Interview with DAVID VERDOOREN, A&R and manager at Glam Slam for Chipz (No.1 GER) - Jun 13, 2005
"Chipz was the first thing we did on our own. We looked at the market and thought that there was a huge gap in the children’s area. We tested the ideas out with the target audience, 6-16 year old kids, and presented them the music and had them answer a huge amount of questions. They confirmed that our ideas were on the right track,"… says David Verdooren, A&R and manager at Glam Slam, a company he started together with Patrick van Thijn. Their first artist, Chipz, went No.1 in Germany and David has been on the World Top 20 A&R Chart for 10 consecutive weeks.
How did you get started in the music business, and how did you become an A&R?
I was very young when I started out in music. In the early 80’s I played in school bands and cover bands. I had already developed a very wide taste. In the early 90’s I started using midi equipment and began to make my own music. Then I worked as a shop manager for three years in a record store called Rhythm Import in Amsterdam, which was one of the biggest import stores in Holland at the time.
While I was working there I had an offer from a former colleague to join the record company Dureco. I was still making music, so I had to choose whether I was going to work for a record company or become a writer or producer. I chose the record company, starting at the bottom as a field promoter, changing to product manager very quickly, and later becoming an A&R, which was my main goal.
How did you start Glam Slam?
I met my Glam Slam partner, Patrick van Thijn, while I was working for Rhythm Import. He’d also switched from a record store to a record company. He worked for BMG and Sony Music and then started up Edel in Holland while I was at Dureco.
For 12 years, we used to have this tradition of going out for dinner once a month to talk about ideas and how we would do things. Then, two and a half years ago, Dureco was sold to another record company, and they already had an A&R over there. So Patrick - who was marketing director for EMI Records at the time – and I decided to develop our ideas.
What’s the idea behind Glam Slam?
We’re a management company, but we’re very extensive in what we do. We’re not just managing the artists; we control the entire project. We either offer our services to our clientele or we develop and initiate ideas, concepts or artist projects and find a good way to bring them to the market. We do all the A&R and come up with the right ideas for marketing. The whole package, in all its aspects.
When we started out with Chipz we found that we had every angle covered. We came up with the idea and developed them as a band. We did the A&R part and developed the entire plan for marketing
We found the right partners in Holland in Fox Kids Television (now renamed JETIX), hit upon a small Dutch distribution company called Bulls Eye Network, and cooperated well with our investor EMI Music Publishing, who takes care of administration.
By that point we’d realised that there was no room for a record company for Chipz. Because of our background in record companies, we already knew the traditional way of putting out CDs on the market. Now we were looking to try and find ways of going beyond the traditional working methods. That’s why we see ourselves as a management company, not a record label.
Chipz was the first thing we did on our own. When we started we had to make sure that we’d come up with something that would help the company grow and provide us with the right income. We looked at the market and thought that there was a huge gap in the children’s/teen area.
We wanted to bring some fun back into music. It’s all so serious and dramatic nowadays. We found out that there’s still a big demand for happy pop. That’s how we came up with Chipz, while other people were calling us crazy.
What was the initial process of creating Chipz?
We put the idea down on paper at first, and applied our philosophy. The strength of Glam Slam is that we’re not afraid of how people will respond to our ideas. We sought out a large amount of people to create focus groups, where we tested the ideas out with the target audience, 6-16 year old kids. We presented them the music and had them answer a huge amount of questions. They confirmed that our ideas were on the right track.
How did you do the research?
We visited numerous elementary schools and high schools and worked together with one of Holland’s biggest market research agencies for the children’s market, IPM Kidwise.
What was the next thing to do?
After the research we presented the marketing concept and the idea about the band to EMI Music Publishing, and after 15 minutes they said: “This is an idea we want to work with!” So we did auditions for the band and set up castings by ourselves throughout Holland over 4-6 months. We did 4 different rounds, and from 8000 people we selected 4 for the band.
How did you get people to come to your castings?
We did it in a very traditional way. In Holland there are a lot of theatre academies, dance schools, musical academies and talent shows. So we put out posters in Holland, Belgium and Luxemburg.
There were rounds where people performed, introduced themselves and went to a studio to cut a vocal track. We were looking for people with charisma, who could sing, dance, present themselves, and who had the energy to do the job in the band. You really need a personality who can deal with the pressure, should they be successful.
One of the bigger things was going to the dance schools to find talent. Three out of the four people in the group were found in dance schools or academies.
What was the next step when the band was put together?
We started working on the songs that we had by training them vocally, preparing them for studio work. They started rehearsing and dancing, and we knew we had a good thing going, because these kids really could dance and sing.
They were well developed, so we could easily take them to a higher level and start using choreographers from our network; mainly Eszteca Noya, who had worked with Spice Girls and Missy Elliot.
At what point did you start picking songs for the album?
At the same time we were doing the auditions. We flew to Scandinavia and Holland to meet several production teams.
Which media broke the act?
Television. Chipz was picked up by Fox TV, who broadcasted a trailer that triggered the audience.
When did they start to play gigs?
The gigs came later. First it was all promotion. They were on big events booked by booking agencies and promoters, but not for a fee, just for promotion. When it started to get successful, 4-5 months after the single release, they started doing shows.
We have a Dutch booking agency, Jan Vis Agency that covers Holland and some other territories. Sometimes Chipz will perform 2 songs, sometimes a half-hour show. Later next year they’ll start doing theatres. You know, it’s not a single driven act.
When and how did Chipz go international?
This year we started in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. In Germany the first single went No.2 and the second went No.1. We had a try in Belgium, but the Belgian company couldn’t pull it off. Last year we signed an agreement with Universal for a worldwide distribution and promotion.
The release schedule for other territories is now in process: Scandinavia, France, Asia and UK. We decide the strategy together but Universal is the licensor in every country outside of the Benelux.
What about the US?
I think the US will come last, if it comes at all. It’s better to get it spread out of Holland, then the rest of Europe, and then take it from there. We have to prove ourselves over here first before we even talk about the US.
Did you use your personal contacts or did you announce somewhere that you were looking for producers?
The good thing about coming from a record company is that we’d built up a huge network on our own. I had a few contacts in Scandinavia that I’d wanted to work with for a long time. My partner had some experiences in Denmark, where he’d done the group Toy-box for Edel. . That’s how we got to work with Hitfactory Scandinavia, TG Management, Jay Vandenberg and Cryptonite Production.
We offered the producers a production deal like any other production and negotiated a price. The good thing was that nobody needed to be convinced about this project, since it was already sure that it was going to be released, so it was quite easy for us.
Were you present in the studio during the production?
I did spend time with the producers in the studio, and also briefed them extensively beforehand. We sent them pictures of the band members, introducing them when it was possible, and gave them very thorough references on what they should write about: the topics, the themes, the style, the structure. They started writing and pitching the ideas back to me.
I’d give my guidance to it and then they would try to finish it in the studio as a demo. For example, a writer would come up with a melody and I’d say: “well, I don’t have this topic for Chipz yet, but this is something I like, please divide these kind of lyrics from that melody”, or they would call me and say, “Oh, we’re in the studio right now and we have an idea”, then would play it to me on the phone and I’d give my comments on how they should continue.
We are thoroughly involved in the process, and try and give inspiration. When we have all the songs, we start to pick out the strongest and start scheduling for recording.
Did it help you that you are a musician yourself?
It helps me a lot in my communication with the writers on a musical and a technical level.
What input does the band have?
They’re not involved in the writing and the production, because they’re not developed enough for that yet. They’re good at singing and dancing, but they’ve never written a song before. They know that you have to get your strength first in what you’re best at, and that’s performing the songs before an audience.
If there is a good writer among one of them, we’re certainly willing to develop them. We do go through the songs with them and see how they respond to them, and they have some good opinions about what the songs should sound like. If they really don’t like the song, we take that into consideration as well.
What characteristics should a Chipz song possess?
On the first album it wasn’t really about “I love you so much” or “I wanna be your lover”, and stuff like that. It was more about finding the right theme or topic, because it was based on adventures - the album was called “The Adventures Of Chipz”.
We took a lot of movies as inspiration. That’s how we came up with songs like “Cowboy” and “Captain Hook”. I wanted a pirate song and found ideas and references in the movie “Hook” with Dustin Hoffmann, or the Peter Pan movies. On the 2nd album we thought it would be great to have a “1001 nights”-theme to work with. The music industry depends not only on good songs, but also on good visuals.
Luckily we had a good writer, who came up with a good song and melody, and that’s how “1001 Arabian Nights” came to life. We also present images and try to find every possible way of creating inspiration for the writers. After that you get into the structure of the song and try to find the right key, so that the artists are able to perform the song in the best way.
Have you ever experienced any tension between being commercial and creative?
Yeah, people often look at that in a negative way, but for me being commercial is just something that can sell, and that’s not a bad thing. The funny thing is how producers and writers feel that they can be even more creative when they already have a direction.
For example, the writers of “Captain Hook” called me up to say they were having the most fun they’d had in two years, running around the studio playing at Captain Hook. I could hear people shouting and screaming in the background. That’s how they actually came up with the idea. That was a very creative process.
Do you listen to unsolicited material?
Not anymore, because it’s too dangerous. I never used to get much unsolicited material, because nobody knew who we were. But now that Chipz has had success in Germany as well, there are more people contacting us who don’t have a publisher, representative or manager.
And I really have to be careful about dealing in a proper way - if I allow unsolicited material there’s a chance I might get something from somebody who isn’t actually responsible for that track.
Are you searching for new talent?
Not at the moment, though we always leave a door open.
What advice would you give artists to make it in the record business?
You have to practice and improve yourself everyday, because there are so many other people who want the same as you. So make sure your skills are as good as they can get. Find a way to get invited to a record company, or go to seminars where record industry people give speeches and share their experiences in the business about how things work and what they expect from bands.
Give your demos to the A&R guys who are at these seminars and let them judge your demos. And be open about it, because they’ve been in the business for a while and they can tell you something. It’s not about losing your own identity or being afraid you’ll get swallowed up by the business, it’s just about being informed.
From all this information you can form your own opinion. One of the big things in every kind of trade is “knowledge is power”. Information is the key if you want to get somewhere. And don’t be satisfied too soon! If you know this is the business you want to get into, understand one thing: it’s still a business. People in record companies are there to sell records, so they will look at it as a business. A record company is not a hobby.
How much risk money did you put into Glam Slam?
All of mine and Patrick’s savings went into it.
Was it covered by investors?
Not everything. We had to take a risk as well.
How does the merchandising with Chipz work?
We have a very good partner with C&A, a big clothing company, which has 80 stores in Holland. They sell 2 clothing lines for Chipz. One is called “Chipz for choice”, inspired and influenced by what Chipz is wearing. The other clothing line is more a licensing product, like t-shirts, and everything you can imagine with their logo or photo on it.
Do you think the music market will change due to the fact that it is much easier to produce professional songs at home?
Technology helps us to make things sound better, because it’s easier to create stuff. It opens up a better, quicker and cheaper way to present your material to publishers, A&Rs or managers. That’s actually good because it takes a good A&R guy to listen through a crappy demo and find a good song in it.
In that sense it will be a good way for young, creative, talented people to develop themselves. But I think writing songs is still a skill on its own, so I don’t think that that will change.
How do you view the current music business climate?
For me at this moment, as you can imagine, it’s good. It’s partly down to the success we’re having, and partly because of our ideas in the business and how we think we should approach to people. I think we’re still in this business in a positive way. In the last 10 years there’s one thing that we learned: it takes more than the traditional way of thinking. But ultimately it’s still about being passionate and having fun.
What do you think the future has in store for so-called 360-degree companies that do almost everything by themselves compared to big majors?
What you can see happening now is a lot of people who used to work for record companies starting to take their experiences and set up management companies or A&R units to consult record companies.
We’re that kind of company as well. We want to do a total fulfilment thing. The record companies can chose if this is something they want to put on the market and represent with their label. This will change the structure of the record companies.
What is important when signing to a major?
In our case we had offers from several companies, independents and majors. We invited everybody one by one and talked to them. We learnt that Universal would be a good partner for us, because they totally believed in the project.
Universal is a big company so they have a lot of power that they can use to our advantage, but the major reason for signing to them was the passion, ideas and dedication that the people there showed. That’s sometimes even more important than the money.
What are your plans for the future?
For Chipz to become successful in other territories. We’re working on the third album right now, so it’s about getting all the songs together and seeing how they’ll work. At a later stage we’ll try to start on our new project as well, to show that we have more than Chipz to bring to the market.
What has been the greatest moment of your music career?
Setting up Glam Slam and finding a great friend and business partner in Patrick. When we started out 2 ½ years ago, we hoped it would go like this but we never expected it would go this well, this fast.
Interviewed by Jan Blumentrath
Read On ...