Interview - Jun 28, 2004
"In 2003 I tried to license “Dragostea Din Tei” to European labels, but they weren’t interested."Based in Bucharest, Romania, Dan Popi is the A&R for O-Zone and owner of the Media Services record company. O-Zone’s track “Dragostea Din Tei”, the biggest European summer hit of 2004, has topped the charts in France, Germany, Spain, Austria, Switzerland and Russia.
How did you get started in the music business?
I started Media Services in 1995. My first signings were a group of theology students, who sing Eastern, religious music of Byzantine influence, and then I signed a hip-hop band. I was also working in radio advertising at the time.
What is Media Services?
It’s an independent, Romanian record company that has thirty employees and is also the Sony Music licensee for Romania. It’s owned by my associate and I.
Who is signed to the label?
We have about thirty operational artists and groups, all from Romania and Moldavia.
Are you currently looking for songs for any of your artists?
Some of them write themselves and others record other people’s songs. Of course, like any other record label, we look for songs.
How did you come across O-Zone?
They sent a demo tape to most of the record labels in Romania and we were the only ones to believe and invest in them. They are from Moldavia and I met them for the first time in 2002.
They already had some recordings and a video, so we released those first. Dan Balan, one of the members of the group, writes the songs.
What made you want to work with them?
They were very “alive” and good-looking, and they had charisma that you can sell.
What does your work with them involve?
The first six months were very hard. The first single didn’t sell at all, nor did the album, so we decided to change it, to make it more funky, to give it the ’70s influences that were fashionable at the time.
We recorded a new track, which we added to their current album, their second, and it became a great success. They wrote all the songs, and I provided them with the best producers in Romania.
How much have they sold in Romania of their albums “No. 1” (2002) and “DiscO-Zone” (2003)?
Almost 200,000 copies, which is platinum in Romania. There aren’t any sales charts in Romania, just an airplay chart, and every one of the singles went to No.1.
How did “Dragostea Din Tei” come about?
I heard “Dragostea Din Tei” (click on artist or song names to listen to Real Audio files – Ed.) for the first time last summer; we decided to release it instead of another song as the summer single, mainly because we thought it fitted the mood.
It was a big hit, although it wasn’t as successful as the first and third singles. O-Zone wrote it and a studio called MOF Records produced it.
Did you try to get it released in other territories in 2003?
I sent it everywhere: to Sony, EMI, independent labels I knew and to radio stations. I didn’t receive a reply from any of them. Later on, I heard from friends living in Italy that a song called “Dragostea Din Tei” was being performed by a female artist called Haiducii.
They never asked for our permission to release the song and I didn’t like that. All the same, I was surprised and pleased that the song was successful. After that, I had everybody in Italy calling me to obtain the licence for the original.
Haiducii cleared the way for you?
Yes, but it was too late in Italy for O-Zone to overtake Haiducii, but O-Zone is ahead in the rest of Europe. Once a track is No.1 somewhere, it sparks interest in other territories.
Why did you license O-Zone to the Italian label Time Records?
A long list of labels asked us for the licence, and we picked them.
Is Time Records coordinating the European releases?
Yes, they’re licensing it territory by territory.
The two versions of the song have raced up the European charts at the same time?
It is very unusual, but it proves that the track is very powerful.
Who makes up the team around O-Zone?
We also publish O-Zone: I have a joint venture with EMI Publishing Romania and I own 30% of it. The group is self-managed, although they get some help from their tour manager, and they work with Romanian producers, although they don’t have an exclusive production deal with anybody.
How do you find new talent?
We are the most important record label in Romania—we have around 50% of the local market—and it’s quite easy for us to spot the interesting artists because most new acts come to us first.
If you, as an artist, want to be successful, you have to be market-oriented, you have to know the trends and then set the trends yourself, not just wait for things to happen.
What styles of music do you focus on?
All styles, but it has to be new and original.
What is the proportion of international to local repertoire in the Romanian market?
Local repertoire is cheaper to buy, and with losses of 40-50%, it suffers less from piracy than international repertoire does. The piracy rate for international repertoire, which is more expensive for the consumer to buy, is about 80%.
In terms of the entire market, including the black market, local music stands for about 60% and international music makes up about 40%.
How developed is the Romanian music industry?
If you take the fact that there are two music television stations and something like 200 radio stations, I think you could say it’s developed! Having said that, piracy rates are very high and the market price of local repertoire is very cheap, so it is lacking in those areas.
Has anything been done to counter CD piracy?
Not much. Our government does not see it as a priority and law enforcement is weak.
What are the best ways of breaking new artists in Romania?
Like everywhere else, it’s all about getting played on radio.
To what extent do the Romanian media give new artists exposure?
The media are quite open to new acts, although it’s hard to get airplay. There are five networks and they control most of the radio stations, so the same artists get played everywhere. It’s much easier to get TV exposure.
If you could change any aspect of the music industry, what would it be?
I would combat piracy and raise retail prices to make the industry more profitable.
What has been the greatest moment of your music career?
The best moment, which is happening now, is having a No.1 in Europe!
Interviewed by Kimbel Bouwman