Interview with MICHAEL AGUILAR, A&R Director at Latium and manager for Frankie J (Top 10 US), Baby Bash (Top 10 US), Natalie (Top 20 US) - Apr 10, 2005
“The Natalie album came to me as just a burned CD with her name written on it with a marker”,… says Michael Aguilar, A&R Director at Latium Entertainment in Houston, Texas. He is the manager for artists Frankie J, Baby Bash and Natalie, who are all currently in the Top 20 in the USA, and producers Play-N-Skillz and Happy Perez.
Frankie J entered at No.3 on the US Album Charts in April 2005 with "The One". Baby Bash sold over two million worldwide of the debut album "Tha Smokin' Nephew". Natalie is currently Top 20 on the US Singles Chart with "Goin' Crazy" and is releasing her self titled debut album on May 17th.
To understand Michael Aguilar’s career, one needs to know about the history of Latium. The label was started in 1999 by Charles Chavez, though he created a name for himself in the music business long before that.
In the 1970’s he started out in the mobile disco business, then moving on to buying and selling records for the local records store. After that he went on to being a club DJ, promoter, and producer to becoming music director for a few big radio stations in Texas, such as KPRR, KTFM and KHYS.
In 1998 he decided that to take his business to a national level. His idea was to bring Latino rap and R&B into the mainstream. He put word out on the street that there was a new label in town.
Charles went to every hot artist he knew and asked for contributions for the compilation Latin World Hip Hop. In one week it sold 1000 copies in Houston alone. In the following two years Latium managed to sell over 100,000 records independently.
After a while other labels and even majors started hiring Charles to promote records. Among others, he did Mary J. Blige, Kelis and Dilated Peoples feat. Kayne West. After that it seemed obvious for him to get into management.
He took on Frankie J and got him a deal at Columbia, and Baby Bash who signed with Universal. His producers made tracks for Lil Flip, Master P, Mystical and more. Recently, Latium expanded from being a management company to also becoming a record label, as they signed a deal with Universal.
Before Michael Aguilar became A&R director at Latium he was promoting night clubs and doing a bit of tour management on the side. “I wanted to be in the music business so bad and wanted to become an intern somewhere”, says Michael. “I simply wouldn’t take no for an answer. And I always made sure that I was in Charles’ face, showing up at different places where he was as well.”
“Then when he needed someone for this position, he gave me a call. Later on, we were having dinner some evening with Charles’ father and he asked Charles: ‘why did you hire this kid?’ He answered: ‘cause he never went away. He was always in my face.’”
“That’s what I tell artists who want to make it in this business as well: Be in people’s faces. Go out and promote yourself! Create your own buzz. Go out there and perform, give your stuff to DJ’s at radio stations and clubs.”
“The word ‘no’ is not gonna kill you. If you’re not out there promoting yourself, no one else will. Self promotion is one of the best things you can do for yourself as an artist. And then be sure that if you are hot, we will find you.”
Latium is a very successful company. But also being a small company means that Michael’s work is not only restricted to A&R. “On a normal day, I come in and the first thing I do is check messages, then I have a look at the calendar to see whether our artists have anything going on. So for instance Natalie had two radio interviews today and a couple of interviews with magazines. Frankie J is going to be on Regis & Kelly.”
“Also I’m busy with album paper work that concerns royalties and contracts. And then there is some work because Play-N-Skillz, the producers team that we manage, are gonna record a track with Eamon. We like to stay on top of things at Latium. And therefore my work as the A&R director also involves stuff that would normally be considered promotion or management.”
Listening to new artists
Michael: “I receive about 20 to 30 demos per week. And I listen to all of them, because I feel that nothing can be really terrible. So I want to give everyone a shot. When I don’t have time to listen to the demos at the office, I take them home. ”
“At Latium we are looking for original and different hip hop/pop tracks, but still commercial. I don’t think it’s good to go with copying sounds that are popular at the moment. Create your own sounds, regardless of trends.”
“It’s difficult to explain; when I listen to a song I just get a gut feeling that it will be a hit. With ‘Suga Suga’ for instance, I knew it was a hit instinctively. At first no one really believed in the song. But when we sent it to radio, we got only positive response. In any case, a song has got to grab me in the first 15 to 20 seconds. It has to also break some barrier.”
“In terms of layout, I don’t have prejudices against a burned CD that has just the name of the artist on it written with a marker. Maybe that’s the best you could do. The Natalie album came to me like that. So you never know.”
“But of course, if I would receive hundreds of demos per week, I wouldn’t have time to listen to them all. And I guess then it would help to have a nice looking package, something that catches your eye. So as long I am not swamped with demos, I give everyone a break”.
Michael: “After I find a track that I like, I ask for a meeting with the artist to find out what direction they want to go. I need to find out whether they have got the right attitude for the business. They need to have star quality, be charismatic and hard working.”
“You don’t, as a label, want to get in involved with people that you know are gonna give you trouble. At Latium we are looking for long term relationships with artist. One hit wonders are not interesting for us. When we think that an artist has what it takes, we’re testing the tracks by sending them out to radio programmers that we deal with.”
“With Natalie for instance, Latium had a long standing relationship. She broke recently, but signed a five year contract with us a long time ago. She sang on some tracks for compilation albums, but we never put out an album with her. So nothing happened. She went on to be a freestyle rapper and after that a power dancer of the Houston Rockets.”
“But she kept in touch. After years she had a record and of course she brought it to us first. A radio guy believed in it so, we sent it out to test it. We loved the record and we knew it was a hit, but we sat on it for months. There were a lot of records out at that time which would be great competition for her, so we decided to wait. Timing is everything.”
“With Baby Bash, it’s a different story. He was signed to another independent, but he wanted to get out of his deal. He had this track called ‘Suga Suga’ and he knew that Charles could get it played. His single turned out to be a super smash hit and the album ‘Tha Smokin’ Nephew’ sold over 2 million copies worldwide.”
“Frankie J is a good example of self promotion. This guy managed to sell 100.000 albums out of the back of his trunk. We took him on as a management and got him a deal at Columbia. This was before we had a label deal with Universal.”
“We still do management for him as well as for Baby Bash, Big Gem and successful producer duo Play-N-Skillz and producer Happy Perez. This is a left over from what Latium was doing before. Obviously we can’t be managers for the artists on our own label, although we do help them and advise them, best we can. So for the future, being a label, we’re gonna focus on getting more stars into our stable”, concludes Michael.
Interviewed by Marlene Smits
Next week: HitQuarters Presents Another Unique Feature - Professional Demo Review. Release April 18th!
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