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- Mar 26, 2001

Andy Van

Internationally renowned DJ Andy Van owns and runs, together with John Course, Australian dance labels Vicious Grooves and Vicious Vinyl, home to amongst others his own project Madison Avenue, who had one of the dance smashes of 2000 with "Don’t Call Me Baby". The labels boasts many other acts as well and are arguably two of the most vital ingredients in the Australian dance music scene

HQ: What do you look for in an artist?

Enthusiasm. That's the big thing. And I liken a record label to a person hiring a DJ. If you've
got a nightclub, and you’ve hired a DJ, you're not going to look over his shoulder and tell him which songs to play. You hire that DJ for his choice of music, and it’s the same with an artist. You get an artist on your label, and they say, "What do you want me to do?" and I say, "I don't want you to do anything. I want you to do what you want to do. Do the songs that you're excited about, and at 4 o'clock in the morning, when you've heard the song five hundred times, you're still going to be excited about it, you're still going to want to work on it. And we just had that artist, Sgt. Slick, who I mentioned earlier. He did a song and he re-sung the vocals four times with four different singers, and now the fourth time, it's the right vocal. But he was just so over this song, he seriously had heard it 2000 times. But you have to be enthusiastic about the product, because otherwise you just give up on it months and months before. You’ve just got to have the right enthusiasm and the right determination to complete the project.

We obviously look for talent, but talent - Steven Spielberg once said, not word for word - "You can have all the talent in the world, but if you're not determined and want to achieve, you're not going to get there."

HQ: What qualities, in your opinion, are needed to be a successful A&R?

I think having an open ear for everything because one day you're going to get an Underworld
demo, and then the next day, you're going to get a Britney Spears demo, and that person that sent
you the Britney Spears demo, maybe you wouldn't put it on your label, but you'd say, "Listen,
great songs, a bit too commercial for us, but maybe talk to Sony about them, but if you're
working on something else, give us a call." And always being friendly and interested in what the
person's doing. And talking to the Underworld person and saying, "Really good demo, I'd love to
work with you and so on." So we're always looking for the next sound, and what's popular and what works, but also, what's the next sound, after the next sound. What's going to be popular in six months. And that means reading every magazine, jumping on the Internet, and just following the trends of what's happening internationally, because what happened internationally is obviously what really steers the world, and that's not just in the UK, obviously, there are a lot of good producers in America, Italy, Greece, or wherever.

HQ: Who publishes Madison Avenue?

Universal Music. But most of the other artists are unpublished because they're so small,
but you know, they will be interested in those artists, because they're small but getting

HQ: Do you work only with the finished productions, or do you take part in the

It depends on what they're doing. For example, there's an artist who has no idea about doing vocals, but there’s a great song underneath. So you can always put the song out in instrumental, but he wants to have that sort of "Lady", Modjo-type commercially-viable dance feel to it, so I'm helping him find vocalists and writers to write and vocalize that song. But I've got another act that's ready to go, called 48 hours, who don't need any help at all, they want to release something every two months. And really, all they need is just some help with packaging, artist identity and bios. So each artist needs a little bit of help in a different area. So it's really what they're looking for and what help they need. Me and John just try to work out how to help them.

HQ: What are the key tools in breaking a new artist?

DJs are our first line of defence! Or plan of attack. You know, there are powerful DJs in the world, like Pete Tong in the UK, you send him a demo, or a piece of vinyl, and he plays it, and that reaches millions of people. So the first step is DJs in Australia and then internationally, the general media and dance magazines, and dance radio. And after that major commercial radio and commercial magazines.

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

I would say that basically where it's all going is taking out the middle man, which is the record shops, and record companies. It would be great if people were extremely aware of what's going on. And if there were just a couple of websites were you could just go and buy songs. You know, one website that was called, for example, "DanceHot", a great website where you could find all the hot new dance tracks. But it would be a massive task, because there's one major flaw with websites - no one knows about them. You've got to tell people about them via traditional print media, and then they don't remember or care. If you could just go to a website and listen to someone's new song, and not have to go buy it on CD, and download it to your phone, your organiser, or whatever it is that you're working with. I think the big change is the change in people's thinking. And if they could just make a song and put it on a computer, and five minutes later, people all around the world could buy it, for like, fifty cents a pop, that would be an amazing thing! But the problem with that is, "How do I get people to recognise that I've just released this song?" So it would need to be this massive website that everyone would go to and it takes millions and millions of dollars to tell everyone in the world about this website. I think that it will eventually happen but it would be good if we could hurry up the process. If you could come home and say, "Find me some new dance songs" and the computer goes off and finds you some new dance songs, and you listen to them, and you go, "Buy that one, buy that one, buy that one!" Then you sit down and watch a new movie that was just released straight to some cable that went into your house. That massive technological change would be really exciting. Because it's just so much work after you've made a song, to get people to hear it. I think radio, you know, you've got some 45-year-old guy who’s been programming the music for the last 30 years, and he programs the Beatles, and you send him a hot new dance track, and say "Can you please play it?" and he just has no idea as to what you're talking about! If you could take those people out of the equation, it would be a pretty amazing world.

HQ: Isn't BMG signing up with Napster?

Yeah, well they're trying to, and this is going to sound a bit harsh on my behalf, but there's a real problem - what they want to do is pay everyone. In Australia, for example, all the nightclubs pay a fee. Just call it a hundred dollars per year to the Australian Record Industry Association (ARIA). And they distribute the money, say half a million dollars from all the nightclubs in Australia, based on radio play. Not on nightclub play, because no one writes down the lists of all the songs that are played in nightclubs. Therefore, the big rock 'n' roll artists are receiving a pile of that nightclub money. So, the same thing's going to happen with BMG, because there's millions of downloads, and they can't pay, like, point one percent every time someone downloads a new Eminem song. So they'll just go, "All right, Eminem made up 3.2 percent of the market, we'll give him 3.2 of all that money that we're going to pay". So all those little producers are never going to see any of that money, only the big people that are known are going to see that money. It's going to mean the Britneys getting larger, the Eminems getting larger, but the tiny little people at the bottom are never going to get even a part of that money. So it concerns me when big companies join with Napster. Because Napster was about freedom, well, not about freedom, Napster was actually about stealing. But the whole concept of having a musical community which was what I was trying to say before, having a musical community where all the dance people get together and say, "What's this hot new song? It's great, you know. Have a listen to it!" That's exciting, if you can transfer a song, and maybe listen to it for one minute for nothing, and if you like it, buy it for 50 cents. That would be a fantastic little community. But when BMG joins these big things, all they're doing is to make more millions of dollars. I like the little community side of it, not the big BMG side of it.

The major music companies join with these free little music societies, and all of a sudden, it's about marketing Eminem, or marketing these artists, when the whole premise, the whole idea behind Napster was about swapping things in a music community. So you're getting away from what it's all about. It would be easier to just have a musical community where you can listen to one minute of a song, and then purchase it, legally. That would be the perfect model. And that 50 cents is paid to that little producer in Australia, or Toronto, or whatever, and you've got all these young people building their careers.

HQ: What do you see yourself doing in the next 5- 10 years?

Continuing with the label, and I also started a film company, although it’s about 2-3 years away from having anything to show anyone. I think film is it, because computers basically revolutionized dance music and music in general, you can make a song now for $3000, not even that. You know, you buy some gear and a computer and off you go making music. But film now is getting that way. You can buy a top end Mac for $5000 USD, and you can start editing your own little movie and I think that's the next wave of what's exciting. So I really want to get on that side of things. So I just started a film company with two other guys who have a lot of experience in the film industry. Actually, Steven Spielberg has bought one of our first productions. It was just before we formed the company - the guys had done their own sort of little five-minute movie, and Steven Spielberg's Internet company already bought the rights. It’s an exciting time - when everyone has cable modems, you're going to be able to watch homemade movies, so there'll be a very exciting new world emerging there as well.

Vivien Cheng

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