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Interview with LUIS DIAZ, producer for Lloyd Banks (US No. 1), Lil Jon and The East Side Boyz (US Top 10) - Dec 2, 2004

“Remixing is a good way into the business for an aspiring producer.”

picture Luis Diaz and his brother Hugo, who are based in Miami, Florida, make up the production team the Diaz Brothers. Their first signing is Pitbull (US Top 15), a Cuban rapper based in Miami. Other production credits include Lloyd Banks (US No. 1), the 2 Fast 2 Furious Sound Track (US platinum) and Lil Jon and The East Side Boyz (US platinum).

How did you get started in the music business and how did you become a producer?

Me and my brother Hugo were born in Santiago, Chile and we came to the US in 1976, when we were little kids. I started out as a drummer and my brother as a DJ. Then I became a sound engineer, something which I did for about seven or eight years, and that ended really well: I won a Grammy for “Who Let the Dogs Out” by the Baha Men, a record I mixed.

I pretty much worked with everybody as far as producers are concerned, and after having worked on a range of engineering and mixing projects, me and my brother decided to go into producing, so we formed our company, the Diaz Brothers.

What experiences have helped develop your music business skills?

We went through a lot of stuff early on. I started my first record label when I was eighteen and Hugo and his group K-Squad got a record deal with Atlantic Records when he was very young too. It taught us a lot and it also motivated us to make the move to producing.

What is the Diaz Brothers Music Group?

We’re mainly a production company, but also a record label and a publishing company. We’ve signed Pitbull to TVT Records, to which Lil Jon is also signed, and we’ve got another artist called Piccalo whom we’re planning to sign to a major. We’ve just dropped Pitbull’s album, which is doing really well.

What styles of music do you focus on?

Mainly hip-hop, although we’re capable of doing a range of different styles. We did a remix for Lauryn Hill which wasn’t at all urban-sounding; it had an almost modern rock feel. We can do all kinds of stuff, but our main focus right now is urban music.

Do you have your own studio?

Yes, we have two studios.

What pieces of equipment are most important to you in your work?

We’ve used everything at some point, from the AKAI MPC60 to the MPC4000, the Yamaha Motif and Roland Fantom synthesizers—all the new stuff—although we do most of our productions in Pro Tools now.

How did you come across Pitbull?

I met Pit when I was mixing “Something Nasty”, an album by Luther Campbell from the 2 Live Crew. Pit was signed to Luke Records (Luther’s record label – Ed.) and was featuring on Luther’s record. We got talking, in Spanish, and I told him about what me and my brother were doing and that we were actually looking for an artist to start out with.

He seemed to fit the part, and I told him so. He wasn’t all that happy with Luke, things weren’t really going anywhere, and I told him to call me if he ever got out of the contract. One day he picked up the phone, gave me a call and we got together.

What did you see in him that made you want to work with him?

His work ethic—he has so much hunger and drive. It’s funny, because after working with him it’s almost hard to work with other artists. There are people with talent, but then there are people who are just born with that hunger. The kid is incredible.

How were the producers selected to work on his album?

We were the main producers on the project, but it was easy for us to get other producers to work with Pitbull because we know lots of people from being in the industry down here in Miami for so long, producers like Jim Jonson, Cool and Dre, and Red Spyda.

We also knew that using other producers would make the project better. Obviously, Lil Jon, because he’s so hot right now, was a big part of the project too, but the choices were made collectively: me, Hugo and Pit picked whoever we thought was best.

Why did you license Pitbull to TVT Records?

Me and one of my partners, Robert Fernandez, our label’s GM, had worked with Lil Jon when Jon was an A&R guy for Jermaine Dupri at So So Def. Robert introduced Pit to Jon, Jon liked him and as a result featured him on his “Kings of Crunk” album. The whole time we’ve had Pit, Jon has been a real help to us, and we figured that as he was signed to TVT, a big, hungry independent, it made a lot of sense for Pit.

What was the key to breaking Pitbull?

It was a combination of what my brother and I brought to the table, our relationships in Miami, and Pit’s hunger. The kid is a workaholic: he probably takes about six or seven flights a week, because he just won’t say no to a gig.

What are you currently working on production-wise?

We did a song on the Lloyd Banks album. It’s not all that recent anymore, but it’s probably the biggest thing we’ve done since Pitbull. We’re currently working on a remix for another artist from Miami called Urban Mystic. We’re also submitting five songs for the new Jennifer Lopez album and one song for Trina’s album too.

How much do you charge for a production?

It depends. We want to work with everybody, so we don’t want to price anybody out. You never know what you might end up working on—you could be working on a record by a local act in the middle of no where that could turn into the country’s next No. 1.

What we offer to indies is back-end deals. We charge about USD20,000 a song, so we’ll take about USD5,000 up front and claim the remaining USD15,000 if a deal is signed with a major or a third party. This means up-and-coming acts can use our production and we still can make the a little money. We charge major labels around USD25,000.

Do you accept unsolicited material from unsigned artists?

Yes, we do. We always love to listen to stuff, but we’re a small company of only two producers, which means we don’t get to listen to everything, although we try to as much as we can.

If we find something we like we keep it and see if we can fit it into anything we’re working with. Just this last week, we were in West Florida and we found this kid, Steven Hall, who has a great voice, so we’re thinking of using him on some hooks and featuring him with Piccalo.

Is remixing a good way into the business for an aspiring producer?

Yes, it’s a good way into the business, because when it comes to remixes labels tend to be a little more loose with it, and they’re able to give work to new remixers. Still, you have to know somebody, but it’s a good way to get on to a major project without having to have a major name.

If a demo is being pitched to an A&R, how good should the quality of the production be?

I think it has more to do with the actual artist. J-Lo, for example, wants produced and mixed songs with reference vocals; basically, it has got to sound like it’s going to sound on the radio. Other artists, like Beyoncé, likes to hear just a beat and then writes her song over it. I think it has more to do with the artist and the way they work than with the A&R people.

What qualities are essential in an aspiring rapper?

Be hungry and stay hungry. Lots of rappers get deals, get a bit of money up front and get sidetracked real quick. I’ve seen it happen many times.

In what direction do you see rap going in the future?

I see more rock influences. Jay-Z is doing something with Linkin Park and we’re experimenting in that vein on a couple of projects. There are parallels between the way in which rock took off and the way hip-hop has, so much so that there’s bound to be a point where they’ll meet a little more than they are doing now.

Why do you think political rappers aren’t that successful at the moment?

We’re in a party mode right now in the States. You’re always going to have NAS and KRS-One, but kids want to party right now, they want to get “crunk”. I think that the political climate here isn’t particularly optimistic within the music world; the democrats are very disappointed with the re-election of president Bush.

People in this business are just not dealing with politics right now. They want an escape, and that’s music…party music. I think that deeper, more political significant lyricists are going to be heard eventually.

What aspects of the industry would you change?

I would structure the Internet so that it works better, so that the whole peer-to-peer downloading thing can be controlled. It’s a huge promotional tool and it’s part of the music business, but I just wish record labels would take it more seriously. We’re supposed to buy music in this way, but the labels aren’t paying enough attention to it.

What has been the greatest moment of your music career so far?

Despite of all of our accomplishments, when we debuted at No.1 on the Billboard Top Independent Album Chart with Pitbull, that was pretty cool. We were just sitting at home looking at a copy of Billboard and there we were. At that moment, we realized we’d accomplished our goal.

What do you see yourself doing in five to ten years’ time?

In five to ten years, we want to be a major force in this industry. I see ourselves having our hands in a big part of this industry and influencing the sound of the hip-hop music. I also see us as prominent young executives in the hip-hop game.

Interviewed by Kimbel Bouwman

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