Interview with FRANK RAMOND, producer for Annett Louisan (Top 5 GER) - Mar 7, 2005
“Avoiding the teen target group is turning out to be a good move at the moment”,… says Frank Ramond, producer for Annett Louisan, one of the most successful German breakthrough artists of 2004. Read his account of the process of breaking new artists and the growing success of adult targeted music.
How did you end up being a producer?
Like most people, I started making music in a demo studio, using computers for production. I ended up producing because I was one of the first people in my set who was able to work with computers and do programming. I got together with a few musicians and started with dance and rap music.
I also play the guitar, which is the instrument I compose on. But I've turned more and more exclusively into a lyricist over the years.
Did your interest in music production come through working with computers?
No. I was just looking for ways to turn my ideas into reality, and didn’t have the money to rent a studio for a whole day. I wanted to make it all on my own, without being dependent on other people. It was basically a question of finding a way to make it cheaper.
Besides musical skills, what other important aspects helped on your path to becoming a producer?
Early on in my career I met Udo Lindenberg, who came to my little demo-studio. I showed him some of the material I was working on, and he said: “Okay, you’re going to work with me on my next album”. Before that, we produced another album together for which I did the programming. He'd already been in the music business for twenty-five years, and I'd just started out. This was in the early 90’s, and I learned a lot from him.
Do you work with a technician or do you do everything yourself?
I don’t do everything myself. Mixing is very important, and it takes a couple of years of practicing to be good at it. But that’s not a technical issue; it’s a question of being able to analyze, to listen and to arrange different parts in the right order. I appreciate working with good sound engineers, like Jeo Mezei. He’s one of the best engineers here in Germany. He lives in my neighborhood, and I do all the mixing with him.
What labels or publishing companies are you signed to?
I’m not signed, personally, to any one label. I work with different labels - the few that we still have. For instance, I work with Universal Records, EMI, and now with 105 Music, which is a division of Sony Music. My publisher is Peer Music.
How are the deals designed?
I’ve been in the music business for fifteen years now, so I know people quite well. We usually get together with whoever comes up with an idea. I've chosen to work with Peer Music because they’re a very creative company, and they also have their own studio where I can do productions - it’s free for the composers who are signed in-house.
How did you discover Annett Louisan?
My publisher, Peer, introduced me to her at a party. We got to talk, and she said she was looking to do some studio backing-tracks. She didn’t perform at that party, so I didn’t really know what she sounded like. I found out later that her voice was very special, and that she should be singing lead, not just backing vocals.
What made you want to work with her?
She came to my studio, and we made a demo. I thought her voice was outstanding. It reminds you of a very young voice, and it's highly recognizable. I was looking for a special sound for her, so we came up with this chanson thing.
Did she have any material when you met her?
No, we worked it out together.
How was the initial material presented to 105 Music?
They got to hear the music at an early stage. We had two songs, which Michael Boettcher, from Peer Music, played for Heinz Canibol, at 105 Music. When I heard about that I said: ‘Are you crazy?! It’s not ready! It’s a rough demo; you can’t play that to anyone!’ But Michael assured me that Heinz had a good ear, and in fact he gave us an album deal because of that demo. So we started working together on a good basis.
What were the criteria for you when choosing 105 Music?
It’s a small and exclusive label; the little material that they take on is intensively worked on. They release four albums a year, and do all they can for the artists. I think that’s what's helped us to get this far.
Did any other label have a chance to listen to the tracks?
No. When Heinz Canibol said “Yes”, we gladly decided to work with 105.
How much material was recorded before she was signed?
Just two songs were recorded, one of which became a single.
Did you work out ideas about style, production and image from the start?
I wanted to keep it as minimal as possible, to put the voice close up front and keep the background soft and low. We wanted to do the total opposite of what had been done in recent years; i.e. being as loud as possible.
Did you want a guarantee that you could take the music in a certain direction?
Yes, but 105 never tried to change it anyway.
What do you charge for a production?
That depends on how cost-intensive it is, how many musicians there are, how much studio-time it takes up, and so on.
Do you usually get an advance?
Yes. Though it's become more and more difficult in the last years. We don’t get the advances today that we got a few years ago. But it’s usually within a reasonable range.
Was all the material on the album written with Annett in mind, or did you have record old songs?
We wrote it all either during the production or for the production. It’s all new material.
Are there other songwriters on the album as well?
Yes; two others, mainly. Matthias Hass - who also was my co-producer - wrote seven of the songs, and five were written by Hardy Kaiser. I worked as the lyricist for all the songs.
Did you look for certain songs?
Yes. I wanted to have a mixture between jazz and pop. So I got my two colleagues involved, because one is a jazz musician and the other focuses on pop. It was the blend of the styles that made it.
How were the songs presented - as full-scale productions, or just as melodies with simple accompaniment?
Hardy played me the demos, which were performed on just one instrument; both chords and melody being played on the guitar. As a pop producer, Matthias works on computers. His demos are usually a little more elaborate, but for me it's ok to hear a melody with a few chords. I can imagine the rest.
How else did Annett contribute, besides singing?
The album is very much based around lyrics, which shows the world through the eyes of a young woman. Listening to her stories, and what she thinks about love, life and everything, has been important for the songwriting. We sat together and discussed some stories and ideas. She contributed with the initial color and atmosphere.
Did you also discuss what instrumentation the songs should have?
Yes. For instance, there’s a song called “Die Katze” (The Cat), on which she thought a violin would be able to imitate cat sounds, and in fact it worked. You can hear sounds on the song that remind you of cat-calls.
Do you write intuitively, or do you work thematically?
I prefer working thematically, using motifs. If I have the idea of making a song about something, I'll get a load of material together and then sort it all out, taking it step by step.
When you start the production process, do you experiment with different ideas, or do you proceed from a clear vision?
I prefer going for a clear vision. That’s just the way I am. But during the process I like to have musicians jamming and giving me ideas. I don’t think about all the details, but I'll say, generally: ‘Okay, I like it this way, or that way’. But I never give musicians any written arrangements.
With the new technology you can collect material, sort it out later and keep what you like.
Is everything on Annett Louisan’s album recorded live?
Yes. In the Peer studios in Hamburg.
What importance do you attach to German lyrics with regard to Annett Louisan?
That’s actually very important for this album.
Is lyrical content more or less important to you than adapting a lyric to a specific melody or melodic rhythm?
No, the content isn't more important than the adaptation, but I think it's a big part of it. The content of the lyrics might be more important on this album than on others. But of course, the way Annett sings is maybe the most important factor.
In Germany, I think lyrics are very important, because otherwise you might as well listen to music with English lyrics, which sounds better, phonetically.
Have you worked with artists outside of Germany?
I have worked with Nice Little Penguins in Denmark. Besides that I haven’t worked much outside of Germany, because my writing is based on the German language.
How do you see the relationship between making music for music's sake, and directing musical creativity towards the marketplace? Do the two perspectives have to contrast with each other?
That’s two different questions. Making music for music's sake is fine, but in general it doesn’t lead very far. I make music to move people emotionally. And while I’m creating it, I don’t think about the market. But I might think of people who’d like to listen to the kind of music I'm working on at the time.
For instance, if I'm trying to come up with some Jazz-material, and I have a friend who likes jazz, I might be thinking about how to please him, specifically. Or while I'm writing lyrics I might think about somebody who’s in the situation I'm writing about.
When you produce music, do you ever think in terms of target groups or niches?
Yes, of course I do, because that’s also a part of my business.
What are your plans for the future?
First of all, Annett is out on tour in Germany at the moment, and we've started writing for the second album to fill up her set-list. She has the twelve songs off the first album, but wants to play more than hour-long shows.
I'm going to produce the second album this summer, to keep the whole project moving along. And I also do a lot of children productions. That works out fine as well. I go for adults and kids. Avoiding the teen target group is turning out to be a good move at the moment.
What would you change in the music business if you had the chance?
Most of the changes that really had to happen are already happening now; turning away from just trying to sell music to teenagers is one of the most important ones. But to get the 25 to 49 generation back into the record stores you have to change the A&R-ing too. I hope I'll be doing more albums in the style of the Annett Louisan one; music for adults.
In what direction will you move stylistically?
If possible, I ´d love to maintain the direction I'm in now, and try to stay on a higher, more intellectual level.
Interviewed by Kimbel Bouwman
Read On ...