Interview - May 17, 2004
"There is pressure not to spend too much money and to break artists quite quickly."Jamie Nelson is based in London, UK. He is an A&R at Parlophone/EMI and Innocent/EMI, and the artists he works with include Kylie Minogue and Jamelia (European Top 10).
How did you get started in the music business and how did you become an A&R?
My background lies in sound recording: I worked in a studio for about five years. From there, I went into sound engineering and then, about thirteen years ago, I slowly started getting into A&R by working at RCA Records as a scout.
What experiences have helped develop your skills as an A&R?
Failing and making mistakes. Working with acts that werenít developing and making records that werenít good enough has been most helpful to me in the past.
What prompted you to move from your previous position as A&R at Parlophone to head of A&R at Innocent?
In my new role, I A&R for Innocent but I also continue to do what I was doing at Parlophone. Itís very much a dual role and I still work with the Parlophone artists that Iíve worked with, Kylie Minogue, Jamelia and Beverley Knight (click on artist or song names to listen to Real Audio files Ė Ed.).
The reason why Iíve taken on this additional role is because I need to push myself and grow. Innocent is a very exciting opportunity for me because I am able to broaden what I do. Itís a label that has been very successful in the last few years and itís gratifying to work for a label that really understands pop music, which is a genre Iím very passionate about.
Is Innocent fully owned by EMI?
Will Innocent move away from being purely a pop label?
Music is constantly changing and Iím really keen to broaden Innocentís scope. Itís important to be aware of whatís happening out there and, at the moment, pop music is evolving. I would like Innocent to become a broader label with bolder artists. Pop music can be Atomic Kitten, but it can also be something cooler than that, like Joss Stone, All Saints, E-17 or Madonna.
Are you looking for new artists for Innocent?
Yes, at the moment my focus is on developing new repertoire for Innocent.
How did Parlophone come to sign Jamelia?
She was discovered by Lloyd Brown, who used to work for us. He was out scouting for new things and heíd heard about a girl from Birmingham who was creating a stir. He went up there and spent some time tracking her down and eventually he found her. She was very young, only fifteen years old, when we signed her.
A few years after that, they made her first album, ďDramaĒ, headed by the single ďMoneyĒ. It was very much a development record; she was very new to everything and I think it has taken time for her to develop in the right way. The first record was something that Lloyd worked on; I worked on Jameliaís second album, ďThank YouĒ.
What were your thoughts as you were making ďThank YouĒ?
That it was really important that she made a quality record and that she needed to work with a broader range of songwriters and producers. Which is what she did. The collaboration with Soulpower was probably the most successful.
She also worked with Karen Poole, with Cutfather & Joe as producers, she continued to work with C Swing, whom she had worked with on her first album, Ignorants on one track, and Copenhaniacs.
What was instrumental in breaking her?
Songs are ultimately the key. Great songs break artists. The pivotal point was cutting ďSuperstarĒ and her writing the title song ďThank YouĒ.
Was it easy to get radio and TV?
No, I donít think itís ever easy to get radio and TV. We have an amazing promotion department at Parlophone, who work very hard. The first single from the new album, ďBoutĒ, wasnít successful, but the promotion people really focused on the following single, ďSuperstarĒ. They believed in the record and they worked it very hard, and so it slowly came together.
Are there plans to break Jamelia in the US?
Yes, Jamelia is ambitious and keen to do that, but itís a very hard market to break and there are a lot of UK artists who arenít successful over there. Itís about the records and the next album in particular is going to be really important. Weíre going to be working with a broader range of people and hopefully that will be the key to breaking her there.
ďSuperstarĒ had already been a hit in Denmark in 2003 when Jamelia covered it. How did you become aware of the song?
Mick from Cutfather & Joe, the producers, played it to me. I loved the song and felt that it was a hit.
Had it been decided that Jamelia would do the song before Christine Miltonís version became a hit?
I really donít know, I canít remember the specifics of where they were with their track. I just heard the song, loved it and wanted to cut it, so I commissioned them to do the production. I was aware that Cutfather & Joe had also cut it with somebody else, but I didnít focus on that.
So Cutfather & Joe also produced Jameliaís version?
Yes, together with Remee, a really talented writer. He was very much involved with the production of the record.
How did you view the fact that it was already a hit in Denmark with an identical production?
It was more about the song being a great song, Iím not even aware of that the productions are identical.
Did it pose a threat to Jameliaís artistic credibility?
No, I donít think so. UK record buyers are probably not even aware of the other version.
Thereís a lawsuit in Denmark regarding the fact that the production was used by another artist, Jamelia, after Christine Milton had released the track. Are you involved in that lawsuit in any way?
I canít really comment on this except to say that no legal proceedings have been issued against Parlophone.
How do you find new talent?
Through contacts: producers, writers, managers, lawyers, effectively people who are friends.
Do you accept unsolicited material?
How many songs do you receive from unsigned acts every week?
I donít know exactly, but a lot, hundreds even.
Do you listen to all of them?
I try to. I work with good people who help me as well, so basically I give priority to contacts I really trust. If it comes from the right source, itís more likely to get to me. But I really do try to listen to as much music as possible.
Have you found anything through demos that youíve later come to work with?
I have cut unsolicited songs that came through the post. In terms of artists, I canít think of anything that has come through the post and Iíve signed, but thatís not to say I wouldnít.
Do you use the Internet to find talent?
I donít surf the Internet to find artists, I just use it to keep up to date on whatís going on.
What do you look for in an artist?
Star quality and great artistry. Exciting music that sounds unusual. Great spirit and the ability to write great songs.
How important is it that the artists are also songwriters?
In a perfect world, you would have a great artist and fantastic songs. The actual process of finding songs is exhausting, so itís always better to find artists who write themselves.
Would you work with acts from outside the UK?
Can you break artists without radio support?
Yes, but itís not an ideal scenario. Radio is really important, but itís definitely possible to break artists outside radio; a good example would be the Katie Melua record, which was heavily worked on TV and in advertising.
If you have the right artist, itís possible to connect in a different way. You only have to look at the success of Pop Idols, which is essentially kids television. TV has become a very important medium in terms of breaking artists these days.
How much input do you have on the production?
I work as closely as possible with the producers and I spend a lot of time with them in the studio making sure that things sound right.
Are major labelsí shareholders too impatient to let A&Rs develop artists over the course of a few albums?
Iíve never had any problems of that nature and I donít think most A&Rs have either. Obviously, we just deal with our immediate bosses. I think the pressure comes from within, that the pressure to break artists and have success is driven by yourself, because youíre keen to do that for yourself.
There is pressure not to spend too much money and to break artists quite quickly, but thatís for any A&R to manage in his own way.
How would you change the music industry?
Itís very important for us as an industry to continue to try and break the back of downloading, and Iím pleased to see that EMI specifically works very hard in that regard. Theyíre really prioritising anti-piracy and also new ways of selling music.
How bad is the piracy situation in the UK?
I donít know, to be honest. But weíre still selling records and, in terms of volume, weíre probably selling probably more records than we used to. There is also an issue surrounding pricing.
What has been the greatest moment of your music career?
The success of Kylieís ďCanít Get You Out of My HeadĒ and the accompanying album ďFeverĒ was really exciting. It went from one million copies of her previous album, ďLight YearsĒ, her first for Parlophone, to six million. Seeing that record, ďCanít Get You Out of My HeadĒ, happening everywhere was a really amazing thing.
What do you see yourself doing in five to ten yearsí time?
Iím really keen to just carry on doing what Iím doing. I love working directly with artists and I canít envisage not doing so. Be it in management or at my own record company, my goal is to continue to work very closely with artists of all kinds.
Interviewed by Kimbel Bouwman