Interview with ANDREW FEIGENBAUM, A&R for Kevin Lyttle (Euro No. 2), Marion Raven - Mar 29, 2004
"Artists should be able to take constructive criticism and not get defensive when someone doesn't like their material."
As A&R manager at Atlantic in New York, Andrew Feigenbaum looks artists including Kevin Lyttle and Marion Raven, who was previously part of M2M (US gold).
Here he tells us how he has worked with Marion, who is about to release her debut solo album, what not to do when contacting an A&R, and the form he hopes online music sales will take.
How did you get started in the music business and how did you become an A&R?
When I graduated from the University of Wisconsin six years ago, I called a friend of mine who worked at Atlantic to see if I could get my feet wet in the music businessmusic had been a passion of mine for as long as I can remember. She said that there was nothing available at that time but suggested that I temp somewhere until something came up.
I worked at BMG and at Sony in various departments until finally, a few months later, she called and said that there was an assistant position available with Craig Kallman, who was then executive vice-president of Atlantic. I jumped at the opportunity. I was Craig’s assistant for about four years; over time, he gained trust in me and I worked on several of the projects that he had signed.
Eventually, he moved me into an A&R position, which enabled me to work on an increasing number of his acts. Essentially his right-hand man; we shared the A&R work and I handled the day-to-day business.
What experiences have helped develop your skills as an A&R?
I learn a lot from meeting and talking with the people who have been in this industry a lot longer than me. Picking their brains and watching them work helps. Watching Craig work and seeing what he signs and more importantly why, what he pays most attention to and how he gets the deals done has helped me a lot. Also, keeping my ear close to the ground and knowing what's buzzing out there.
In light of the changes that are taking place within Warner, what are the current plans for Atlantic as a label?
I can't speak on behalf of Edgar Bronfman Jr., Lyor Cohen or Craig Kallman about the current plans for Atlantic as a label, but I think it's a very exciting time for us. For the first time in many years, Atlantic is a private company and we're able to do things that public companies can't do.
What artists are you currently working with?
Right now I am finishing Kevin Lyttle and Marion Raven’s debut albums.
Are you currently looking for songs for any of your acts?
I am a song guy, so I'm always looking for songs. For six years, any songs that have come my way that I like I keep, and I try to find a home for them as best I can. We're not actively looking for songs for any particular artist right now, but I’m always on the lookout.
How did you first learn about Marion Raven?
When I first started here, the Norwegian duo she was part of, M2M (click on artist or song names to listen to Real Audio files – Ed.), had just been signed to Atlantic by Jim Welch, an A&R guy who is now at Arista. Jim had signed the Norwegian group Babel Fish and he had some good contacts in Norway.
Craig was very involved with M2M and, as his assistant, I was dealing with them and their team on a daily basis. Marion and I hit it off immediately; I knew that she was the star of the group and I hoped that I would have the opportunity to work with her as a solo artist one day.
You dropped the option for a third album with M2M?
Yes, Atlantic released two albums but, after that, although I can’t speak for them, I think the girls were ready to go their separate ways. They had been working together for six or seven years and they were ready to break out on their own.
When we didn’t pick up the option for a third album with M2M, we still didn't want to lose Marion. She was a star and one of the most beautiful young women we had ever worked with. She has a tremendous voice, which is a breath of fresh air. When we were given the opportunity to work with her, we took it.
Was there a development period or was she already developed as part of M2M?
When she was in M2M, she was always a good singer and piano player, but when she started working with Max Martin and Rami and their team, she took it to the next level. They helped her develop her vocals and her songwriting and now she's a lot more defined as an artist. This album and the last M2M album are as different as night and day.
Why did you choose Max Martin as the producer for her album?
Initially, Marion worked with a few writers and producers that we thought would be good for the album and they came up with some really good songs. But, we had been trying to track Max down, who was out of the country for a few weeks, because we knew he'd be great for this project.
Then one week when she was in Stockholm working with some other writers, she finally connected with him and they hit it off right away. Once we heard the demo of the first song they did together, we knew that he was the man to mould this project.
So Marion wrote the songs for the album with Max Martin?
Yes, she co-wrote the whole album with Max and Rami and their team of writers.
How much input do you have when it comes to Marion’s repertoire and the production of her songs?
If I felt something needed improvement or if I wasn't happy with something, I'd let Marion and Max know Craig's and my concerns. Craig and I have a very open relationship with both Marion and Max and we're very honest with one another, but once Max was involved, it was pretty self-sustained. We let them do their thing and we're extremely pleased with the results.
Who makes up the team around Marion?
At this point, she doesn’t have a manager. She has a lawyer named Nick Ferrara and it's pretty much just her, Craig, Max, her lawyer and myself.
Are you aiming for a particular demographic?
What's great about this album is that it appeals to all demographics. There are songs on there for teenagers, for adults, and for music lovers of all kinds. I don't think it appeals to one specific demographic.
How would you describe her music? Which radio format will she fit into?
It's definitely a mainstream album. The songs are undeniable hits and her powerful vocals, along with Max Martin’s great melodies and catchy hooks, drive the album. There are songs that may get significant Top 40 radio play, and then there are others that can go to other formats. We have plenty of songs to choose from for the first single, and once we’ve figured that out, then we'll figure out what formats to target.
Which media will be instrumental in breaking her in the US?
Definitely radio, touring and TV.
Which territory will you release her in first and which territory will you give priority to?
Although we'll probably target the US first, it's a priority release for the whole Warner Music Group worldwide
What about the Asian markets?
We're still figuring out that aspect of her release.
And Kevin Lyttle is your other priority?
Yes, we're just finishing his album. Craig signed Kevin Lyttle to Atlantic, and I worked on the album along with several great producers. He is a worldwide priority for the Warner Music Group and I think he's going to be really successful. He has already sold 700,000 copies of his single "Turn Me On" and we're hoping to replicate that success with the album.
How do you find new talent?
I read a lot of music magazines, I scan the Internet, I talk to a lot of managers, lawyers, producers and music people in general, and I see a lot of shows. Most importantly, I talk to people and find out what they're listening to and what they’re excited about.
In my opionion, one of the most important things for an A&R person is to know as many people as possible, and develop relationships with other music industry professionals. You never know where your next tip will come from.
What kind of buzz makes you take note of something?
There doesn't need to be a buzz for me to listen to something. If I read about something that sounds interesting, I'll try to find the website and listen to an mp3 right away. I'll give it at least a few songs before I move on to the next band.
What traits must artists have for you to sign them?
I like artists to be a bit unique. Stand out from the rest of the bands in some way. They need that X factor nowadays to really make it big
As for the project as a whole, for me to become personally involved, I have to love the music. I need to believe in something if I'm going to spend months and maybe years working on it. I have to be the biggest fan to get everyone at Atlantic excited or people will just see right through me.
How important is it that the artists you work with also write songs?
What advice would you give aspiring artists on how to start their careers?
I would tell them that relationships they make along the way are very important and second only to the music. If I like an artist and the team surrounding the artist, I would do almost anything for them to help them succeed.
What should you on no account do when contacting an A&R?
If an artist contacts someone at a label, they should be ready to hear the worst and not take it personally. They should be able to take constructive criticism and not get defensive when someone doesn't like their material. They should also realise that if we don’t like something, it does not mean their lives are over. It’s just an opinion.
Many bands have sent me their demo and when I tell them that there are things they need to work on, they’ve attacked me, saying that I don't know what I'm talking about, followed by, “Atlantic SUCKS!”. If that’s the case, then why did they send me their demo in the first place? With that attitude, I assure you that I will never listen to another thing you send in.
Can you break artists without radio support?
I believe we can. The Internet, for example, is becoming an increasingly important marketing tool. It's not impossible to break an artist via word-of-mouth, touring and grassroots marketing, but it's hard. In those cases, it really has to be something special.
Do we need new, more cost-efficient ways of breaking new artists so that we can take chances on great, but not necessarily commercial, music?
Absolutely. Our industry was founded on taking chances on artists and we need to get back to that. If we can make albums and market them for less money, it would give the artists more of a chance to make it in the long run.
Will online sales in digital formats boost the music industry?
I think they have somewhat already, but more so once the costs come down a bit. I hope that consumers will soon be able to pay a monthly charge for an all-you-can-download service with access to all the music they want from their favourite artists; this might potentially be added to their telephone bill. Once it’s made a bit more simple it will be a huge boost for us.
If you could dramatically change some aspect of the music industry, what would you do?
I would create that service: all the music you can handle for five bucks a month, or something similar. Once that happens, we're going to have more music fans and music will be a huge part of people's lives again. If you hear something on TV or the radio, you could download it and have it at your fingertips, right away.
Live shows and bonus tracks of your favourite artists would be made available immediately, and the fans would have more of an involvement in the whole process. It would be about giving them what they want first and foremost.
What has been the greatest moment of your music career?
I don't think there has been a greatest moment as of yet. I'm still young, so I'm sure there will be one. Meeting Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Bonham was pretty cool though.
What do you see yourself doing in five to ten years’ time?
I hope to be working at Atlantic. This was my first real job out of college and I've had a great six years. I can definitely see myself working here for the rest of my music career.
Interviewed by Kimbel Bouwman
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