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Interview with LUCY RAOOF, manager for Alicia Keys, Lil Bow Bow - April 23, 2001

"... at the end of the day, itís all about how many records this person can sell, how much the public will buy into this image."

picture Head of management at Artistic Control in Atlanta, Lucy Raoof manages Lil Bow Wow, Da Brat, Jermaine Dupri, Chante Moore, Alicia Keys and Jagged Edge. She also managed the now disbanded acts KrisKross and Xscape.

Raoof talks to HitQuarters about an unconventional career path that moved from high school teaching into pop star management, and also how the artists she looks for are marketable and not hard of head.

How did you first get started in the music industry and become involved in the management side?

I got started in the music business about 14 years ago. I was a classroom teacher, teaching both high school and business college in North Carolina and Virginia. After going to graduate school and getting my masters degree, I was going through an unfortunate divorce, trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life. I got a call from Michael Mauldin, who is the head of So So Def now. He told me that they were doing production work, and because of the young artists they were putting out touring, one of which was Jermaine Dupri, they needed a certified teacher to go out on the road as a tutor. So, thatís how I got started, I was an on-the-road tutor.

Itís kind of funny, but it was fun, I jumped on a bus and I was on the road for three months. And then when that ended, the promoter who was doing the tour asked me to come and work for him, so thus began my musical career.

I spent about five years in concert promotions, and later I was asked to join Entertainment Resources International, a management team that Michael Mauldin and his partner, Phillip Calloway, headed up in Miami. I packed up, moved to Miami and worked with their management company for 4 years. Then 5 years ago we moved the management company here to Atlanta and changed the name to Artistic Control.

Could you explain a bit how Artistic Control Management works?

Artistic Control Management is a fully-fledged artist management company. We handle the day-to-day logistics, co-ordination, scheduling, projects, and basically everything that has to do with the artistís career.

When we take on a client, we try not only look at their musical ability and their potential earnings within their musical field, we also try to see what other areas interest them, whether itís writing, or television and film, or whether itís just doing their music and touring. We try to handle all those areas, and with this in mind we created the Artistic Control Group.

Within the Artistic Control Group is the management division, which Iím head of. Then we have the publishing division, the concert/touring division, and the film/television division, so weíre a very diverse management company. We try to provide all those entities with qualified personnel, and each of us brings years of experience to the table. We use our relationships to provide, for the artist whom we represent, the best opportunity to make a living, and to do those things, whether itís musically or otherwise, that they love the best.

Strategic marketing and promotion are key. You can take the most talented artists in the world, good looks, vocal ability and what have you, but if theyíre not marketed in the right way, and the set up is not handled in the right way, and the things that you do to enhance their careers are not guided the right way, then it can flop as easily as it started.

In what way is Artistic Control affiliated with So So Def?

Jermaine Dupriís father is Michael Mauldin, and he was the leading person within the management company. Basically, when Jermaine started taking on groups at his label, he thought it would be good to set up a management division, because those artists needed good management.

Not all the clients that we manage now are signed to So So Def, even though that seems to be a lot of peopleís perception. We have Chante Moore, sheís on MCA Records, and Alicia Keys, sheís on Clive Davisí new label, J Records. But Da Brat, Lil Bow Wow and Jagged Edge, those 3 acts are on So So Def.

What characteristics do you consider necessary in order to be a good manager?

You have to have really excellent people skills, and excellent verbal and written communication skills. Being an honest and fair person, knowing how to deal with people diplomatically, and at the same time being able to provide the artist with an opportunity to reach their earning potential and be the best they can possibly be at what they are doing.

Whatís given me my longevity is the rapport that I have with my artists, being a peopleís person, being able to communicate effectively with them and those people around them that are part of their career and are handling the business side. Being effective as a manager, youíve got to be really strong when it comes to your relationships and the resources that you can draw on to really get your artist out there.

Having Jermaine Dupri as a part of our camp has certainly been a blessing, because Jermaine is, as far as Iím concerned, a musical genius, one of the top urban and hip-hop producers in the country. As long as you can have a good, strong producer behind your artists that takes care of the music, nothingís guaranteed, but it certainly puts you in the driving seat.

How do you search for new talent?

Weíve been blessed with the success that weíve had at both Entertainment Resources International as well as Artistic Control here in Atlanta, because we started off with one of Jermaineís most successful groups, KrisKross. And then we had another successful group, Arrested Development. And after those two, we picked up Xscape and Da Brat. All of those being, at the time, multi-platinum selling groups!

Once youíve had that kind of success in management, and people in the industry see you must be doing something right, you donít really have to go looking for talent, the talent usually comes looking for you. For example, heads of record labels sign new groups, and they may call us and say, "Hey, we just signed this new group and they need good, effective management, and weíd like you to take a look at them".

When Jermaine is working with an act, he always introduces Artistic Control and tells them, "Itís important to me as head of your record label that you work with a successful, strong management team". So a lot of the time, when he recommends us to an artist, and the artist doesnít have management, then we approach them, present what we have to offer, and we go from there.

Do you, or would you work with acts based outside the US?

No, not in terms of management. There have been times when Sony - we work very closely with Sony - have called me and said, "Hey, thereís an artist that we have in this or that country, and we would love them to be able to do something with your artist". So we collaborate with artists from abroad in that sense, but not in terms of management.

Do you work with the artistís image and how important is it?

Absolutely. And I think the best example is Da Brat. Everybody thought Brat was kind of tomboyish. She came out with the baggy gear, jeans turned backwards, mostly because of her association with KrisKross. But everybody was buzzing when she decided to drop the baggy clothes to a certain extent and step out with a sexier image. Iíve always felt that physically she had a beautiful face and a beautiful body, and I think of her as a chameleon, she can flip it both ways and look damn good. It was her decision, she decided, "Hey, with this album project, I think I want to do something a little different". So we talked about it and decided exactly how far she would go. She first introduced this new image at the SoulTrain Awards, walking out on stage in a skintight leather jumpsuit with her hair straight, and people loved it.

With the other groups, Xscape, Jagged Edge, a lot of it is creative decisions between the group and management. We just kind of look at it and say, "Will this work, is this something we can sell, is it marketable if we change this and do this instead of that?" And so far, those decisions have been positive as opposed to negative.

What do you look for in an artist?

Besides the obvious things like talent, in terms of marketability, and especially with females, weíve got to look at the complete package: how marketable and sellable it could be. Because at the end of the day, itís all about how many records this person can sell, how much the public will buy into this image. So, obviously, we look for people who are attractive as well as talented. And what is very important to us is that the artist is willing to take instruction and direction from us. I donít care how beautiful, handsome and talented they are if they are what I call hardheaded and unwilling to listen and take our advice. Itís got to be a team, and the artist should come to us because of our experience and ability to guide careers.

Do you accept unsolicited material?

Yes, I do. Some of it is good; some of it is not so good. I try to pass it on to the A&R team over at So So Def and let them listen to it, because I donít feel I have the best ear for certain types of music. I try to tell them that it is important that they respond to everybody that sends stuff.

Some of my clients have ventured out and started their own production company and some of them give my name and my address out as somewhere to send the material. So I do get a lot on their behalf, material people want the artist to listen to. A lot of people out there donít know people at record labels, but theyíve heard this artist is looking for new talent to produce and get behind.

What are you currently working on, and how were you approached by these acts?

With Lil Bow Wow, weíre working on a tour for him. We wanted him to finish his promotions, get all of his videos and stuff out of the way first. Thatís a very interesting project to work on, because right now Bow Wow is everywhere.

Da Brat is concentrating more on her film and television right now. Weíve just finished a couple of movies with her, and sheís also working with her production company and various projects.

Jagged Edge are enjoying their recent double-platinum success with their album "J.E. Heartbreak", and theyíre now currently in the studio working on their new album, which is almost finished, and doing concert engagements across the country.

What advice would you give unsigned artists on how to approach the music business?

Being in the know, networking and being around positive people who are doing positive things. Attending events, whether they be conferences or just different situations where youíre more likely to be around people who have the ability to take you into the studio, sign you to a record label, or to whom you can show your talent in whatever way. Youíve got to network and make things happen for yourself.

How involved with the repertoire and production are you?

Not a lot. Mostly the artist has a particular producer or producers they work with, and creating their music is a joint venture between the artist, the producer and the record label. So that kind of leaves management on the outside.

But as it relates to packaging, visuals and that kind of thing, weíre very involved. From time to time, we might be presented with a snippet of maybe three or four songs that the artist is working on and we will get back to the record label and give our opinion.

But if the artist, the producer and the record label are really hyped about the music, and just really, really feel the music is right, I havenít seen a situation where we, as management, have stepped in and said, "You know what, we donít like it; we donít think itís good; we donít care what the artist, the producer and the record label said, we donít want this put out". Thatís never happened with us, because we try to surround the artist with good producers who have a track record, so when they produce something, we look at it as a potential hit.

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

I would like hip-hop artists to have a better image. And I know that the industry as a whole canít do that, the individuals have to make that change. Thereís always the negative association with women and the names that theyíre called and that kind of thing; I would just like to see that become a lot more positive. As far as the industry as a whole, thereís good and bad in every profession, itís just the nature of the beast.

How do you think the Internet can or will affect the music business?

The Internet can definitely enhance an artistís career by reaching a lot of people and a lot of different markets with their music. With a lot of different aspects to take care of in an artistís career that can be a positive thing.

But people also complain about things like Napster and copying and bootlegging their music on the Internet - that hurts an artist too. At the end of the day, if itís not scanned in a counting system that is recognizable as such, then RIAA cannot certify gold or platinum if the sales arenít legitimate. The artist may be popular, but if theyíre not selling music then thatís the only thing that the record label has to use as a barometer as to whether or not itís a successful project.

What has been the greatest moment of your music career?

Any of the artists that Iíve mentioned, but particularly KrisKross and Da Brat. I call them "my babies", as I started working with them when they were very young. To see them go from young kids to superstar status, and to know that I had a hand in that, in terms of their success and the management of their career, and feeling that it was a job well done, all that has been very rewarding for me.

interviewed by Kimbel Bouwman