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- Nov 20, 2000

Varda Kakon

Varda Kakon, Head of A&R at BMG, Paris, France Varda studied Classical Singing at Scala Cantorum and at Studio des Variťtťs before starting her own Production Company, VK Productions, in 1991, where she discovered and produced Dany Brillant and Didier Sustrac. She then joined Polydor as A&R in 1994, where she signed and developed Manau, Ysa Ferrer, Julien Baer, Zuddas, Matthew Neil, Arno Elias et Driver, Nourith, worked with Maxime Leforestier, Mr Eddy díEddy Mitchell, Emilie Jolie, Maurane, MC Solaar and was responsible for the massive success of Lara Fabian in France. She then jumped chairs to BMG in 1998, where she has seen, amongst others, Merzhin, MiniMachine, Sandrine FranÁois and Nunzia through their first success. She is also the current A&R for Enzo Enzo, Cesaria Evora, NAP, Jane Fostin, Marc Lavoine, Judith Berard and Patrick Bruel.

HitQ: What experiences have been important to you in developing your skills as an A&R? All of them.

All my experiences in studios, in working with artists on the songs, working with engineers, working on shows, on tours, all of my experiences have helped me to grow in this business.

HitQ: Within the company, how much do you cooperate with fellow A&Rs and colleagues in general?

We have one A&R department at BMG, which I am the head of. Our team consists of five members, and we work together on all of our projects.

HitQ: How do you find songs and producers for your acts?

Through my private contacts with musicians, and through publishers.

HitQ: 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?

It depends. Itís very important for me to listen to all the material that is sent to us. If something is sent by mail, that person will have an answer in 10 days. We get about 10-15 demos per day, which we share out. So we listen to new songs everyday. I think I spend about half of my time on new artists.

HitQ: How do you find new talent?

I use a variety of them. We go to all the concerts we hear about, we go to the festivals and to all the little cafť concerts in Paris. We also have contacts with all kinds of friends, different people that Iím in contact with in Marseille, Lyon, Grenoble, and I tell them, if you hear something interesting, just contact me. We have different contacts in all parts of France. And also through the managers who come to see us, the publishers, the musicians, and through all of what people send us by mail. It can also be people who are managing the big venues for shows, or sales representatives from BMG working directly with the shops.

HitQ: What do you look for in an artist?

An artist who has got to the point where heís mature in his art, who is totally in fusion with his music, when he connects with what he wants to do and does it. That gives you a strong feeling and thatís when I get interested. I donít care if heís got knowledge about the music business or not, thatís not a problem. For me the most important thing is talent. Generally, they have a manager or a publisher who helps them understand the rules in show business.

HitQ: How long is the process of signing an act?

Contracts go through the Business Affairs department and it takes about two months. We sign when we are sure of the song and the artist. So normally, we meet the artist before signing him. Now weíre in a world of image, so the look is important but the age is also important, because I want to sign an artist who will in 10 years still be with BMG. Thus itís easier for me to work with younger people.

HitQ: 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?

Itís easier for our relationship, but if Iím totally convinced about an artist I donít care about the people who are with them. But later on it becomes more important for our relationship.

HitQ: What do you think is important for unsigned acts to know and do, when approaching the music business?

I think the feeling is really important. When you sign with a company, you sign with the company and not with the people in the company. The relation between our department and the artist is really important for them when taking their decision. But perhaps, when artists are signing their first contract with a company, they donít realise that itís an engagement for a long time. We try to explain to them when they sign, that it really is an engagement. With new contracts, you have the option to proceed. For example, if you sign for one album and it works well, the label has an option to make a second one, a third one, a fifth one and so on. In the end, when a young artist signs with us, he signs for four or five albums. Generally, they donít realise that itís a contract for six to ten years.

HitQ: The perfect artist for you to work with, how would he/she/the band be?

I donít have an ideal one. I think the artist that I prefer is the one that Iím trying to sign, the one that is totally involved in his universe, totally involved in his music. We just try to help them push their universe towards the public. At least, I prefer the ones that are really close to their music and donít change their mind because of fashion, the ones that keep their roots.

HitQ: Would you work with acts from outside France?

Not really, because Iím in charge of the national catalogue. But it happens sometimes, that our international department asks me to find songs or a collaborator for a duet with a French artist. So sometimes Iím in contact with international artists from BMG. And also producers, we work a lot with American and English people.

HitQ: Your acts are very diverse, is there a difference in how you market them?

Yes, sure, thereís a difference. Iím in the lucky position of having to deal only with the artistic part, so afterwards itís the marketing departmentís problem. But sure, they work differently with different artists. Concerts are really important for a new artist and also radio and TV, for sure, but I think that now, perhaps ten years ago TV and radio were sufficient, but now itís important to give concerts.

HitQ: Do your acts have a common feature?

No, each one is different. We donít have a style. Our style is to be open to all artists, whatever the type of music theyíre doing.

HitQ: Do you accept unsolicited material?

Sure, we listen to all demos sent in, even if we donít know the name of the artist, we donít care. If itís strong we call him. And we have found new acts through demos, but I can tell you that 80% of the material is not interesting.

HitQ: Do you work only with finished productions or do you take part in their development?

I do take part in their development. For me the basis is the song, which is the most important part for me when working with an artist. For example, you can have a problem of structure in a song, like there is too much verse and not enough chorus, or perhaps you have a good beginning of the chorus but the melody has to be developed differently, or you have to change some lyrics. The thing I focus on before entering the production process is the work on the song, in order to be sure to have a single, to be sure that the equilibrium between up-tempo and down-tempo is ok, and so on.

HitQ: Has it become easier in the last few years for French speaking/singing artists to crossover to non-French speaking territories?

Yes, for electronic music, but not really for songwriters in French. If you take a French pop-artist and send his record to the UK or US, where they have a lot of pop-artists, why would they be interested when they donít understand the lyrics? The French artists that break out of France are the artists who have a kind of French flavour. But when they try to make music close to that of the UK or US, thatís not interesting for them, because they donít understand the words, so why would they buy a CD by that pop-artist, they have a lot of them themselves and donít care about that. Even with Rap. But if you take for example artists like Mano Negra, they have that French touch in their music, because of their use of accordion, and their roots comes from Musette, so that kind of music is original for other countries.

HitQ: Is it generally more difficult for a French speaking, but non-French artist (Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, etc) to break in France?

No, no problems. Just look at the Canadian artists selling in France. The only problem could be to have them available for promotion, which we need. But for other languages, it depends on the style of music. For example, in the Dance market thereís no problem. Even when it comes from Germany or Italy, itís easy because itís a market done in English, so wherever it comes from, thereís no problem. Perhaps itís more difficult for Pop, Rap, Folk or Rock, but there are some styles for which it is easier. We have an example at BMG, Cesaria Evora, who had a big hit in France and all over the world, but thatís really particular, itís world music in Portuguese. But generally speaking, itís not easy to have hits in France if itís not in French. Perhaps if you want to make a UK Pop production, you should sign in the UK and not in France.

HitQ: Is there anything in general that distinguishes French music from other countriesí music?

We are strongly rooted in the lyrics, in the words. We have top quality lyrics in France. But the difficulty is that sometimes it doesnít sound as nice as in English. But I think the emotion of the word is really strong in French. Thatís why itís so difficult to export French music, because if you donít understand the lyrics you donít really feel the strength of the song.

HitQ: If you could dramatically change some aspect of the music industry, what would you do?

Perhaps I would use a kind of magic touch to create more people who are able to make people go to concerts with young artists. Because itís really difficult to find people who want to produce new shows for new artists, because of money. When an artist is unknown, for example if you take four musicians and you try to make a show, it means for the producer of the show that you have to have a minimum of 200 tickets sold. In general, when an artist is unknown, itís not easy to fill the concerts. People donít want to take the risk, but I think they should.

HitQ: What has been the greatest moment of your music career?

I canít choose one, because each record is a new human adventure. What I love is to have a new experience and to enter a different universe each time I work with a new artist. Itís impossible for me to choose, because theyíre so different, and I spend beautiful moments with every one of them.

HitQ: What do you see yourself doing in 5 ≠ 10 years?

I work day to day. Today Iím here, tomorrow I donít know. For the moment Iím really happy at BMG. Iíll never stop the only work I think Iím able to do, A&R work. Iíve done it as an independent, and I still work the same way, even for a major, so Iím sure that I will continue in the same work, but if itís not for a major I will do it in an independent way. Iíll never change my line of work. My life is in the creative part of the artistic process, and in making the record with the artist. Iím not interested in working on the production of shows. I still have my company VK Productions and I still produce Didier Sustrac.

HitQ: What do you think of HitQuarters? How much do you value it as a resource for unsigned artists?

I think itís great, there are a lot of contacts. And I think that to have it on the Internet is really interesting and itís kind of you ( alone ) in all the World to do it. To get to know new people, new producers, new artists is something I love.

Kimbel Bouwman

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