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Interview with MARK HICKS, manager for D12 - Feb 18, 2002

“Let it grow organically - talk to your local newspaper, start performing at bars for free. You never know who's out there listening.”

picture Mark Hicks, co-owner of Dirty Management US with Rico Shelton, manages D-12. Signed to Shady Records, D-12 debuted in 2001 with the album “Devil's Night” which has so far sold double platinum in the US.

How did you get started in the music biz and how did you become a manager?

I started in 1993, doing street promotion for companies like Tommy Boy, Bad Boy, Universal, Polygram and Def Jam. Then I started managing a guy I knew, Proof. He's now one of the members of D-12. I managed him for 5 years. We had a demo deal with Tommy Boy which didn't really go anywhere. But we kept pushing on. Proof and Eminem are basically best friends, and when Em took off he brought Proof along with him, basically as part of his stage show. Rico Shelton, my partner, had his own record label at the time, Federation Records, to which Bizarre (D-12 member) was signed. Then the other members came along and me and Rico started to manage them as a group.

What experiences have been important to you in developing your skills as a manager?

Reading contracts and reading people. In this business you can't take a person's word on a 10-dollar dinner. You always have to read between the lines to see where a person is coming from.

What do you think of today's rap scene?

I think today's rap scene sucks. There's no creativity. How many platinum chains and Ferraris can you buy? As managers, I think we should take some of the responsibility for this lack of creativity. Business ethics are bad in today's R&B world. We're not really setting these artists up in the right way. For instance, groups like Save The Day and The Strokes (US pop/rock bands – Ed.) are out on the road, they're working. I don't think rappers of today, and to a certain degree R&B artists, have that drive. Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones, for example, took off very slowly, progressing gradually from coffeehouses to small clubs. They didn't need stadiums and arenas. But we don't see that in the music business today. It's like a fast-food restaurant: you want your stuff served quickly.

What acts are you currently working with?

Apart from D-12, one of our managers, Michael Eckstein, handles a very talented artist called Paradime, who's written songs for Kid Rock and Uncle Kracker. He's got a record out now, which is growing organically.

How do you find new talent?

A lot of stuff comes out of the clubs, because that's where your “consumers” are. I go there and see what they're talking about, what the buzz is. There's a group in Detroit right now called Perpetual Hype Engine, which we're about to get really interested in. They're a phenomenal band, diamonds in the rough.

Have the sources of new talent changed in recent years?

The Internet is very useful. I really like a website like yours, and If I hear about a hot artist, I visit their website to see what's going on, what the fans are talking about, read the message boards, etc.

Do you usually work with acts who are already signed to a record company, or do you find and build acts yourself?

At first we did work with artists who were already signed, because we started with such a big group (D-12). But I like the organic method, a group jumping into a van and hitting five cities. As a matter of fact, that's what we're working on now, stuff coming from the underground.

What do you look for in an artist?

Drive and determination. An artist who has both will go far. It's similar to the case of an athlete, where drive and determination equals talent. If the artist can't play the guitar that well, or his lyrics aren't great, as long as he's got the drive and determination, I can find a way to make him improve. That's what you have to see in an artist, the desire to go that next step.

Do you work with an artist's image?

Most definitely. It's the manager, the publicist and the A&R who work to make the artist look his best.

How involved are you with the repertoire and production, and how do you go about choosing it?

We select artists who we know are creative. For instance, Eminem was really the catalyst for the D12 album. The group definitely input stuff, but Eminem and Dr.Dre handled most of the production. Denaun Porter also produced a lot of it. We listen to the finished product, we give our thoughts on it, and we move on. As managers, you put the right people together. You have a group, you know they will work well with this producer and that something beautiful will come out of it.

Do you accept unsolicited material?

Yes, we do. By all means, send your CD - but also explain your vision. Even if it's just something short like, “We want to reach teenage girls” or “I think we're dealing with jilted love”. Something about where you're going with it. We receive about 5-10 demos a week. And a lot of people e-mail us, because our e-mail was on the D-12 album. Just be sure to copyright your material before sending it, even if it's poor man's copywriting. We don't want any bad vibes in terms of artists saying we stole their ideas.

How would you advise unsigned artists to approach people in the music biz?

Don't just send your stuff to record labels. They employ people just to send rejection letters! Let it grow organically. Talk to your local newspaper, like the one we have here, Real Detroit Weekly, it's very popular. Go to them, get your music out there, open up for bands, start performing at bars for free, perform in clubs. You never know who's out there listening, and that's the funny thing about life: you just never know. Give your CDs to some radio stations, hand them out at college campuses. Start hyping yourself.

Can you offer some words of advice to unsigned artists, with regard to contracts?

Read contracts yourself. Lawyers are a great help, but contracts you definitely need to read yourself. Get a lawyer who knows the business, don't just go to your uncle because he's a lawyer. Make sure you know what you're doing.

What can your artists expect from you?

They can expect us to deal with the records, the releases, the label, the tours, basically all the procedures. But we will also try to gain them exposure in other ways.

With D-12, we made moves on CNN, USA Today, Regis Philbin and the Kelly Ripa show. D-12 even performed at a Bar Mitzvah! It was really odd, we got paid a ton of money and it gave us so much exposure. It was on the AP newswires, on the journalist reports, it was everywhere. And all D-12 did was play at a Bar Mitzvah for a Jewish kid. What happened was that the dad of one of the kids who was there was a writer, so he wrote about it in his column, and it set off a real craze. We think about how to reach people, like "How about that kid in Omaha, Nebraska, who's making 7 dollars an hour at Wal-Mart, how's that kid going to get exposed to our group's music?"

The biggest thing for a manager is when your artist becomes a household name. That's what you always want, because then you know that you're successful.

Do you think it's reasonable that the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart is based on both radio airplay and single sales?

It's basically a pitch sheet for concert and radio promoters. The average kid is not going to worry about sound scans, that's for the industry people to do. If I'm a club promoter and I'm saying “OK, at that open day in May, who am I going to pick?”, I'll look at the Billboard chart and see “OK, this group is hot because it's selling and it's getting radio play”.

Has the amount of time given to new acts by labels before they break decreased in the last decades?

Everybody wants to be a superstar. 30 years ago, a group was nurtured like a little baby, but now it's not. If it doesn't blow up, it's wack. One of the most stupid things I read last year was someone who said that the Strokes album was a flop. I think the people who had their hands on that record were geniuses. They nurtured the record. First they broke it overseas, and that was the right thing for that record. That's shows a good A&R was behind it. Most of the time, you deal with corporate record labels because they've got the budgets, but if your act isn't hot in the charts, they're not going to spend their pensions on it. And with all the mergers going on, it's hard, a lot of people are going to get lost in the fog.

Imagine recording artists being in a similar situation to that of actors, being able to record for different labels without being contractually obliged to stick with one. Do you think this might be desirable, and do you think it would work?

It might work, but it might also get messed up, simply because there are tons of actors out there but only a few who would be a hit like a Robert DeNiro, a Gene Hackman or a Julia Roberts, so you'd get lost in the forest anyway. People should know that record companies are really just high-interest banks. They loan you money for your career and they want their money back - plus interest.

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

I think, and I hate to say this, because I love the Internet, that there are two cancers out there right now. People download music for free and burn it on CDs and that's killing the music business. Record companies are losing tons of money, but your group still gets exposure, which from a manager's perspective is great. The D-12 record sold 2 million copies in the US, but I think it could have been a 3-million record, if it hadn't been for all the downloading.

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

Your record should have undergone a quality control system for it to be in the record store. I don't think Columbia Records or any other label should sign 12 bands, drop them out there and just let them sit there and die. The record should go through this quality control, “Is it good enough to make it to the record store?”

What has been the greatest moment of your music career?

The greatest moment of my music career was when, after all the trials with the D-12 album, it debuted at No.1. The funny thing is that, for us and the fellows, it was just a regular day! And that's really what made me happy, because the album sold more records than anyone else and we just kept it very plain Jane. I think that was hot, I think that was one of the crowning moments in my career.

I'm an altruistic person, and I love seeing my friends be successful, like Paul Rosenberg, Eminem's manager, a friend with whom I started in the music business!

What do you see yourself doing in 5-10 years time?

I hope the management company will be doing well. Perhaps I'll start a record label. Or I might be a sports agent, that's a possibility. I just want to manage careers, and maybe get into the film business.

Interviewed by Kimbel Bouwman

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