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Interview with THOMAS HOFMANN, A&R at 3p Germany for Xavier Naidoo, Sabrina Setlur - Sep 11, 2000

“The most common mistake made by demo senders is simply that the demos are not demos at all - they're ready for the trashcan.”

picture Thomas Hofmann is A&R, manager and publisher at 3p (Pelham Power Productions) in Frankfurt, Germany. 3p is an independent label and has been leading the development of German domestic R&B/rap/soul, which has become a major success within the last 5-6 years. Thomas is A&R for Xavier Naidoo and Sabrina Setlur. They are two of the biggest stars that have grown out of this movement and both have received numerous platinum awards in German-speaking countries.

How did you start out in the music business?

I started out as an artist. With my friend Moses Pelham, the owner of 3p, we started a group called Rödelheim Hartreim Projekt, which was very successful. In the process 3p was founded.

Why did you chose to run your own label rather than work for a major company?

So that we could have total control of the art product, including the making of the videos, the marketing and the promotion of the artists. Although we initially had a partnership deal with Universal, in 1996 we broke off our relationship with them, due to differences over marketing spending, release politics and money.

How do you find new talent?

We're confronted with tapes. And other signed artists make us aware of new talent. Having talent around is usually a good way to find new artists. Talent brings more talent. We like to break artists according to their own abilities, instead of gambling with a full roster as major companies do.

What are you currently working on?

We have just released the two 3p samplers 'Evolution' and 'Revolution'. 'Revolution' is a document about the past of 3p, a summing up of the development of the last ten years. 'Evolution' is a look at the future. Of the already established artists, I am working on Xavier Naidoo's new album, which is coming out at the end of this year, and Moses Pelham's 'Geteiltes Leid II' which will be released in 2001.

For Xavier Naidoo and Sabrina Setlur, what was it that made you sign them?

The Rödelheim Hartreim Projekt attracted lots of talent, and they had great potential, so we took them under our wing. Sabrina I'd known from school since 7th grade. I met Xavier in a recording studio, and on the 1993 album 'Direkt aus Rödelheim' by RHP, Xavier Nadoo and Sabrina Setlur debuted as guest vocalists.

Were their breakthrough songs already made or what was your input and influence on the production?

'Ja Klar' broke Sabrina Setlur in '95, Xavier Nadoo had a big success with 'Freisein' in '97, but his actual breakthrough was in '98 with 'Nicht von dieser Welt'. With Xavier Nadoo I only listened and was happy that I could do his marketing.

In the release of Naidoo and Setlur is there anything you would have liked to have done differently?

For Xavier Nadoo I would do the same again. Sabrina Setlur's last album 'Aus der Sicht und mit den Worten von...' didn't do as well as we hoped. Her third album was a big challenge. She developed her own style and is now very successful with that. We try to provide everything she needs, as we do for all our artists.

How do you use the Internet for work purposes?

It's very useful, especially for marketing purposes, as well as for an A&R. We let people post their contributions on our home page ( MP3 is definitely a source for finding new talent.

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?

I would say I spend about 70% of my time on new artists, the rest on established acts. But it depends, because it's all about coincidences. For instance, it depends on how fast new artists find their own way. And you never know what's coming up next and in between.

How many songs do you receive from unsigned acts per week?

A lot! I think 20 tapes a week. I listen to half of what we receive. 99% is rubbish. I mean they don't even come close to being an artist, and mostly show no talent at all. The best source is the artist himself, going to clubs and seeing them perform. I'm not keen on producers' output, their approach tends to be too artificial.

Do you accept unsolicited material?

Yes, sure, we listen to everything.

Do you consider unsigned bands to have a good general knowledge on how to approach the business?

Generally, most unsigned bands have an idea that the cooperation with the record company will not be extensive. They operate from their home base and think that the record company will do the rest. We're looking for a partnership. We can finance things, but it has to work both ways.

Can you offer some words of advice to unsigned artists, with regards to submitting material? How important is the format in which they send their material?

CDs are best because they're easy to listen to. It takes time to rewind a tape. We like biographical material, background information on how long they've been working and where their art is coming from. The most common mistake made by demo senders is simply that the demos are not demos at all - they're ready for the trashcan.

What is the procedure after having decided to sign an act?

After giving them good advice and a feeling that the partnership is built on trust, we offer a contract. That could take from 1 month to half a year. Usually, we work with an artist long-term, say 5 years. It's not about money.

What qualities are needed to be a successful A&R and in what aspects do you believe that these apply on you?

It's important not to be like the major companies. They only think about what's successful now. Being an A&R at a major company is a completely different job for me. To me being an A&R means looking for new talent, keeping an eye open for personality and the will to work hard enough.

What reputation do you think record companies have?

The major record companies have a bad reputation, because they handle music without love. They only think about big channels and big marketing. They're not personal towards the artist, and have no respect for their art.

What are the largest misconceptions about being an A&R?

That he has to know what a hit is, what commercial music is. Of course, it's about luck and chances. But he also has to know about developing a hit, art and talent. Moses Pelham was abused in his time with Logic Records, he was part of a hit, but ended up being expendable. He got a record deal in the States and could have made a lot of money, but they wanted to buy the artist. Moses stayed true to his art and beliefs.

Do you work with acts from outside of your country?

No. It would be very difficult to communicate. I would have to visit the artist, and it would be hard to build a trusting relationship.

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

Make 3p more successful. The industry changes by itself. Every label, whether it is an underground, independent or a major label, has a different approach. It's a combination of people working together.

What is your attitude to Napster and the lawsuits?

MP3 is just another medium, like a CD. But we have to be careful and make sure the rights of artists are protected. Not paying for music is one thing, but what I try to achieve is payment for music. If you work you should get paid, so I believe it's a good thing that the lawsuits will bring restrictions.

What do you see yourself doing in 5-10 years?

I really don't know. Then there will be other circumstances. If you'd asked me ten years ago where I would be now, I could never have guessed. I'm 26, happy with my life and work. It's fun that my hobby as an A&R is my life and work now. It's a very personal thing, but I want to stay happy in life regardless of what I do. Whether I will stay in the music industry I don't know.

Interviewed by Kimbel Bouwman

Next week: Tina Davis, A&R at Island/Def Jam, NY, USA. Tina is A&R for Dru Hill, Montell Jordan, LL Cool J etc.

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