you once they pop that CD in, but because Whoo Kid or Vlad did it, they will pop it in at least. They are all prominent people in the mixtape game and with a name on it, it will get listened to. But it is up to you and how good your s### is because now in 2007, to get your grind on you need to know about the business and know where the business is going. It is going to a very digital spectrum and we all know that it is not as simple anymore as just having someone see you, they don’t just want to see you on your own; they like someone to come across you and they go to you. So you need to just get yourself out there, get yourself some buzz, get yourself some spins and know what it is that labels actually do so you can say ‘what is it that I can do to fit into what they already have going on.’

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