Interview with MUSA MOORE, manager for Profyle, Mobb Deep, Big L - Sep 30, 2003
"Hot producers sign average artists and have hit records because the industry as a whole is driven by hit singles and not by careers."
Based in New York, Musa Moore is the president of Moore Flavor Entertainment and Mo’ Flav Records. He has managed Profyle, Mobb Deep (US gold), Big L (US gold) and others.
How did you get started in the music business and how did you become a producer and manager?
I started out as an artist myself: I wrote and produced two singles, which I released locally in the New York and Connecticut area. I have always had a keen business sense and, because I wanted to learn more about the music industry, I first became a music video director, directing the video for a Mobb Deep song entitled “Survival Of The Fittest” (click on artist or track names to listen to Real Audio files – Ed.). I then began to act as manager to a rap artist on Columbia Records by the name of Big L.
I opened an office in midtown Manhattan and people like Lauryn Hill and others would come by. I had a rap group by the name of O.C.M., who were signed to Warner/Quest records, I helped Mobb Deep out with some of their management issues and I just kept going from there. Eventually, I discovered Profyle, from Shreveport, Louisiana and in 2000 we had a No.1 record on the Billboard r&b and hip-hop chart with the song “Liar”.
What experiences have helped you to develop your skills as a manager?
Lots of patience, reading and hands-on learning. You have to read about the business as well as work within it. I learned the ropes by working with Columbia and seeing how major labels are run. At the same time, it’s the ups and downs, the good and the bad, the disagreements...I never stress out because knowledge is always a credit to you as a manager and as a person. Throughout the disagreements that you might have, you have to have done your research and make sure that you know what you’re talking about. I’ve spent a lot of time at Barnes and Noble just reading.
What are Moore Flavor Entertainment and Mo’ Flav Records?
Moore Flavor Entertainment is a production and management company, which I set up in 1995 when I was managing Big L. It’s a small company of about five people, including myself, Andreas Sholtz, Detrel Howell, Andre Selman and Ismail Moore, who does a lot of the A&R. At present, we handle the careers of r&b singer Chinah Blac, also known as Erykah Badu’s backup vocalist; Darkskin Scorpion, a new rap artist; and Xklusive, an r&b male quintet from Houston, Texas.
We started managing Darkskin Scorpion then he signed to Mo’ Flav Records, which is the independent record company division I started last year. He has a record out now that we’re breaking called “Brooklyn Blues”. We believe that these three artists have a lot of potential in the market.
From a record-signing perspective, we’re looking to sign artists who are obviously very talented and who are willing to learn how the business works. At Moore Flavor Entertainment, the production company, we seek distribution deals. Mo’ Flav Records is strictly independent and the aim is for it to be a place where artists can create, express themselves, and learn about who they are.
If the artists want to work independently, they’ll come to Mo’ Flav Records. If they want a major deal, they’ll come to Moore Flavor Entertainment, the production company.
And if they’re looking for management, they’ll come to the management division.
What is your function within the companies?
As the president and CEO, I’m hands-on. It’s everything from start to finish: the artists come to us with their music, their ideas and their image and we build the whole visual and sound package together.
Do you have studio facilities?
We have relationships with many different producers, including Mark Batson. If we need to record something, we’ll go down to his studio. There’s also V. Jeffrey Smith who has a studio in Brooklyn, so we have different facilities where we can record.
Does Mo’ Flav Records have distribution partners?
Not yet. What I have always tried to do, especially with rap artists, is to create a ground swirl in the street before I take it to the next level. That’s where we are now with “Brooklyn Blues”: we have the song and video playing on the local stations. We try to break the artists at the street level and, when that’s done, it’s easier to approach a major label. Over the years, I’ve had an artist on almost every major label, so I know the science behind the scenes.
What styles of music do you focus on?
At the moment, r&b, rap, and alternative soul. Chinah Blac is an incredible singer who also writes extremely soulful songs. I like to call her the new Chaka Khan, because she has a similar vocal texture. Xklusive is straight r&b/pop and Darkskin Scorpion is hip-hop. Chinah Blac is the artist I’m focusing on now, management wise. Xklusive is signed to the production company, so they are a top priority, and Darkskin Scorpion to the record label. I’m going to focus on these three acts; as they grow and mature, I’ll look for new artists.
How did you first learn about Profyle?
Back in ’97, I was on the telephone to an acquaintance of mine who lived in Dallas and I told him that I was tired of studio creations and that I wanted to discover a group that could really sing. He told me he had heard a group I might be interested in, so a few days later I flew down to Dallas and Profyle drove down from Louisiana to sing live for me. I heard something in their voices that I knew would be attractive to the music industry and to listeners.
Two months later, I brought them to New York and we discussed working together; two months after that, in January 1998, we signed an agreement. I took them into the studio to create the demos and prepare them for a deal. They had performed locally in the Louisiana and Dallas areas, but when they came to me, we had to take it from scratch, working on their image, getting them musically fit to create the demos and the sound that would be beneficial to us. In June 1998, we signed a record deal with Motown.
Did they write and perform their own songs?
No, Sandra St.Victor, who was also an artist with us at that time, wrote and produced the larger part of the demo.
What was it that made you want to work with them?
Hunger, and the lead singer, who has a powerful voice—one of the best male voices in the industry in fact. I wanted to give them a shot, but it takes a bit of luck in this industry, as in any other industry. I tried not to forget that, but I also wanted to help them, because I thought that they were ready to take that shot.
What events led you to sign with Kedar Massenburg at Motown?
After we had recorded the demo, I had a couple of people in mind that I wanted to pass it on to. However, Kedar’s sister happened to be at my house in Brooklyn one day, she heard the guys’ tape and thought it was really great, so she played it to Kedar, who called me. Profyle also happened to be in New York at the time performing at a showcase I put together at Windows of the World at the World Trade Center, so I took them with me to Kedar Entertainment.
They sang for him live, he heard the demo, and a couple of days later we signed the deal. Before Kedar Entertainment, I actually had a demo deal with Warner Bros. Records, which I held up and eventually passed on. We got feedback from different places, because Profyle were definitely creating a buzz for themselves at the time we chose to sign to Kedar Entertainment.
What were the most important factors in the breaking of Profyle?
Live shows were the main ingredient, particularly radio promotion tours, where they introduced themselves to the public. We put Profyle in front of the audience and made them see for themselves what we already knew: that they had lots of talent.
How do you find new artists?
After being blessed with a No.1 record and having gained knowledge, artists from across the country send me their demos, so I usually have a lot to choose from. I found Xklusive at a live performance in New York.
Do you accept unsolicited material?
Yes, I do. I try not to be narrow-minded and so we listen to everything we receive. If it’s something we can work with, we’ll definitely consider it at a later time, because right now we’re focusing on three acts who are incredible. One week we might receive ten to fifteen demos, whereas another week it might be fifty to sixty. Our A&R guy, Ismail, plays a lot of them for me. If I enjoy what I’m hearing and I think it has potential, he contacts the band or artist in question and tells them that in X amount of time we’ll get back to them.
Coming from the artist world myself, I understand that they want a response, that they want someone to listen to them, that they’re interested in what I think and in anything helpful I have to say, and I definitely try to give that in my responses. They want someone to give them a shot, but so far I haven’t found anyone who I’ve later come to work with through demos.
One demo that I do have is by a young pop/rock artist from L.A, Adam Xler. I think he’s incredible, definitely someone who I’d like to work with in the future, and that was an unsolicited demo. The music industry is a small world and there are plenty of ways beyond demos that will lead you to work with other artists.
Do you also sign producers and songwriters?
I do have a producer by the name of Juice Da Witchdocta. He’s an incredible, young producer who’s coming out and in the future I’ll be looking at other producers too, but right now we represent him alone. I don’t represent songwriters at the moment; all my artists are self-contained.
What do you look for in an artist?
It’s a combination of talent, skill and hunger. It’s a rough industry and there are lots of obstacles, so if you have the hunger you’ll be able to survive the ups and downs. Communication skills are also important, and you have to be open-minded. There will be disagreements, the artists may look at things from an artistic standpoint whereas I might look at them from a business standpoint, and so on, so there has to be a chemistry that brings us together so we come up with the right vision.
At the end of the day, the artist’s career is somebody’s life and I would never try to force an album down an artist’s throat. But I might come up with an idea, or hear a song, or think a deal might be the right one. Every song that an artist creates is like giving birth, so they’re really attached to them. I just act in an advisory role, and my artists always have creative freedom. If they come to me and they don’t know anything about the music business, that’s ok, they just need to be willing to learn.
Ten years from now, I want all the artists I’ve worked with to have their own companies. In the future, they’ll be able to use certain things that I’ve learned about the industry and that I’ve hopefully transmitted to them.
How important is it that the artists you work with also write songs?
It’s not crucial that they write their own songs but it benefits the artists if they’re songwriters who perform their own material. Then it’s their form of expression, it reflects what they’ve gone and are going through. Writers also often write for other artists. Chinah Blac does so, and Darkskin Scorpion could write for other artists in the future.
How frequently do you catch artists live?
I try to go out at least three or four times a month. I might receive a demo that sounds good and want to see the band live, I might hear through the grapevine that there’s an open mic somewhere or I might check out some live shows if I’m in another city.
Do you take radio into account when you are weighing up a new artist?
It depends on the type of artist. Rap is very street level, and alternative soul and r&b have many different levels. Of course, at a certain point you want your songs to reach the masses and radio controls that. I don’t just sign artists who go straight to radio because that’s not the way to do it. There are so many artists who have reached No.1. It’s all about how you put the music together, but if people come to your music, they’ll stay much longer.
If the artist doesn’t fit into an existing format we’ll build it up from ground level. We’ll go for the street, for the club and we’ll get it to the point where we’re drawing in a crowd and at that point we’ll be able to get airplay. Profyle didn’t get much airplay at first, but they kept going and eventually they got to No.1.
What does the development of new artists entail?
You may want to work with their song repertoire, and work on an image that the artist is comfortable with. There’s a lot of communication, a lot of sitting down and talking, and letting them know what to expect. That’s the best thing that I’m able to do for them, because they want to learn and I have been in the industry for over fifteen years, so I have a lot to share.
What is the Brooklyn Movement?
I’m digging deep into the roots of Brooklyn to create something similar to the way Motown was connected to Detroit. We’re looking to create a movement, a family of artists who will be able to grab the world’s attention. I started this movement about two years ago with Juice Da Witchdocta and Scorp. We bring different artists together to collaborate and to reflect the richness of Brooklyn. The sound, the vibe of Brooklyn is amazing. We’re in the process of building the movement up right now, and we expect to bring in a lot more people eventually.
What do you think of the r&b scene?
The r&b scene isn’t what it used to be. You have a handful of artists who have real ambitions and are real singers. I won’t take anything away from anybody else, but r&b music was once crawling with real musicians and strong voices. Today the artists all sound the same, many groups are redundant and it’s hard to find an artist who is really different.
Lyrical content is changing: we have a lot more love songs and that’s good, but as artists, producers and managers we have to keep in mind that there’s a whole new generation that’s listening to this music. Do I want my children to grow up listening to “All you gotta do is shake your booty”? We need more songs that reach out to different listeners—that’s why I’m feeling NAS. When I heard him sing “I Can” (from the album, “God’s Son”, 2002 – Ed.), I thought it must have taken him a lot of courage. I’ve heard children and adults sing that song, and it’s a positive message. NAS, my brother; thank you.
How producer-driven is the urban scene?
That’s what it’s about: if you’re down with a clique that’s run by this or that producer, then you’ll have a better shot at getting on radio and having a hit record. A lot of people in the past have been writers or producers, so it’s something that has been ongoing and is part of our history and I don’t blame anybody. Certainly the scene is more producer-driven than it is artist-driven; the first thing we ask when we hear a song is who produced it, even before we ask who the artist is. Hot producers sign average artists and have hit records, because the industry as a whole is driven by hit singles and not by careers, which threatens creativity.
Do independent labels have a greater chance of success these days?
Absolutely. Independent labels have a much better shot nowadays, because we have different means of distribution: we have a powerful tool in the Internet, and we have smaller distribution companies who are willing to distribute our records. It’s working out very well.
What do you think about the radio situation in the US?
Is it a problem if you cross the country and the same top twenty songs are being played on every radio station? Yes, because there are more than twenty artists who need a shot at radio. I think that if we, as record executives, thought more about our artists’ careers than about their hit singles, radio would be more willing to play different kinds of music.
It’s tough to get airplay for releases if you’re not down with one of the labels that already has a relationship with a radio station. If music continues to grow the way it’s growing now, radio is going to have to be much more willing to listen to new music and to give it a shot. People like Wendy Williams on WBLS, who often plays new songs and new artists, and helps break them. She has courage and takes a stand: if she likes it, she’ll play it, new, independent or not.
If artists share the costs of making the album and videos with their record labels, do you think they should also share ownership of the masters?
Absolutely. The relationship between an artist and a label is a marriage, a collective effort from day one. If you and I open up a store together and five years later it’s bringing in millions of dollars, that’s something that we should split fifty-fifty and not eighty-twenty. It also comes down to the fact that artists need to learn more about how the industry works.
Are there aspects of the industry that are in need of a drastic change?
I would go back to developing artists. How many artists can we name who have been around for ten years and who can still make a hit record? Not many. I’d make sure that we build careers, so that ten years from now we can have our own Temptations, Gladys Knights and Aretha Franklins. Hit singles can truly hurting the music industry and the artists. I believe in the album, because hit albums create careers for artists.
So far, what has been the greatest moment of your music career?
When the first video I directed, “Survival Of The Fittest”, was nominated for a Billboard Music Video Award. Also, watching Profyle, these four young men that I’d taken from Shreveport, Louisiana, go to No.1 on Billboard.
What do you see yourself doing in 5-10 years’ time?
I see myself as either a city councilman, or mayor. Music is my love, but so is politics. I work deeply within the political arena in Brooklyn, so I expect things to continue growing on that front. I would love to be an elected official who owns a record company. We need to reach more young minds and music is one avenue.
Hopefully, 5-10 years from now the artists that I’m working with will be working with their own artists, because they will have reached a certain level of success. At the same time, I hope that at that point we will still be letting the youth know how important it is to learn about the business, to learn about the power that they have. I also believe that it’s not only important that they learn about the music industry, but also about politics, where they are, how the world works. Music isn’t everything, it’s beautiful, it’s great to listen to, but at the same time they need to finish school, they have to face the world and hopefully they’ll be able to make a difference and thrive.
Interviewed by Jean-François Méan
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