Interview with DAVE DOLLIMORE, A&R at Ministry Of Sound for Eric Prydz (UK No.1) - Feb 21, 2005
ďItís a global music village nowadays. We have signed Eric Prydz from Sweden, Benni Benassi from France and Tomcraft from GermanyĒ,Ö says Dave Dollimore, A&R at Ministry Of Sound UK. He was responsible for the breakthrough of Eric Prydz (UK No.1), the most successful dance act last year. For this, he was awarded No.1 on the World Top 10 Dance A&R Chart of 2004.
How long have you been in the music business?
Iíve been in the music business for four and a half years. I started at Ministry of Sound doing unpaid work experience for four months. They then offered me a job as an assistant in the recordings department and I worked my way up from there. Iíve been doing A&R for the last couple of years.
What type of material do you look for?
Ministry Of Sound is predominantly a dance label, but we listen to all sorts of music, whether itís urban, hip hop, trance or pop. Everything is considered.
Who sends demos to you?
Itís usually producers who are fairly well known to us. We rarely sign anything that comes in cold or is from an unknown producer, but we do listen to all the demos that get sent.
How do you search for artists?
The core material that we sign most often comes from conferences, like Midem, Popkomm etc. We also source information from scouts, tips, the Internet and dance tastemaker DJs on radio stations.
The dance scene is constantly in flux. What characterizes producers who shape the music?
I wish I had the formula! The shapers are usually the innovative dance producers who are willing to break the mould and who sometimes come up with something totally new and original that really takes off.
When this is successful then the dance producer community soon jumps on the bandwagon and creates similar records just because itís a safe bet and what the clubs want.
What people are in your network, and how do you keep it alive?
Itís mostly friends and close contacts from labels around the UK and the rest of Europe. They are all people who are familiar to the scene, who produce good music and who have a high hit rate. Regular contact, feedback, trust, respect and recognition are essential for keeping it alive.
How do you go about getting airplay on the radio?
If weíre starting at the bottom weíll send a new track to a dance tastemaker DJ. This starts a buzz on the record, and then we get a radio plugger on board who plugs the track to national stations in the UK, such as Radio One and Capitol FM.
How does working with DJs and clubs differ from working for the radio?
All of the dance records start at the club level and if they have what it takes then they eventually cross over to become pop records. A lot of the material that we sign could be considered as underground, and the route involves filtering through minor radio stations with the support of tastemaker DJs. They finally get to the national stations, and then get released.
What important features make a hit-record in dance music?
It has to be different, sometimes unique, and must have an incredible clubber hook in it - whether itís a vocal, a string or a bass-line. Or maybe a producer has done something unusual or interesting with a sample.
Whatís different about launching DJs, compared to launching other artists?
I canít claim to have much experience outside of dance. However, there are many DJs around and only a few manage to reach the escape velocity to make it big. A high flying DJ has to have drive, talent, uniqueness and an excellent sense of how to stimulate his audience to best effect.
Where did you find Eric Prydz?
His manager came to us about a year and a half ago and played us a demo of ďCall On MeĒ. Eric certainly wasnít that well known in the UK at the time. Before his deal with us, Eric was signed to Credence, one of EMIís off-shoot Dance labels. Eric had had a number of big club tracks before ďCall On MeĒ, but no chart hits.
ďCall On MeĒ is a remix of Steve Winwoodís ďValerieĒ. Who came up with the idea?
It was Ericís idea.
Was it hard to get permission to use it?
Yes, it took a lot of time and a massive team effort - from me & the A&R director and Eric and Steve Winwood's management. He hadn't allowed using any samples from him before, but in the end he even re-sung his vocals for our release.
How are the royalties spread?
Unfortunately I canít really talk about that.
With the remixing of old hits, does the emphasis lie more on the artistic or the commercial side of things?
I would say itís on the commercial side. Itís generally the albums that make the money, so if you have a big hit you can release a winning album off the back of it, or a ĎBest ofí of the artists that have been sampled.
Eric Prydz is not seen in the video. Are dance acts more conceptual than other acts?
Yes, because a lot of dance records are sample-based, and donít have real front-men or singers. Plus some DJs donít want to be seen as being too commercial or to be too much in the limelight. Eric didnít really want to be in the video because it was a Steve Winwood sample, so we came up with a dance and fitness concept for the video.
Many dance artists are anonymous Ė what are the advantages and disadvantages of this?
The benefit is that a dance artist can still retain credibility by being anonymous. No-one really knows what the artist looks like Ė some people might not even know who has done the record. The downside is that you have to create an artist from that; if you want to do an album somewhere down the line, then people need to be familiar with who the producer is.
What are the future plans for Eric Prydz?
At the moment heís in the studio working on a follow-up single and an album. These are due early summer.
When DJ-artists perform live, are they presented as more show-like than other DJs?
A DJ, who is just mixing two records together in a club, is totally different to a dance act performing live. There is a show when you see a group performing live; something the public can get excited about. Anyone can be a normal DJ if they want to be.
Eric Prydz is Swedish Ė is it rare for artists to be signed across borders?
No, itís not rare. We have signed Benni Benassi from France and Tomcraft from Germany. Itís a global music village nowadays; a lot of our signings are usually from around Europe. Eric was out of his deal when he came to us, so we were lucky enough to sign a worldwide-deal, and itís been a fantastic result.
Ministry of Sound is also a famous club in London, what is the idea behind the organization?
Most people just know it as a club and compilation brand, but we are in fact the UK's top independent label and have very successful mobile, tours, and licensing departments - for example our branded audio products turnover was £880k in January alone.
As a label we've enjoyed five No.1ís and many Top 10ís through Data Records, our mainline dance imprint; Open, the album artist label; and Smoove, our newest addition for urban music. The club started in 1991.
How is the label related to the club and the touring?
The label works closely with tours and the club where it is possible, but if we take a single to the radio in the UK, or do a mail-out, itís mostly known as being from Data Records.
What are the plans for Ministry of Sound in the future?
On the label side, the plan is to move more into artist development.
Who are the key people at Ministry of Sound?
James Palumbo is the owner who started it and Lohan Presencer is our Managing Director. Ben Cook is the Director of A&R, who set up Data Records, Open and Smoove and Steve Canueto is Head of Compilations.
Does Ministry of Sound have certain guidelines for their A&Rs?
We are given quite a bit of freedom to take initiatives that can lead to chart success. Iíve learned much from the people Iíve worked under, in particular Ben Cook. Youíve got to have an ear for music, good instincts, a good network and a thorough understanding of the dance A&R process.
Who are Ministry of Soundís biggest target groups?
Most people who buy our CD singles and compilations in the UK are of the younger generation, so the target group is aged 13 upwards. And then thereís people who actually attend our clubs - that group is aged around 20 years and upwards.
Would you sign an artist that you knew would work commercially, but didnít fit into the concept of Ministry of sound?
Yes. Because our label is separate, we can sign very commercial artists who might fall outside of the usual Ministry of Sound core genre.
Club music is not played on the radio as frequently as pop and R&B. How do you break a dance act into the mainstream?
You really have to develop it organically, starting at the bottom. All dance records begin in clubs, momentum builds from this, word of mouth spreads, then this leads on to radio DJs supporting the record. From this you enter the daytime play-lists, we commission a video which is then added to channels, such as The Box, MTV, Hits etc, the record moves up the TV and Radio charts and then you release it.
What kind of information do you receive from lists?
You can see trends and see how records are developing. Letís say thereís a record appearing in a number of charts that youíre not familiar with; you check it out; it might be unsigned. Itís a normal A&R process.
Whatís the time schedule for breaking an artist?
It depends on whether youíre doing a quick or a long release; it could be over six months, or you might be able to squeeze it into four months.
Why is it uncommon among dance artists to make full-length albums?
Itís a very difficult process to break a dance act and to get an album from a single, because to the public itís just a track that they hear - they donít really know who the artist is, what he looks like, and what the rest of the music is like. There are only a few big dance acts that have done this. You need to get the name and the face out there, and have a diverse album that will interest the public. Great press is a key as well.
What should aspiring artists learn more about if theyíre to stand a better chance of building successful careers?
They should do research on successful acts, see how they started, how they first got their deal, what made them successful compared to the ones that failed. Future dance artists should learn more about what interests the public, what people want to dance to every weekend in clubs, and what physically makes them go into a shop and buy CD singles. This applies equally, of course, to successful A&Rs.
What are your plans for the future?
To grow from strength to strength, have as many big chart hits as possible and to sign and develop a dance act into an album project that could sell well over 100,000.
Interviewed by Kimbel Bouwman
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