Interview with JEAN-PAUL DE COSTER, A&R for 2 Unlimited and founder of Byte Records - Mar 12, 2001
“When sending demos the most important thing is to send your material to the right person.”
Jean-Paul De Coster is the founder and MD of the independent Record Company Byte Records, which mainly releases dance music. Successful acts have included 2 Unlimited and Sash!
How did you get started in the music business and what made you start Byte?
I began to collect records when I was fourteen years old. Thanks to a holiday job, and much to my parents’ annoyance, I bought my first turntable, which I still have in my studio. Then at the end of the seventies I started to DJ. I’m a qualified teacher and, in 1983, I gave up my job as a teacher and took over a DJ shop.
Not long afterwards I did my first production together with a producer. He had problems getting the track published, so I decided to start my own label, Byte. So my fist record was on Byte Records.
Could you tell us a bit about how Byte works?
We are completely independent. We are a very A&R-focused company. We have our own marketing department, although for promotion we hire freelancers. That’s just because promotion has changed so much.
You used to be able to make more deals with people because you had more personal contact. Now it’s more important that your record’s got a story. Plus we don’t have enough continuity in our products to keep providing people with records. So using independent promotion people gives us the benefit of their product continuity and their solid relationships with people. We also benefit from other good dance records that they promote as well.
Then we have about 10 to 20 producers working for us, although not exclusively. The main focus is on productions and A&R. We have local A&Rs working for Byte both in Belgium and in Holland, whom I supervise. And I’m in charge of finding the right producers. One could say that I am the driving force behind both, although I haven’t personally been involved in production for about seven years now.
How do you market dance music?
Most importantly you need to have a good record, and then it needs to be in the right shops. Then the shops have to bring the record to the attention of the DJs that come in. And if the right DJs play your record you may have a dance hit.
Later you can put the record onto a compilation album and then it might hit the album charts. In Holland we work together with TMF on Club Delicious. And in Belgium we work with Café D’Anvers. We also work with other record companies or just do the whole thing ourselves.
How did 2 Unlimited come about?
We’d put a record out without any vocals, and then it started selling abroad. We got a call from England saying they wanted to license it, so I started to call around management agencies and that’s how we found Ray and Anita. We put their vocals on top, and from there we worked together for five years and had enormous success.
But we also do a lot of other things like, for instance, Sash or Liquid feat. Silvy. We might never have the same kind of success as we did with 2 Unlimited, but there’s a lot more to us than just that.
What have been the biggest struggles so far with Byte?
The first productions were done in the producer’s bedroom at home, when he was still living with his parents! But the real struggle is right now. Dance album sales have been down the last two or three years because of Napster. Many independent dance labels feel that pain a lot, financially. Napster really undermines the compilation market.
I think it will take time before illegal downloading is regulated, but something needs to happen. As it is I’m pretty confident that something will. I think distribution companies, as well as all the majors, need to find a way to set up Internet distribution. The Internet will be simply that, a new distribution channel.
How do you find new talent?
Of course we receive demos but only 5% of them are actually worth listening to. What I find most worthwhile are contests in cooperation with printed media, radio and television, where you ask artists to come and audition. Sometimes we have a certain project in mind and we try to find singers, whereas at other times it’s the singers that propel you to start a certain project. I do a lot of networking as well. So it might happen that if I’m looking for a singer I call around producers and engineers that I know, although not so much managers. You’ll find managers more useful in rock or pop-related projects. As far as the production company is concerned we are quite well known for what we do, so producers often contact us.
What do you look for in an artist?
An artist has to have a whole number of qualities: they have to have a distinctive voice, charisma, they have to be able to perform, but what is most important is their work attitude. Are they willing to put in the hard work, what are their ambitions? Of course you can try to guide artists, but there needs to be a certain stable basis.
On top of that, we are a small label, so our relationship with the artist tends to be a little more personal than at a major, although we aren’t a management company, and we’re not here to hold people’s hand.
What advice would you give to unsigned artists?
It’s important to get experience performing on stage. Have singing lessons, after that you can send your demos around. When sending demos the most important thing is to send your material to the right person. At the bigger companies there are A&Rs working with different genres. Get a name and a phone number or e-mail address so you can follow up. Never send it to the A&R department, but to someone’s attention, because otherwise your tracks will end up in a big pile that only gets listened to when there’s some time to spare.
Of course you can try and find a producer yourself, but then you really have to be convinced that the project is heading where you want it to as tying yourself to one producer exclusively can have a negative effect.
Do you work with acts and producers from outside Belgium?
Very rarely, we mostly work with people from Holland or Belgium. It’s easier to be in touch when the distance isn’t so great. Sometimes with remixes we use people from outside Benelux.
Do you accept unsolicited material?
I find the quality of demos very bad. It’s very rare to find something good. But of course it happens sometimes. I don’t listen to all of them. We have several A&R people within Byte. They have the first go. If they find anything, we’ll listen to it together.
What are the key tools that you use to break a new artist?
A dance hit starts on the dancefloor! So what is most important is to get your records in the right shops and consequently played by the right DJs. After that if the music is starting to cross over you can do all the press, live shows etc. Street promotion is mostly used for R&B acts or alternative dance. But of course it’s always an extra tool.
How do you think the Internet will affect the music business?
I think the Internet can be an important tool to break new artists, although I think that only works with pop-oriented music. Underground and dance is approached through the clubs, and I think it will stay that way. But there are a lot of illegal downloading problems with the Internet that need to be sorted out first.
interviewed by Marlene Smits
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