Interview - Oct 30, 2001
“I recommend unsigned bands to select an intelligent and honest manager or lawyer, who can adequately represent them”David Massey is the Senior Vice President of Sony Music. Based in NY, he oversees all Sony Music A&R activities Worldwide and also has his own imprint Daylight on Epic Records. Daylight signings include Anastacia and Good Charlotte. He previously, as General Manager of Epic, worked with Des’Ree, Korn, Incubus, Oasis, Silverchair and Travis, to name a few.
How did you get started in the music biz and what has been your route so far?
I went to Cambridge University, got a law degree and in 1982 ran into a band, which I fell in love with and began managing called Wang Chung. We signed with Geffen Records and had a number of hits in the US. I then signed Tom Robinson, who had a big hit with "War Baby" and a band called Hollywood Beyond. In the UK, I managed a lot of artists for nine years and had a small independent label called Big World Records, until I was approached by Tommy Mottola and Michele Anthony 1991 to join Sony Entertainment as V.P of A&R at Epic, which I accepted. It was a spontaneous idea that came up during a trip to New York. Wang Chung had split up and I was trying to get two of the members signed with Sony, in fact Epic signed one of them and Columbia the other. I had some other opportunities at the time, but I was very attracted to the idea of joining Sony at that stage in their development. Tommy and Michele had recently taken over and it was a very interesting time in the building of a company.
What qualities did you have to display in order to be appointed A&R for the first time?
I had a lot of hits as a manager and most people knew that I was very involved in the making of the records. I think I was known by the people in the record companies to be A&R orientated as a manager.
What qualities, in your opinion, are needed to be a successful A&R?
You obviously need to have a great ear, but you also really need to be able to identify and develop talent. To recognize star quality and great potential at a stage where the artist may be very young and inexperienced. You need to communicate well with the artist, to be able to move them onto the next stage, and to gain and retain their respect. I think most A&Rs are artist-orientated people who have a natural affinity with artists, who have a vision for them and a commitment to developing them. It’s a special kind of person that really makes an effective A&R.
But ultimately, the most important part is the ability to hear great songs, to understand great music and to recognize the difference between a star and one who isn’t.
What acts are you currently working on?
I'm trying personally to A&R a little less, but I'm still involved with Oasis after all these years and I'm just finishing work on my second Anastacia album. I'm making a new record with Lara Fabian as well as a second album with Good Charlotte. I have signed a new artist in the UK called Celestine and a new male artist who goes by the name of Tony Vincent.
I oversee many international artists in conjunction with local A&Rs and that’s more of an executive function. We are now working with key artists from around the world, who we believe have worldwide potential. We have OV7 in Mexico, Monica Naranjo in Spain and Laura Moreno Garcia in Italy. I also earlier this year signed a young artist from Sweden called Play, who I'm very excited about. We have just finished their record with Anders Bagge and Ric Wake as the main producers.
How much input do you usually have on the productions?
I have input, but I trust my producers. Once I've taken a decision to trust a producer, I don't try to do the job for them. I offer opinions. I give reasonable input that might be effective and help make a better record.
How do you find new talent?
There are so many sources - managers, lawyers, and producers. I have found talent through other artists, independent labels, studios, and talent shows. I'm open to all kinds of ideas and I love different ways of doing it. I'm not the kind of person who always wants to talk to the same people.
How did you find Oasis?
Allan McGee from Creation Records discovered Oasis. He came to see me in New York with the demo before he signed the band and I fell in love with it. I had never heard a demo as strong as theirs was! So, Oasis became a Creation signing and a Sony act worldwide.
What do you look for in an artist?
I’m a song and voice-driven A&R. It's hard for me though, to sign an artist that I don't feel is a real star in terms of natural charisma. I don't sign the more faceless artists. I'm interested in amazing voices, great performance ability and great songs. If I have to find the songs myself, that’s fine, but I have to believe that the artist have real long-term ability. I'm not interested in short-term records.
Do you take into consideration, whom the manager, attorney and team are when signing a new act?
Up to a point. But I have never signed an act with a big manager. Virtually every act that I've had real success with, have been with a relatively unknown or a fairly new manager. I know I need strong, intelligent management and there have been times where I've been deterred by the fact that the artist is badly surrounded. But on the whole, I've been really fortunate with the people that I've worked with because they've all had reasonable management who have been cooperative and team players, which is what I look for.
How sure about the available market-space for an act do you need to be before signing and releasing them?
I don't dwell too much on that, because I believe that true talent wins out eventually. I think it's dangerous to think about the market. Most of the acts I've signed have been counter to what's been going on. When I found Anastacia, every single A&R was signing 17-year-old girls; she was a 28-year-old. I believe in signing artists for what they are, regardless of what's going on.
What advice would you give unsigned acts on how to approach music biz people?
I think it's very smart to get a good representative. There’s such a huge amount of unsigned artists and it's very difficult for A&Rs to sift through all of them, especially from unsolicited tapes. So, I do recommend that unsigned bands select an intelligent and honest manager or lawyer, who can adequately represent them. I don't recommend going in alone.
Why do so few European acts crack the American market?
One of the problems in the US is that we have such a huge amount of talent here, so there isn't a genuine need for outside talent. The market can just about bare all the talent that is produced domestically. That's one thing. The other thing is, the costs of doing business in the US has escalated so dramatically, particularly over the last decade that the expenses associated with launching an international act prohibit labels from going all out. So, there are fewer slots available to really commit to as many international artists as the labels would like to.
With the costs increasing and media not necessarily being as drawn to international artists as they were, it makes it more challenging. But it’s still very possible. The Gorillaz, Charlotte Church and Lara Fabian have all sold hundreds of thousands albums in the US. Not to mention Radiohead and Nelly Furtado… there are still many opportunities, but it's a little tougher than it was before.
Do you accept unsolicited material?
No, not personally. It’s physically impossible for me to go through it. So, it means that all those artists have wasted their resources and aren't going to get a response, which I don't want. It would be unfair to them.
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?
It varies from label to label. I wouldn't call that a general law. Certainly Epic, which is the label I know best, is an artist development label. We have definitely not reduced the amount of time we spend with our bands; we have definitely continued to develop our bands for a long time. Incubus, Ben Folds Five, Dope, Good Charlotte, Fuel are bands that we've had on the label for many years and they have continued to grow. We haven't demanded or expected fast results.
Do you think that a system for artists, modeled after the actor’s situation (actors aren’t signed to companies anymore but are free agents), where acts would be free to record for any label they would wish, do you think that is desirable and do you think it would work?
Labels invest such huge amounts of money and time in developing artists for the long-term, that I would be concerned they would be less motivated to go out on a limb for an act they might have for only two or three albums. The whole benefit is that you end up reaping the success, possibly on album three. Given someone like Incubus or Korn, both of who really broke through on album three, if that was our last album, that would be very demotivating. I believe that with real bands and artists, you do need long-term contracts to make the necessary investments and to take an enduring career view. So, the answer is yes, I would be concerned if that would change.
I would also be concerned that it could force record companies into more disposable music. Leading them to sign acts with no future after the first or second albums.
If you could dramatically change some aspect of the music industry, what would you do?
I think the way money is spent particularly in the US on video, marketing and promotion is unfortunate. I would love to see costs drop down to a reasonable level. It makes us unable to take the kind of risks we need to take. With the costs exploding like this, our ability to sign artists at a very early stage who may not sell records for a while is a bit impeded and that bothers me.
What has been the greatest moment of your music career?
The success of ‘Morning Glory’ in 1995. I always passionately believed in the music of Oasis and in the songwriting ability of Noel Gallagher. That album sold nearly 14 million copies and it put the band in pole position on a worldwide basis, which was a dream come true at the time for all of us. It was an amazing moment, a combination of a great success story with a record that I personally absolutely loved.
But there’ve been quite a few actually. Anastacia surpassing the 4 million mark, Silverchair exploding in the US out of nowhere to sell 3 million albums. The huge success of Korn.
What do you see yourself doing in 5-10 years?
I'd like to run my own label in the US, that focuses on great music from all over the world.. No plans for that right now though, I've just started this.
What do you think of HitQuarters?
I value it and I have encouraged a lot of people I work with to have a look at it. You should continue to develop it. I think you're really on to something. The awareness of the site has grown significantly in the last year.
Interviewed by Kimbel Bouwman