Interview with SHANTE PAIGE, Head of A&R at Motown Records, US - Nov 25, 2002
ďThe artists who really get ahead are the ones who donít quit their jobs when they get a record deal.Ē
Shante Paige is Head of A&R at Motown Records and as such works with all the artists on the label, but particularly Profyle, Dave Hollister and 702.
How did you get started in the music business and how did you become an A&R?
While I attended Howard University, I started managing a male group, and I got them signed to a man named Gene Griffin, who also had a group, called Guy. I pretty much always knew I wanted to be involved with music and artists on the creative side. When I started out, I didnít know that was what an A&R did, but when I found out, I got a job at Jive Records as an assistant to the then Senior VP of A&R, Jeff Fenster. There I learned the day-to-day, the politics and the process of being part of a label and working with artists.
What experiences have been important to you in developing your skills as an A&R?
Pre-law was my minor in school, which helps me a great deal when I negotiate contracts. It is generally assumed that you donít need a degree to get a job in the music industry, which is true, although having one has helped me tremendously.
What direction is Motown taking now?
Weíre focusing on r&b because we know that is our strong point, along with what people consider neo-classic soul. Thatís our niche and weíre pretty much going to stick to that. We are a major label and a household name, but our staff is a lot smaller than many other labels.
How did Profyle come about?
An artist signed to Warner called Sandra St. Victor met the group and was impressed by them, and she knew Faatimah York, Kedar Massenburgís (the President of Motown Ė Ed.) sister, so Sandra gave Fa a call and told her that she really needed to listen to the group. Faatimah did, liked them, and called Kedar, who flew everybody in and heard the group.
What were the significant changes that made Profyleís second album reach a wider audience than their first album?
A hit song. Everyone loved that song, radio embraced it and it helped blow the group up. With groups like that sometimes you just need that one hit song which really is the catapult to making them a household name. And their song, ďLiarĒ, put them in that category.
What artists are you currently working on?
I've just finished 702ís new album, which will be out next year. I have a female pop artist named Jene coming out next year as well. Kedar and I signed Dave Hollister, and his album came out three weeks ago with impressive first-week sales.
How were you approached by the acts you work with?
702 were already signed here. I decided to make an aggressive attempt to get one of the members who had left the group to come back again.
Dave Hollister is someone that Kedar and I have known for quite a long time. And when Dave wanted to leave Dreamworks and worked on a deal to get out, his manager gave me a call and said, ďYouíve got first dibs on us.Ē We started negotiating with him the day after he was released from Dreamworks.
Do you accept unsolicited material?
No, we donít.
How useful is the Internet when it comes to finding new talent?
I still prefer having a demo in front of me, to be able to look at the package and listen to the CD on my system. When you listen to it on the Internet you donít get the same feel; it's important for A&Rs to listen with their own speakers and in the environment that they choose. Many A&Rs like to listen in their car or at home. Sitting in front of the computer is not really how I like to listen to music.
What do you look for in an artist?
I just look for talent, which I recognize. I like artists who can write and produce their own music. You donít have to, but itís definitely an asset if you do, because it makes it easier for us as A&Rs if youíre self-contained.
So itís important that the artists also write songs?
Itís not essential, but itís helpful, for them too, because thatís how they can really make money. If someone else writes and produces a whole album and they only sing on it, it hurts them in the long run.
If they can also write hit songs, it makes it easier, because I donít have to try to find different songwriters. Itís also positive because they can then help develop the direction of the album, instead of me going out and finding different songs and telling them what direction the album should be. Nobody knows the direction of the album better than the A&R and the artist do, so if the artist can write, itís definitely a plus.
How important is the music when you listen to a rap demo?
If I get a rap demo I pass it on to one of my A&R staff who listens to rap music and really lives it. Rap is a culture; you live rap music, which at an important point of my life I did. However, as I've become older, Iíve come to the conclusion that itís not the music I can best judge.
I can listen through all of that, though. I can listen through the vocals, the music, someone squeaking! Many times you listen for the tone, and you know whether theyíre capable of doing it just by the tone or pitch of their voice. It doesn't always come down to the music or the song, because other elements are also important.
Which one of your artists did everything right in order to build a career and get noticed by major labels before getting signed?
Thereís no such thing as doing everything right. I canít say there is a right or wrong way of building a career, just whatever works: there are no rules.
Do you attach any importance to who the manager, attorney and team behind a new act are, when you're considering signing them?
Many people hire their homeboy or uncle, and, while itís great to have family in your camp, itís more important to have somebody who really knows what theyíre doing. It can hurt you a great deal if you hire someone to handle your career who doesnít really know what theyíre doing.
For me, itís helpful if a manager really knows how to help build the artistís career and how to take it to the next level.
How much does a newly signed artist generally get in advances?
It varies, but itís all recoupable on the A&R side. They shouldnít quit their day jobs, but keep working until they start selling records and making money.
Thatís a major misconception: people think that when you get a record deal, you should quit your job and sit at home. The artists who really get ahead are the ones who donít quit their jobs, who continue to work and save money and whatever advance they get, using it as savings to live off while theyíre on tour and struggling, as opposed to quitting their jobs and living off it.
How common is it for you to do demo and development deals?
Itís becoming more and more common in light of the current economic situation. If you think you like the artist but youíre not 100% sure, rather than commit hundreds and thousands, or even millions of dollars to record and market an album, a development deal or demo deal is the way to go. Occasionally, they do lead to a signing.
Why do artists pay for promotional costs like videos and the making of the album?
Record labels pay for the promotional costs initially, but artists should be aware that most of these things are recoupable. How much so is based on their contract, but, as far as I'm concerned, the recording costs are 100% recoupable.
If artists share record labels' expenses for making an album and videos, do you think they should also share ownership of the masters?
Normally, artists donít share the costs of making or marketing the album.
They come to us, get signed, and we spend the money. If they've already spent money on recording, marketing and promoting the album, and theyíre having success, and we pick it up for distribution, then it makes sense to split the profits because theyíve already established themselves and weíre coming in just to give them a boost and take them to the next level.
What do you think about the radio situation in the US?
Itís very tough to get airplay for quality music, but consumers could change things, because they are the ones requesting this music.
Do you think the record industry will go online soon? How would that affect record companies' business model?
I donít think it will go completely online, because I think there will still be people who want to have an album in their hand. But I think weíre going to have to find a way to acquire some of the online process and make music available that way.
If you could dramatically change some aspect of the music industry, what would you do?
I would do something about bootlegging and piracy. They're killing our industry and definitely hurting the artist. People donít realise that when they make mass copies of a CD and sell it on the street corner, theyíre taking food out of the mouths of label people, artists and their families.
What has been the greatest moment of your music career?
When I did the ďMarvin is 60: A Tribute AlbumĒ in 1999. Perhaps it wasn't the greatest moment, but it was definitely one of them, to be able to work with artists and really pay tribute to an artist and pioneer like Marvin Gaye, whose music transcends all age groups.
What do you see yourself doing in five to ten years' time?
In five years, probably the Head of Black Music at a label. In ten years, I donít think Iíll be in the industry. I think Iíll be off doing movies or having babies.
Interviewed by Kimbel Bouwman
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