Interview with AVERY LIPMAN, president of Republic Records and A&R for Godsmack (No.1 US), Chamillionaire - Aug 7, 2006
"Thereís a distinction between a band thatís trying to get a record deal and a band trying to be successful. Artists who are positioned to be successful are the ones that we are interested in."
... states Avery Lipman, President of Republic Records and A&R at Universal for Baby Bash, Chamillionaire and Godsmack (No.1 US).
Lipman handles a wide range of artists, and is currently working on the next Prince album, among many projects.
He speaks to HitQuarters about balancing the demands of the business and supporting the artist's needs, getting recommendations for new talent from Chamillionaire, and the need to tour and have independent releases out before making it to the top.
How did you start out with Republic Records back in 1995?
Republic Records started in our apartment at our kitchen table. My brother, Monte Lipman, and I had been working at record companies. He was in between jobs and we started putting records out as a hobby. We had a grassroots approach to the business. The first record we put out happened to work really well. That was the Bloodhound Gang.
What experiences have been important for you in developing your A&R skills?
As an independent we only had three people, so we couldnít do that much. We had an offer from a major and we took it. When we signed the deal, our ideas and vision didnít fit with the label. We didnít trust our own instincts. We let others decide what was right for the project. It was a complete disaster. The most important lesson Iíve learned is to trust your artist, his instincts and their vision.
What is your vision for Universal Republic?
My vision is to find great artists who are on the fringes and to bring them to the mainstream. Thatís the most challenging part of the job. If youíre able to do that time and again, then that really bodes well for a long term career.
If you start out in the mainstream, just by the nature of the audience, chances are youíll have a hit or two and then be gone. Starting out in the fringes and building a fan base, thatís the best way to develop an artist, because then youíve got fans for many years to come.
How does the hierarchy within the label work?
My brother and I are involved with the A&R process and make the ultimate decisions. We have a staff of four A&Rs; Tom Mackey, the head of A&R, and three people under him. We have some arrangements with ventures and third parties who bring us projects, whether itís the BrushFire camp, Eddie OíLaughlin at Next Plateau, the Marley family at Tough Gong or Latium Records.
What kind of new artists are you interested in?
We look for artists that are meaningful in the marketplace, that have a strong vision of who they are and where theyíre going. If you already position yourself to be successful as an artist that will certainly help you as you go through the process.
Thereís a distinction between a band thatís trying to get a record deal as opposed to a band thatís trying to be successful. Artists who are positioned to be successful are ultimately the ones that we are most interested in.
What styles of music do you focus on?
For the most part itís pop, rock and urban. We do have all types of artists here from Prince, Damian Marley to Godsmack, 3 Doors Down, Jack Johnson. It runs the gamut of popular music.
When do you see artists perform live?
I see a minimum of at least one show a week of either an unsigned artist or one of our own artists. Most artists enjoy it when a label person goes and sees them at their show. They seem to prefer that more than us giving more marketing money or promotional dollars. We try to get out there.
What input do you have on the productions?
We just try to create a platform where an artist can be creative and do their thing. Lots of times with younger bands you have to assist them. In the ideal situation, where an artist has a really strong vision, the creative process usually goes pretty well.
Iím not a musician per se, but we are certainly supportive in helping artists select the right producer, mixer and team. In terms of reviewing the material and the songs that theyíre going to record, we give our suggestions and opinions. At the end of the day, the culture of this company is: itís the artistís record, itís their music, their ultimate decision.
How much patience do you have for a project?
We just recently had an artist record an album and we brought in one of the most reputable mixers in the industry to mix the record, and it stinks. No one is happy about it. Weíre going to pull it back, make adjustments, find new people to come in and see if we can fix it.
How many times have you heard demos that have gotten a band a deal, and everyone is excited about those demos, and by the time the album is finished there is something missing, it has lost that magic? Thatís pretty common. You just have to do the best you can to try to capture all of the excitement and potential that existed when you originally signed the artist.
Itís a creative process. Itís without boundaries. You just get a feeling as you go. There have been times where the music just wasnít coming out right where weíve said to an artist: ďLook, this is just not working out. Iím sorry. Weíve tried. Weíve spent money. We hired producers. We donít feel like we can make a difference with this music.Ē And then we shake hands and part ways.
Obviously, itís a business. Itís not like we have an open chequebook. If youíre a million dollars into a project and youíre still nowhere, then at that point you try to look at every option available to you. And if youíve gone through every option then you just have to do whatís right.
Unfortunately, sometimes that means just moving on, giving an artist the ability to go and try things out with somebody else. It happens, but not that often. When it works great itís an enjoyable process; people feel happy and excited and are proud of what theyíve created.
What artists are you currently working with?
A group called Hinder thatís about to break. And Godsmack, who had a No.1 record. Weíre still working the Prince record. Jack Johnson. Matt Costa, whoís signed to Brush Fire. Weíre getting ready to launch Stephen Marley. Tamar Davis, who is Princeís protegee. Nina Sky, whoís coming out shortly. An urban artist named Baby Boy Da Prince, whoís from New Orleans.
How do you find new talent?
We receive music from a number of sources; managers, publishers, tip sheets, sometimes unsolicited off the street. A lot of the artists weíve signed we have found out in the marketplace, playing in a venue in some town. Recently, Chamillionaire called me and said: ďI just did a show in San Francisco and the guy who opened up for me blew the doors off. I felt terrible I had to follow this guy!Ē
What do you look for in an artist?
I look for an artist that people care about, that resonates, and one that can cut through. Talent and originality, obviously. I think in general the progressive records are few and far between. In terms of the mainstream, radio stations have become more conservative. It seems like theyíre taking less risks.
It makes it more difficult because radio is looking for more of the same, but what we look for is something that expands the boundaries creatively. Itís finding that combination, trying to fit within the landscape of what weíre dealing with.
How ready-to-go must artists be before you look at them seriously?
An artist who prepares himself for success has the best chance of having that success.
Once an artist signs a record deal you become on the team, and thereís competition not only in the building but everywhere. Youíve got Jack Johnson, Prince, Damian Marley, 3 Doors Down, Godsmack. Thatís your competition, and those are guys on your side. Then youíve got to compete in the outside world. So you have to be ready.
You have to deal with all the established platinum acts. And then the so-called ďnewĒ artists today - many of them are already celebrities before they even record the first note. How do you compete with the notoriety of a Paris Hilton or an American Idol winner who has tens of millions of fans before they even make a record?
Youíve got to do a lot of work before you come to a label, because even with the help of a label it just doesnít happen over night. It takes a long time to build and develop yourself so that you can compete.
How should aspiring artists prepare for success?
For a rock artist itís all about touring and their live show. Wherever youíre from you need real fans that really care and want to come and see your shows.
Many hip hop artists today have independent records or mixtapes they put out, or they appear on other artistsí records and do features. They try to become meaningful within a regional or local marketplace.
Probably 9 out of 10 of the alternative and rock artists who are on the charts today have at least one, most have two, independent records before they make it on the charts. Itís the nature of the business right now that you have to invest a lot of time in yourself before you want to compete at a very high level.
How should new artists present themselves?
One of the exciting things about our business is that an artist can seemingly come out of nowhere with just a smash hit.
An artist has to take a hard look at the marketplace. Look at the other artists that are comparable and ask if you are ready to compete with those kinds of artists. That means having a band thatís together and having a fan base. With websites, MySpace, people sharing music online, itís easier to become noticed today and create a fan base.
Artists need to prepare themselves as much as they can to be able to have a national staff come in and really make a difference.
What kind of buzz makes you take note of something?
A buzz that occurs in any of the outlets that exist. An artist that has some radio play, some sales, touring activity, a tremendous presence on websites. Today, many independent artists are used in film and TV, which is a great way of becoming known.
What are the most important marketing tools for you to break new acts?
Obviously, great music. Youíve got to have music that people really connect with. If you have music that people want, whatever marketing tools you have, it will become cool and desirable.
I canít tell you how many posters, postcards and stickers we have of dozens of artists that havenít made it. They sit around in boxes unfortunately, and they collect dust. But the artist with the hit itís that same poster, postcard and sticker that we make, and all of a sudden it looks really cool and desirable. Itís really about having great music.
How much does it typically cost to record an album and then market and promote it?
To take a really healthy swing, itís a million dollars minimum, any way you slice it.
How do you view the current music business climate?
Very challenging. Initially it was frustrating, and frankly scary. But now itís exciting because weíre all trying to find the new model thatís going to push the industry forward. I know itís going to happen. Itís probably going to be something no one is really expecting.
If you turned into an artist and were offered a record deal, by what means would you go about evaluating the A&R and the label?
You have to use a lot of common sense. You have to get a sense of passion from whoever it is that youíre talking to. Thereís a difference between an ĎA&R signingí as opposed to a Ďcompany signingí.
As an artist you want to have the support of the label and have had a chance to meet the sales people, marketing people, radio people, new media people. You walk the halls and get a sense of the people who are really going to be working your project. Every label has their success stories and their failures. In essence, you want to make sure that youíre going to be happy with whoever it is youíre working with.
What style of music would you like too see gain more popularity?
Music doesnít feel as timeless to me today as some of the music did in years past. I would like to try to find music that resonates, that matters, that really cuts through, and that will be relevant ten, twenty, thirty years from now. Iím not sure that all the music today is going to last for years to come.
In what direction will record companies evolve?
If the industry continues at this pace record companies are going to be smaller in the future than they are now. Itís just a simple fact that the revenues are not going to be enough to support large corporations. Sony and BMG have merged. Warner and EMI are doing the same thing. If it continues on this path, labels will simply be smaller.
The whole industry is still swirling around. It will stop at some point and get traction and move forward. But artists still need to be developed and promoted, and people still want music that they love. Thereís always going to be a need for a company that can do all of those things, and thatís a record company.
Perhaps weíll get more involved, like the Korn deal or Robbie Williams with EMI.- major labels becoming more of an entertainment company, a full artist service company having a piece of touring and merchandise. But as long as the public likes music, which they will always do, there will always be record labels.
If you could dramatically change some aspect of the music industry, what would you do?
Iíve been in the business since 1989. I would like to see a move back towards the roots of the music business. It wasnít as much of a business then as it is now. It seems like some of the romance of the business is gone. Back in the 50s, 60s and 70s when you had a collection of independents and entrepreneurs, it was just a looser time.
The industry wasnít as developed. It seemed like it was more fun. Now we are mostly working under a corporate umbrella and there are new pressures of fiscal responsibility that we all face. If there was a way to bring back some of the romance that would be something that I would appreciate. Itís still the best business in the world.
What has been the greatest moment of your music career?
Getting the company from the hobby stage to being a real competitor, being a legitimate operation. Going from my kitchen table to seeing artists on the Top 10 of the Billboard charts.
What do you see yourself doing in 5-10 yearsí time?
Hopefully Iíll be working with great artists who have worldwide fans. The thing that I enjoy is watching the process, seeing an unknown young artist really go through the stages and develop and become successful and realize their dreams. Thatís awesome. Itís beyond being successful and making money. You canít put a price on that.
Interview by Kimbel Bouwman