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Interview with JEF CAHOURS, A&R at Warner Music France - Feb 6, 2006

ďItís very difficult for us to develop two artists in the same style, to have them played on the same radios ... Itís very difficult to be in competition with ourselvesĒ

picture Ö says Jef Cahours, head of A&R at Warner Music France. He was awarded No.1 on the France Top 10 A&R Chart 2004 for signing Tragedie (No.1 France).

Read about why Warner wonít sign two artists of the same style, what Jef considers to be an overproduced demo, how they approach the radio and what the advantage is of doing this as a major.

How did you get started in the music business?

I began as a musician and manager of a band in the middle of the 80ís. We did 4 albums, were touring for 10 years, and during that time I was doing the tour-management as well.
After that came to an end a friend of mine at Virgin asked me if I would like to be his assistant. I went there just to try for a few months, but I loved the job and stayed there. That was in 1995.

Then I went to V2 Records in 1999 and worked with Thierry Chassagne, who is my boss today, and I have followed him since then. I went with him to Sony Epic France and also when he built his joint venture with Warner in 2003. After Warner bought the label Up music he became president of Warner Music France, and thatís how I became head of A&R for Warner Music France.

What does your work involve?

I work with the other A&R guys and the management directors of the labels. We decide together if we sign an artist or not.

How do you find new talent?

Managers or artists themselves come to see me. I listen to a lot of projects sent by post and receive a lot of emails with mp3ís. I do this everyday; even during the weekend I listen to stuff at home.

After 2 minutes I know if the song will be interesting for us or not. If itís interesting, I listen to it again later. I need more than one listen. After that we have meetings and share the different points of views.

How important is it that an artist is from France?

We really have to focus on French artists. We receive stuff from foreign countries, but itís very rare that we sign these projects, because we have a radio quota in France which means that 40% of the music has to be French. Usually the rest is taken up by U2, Madonna or other known artists.

So itís very difficult if you come with a non-French artist, especially when there has been no previous success in England or Germany. If the artist has success abroad it helps us with the decision.

If you have an English song and add 3 words in French, would it be rated as a French song?

No, sometimes we make some duets; if we want to launch an international artist in France then the lyrics have to be 50% in French. We are doing this with Seeed actually. I was in the studio last week with Saian Supa Crew to do half of the Seeed song in French for the radio.

2 out of 3 records sold here are locally produced and mainly in French. The Spanish market has quite the same characteristics. Itís very linked to the culture because French people listen very carefully to the lyrics. A good song with very good lyrics can be a smash hit here, but a very good song with bad lyrics wonít work. When you listen to a Beatles song you listen more to the lyrical melodies rather than the lyrical meaning, even if they have a good meaning. But in France the meaning of the lyrics can make the song.

How many acts do you work with at the same time?

4 or 5 actively, and 10-12 where only one track needs to be produced, where after the first single we have a 4-month time to eventually prepare the album. Itís not the same work finding a song for a new artist as it is controlling everything on the production with the producer and the people that are involved.

Do you have a limit on how many releases you can have?

Of course! Our decision is based on 3 important questions. My first question is:
Am I convinced of the potential of the track? Will it convince people on the radio to buy the CD? The second is: are we able to broadcast this artist? Do we know how to promote this style of music with our team here? And my last question is: do we have the time and space to do it?

Itís very difficult for us to develop two artists in the same style, to have them played on the same radios and the same TV channels. Itís very difficult to be in competition with ourselves.

Do you have one big radio station for the whole country?

Yes, itís Radio NRJ in France.

So if a new artist is played there itís a big chance for him or her?

Oh yeah, it can change history. The radio is very powerful. We have Skyrock for hip-hop, NRJ for all kinds of music and Europe 2 for rock.

How did it come about that you signed Tragedie?

It was when I was working with a DJ. He was doing a remix for me and we were in a studio doing the mastering. He played me the song and told me: ďI was playing in a club last week and I saw this small band from Nantes and the audience was very excited about them.Ē I listened to the song and thought it was a hit.

We finished the track and went to the radio and they liked the song and began to play it. We released the single at the perfect time and reached no.1 on the singles chart. And as soon as we had that result, every radio played the song.

How important is music television in France?

We have big popular shows such as Pop Idol, but otherwise itís very difficult to go to TV with new artists. The videos are broadcast on cable channels such as MCM, TV6 or during the night at M6, but it's very difficult to get airplay and the audience is not very strong. The most important thing is the radio. TV is only an addition.

But there are always exceptions. With Epic we had fantastic success with Lorie and she wasnít played on radio. The video was broadcast on morning TV for kids, and that worked fantastically well.

How much money do you put into the launch of a new artist?

It depends on the style. Some pop artists can surface through live touring, and some other through TV advertisements. There are big differences from one artist to the other. For hip-hop artists it can be very cheap, and for French pop artists itís very expensive.

Do you listen to unsolicited material?

Yes, but only projects addressed to my attention. People always insist on meeting me, but it doesnít fit with my schedule and it doesnít change anything for me if the artist or their manager is here.

Are there showcases or places where you go to look for artists?

Yes! I try to do that at least 2 times a week. And sometimes I just go during the day to visit some bands or artists that are rehearsing. There are generally 3-4 places in Paris that do these kind of showcases - La Scene, Le Reservoir, La Fleche d'or, or Glazart.

What would be a good way for a producer/composer to get in touch with you?

I receive stuff from everywhere, Sweden, Germany, England, USÖWhen it is good stuff Iím usually not interested in it - it has to be very good stuff. Because when I propose a good song to an artist, they are usually not interested. I have to show them something exceptional, otherwise, unless they donít know the producer personally, they will say: ďYeah, its not badÖĒ, and nothing will come out of it.

Usually artists come with their beats, but we also propose stuff to the artist. Iím trying to be more involved with composers on hip-hop music, to put more harmonies and melodies in it. Itís specific to hip-hop in France - so far itís been like a loop, with a girl singing a chorus on the loop without any harmonies to help her. When you listen to hip-hop from the US the songs are really songs. Theyíre pop songs with beats, and thatís a big difference. We are a bit late as always with the US and English productions in this kind of music, but there is something very specific and interesting about how lyrics are written and gimmicks are put into French hip-hop.

Have you ever had cases where a demo has been in English but youíve remade it with a French artist?

Yes of course. A few months ago I even received a track in German. I think it was successful in Germany and the publisher said: ďIf you want to make an adaptation for this song in French, no problem.Ē So I gave it to a French singer and sheís just about to record it now.

How important is it for an artistís credibility that they are able to write their own songs?

In French pop itís important, and for the lyrics in hip hop too. But it depends from artist to artist.

Do you look for certain material from your artists?

Not specifically, but Iím always searching for French pop artists or beats and productions for R&B artists.

What does being an executive producer to your artists entail?

I find the producer, the musicians, the team, and I make up the schedule and have to manage the budgets from the beginning to the end of the production.

Do you test the music somehow on an audience?

Yes, like with French folk music itís important to see the band on stage before you sign it. With hip hop artists it can also be important with live gigs but with Tragedie it was not very important. The track was very strong so that was enough for us.

How much are you involved in deciding the direction of the artist?

It depends on the artist. Some artists already have their audience so there is not much to say, and it would be very dangerous to change them. But I can help some artists. Itís not possible to force an artist to do something he or she does not want to do. My role is to give advice and propose solutions.

My job is to have a good album in the end, with singles, because the singles promote it. We are not here to change the artist. If you want to do that, itís better to have a casting and create an artist from the top.

These days everybody can produce good quality music at home. Is this good or bad?

Sometimes itís good, and sometimes itís bad. Itís only a tool. This tool is available to a lot of people, and thatís good. The result is that there is bigger competition because there are more artists. So when we release an album, it has to be more interesting and has to have more potential than ever. But that everything sounds quite professional can be a trap too.

Sometimes people come with an overproduced demo and I say: ďCome back with only vocals and piano.Ē

What have been your biggest troubles in the music industry?

Iíve had some bad experiences in studio sessions, but there is always something interesting in every nightmare. Iíve worked with very different styles of music and artists in studios. Sometimes itís very difficult, but in the end itís only music. The maximum is wasted studio time, and thatís only money.

I think the psychological role of an A&R is very important, and what is very helpful for me is that I was an artist and manager myself for 10 years. This experience helps me every day, because I know what is important and what is not important for an artistís career. If the artist feels that the A&R is solid, aware of everything and always present, itís very helpful. Itís like a relation between a parent and child. If youíre too kind, you have no control anymore, but if you are too tough you are not close enough to the artist.

Interviewed by Jan Blumentrath

Next week: Interview with Greg Sowders, Senior Vice President of A&R for Warner Chappell Music US and publisher for Nickelback (US No.1), The Black Crowes and Staind

Read On ...