Interview with MONA SCOTT, President of Violator, management for Missy Elliott, Busta Rhymes, Nas - Oct 11, 2001
"The most important thing is that artists make sure to educate themselves."
President of New York based Violator Management, Mona Scott, manages the careers of Missy Elliott, Busta Rhymes, NAS, Maxwell, LL Cool J, Capone-N-Noreaga and Mobb Depp. Violator has also recently moved into the film and television market, via it’s affiliation with the Artist Management Group (AMG).
Here Scott tells HitQuarters about being a manager and what an artist should think of to be able to succeed.
How did you get started in the music biz and how did you become a manager?
I started doing artist development back in 90/91, and that led me to work with a music production company called the Trackmasters. That was my real, formal introduction into management. With the Trackmasters, I was handling the business side of their production. And from there I went to Violator Management, where I have been now for about eight years.
Could you explain a bit how Violator Management works?
Basically, it’s a fully functional management company, with the Violator Records side as well. On the management side we have different departments handling different phases of the artists' career. We do everything from conceptualizing, creating the marketing plans and implementing them. We work closely with our artists regarding other areas of their careers - film, television, commercial endorsements, etc. We joined AMG (Artist Management Group) about a year and a half ago when we started moving into the film and television area, because that’s an area Michael Ovitz is already well versed in. It's been a productive union that has opened doors for us in Hollywood, openings we may not have had if we had not created the partnership.
What characteristics do you consider necessary in order to be a good and successful manager?
Intelligence. You have to have a lot of perseverance. You have to love what you do, it can't be about the money or the glory, because the glossy flossy factor is just one small piece of it. It's more about hard work, being available 24/7, which a lot of people are not inclined to do. You just have to know the business you're working in. Understand your client, understand the product that you're trying to sell to the public, and don't allow yourself to be dissuaded.
What are the creative challenges of being a manager?
Sometimes it has to do with getting an artist to understand that although you're not trying to compromise their creativity or their integrity, you have to make a product that is going to appeal to the masses. A lot of times there's that struggle with the artist, just walking that line between their creative integrity and making a commercial product as such. This is a business and as much as an art form, they also need to pay their bills.
How do you find new talent and what do you look for?
We keep our ears to the street, always looking for stuff that is innovative, different and true. We want to deal with artists who are secure and sure of themselves, who know how to present themselves and who have tremendous work ethics – they have to be prepared to do whatever it takes to get where we’re trying to take them. People who are clear, creatively talented and who are ready to work hard.
Word-of-mouth is an effective source. Showcases don't happen as often as they used to in the past, but just taking the time to listen to the material that comes across our desk is important. We try very hard to pay attention to the demos that we get sent in and explore all material that we come across.
What would your advice be for an unsigned artist or act who wants to get noticed by the industry?
Stick with it and believe in yourself. Through that belief, you’ll make others believe. Hone your craft and learn the business side. You've got to understand what you are getting in to, how things work, what the mechanics of it are. So that you can help the people on your team make your career a success.
Do you usually work with acts that are already signed to a record company or do you find and build acts yourself?
We find and build acts as well. We have acts that we have put with some of the other acts we represent as far as production and music goes. We build acts from scratch and it's a bigger sense of accomplishment that way.
Do/would you work with acts based outside the US?
That becomes a lot more difficult, because management is such a hands-on business. And because we don't really have an affiliate outside of the US, it makes it a bit harder. But we certainly would not turn our backs on any talent, we welcome all product. It would just be a matter of logistics.
Do you work with the artist’s image and how important is it?
Definitely. We have put together what we call the Glam Squad. They determine the style and the look of the artist. It's very important. It always helps when the artist has a clear sense of self. That’s why we look for artists who are secure in who they are, it gives you something to build from. A basic sense of artistry that comes from that person is always preferable as opposed to building something. When you create an image, it doesn't always last, and a lot of times it’s not something that an artist can carry through comfortably. So, we like to start with a foundation which is true for the artist, some place where they're comfortable and just build from there.
Which are the key tools for you, in order to break a new act?
It helps when you have something that radio can latch on to, the right music. That’s a very important component in breaking an artist. The right image and the right vehicle, whether it be a promotional tour, their music being featured in a commercial or in a movie. We work very hard in putting together a basic strategy to break the artist.
Do you accept unsolicited material?
Yes, we do. I would say we get anywhere from 20 to 30 packages per week. We have a very careful screening process. The A&R department listen, and if they hear something they think might be interesting, they pass it along and we take a listen to it.
What are you currently working on and how were you approached by these acts?
Most currently, I have an artist named Jamie Hawkins who I’m doing a showcase with in London in October. On the US side, Missy has an artist named Tweet that we are gearing up for. We’re also rolling out the new Busta Rhymes project.
With Jamie, his material was demo material that I received. Tweet had worked with Missy way back, when Missy was part of the Devante camp, Devante from Jodeci.
Can you offer some words of advice to unsigned artists, in regard to contracts?
Like I said before; learn the business, read the books, ask the questions, figure out what information you need to be effective and to understand the deal. The most important thing is that they make sure to educate themselves.
Has the amount of time given by labels to new acts before they break, decreased in the last decades? If so, why, and is it a problem for you?
I think so. I think it has become more of: put-it-out-there-and-it-better-work. You're not finding as many labels willing to dig in and go the long haul with the artist, they're looking for instantaneous hits. When it doesn't happen as quickly as they would like to, they move on, and that’s a shame. I'm not so interested in doing the stuff that everyone else is doing, so sometimes the things that we want to do are little left of centre and take a little more time to develop. You’ve got to get the audiences interested in hearing something different, and sometimes that takes time. It gets a bit difficult when you have a label that doesn't understand and is not willing to make the long term investment.
If you could dramatically change some aspect of the music industry, what would you do?
Put more people in those positions of power who understand real music, and who are willing to take the time to cultivate it. Some of the stuff out there right now is a bit formulaic. It would be nice to get people in place who remember what it was like when you were cultivating artists from scratch and really creating superstars.
How do you think the internet can/will affect the music biz?
I think it's going to offer an alternative to the traditional meaning of putting out records. I don't know if it's going to make the traditional record label obsolete, but it will be interesting to see how people gravitate towards purchasing their records directly off of the internet. Or what will happen with the advent of the downloading of music. I think it's definitely going to create a change in the way that we market and sell records today. I don't know where that trend will end up, but I think that it will present an alternate way for the record business to do business.
What has been the greatest moment of your music career?
There's been a lot of high points. I've been very lucky and very blessed that I have a roster of tremendously creative and tremendously successful artists. When I see a finished product, when we do something that satisfies both the artist's need to express themselves creatively and the audiences' desire to be entertained, when you have a product that meets those requirements, it's very satisfying.
Interviewed by Kimbel Bouwman