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Interview with FABRIZIO GIANNINI, A&R for Tiziano Ferro - Jul 30, 2002

"In Italy, labels donít recoup the recording costs; we pay for everything. Itís not like in the US, where record companies recoup the recording and video costs."

picture Fabrizio Giannini is Head of A&R at EMI Music Italy. His signings include top-selling national artists, such as rock singer Ligabue and pop/rock singer Irene Grandi, and international artists such as songster Laura Pausini, and new pop singer Tiziano Ferro.

How did you get started in the music business and how did you become an A&R?

In 1980, I started doing promotion at the independent label CGD (now Warner), and later joined the A&R department. I was there for five years and then moved to CBS (now Sony) for three years, then I was at EMI for 3 years, and then, from 1990 to 2000, I was at Warner, where I enjoyed some big successes: Ligabue, Irene Grandi, Laura Pausini. In 2000, I joined EMI again, this time as Head of A&R.

What experiences have helped develop your skills as an A&R?

All of my experiences in the various areas of the industry, from promotion to marketing to A&R. Certainly discovering, signing, and working with Ligabue, one of the top Italian rock artists, who sold over 1 million copies of his last album, and Laura Pausini, a completely new act at the time, and who has now sold 16 million records worldwide, were great learning experiences for me.

How did you first hear about Tiziano Ferro?

I met Tiziano through producers Alberto Salerno and Mara Majonchi. They brought me the demos and we worked on the production for three months before we released the first single, ďPerdonoĒ, to radio in June 2001. It was a radio-only release, without any promotion at all, but it immediately became very popular.

What did you see in him that made you want to sign him?

A fabulous voice, stage charisma and fantastic lyrics. Tiziano is one of the biggest artists I have worked with; he transmits a lot of emotion when he sings, and he has a lot of feelings inside him.

Was there anything in particular that you needed to help him develop?

We worked hard on finding the sound, which was very important. Our idea was to blend English and American sounds with his Italian melodies, and in this mix of cultures find an international sound.

At what point did you realize that it might work in Europe?

In July, one month after we had serviced the single to radio, our sales director told me we needed to release it immediately because it was so much in demand. My idea was to release the single in September, but we put it out on the market at the end of July, which is a very unusual time to release a single in Italy. It was an immediate sales hit and went straight to No.1. After this success, we had a meeting in Rome where I presented Tiziano to all the international EMI people. We all realized that this could be an opportunity to work in Europe and many of my European EMI colleagues asked me for information about him. I think they were really keen to break an Italian artist.

We released the album in Italy in October last year and itís still in the chart after 38 weeks (currently No.11), having sold double-platinum. In Europe, the single has already sold 800.000 copies and the album almost 600.000 only two months after its release.

What do you think it is about Tiziano that makes him connect to both an Italian and an international public?

I think the variety of Tizianoís qualities, his versatility, is the key to his success. He is a true artist, a fantastic singer, and languages come easily to him - he learnt to speak Spanish in one month and he speaks English very well. His life is music, and I think he communicates this to the audience.

In the past, there have been many Italian artists who have broken outside Italy, but they started in Latin countries like Spain and Portugal. Tiziano started his European success in very difficult countries like France, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland.

What other acts are you currently working on?

I'm working with a fabulous artist called Sergio Cammariere. We released the album in January, and we will release it in France in September. Heís a special artist; the Italian media are calling him the new Paolo Conte.

Another artist I'm working with is Anna Tatangelo. She's 15 years old and has a fabulous image. She won the Newcomers Section at the San Remo Festival this year. We have released one single with her so far, and Iím now looking for songs for the album, which I want to release in March 2003 when she will again be performing, this time in the Big Artists Section, at the San Remo festival.

We have an artist called BK who sings in English. Weíll release her first single in September. She has a fabulous voice, like Anastacia. I have had very positive reactions from Italian radio. If itís successful here in Italy weíll try to break it abroad. It's the first time I do something in English.

How much input do you usually have on the productions?

Too much! To me it's important that you can immediately identify an artist when you hear him or her on the radio. And if itís pop, we have to try to make the music innovative, so that it sounds contemporary.

How do you find new talent?

I have many relationships with producers, recording studios, and radio. With my big successes like Laura Pausini, Tiziano Ferro, and Ligabue, it was the producers who brought me the demos. But they were all demos; I didn't receive final masters. I like to be part of a team, with the artist, the producer, and the writer, where we work together towards a solution.

Do you accept unsolicited material?

Yes, I like to listen to all the material I receive, because I like my job and I love to listen to music. The package should include photos, because it's important that I get an idea of the artistís image. If the music and the image interest me, I arrange a first meeting with the artist.

I listen to demos at the end of the day, around seven or eight in the evening. Itís impossible to do so during the day because we receive so many phone calls. If I donít have time, I take the demos with me when I leave and listen to them in my car. I usually listen to 20 per week. Not more, because I don't think it's right to listen to more than 5 or 6 per day. You have to be in a good mood. I intuitively understand when it's time to listen.

A few weeks ago, listening to demos, I did find an interesting artist whom Iím eager to meet. I received the demo from an Italian songwriter, which is typical of the material I get: it has usually been selected by a producer, songwriter, or by someone at a radio station.

What do you look for in an artist?

Firstly the voice, then charisma. In Italy, the lyrics are also very important. If you have a good voice and good lyrics, we have 80% of the product. Then we just have to find the sound.

What is the usual route to breaking a new artist in Italy?

Radio is key to breaking a new artist and if you don't have airplay, which in itself is hard to get, itís very difficult. Before launching a promo tour, we need three things: radio, MTV and Rete A All Music, an Italian music TV channel. In terms of marketing, it's very expensive to launch an artist as the costs of commercial spots on radio and television are very high.

Television shows are important only when your single has entered the airplay Top 20. You need to go out on a Saturday night show once youíve become successful, not before.

With Sergio Cammariere, our strategy was to promote the album with a live show, and with specialized media, not radio. It worked and the album is now in the charts.

How much do you consider international sales when signing a new act?

It's very important to try to find an artist who has international potential, because sales in Italy have dropped considerably due to piracy and copying. To enter the Spanish market is crucial, because it's a fantastic bridge to the Latin American market. As the costs (to record an album, to promote it, to make videos) increase, it's important to find new markets for our artists.

It's important to me to be in contact with international people, to understand what they want, to understand their mentality and their market. Tizianoís success was a direct result of the relations and the discussions with our international EMI colleagues.

What are the difficulties Italian artists have to overcome in order to break in other territories?

The language, which is the same problem that German acts face, for example. It's very difficult for a German language act to break in Italy, in fact it's virtually impossible. For us it's a bit easier, because there are lots of Italians living outside Italy. Italian acts have tried to enter other markets by singing in English, without success (excluding dance product).

What do you think of Italian songwriters and producers in general?

In the last five years, the quality has improved in terms of production and arrangements. Producers, arrangers, and musicians have all improved, and the quality of the current Italian music scene is much better than it was before. They have studied international products and implemented new technologies, and Italian music is now at a high level.

Do you think recording artistsí royalties are adequate?

Yes. When we sign a new artist we have lots of expenses, so we try to concede a low percentage of royalties. But after the first album, the royalties increase.

In Italy, labels donít recoup the recording costs; we pay for everything. Itís not like in the US, where record companies recoup the recording and video costs. Therefore in Italy royalties are less, but we pay for the recording, marketing, promotion, and the video.

Has the amount of time Italian labels give new acts before they break decreased in recent decades? If so, why, and do you think it is a problem?

One album is enough to assess whether the artist will break or not. You know then whether you should carry on or leave the contract. This doesn't mean we expect to sell immediately, but we can determine whether an artist has the potential by looking at the results of the promotion and the reaction from radio.

In the past, we did probably need more time than just one album, and artists did often break with their third or fourth albums. Now, if you don't break with the first album, itís more difficult than it was to even break at all.

If you considering the threat to record sales from new formats (mp3, etc.) and technologies (Internet), do you envisage any changes in record labelsí business model in the future?

This is the reality of our market, and we have to work with it, as with all new things, and not against it. If we fight this new reality, we will loose. Itís important to find a solution to work with this new mentality, so that music is not free. If we're out of touch with what is happening, weíll loose many opportunities. I donít think the CD will disappear, but we need to be in contact with this new life.

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

In Italy, piracy is 30% of our market. Itís a political problem, because there are no rules. In every street in the centre of Milan or Rome you find false CDs. In the past, not many people would buy a pirate CD, but now they do, and itís a big problem.

In France and in England, they protect their product; their mentality is set against false products. In Italy, people buy on the beach. I used to go to the beach in Tuscany every Saturday, and every two minutes a hustler would come over and try to sell me a CD or an Armani t-shirt.

Unfortunately, music has become a throwaway product. We used to have albums in our library, to listen to and to study the lyrics. Nowadays people spend 5 Ä, listen to it, and then throw it away.

What has been the greatest moment of your music career?

I spent the first 10 years in the industry, from 1980 to 1990, trying to understand the world, trying to understand the medium, getting to know people, and in the second decade of my career, from 1990 until now, Iíve had the biggest satisfactions of my career.

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

I don't know whatís going to happen. I love my job, I love music, but I don't know about the future.

Interviewed by Kimbel Bouwman

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