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Interviews with A&Rs at Atlantic Records

Interview - Andy Karp, Vice President of A&R at Lava/Atlantic in New York. - Sep 24, 2001

"People usually think: How can I get a record deal? The proper question is: How can I make a career for myself as a musician?"

picture Andy Karp is Vice President of A&R at Lava/Atlantic in New York. Among the acts he is A&R for are Kid Rock (10 million copies sold in the US of his first Lava release ďDevil Without A Cause?in 1998, and Uncle Kracker ( US Double Platinum Debut in 2001).

How did you get started in the music biz and what has been your route to become an A&R?

Iíve been a musician all my life .When I was in college, I did an internship in the A&R department of MCA Records. After I graduated, I was looking to figure out a way to make a living while I was playing in bands. I figured that maybe I could get a job at a record company. So I got a job in the mailroom of Profile Records in New York, and I spent about 6 weeks there until I managed to get a job as a ďgofer?in the promotion department here at Atlantic, where I spent about five and a half years gradually moving up, until I finally got my A&R gig at Lava in 1995.

Which qualities did you have to display to be appointed as an A&R for the first time?

The most important thing was probably that Iím very fortunate to have a good memory. Combine that with being an unabashed and obsessive music freak?I usually remember what the B-side was in Japan, who produced the record, who the engineer was, and so on. I always had that somewhat odd ability long before it was relevant to my career. That quality came in very handy in impressing Jason Flom, who is our president here. His logic has always been that if somebody seems to be in touch with whatís going on, is in the clubs all the time or has a wealth of knowledge that most people donít have, then it probably increases his/her chances of recognizing something thatís great if they hear it somewhere.

Which qualities, in your opinion, are needed to be a successful A&R?

There are several. Obviously being able to spot hit records in many cases before they are produced like hit records is critical. Beyond that you have to be very patient and remember that youíre dealing with artists who can be very temperamental, understandably so. Iíve often found myself being sort of a dime store psychiatrist which is a very handy skill, you have to be able to listen well if you want to relate to your artist. It also helps in my case to be a musician. I donít think itís a necessary skill to be a good A&R, but itís important for me. If you are able to display that you know what youíre talking about and that you understand the creative process, it helps you build credibility with your artists. I can empathize with most of the artistís feelings and I think theyíre more inclined to pay attention when I have something to say.

How were you approached by the acts youíre working with?

I got to know Uncle Kracker through Kid Rock since heís Kid Rockís DJ. He just struck me as being a very talented person. He did a lot of writing on Kid Rockís ďDevil Without A Cause?record, which is something that not a lot of people know.

David Garza I first heard of through his current manager who at the time was his lawyer, Christopher Sabec. I had just developed a relationship with Christopher and I took Jason down to see him and he was fantastic. Heís just an amazingly talented writer, multi-instrumentalist and producer. Heís actually the first artist I ever signed.

As for some of the other artistsÖSimple Plan thatís interesting, because the drummer actually called me up about three years ago pretending to be his manager. He sent me some demos and we started to talk and developed a little bit of a relationship. The songs were good, although not what they are now. Over the span of time they eventually hooked up with friends of mine who are managers and producers in Canada, Arnold & Rob Lanni and Eric Lawrence. I went out to go see them and the whole thing just kind of went from there.

Hot Action Cop came to me through their lawyer, David Chidekel. He called me up and said the manager was coming to town with this project and that I would like it. They played it and I thought it was great. We brought the artist, Rob Werthner, up and found out that he had this catalog of amazing songs.

Outspoken was the same thing. We met through a friend of mine who was shopping them.

As for Bif Naked, Jason first heard her at a live show and because sheís an amazing live performer he was blown away. I had the record here, he came back raving about it and we met her. Sheís got this electricity about her. Sheís got this wonderful, exciting and vibrant personality and is an incredibly interesting and incredibly decent person. As soon as we had lunch with her, we knew we wanted to work with her.

How did you come in contact with Kid Rock?

Kid Rock wasnít a secret. He had put out three records. His first came out in 1990 when he was 18, on Jive and it sold about 100,000 copies. His second came out on a label called Continuum in ?3, which then went bankrupt. He put out his third himself and his manager at the time was a fellow named Steve Hutton. Steve and I had developed a friendship when we first met at a Nashville extravaganza showcase in ?5 or ?6. We were both young guys who hadnít really established ourselves yet. I think I may have been, at the time, one of the only people who took his calls. He was a manager in Chicago, who was just starting to build a roster. He kept telling me how great the live show was. So I went out to see a Kid Rock show in Cleveland, and?he was fantastic! You could tell right then and there, he was playing in front of sixty people, that he had the charisma to play arenas. The funny thing was that people knew about him. He was selling a lot of tickets and a lot of merchandise in Detroit (where heís from). A&Rs were aware of who he was, but they just thought he was a joke. I took Jason to see Kid Rock play in front of about 1200 people in Detroit. Kid Rock invited people from most of the major labels, but nobody came except for Jason and myself!

I remember telling people that Iíd signed this artist named Kid Rock and they would say: ďOh my god! Isnít he old??Iíd say ďNo, heís not, heís 25? ďOh well good luck!?they replied in a very disparaging tone of voice. I think itís one of those great music business stories that will and should be an inspiration to a lot of bands out there. Since the vast majority of records released donít sell, most artists eventually get dropped., Hereís a guy who actually got dropped, not once but twice?and came back to be one of the biggest artists in the world. Itís a great story. Every artist that has gone on to have commercial success has stories like this to tell, it just tells people out there that no matter how many people tell you that youíre not good enough, itís just an opinion and they might be wrong. It illustrates what is interesting about the A&R process which is: that it is SO subjective. Itís really just a guessing game, youíre just using your taste and your knowledge of how to make records properly and try to put something together thatís great. There are other A&Rs out there that have made great records with bands that I didnít think had it in them. They surprised me, just like Iím sure Kid Rock surprised them.

How much input do you usually have on the productions?

It depends on the circumstances and on how clear the artistís vision is. Some artists need more direction than others. Sometimes the best job an A&R can do is get out of the way and not screw it up. Other times it really needs hands on direction, production, editing and arrangement ideas. But in order to be able to do that you have to build some credibility with your artist. Most artists feel they have some sort of clear vision and very often the A&Rís job is just to help them figure out what that is. Each experience is different. You have to approach it with an open mind.

What proportion of your time is spent looking for new acts to sign, in comparison with the time spent dealing with already established acts in your rooster?

I do a lot of both. The funny thing is as you start to have records that do well, those projects become more important and less manageable in some ways. More people become involved, the artist has far less time on his hands and in some ways they become much more high maintenance. Those things require more of your time, but at the same time the music industry has always been fueled by new artists. So thereís always a focus on finding new things, thatís just the nature of our business. The one thing thatís hard is that there really is not enough time to listen to music as one would think. I find myself being on the phone all the time. I do a lot of listening to demos at home, on the weekend or when Iím driving.

How do you find new talent?

The first thing I like to keep in mind is that youíre never going to know where youíre going to find something great. One thing I have learned is that you have to be open to meeting new people, to take meetings with and phone calls from people you donít know. I always try to return everybodyís calls regardless of whether I know them or not.

Research is something all the major labels do now. Sometimes you find things by just being in touch with regional music scenes. You try to build a network of contacts you trust; lawyers, managers, agents?You canít hear everything. Youíre not always going to know whatís going on in Lawrence, Kansas, but I know people who are going to know and if thereís something that I should be aware of, I know theyíre going to make me aware of it. Thatís a big part of it; building a network of people.

What do you look for in an artist or an act?

Great songs are always the key. You can sell a great song if the artist doesnít play that well or if he/she isnít that great looking. The song is what everybody responds to, you canít see what a band looks like through the radio. Beyond that, if an artist has star quality, thatís a very big plus. Thatís one of the things that helped us tremendously with Kid Rock. If a band is great live then that really helps but itís not necessarily critical. I know a lot of A&Rs who wouldnít sign a band if they werenít good live, but Iím not one of those people. I think that if the songs are good enough, I would do it. I have done it.

Do you find it important that the act be creatively involved in the selection of the songs?

Absolutely! No question! At the end of the day it is their record. The artist has to go out and promote the record and autograph copies of it for the next year, so they have to believe in it. People can sense phoniness, especially the younger people. Teenagers have incredible bullshit detectors, it has to be real.

There have been instances where I have had disagreements with artists over songs, but Iíve never thrown down the gauntlet to an artist and said: ďIt has to be this way!?My approach has been much more along the lines of trying to advocate my position and convince him of what I think is the right way to go. Like I said, at the end of the day they have one career. Iíll make lots of other records in mine but in most cases this is their one shot. So, I will usually let them make the final call.

Do you pay attention to things like who the manager is, who the attorney is, who the team is, when considering signing a new act?

Yes. The attorney is less of a concern because attorneys donít get involved with the day to day handling of the artistís career. There are situations where I havenít pursued a band because I had trouble dealing with the manager. I like to think that I can get along with pretty much everybody and that Iím a pretty laid back guy. So if I have a very negative reaction to a manager, Iíll trust my instinct on that one.



... to read the continuation of this article, click here.


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Interview - Mike Caren, VP of A&R at Atlantic LA. - Oct 16, 2001

"Go out and establish a fanbase. Then let the music business people come to you."

picture Mike Caren is VP of A&R at Atlantic LA. Amongst the acts he has signed and works with, are US Platinum artist Trick Daddy and US Gold artists Sunshine Anderson, Trina and Drama.

How did you get started in the music biz and what has been your route to become an A&R?

I got started as a DJ when I was 12 years old and I did an internship at Interscope Records when I was 15. Then I 1993 started a high school and college marketing company called School Rules Promotions in Los Angeles.

Which qualities did you have to display to be appointed as an A&R for the first time?

My knowledge of HipHop and the marketplace. At the time I was also producing HipHop records for the Pharcyde, for Heltah Skeltah, for an underground artist named Saukrates and several local acts.

Which qualities, in your opinion, are needed to be a successful A&R?

You need to understand the marketplace, you need to understand songs, to be able to recognize goods songs, understand production, to have forward thinking and be able to respond on the changing trends.

What proportion of your time is spent looking for new acts to sign, in comparison with the time spent dealing with already established acts in your roster?

50-50. There's always the wish there would be more time to do both.

How do you find new talent?

Through producers, managers, attorneys. I do a lot of research with regards to retail, to radio, to club venues, to press. Which is very effective.

I found Trick Daddy through research. He was selling records and getting airplay in Miami. Sunshine Anderson, I found her through a guy who works at a Urb Magazine who knew the producer.

Which kind of producers do you work with?

I generally work with producers who have some credits. Not so much with brand new producers who have no credits at all. I look for people who are hungry or have a fresh, unique sound. Many of the producers who have produced hits for me, didn't have a long repertoire of successful records before, but they do now. I talk to a lot of people and get recommendations. I look at independent records and see which ones have big productions. Even if I don't like the artist, I look at the producers of those records to see if they can work with my artists.

What do you look for in an artist?


... to read the continuation of this article, click here.


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Interview - Max Lousada, head of A&R at Atlantic UK - Oct 5, 2004

ďGreat singers are great singers no matter how theyíre packaged.?/h3> picture Based in London, Max Lousada is the head of A&R at Atlantic UK. Artists he A&Rs include The Darkness (UK multi-platinum and US gold), Goldie Lookin Chain (UK Top 10) and Funeral for a Friend (UK Top 20).




How did you get started in the music business and how did you become the head of A&R at Atlantic?

When I left university, I started my own distribution company, which imported and exported records for DJs and independent outlets. Before that, I was putting on club nights and I basically found that lots of great music wasnít being distributed properly.

I then went on to run various independent record labels. I ran Ultimate Dilemma, then I became the managing director for all countries outside America at Rawkus, then the head of A&R at Mushroom, and finally the head of A&R at Atlantic.

What experiences have helped develop your skills as an A&R?

Understanding what records work in a club environment, and also working with Mos Def in the UK and breaking Zero 7 to sell a million records. Those two records were very important in terms of my development. Releasing a load of independent electronic records for the love and the passion of it was also important.

What styles of music do you focus on?

What we donít do is pop. We do rock, we do urban, and we do singer/songwriters.
Iím interested in real talent, real creativity, real live performances and experiences, and great songs. Itís very diverse, from The Darkness, Zero 7 and Bebel Gilberto, to Funeral for a Friend and David Gray.

What artists are you currently working on?

At the moment, The Darkness, Goldie Lookin Chain, Zero 7, a new r&b act called Sef, and new records by Funeral for a Friend and Blazin?Squad.

Are you looking for songs for your artists?

Rather than get fed songs, I search for them. Itís different for each act, but I generally look for co-writes more than songs.

How did you come across The Darkness?

Joe, who was my scout at the time, fell in love with the band and introduced me to them. Then I embarked on a nine-month courtship: I followed them all around the world and offered them a worldwide structure of guaranteed releases, especially in North America and the UK.

They were very independent, they knew exactly what they wanted to do and they had built up a very loyal fan base by themselves. It was a case of adding fuel to the fire, which we did exactly as they wanted us to do it.

Had the band recorded demos and released independent records at that stage?

They had pretty much recorded the album and they had released one single.

Were other labels interested in them?

Yes, I think one or two were, but it wasnít a massive A&R thing.

What attracted you to them?

Originality, incredible songs, a great live show, and the fantastic people they are. If you went to their live show, you would be sure to buy their record and embrace them. Theyíre one of the best live bands Iíve seen in recent years. I felt they were the opposite of much of what was going on and that they would really shake up the scene.

What aspects have you helped them to develop?

It was more about creating an international structure so we could sell 600-700,000 copies in America and still maintain, and not alienate, their core fans. Also, we needed to make sure that they had time to write the second album.

How did you plan to break them?

I just felt people needed to see them and hear the album. It was very much an old-school strategy. Theyíre extremely good at selling themselves and so it was just a case of informing people and making sure they knew who the band were. We knew they would engage the British public.

What media played the most important role in raising the publicís awareness of the band?

Radio One was very important and MTV was incredibly important, because the band have such a strong image. They were the catalysts for all the other media.

Apart from the UK, what other territories are you focusing on?

Only North America, but they have pretty much sold gold in most territories, and quadruple platinum in the UK.

How do you find new talent?


... to read the continuation of this article, click here.


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By reading the in-depth interviews we regularly publish, you can gain further knowledge of the music industry. You can also discuss the issues that concern you with other members in the HitQuarters Forum.

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