Interview with COLIN BARLOW, A&R at Polydor for Ronan Keating, Boyzone, Lighthouse Family - Sep 4, 2000
ďToo many people donít develop the concept or songs enough, and just hope someone can see something in it.Ē
A&R at Polydor, London, Colin Barlow represents Ronan Keating who made it to No.1 in the UK Album Chart two weeks ago with "Ronan". The album has sold more than 600.000 units, which is double platinum. The first single from the album, "Life Is A Rollercoaster" also made it to No.1 in the UK and is now climbing the charts in Europe. For this, Colin has been awarded No.10 on the "World Top 20 A&R Chart" at HitQuarters.
He is also the A&R for Boyzone, one of the most successful boybands of the 90s with 4 platinum-selling albums, in which Ronan Keating is the lead singer. They are managed by Louis Walsh, who has been working closely with Colin for some years. Their cooperation did again prove to be successful this summer when debut artist Samantha Mumba entered at No.2 in the UK Singles Chart. Colin is also A&R for Lighthouse Family, Nerina and Ben Onono.
How do you find new talent?
There are so many ways - the main one for me is having great contacts who you consistently talk to i.e. lawyers, managers, agents, press and club DJs. They are all out and about hearing about hot new artists.
Have the sources of new talent changed in the last couple of years?
Yes! The business has become so much bigger - TV, radio, clubs, the press, are all so much broader and more open-minded to all kinds of music and new artists, and with the growth of the Internet itís going to get bigger, and more artists will come to our attention as a result of this.
How much significance has your contact with Louis Walsh had?
Obviously a lot, as it has been a very successful relationship. The key to our relationship is that we love music, and finding and developing talent.
Do you work together with Louis on the acts or have you divided the work, so, for example, he finds them and you develop them further?
Louis finds great talent and has a great song sense, and Iím responsible for making the records and developing those artists he finds.
Do you work only with finished productions or do you take part in their development?
I love to find acts early. A&R is all about the development of artists. I signed The Lighthouse Family on one song because I knew that they had tremendous potential and that if they did more tracks it would have become a war to sign them. I really believe in development because it is such a necessity to help and encourage raw talent. Samantha Mumba is another example - she had great talent and just needed to work with an experienced, talented writer/producer who could bring out the best in her.
Louis Walshís other boy band, Westlife, were not signed by you. Is there a reason for this, such as not wanting more than one boyband at the label?
No!! Letís just say that I would love to have had Westlife on Polydor and they would have suited our roster perfectly.
In the breaking of Boyzone, what are you most proud?
Boyzone the brand was already developed when I took them on, but Iím proud that we took them to a broader audience and sold records all over the world.
Have you deliberately labeled yourself as a Pop A&R, or is that just how it happened?
Pop, for me, is popular. Those are the acts I like; my taste is varied but I will always look to sign acts with star quality and great voices that have a distinctive edge. Certainly some of my new signings are quite varied.
To approach you as an unsigned band, must one approach a manager first?
No - Iíve signed quite a few acts who are unmanaged, Iím not concerned by that. Itís the talent of the artist that matters and a manager can always be found later.
At what point in your career did you start to receive more demos?
I think that when you start to build a reputation where people respect your views etc., people start to send you material. If people send it to me directly and have put together a good package, I will listen to it. I get a lot of tapes per week but Iím happy to listen to them all. You never know where the next big act will come from!
Do you use the Internet for work purposes?
Yes - itís the best information source and it can only get better - I already use MP3 for hearing mixes and downloading new songs from publishers etc. It really does help speed up the process of getting to hear music.
What is your average day as an A&R like, how is your time spent?
Various things happen in a day - company planning meetings for new releases, meetings with acts signed or unsigned - many phone calls - visiting producers and acts in the recording studios. There is never a dull moment in this job.
Can you offer some words of advice to unsigned artists, with regards to submitting material?
Too many people donít develop the concept or songs enough, and just hope someone can see something in it. Itís a creative business, so if you know who you are aiming at, audience-wise, and can create a sound and concept, thatís when the record companies start to take notice.
How long is the process of signing an act?
You have to meet the artist before you sign them. They are going to sell at the end of the day, so if they sell themselves well, believe in what they are doing and have star potential, Iím then ready to sign them. We are a multimedia business so itís essential the personality lives up to the music.
What has changed in your view of A&R representation, with respect to your views before you became one?
You have to know who you are selling the act to! Planning and strategy are so important. There are so many avenues to get music through to the public, but you have to have a great plan to do that. A&R-wise you have to make records that have the strength to compete and last in the marketplace - one hit is not good enough. The album must be full of potential singles, and so the process of making records is much more thorough than before.
What do you see yourself doing in 5-10 years?
I love making records and signing acts, and at 33 I hope I can continue to do that for a lot more years to come. I would love to work in the US sometime, as I think I would learn so much over there, and eventually run a label or set up my own.
What are you currently working on?
Nerina, a brilliant young singer/songwriter who I believe could be enormous; Ben Onono, a very exciting Finley Quaye/Sade-type act has just delivered a great LP; and Iím about to do a label deal with a European label who have some fantastic new pop acts. So we have some great new things to come, and a new Lighthouse Family LP which is a real move on and is very special.
What is your attitude to MP3s, Napster etc.?
There is no doubt that downloading is another great way of purchasing music, but we all have to work in harmony to make it work to benefit everyone involved in this business, and not erode what right artists and companies strive to have.
What do you think of HitQuarters?
I think itís a major resource for me and a lot of other people - it can only grow and become more important and beneficial to artists and record companies. Itís a great avenue for artists to get quick access to a multitude of people.
Interviewed by Luci Vazquez
Next week: Thomas Hofmann, Manager & A&R at 3p, Germany (Xavier Naidoo, Sabrina Setlur etc.)
Read On ...