Interview with JOACHIM BRAUN, A&R at Sony BMG for Silbermond, Revolverheld, Die Happy - Aug 13, 2007
ďI donít want to sign a second Silbermond. Some companies like to copy again and again the same idea. But if you do that your business will go down,Ē... so advises Joachim Braun, A&R at Sony BMG for Silbermond (No.1 Germany), Revolverheld (Top 10 Germany), and Die Happy (Top 10 Germany).
Braun, who signed and broke Silbermond, one of the most successful bands in Germany, sees his A&R role as a mission and stresses the importance of planning all the aspects of making an act a hit.
He talks to HitQuarters about selling the acts he signs inside his own company first, the importance of showcases and band competitions, and working with name producers for the quality of their work and not for the sake of name-dropping.
How did you become an A&R person?
I started my career in the music business as a trainee at Warner. Then I became product manager for Sony and started as a junior product manager at BMG. Since 1999 I work as an A&R. I think itís a mission. Something you love and something you are working on for years and years. Iím still trying to become an A&RÖ
What bands are you responsible for at the moment?
The actual bands I signed and work for are: Silbermond, Revolverheld and the newcomer band Radiopilot.
How did you find Silbermond? What made them so successful in Germany?
I think the success story of this band is due to teamwork of many good people behind them and of course of the band and management itself. In June 2003, an assistant of the business affairs department gave me a CD of a young band called Silbermond (the average age of its members was 18) from her hometown Bautzen which is far in the east of Germany.
At this time I worked on the band Die Happy in a hot phase of their 3rd album and didn't have the time for other things. So it took two weeks before I heard the demos and I was totally amazed when I heard the songs and of course Stefanie's voice.
From the first minute on I thought the time is right for a young band with great skills as musicians and with German lyrics. I contacted their manager and they had a show in Munich. The first time I saw them I asked the manager, ĎDid they really play live?!í
I couldnít believe that a band of 18-year-old kids can make such a sound live. In the next two weeks I went two more times to the east of Germany to see them. Then I met the people they already worked with, I met their families and - to make long story short - I fell in love with this band!
But it wasn't a success story from the beginning. After the production of the album (it was nearly finished in November 2003) I was fired after a company struggle. I came back in April 2004. At this time the band released their 1st single, which wasn't a success from a commercial point of view.
But the band and the structures behind it were strong enough to proceed and we got some budget for the next single. After the second single before album release the market was ready for Silbermond. The debut was released in July 2004, went Top 5 and remained in the album charts for 66 weeks - granting Silbermond triple platinum selling, and many awards won since.
To establish a band on this level, there are so many aspects for sustainable success. To name the most important aspects: passion, relevance of the band in the market, song writing from the band itself, ability to play live and management and label-commitment.
The second Silbermond album is 63 weeks in the album charts and it seems that the band can top the success of their debut in every way. I think this is just the beginning of their career as artists.
Did they already have a following/fan base in the beginning?
I think they had won some song contest before in 2000 called ĎLucky Starí and played in the area they come from for five years already.
What exactly was done after you decided you want to sign them?
I think the first step is to involve the marketing people and get them interested in the band. After that I put together a signing sheet with all the facts I know about the band. If this signing sheet is OK for your boss/president you set up a showcase.
That is normally the last step before making an offer and/or presenting the band/act live to a wider circle in the company before or after signing. This is not a must but suitable. Then you set up the production. Itís very important to have the right timing for the band.
There is an old rule: If you sign a band now, it takes a year till the album comes out. So you have to set up a plan for one year to establish the band in the company and then you can go with the single. But you have to know the relevance of the band in the market.
How is the showcase set up?
Normally we have a choice of good locations where we already did showcases. We know the conditions for renting equipment, club, accommodation, travelling, etc. The setup is not a big thing but regarding the costs it should be a sign for concrete interest.
Was there a certain media that gave Silbermond a push in the beginning?
I think it wasnít the typical media like MTV, Viva or radio. I think the key was to play in the east of Germany some radio off air festivals. You always have an audience of 5,000-6,000 people and if you do it four or five times in a short time you have 20.000 people watching the band and maybe you get some airplay in the stations that organize the event.
How did the process work with Revolverheld?
In July 2004, I was looking for a band with male members and German lyrics. After I worked with Die Happy (female voice with English lyrics) and Silbermond (female voice with German lyrics) I found in Revolverheld the right band to add to my artist roster.
The most important thing for me was that they were different to most German bands - they had some kind of American attitude in style and sound - but with German lyrics. I saw these guys from Hamburg the first time live as an unsigned band on a radio festival after an invitation of their management.
The reaction of the audience (most of them were girls around 18) in front of the stage was typical. So you have the feeling what can happen if you put it on a bigger picture. So it was clear that these guys kick ass and can fulfil all hopes.
But it wasn't a sure shot. The first single wasn't a typical radio single; it was a kind of a hard rock song. The image of the band polarized the media partners, a fact which is relevant until now but more as an advantage for the band. I wasnít looking for a band that everybody likes from the first time, I think sometimes itís good if it is a little bit more edgy. The debut stayed 42 weeks in the album charts and reached gold status.
Would you sign something similar to these bands now?
No, I donít want to sign the second Silbermond or Revolverheld. Some companies like to do that, copy again and again the same idea. But in the end if you do that your business in total will go down. You should look for the next new thing that is different.
If you have a band that is successful in the beginning you have to give them space to do a second or third album with the same awareness. If you have three or four other bands in the same genre you will destroy everything.
What are you looking for at the moment?
I think it's more about a feeling when I see something or get an offer. Itís not a typical process like I have something in mind and go out to look for that. I think itís more a feeling about what could be relevant in this or the next year.
Who can actually decide what kind of deal a band gets? How many people are involved in that decision?
The artist decides what kind of deal s/he gets. That is to say, it depends on the relevance of the artist for the market. First of all it is the part of the A&R vision for the act and his expectations. These expectations need to be shared by company/management, which leads at best case to an offer. In the actual situation, a minimum of three persons are involved in the decision.
How do you build interest within your own company for a new act?
With enthusiasm for the act, the best arguments and detailed preparation while presenting music to a small number of people in an early phase.
How do you present a new act in a meeting?
From my point of view regular A&R meetings are suitable to update colleagues about A&R projects, to listen to new music, which might be interesting for this circle. In case I have concrete interest in an act I'll be well prepared how to present this artist with music, info and visuals.
How does your signing sheet for a new band look like?
Itís mainly about marketing aspects. The plan is part of the vision for an act. Before I sign an act I have concrete ideas of positioning, target-groups, press/online, relevant TV-platforms, relevant radio stations, club-promotion, internet-promotion, touring/support slots, cooperations.
What exactly can you do to give a new signing a push?
Itís all about credibility. The A&R person needs credibility.
How do you decide how much budget you put in anew band?
It depends on the kind of music and genre. With A&R-budgets I always prefer solid budgets for recordings & and production because I need excellent content for everything that is following, like marketing & promotion.
As for marketing budgets: every A&R should know about the resources he needs to fulfil the expectations. The times when you could sign artists without a detailed calculation of A&R and marketing budgets are over.
Do you commit to certain budgets in the contract?
Every contract is different but sometimes we give some commitment. Normally I donít commit that but I think if you want to break an act in the mainstream, and thatís our job here, you have to spend for A&R and marketing around 500,000 Euros.
If you have an act that needs more artist development, which is more indie, the budget can be smaller. If you want to have an act with two or three videos you can go up to 200,000-300,000 Euros in marketing.
How much do you spend on a video?
This is a marketing decision. In general we still spend enough money on music videos but the budgets were reduced in recent years. Thatís no secret. But it depends on the artist. You have bands that do a video just for 15, 000 Euros for example and you have bands where you spend 60, 000 because they are really classy and mainstream.
Is it still such an important thing?
Yeah, absolutely. You create a visual image for the artist. Itís not the most important thing. The best impact you can have on a consumer is by playing live. In my genre tour support is an essential tool to promote the first release, or to position artists in a relevant or new target group. If we find a slot that fits the artist we will do it.
How important is a name producer/mixer? How much percentage of the budget is used for that?
It is fantastic when the result of an album is excellent and the name of the producer/mixer is a brand. It is a shame if the result of an album is not satisfying and the name of the producer is a brand. We don't pay for name-dropping; we pay for the quality of the name and its work.
How important is a single / album nowadays?
The single as a cargo to transport music threw the media, is important. The album as a complete work of an artist is still a concept I believe in.
Do you think itís good for a band to release a record on a small indie label first?
Maybe for an alternative rock or indie band. But my personal signing policy is to sign major artists for major companies. There are strengths and weaknesses in major labels and indie labels comparably. Under today's market conditions there are smooth transitions from indie structures to major structures and vice versa.
But in the past and today, as long the entertainment industry needs glamour and stars, there will always be the need for major structures - it doesn't matter if these major structures are used by an indie or major label. If you expect just a small success and selling 5,000 units, an indie label could be Ok.
Did it ever happen that you took over a band from an indie label or just did the distribution?
Yeah, itís a normal thing but itís not my thing as an A&R to say:, ĎOk, you signed with an indie label and we just do the distribution.í Itís more a thing for the music director to do; if he likes the artist he may do a distribution deal with the label.
How can you break the magic circle of Ďeverybody is waiting on everybodyí (for example: without airplay no booking, without booking no airplay....)?
My experience is: a major record company is able to take the lead in these situations.
Do you look for songs for some of your acts?
No. My experience is that all the bands I worked with developed their own songwriting on a high level. The best songs and biggest hits were written by the artists. Part of their self-conception as a band and as real artists is their own songwriting.
What should a musician invest in?
A musician should invest in playing gigs and shows wherever it is worth to perform. Practicing is the best way to get feedback and to develop an authentic artist career and to decide whether you want to to do it professionally or as a hobby.
How important do you consider the internet for an artist?
Itís important. It is another indicator for response by looking at the traffic on these sites. But I don't believe in finding the next big thing by surfing MySpace.
How should an artist present a demo?
Demos and additional info can be sent digital or by regular mail. It should contain everything that is important in order to form the best impression of the artist: music. Sending just a MySpace link is Ok but itís still better to send a CD, photos and an additional sheet with information about the band and all the links.
What is normally lacking when it comes to demos that are sent to you?
Every demo is worth to be heard and we are doing this. The reasons can vary in many ways why I'm interested or not. It should be sent directly to the attention of one A&R in a company not to the ĎA&R departmentí or to persons that are not involved in the A&R process. It's helpful if demos are sent in by a third party who is well connected with the music industry.
How important is it that demos are given to you by people you know?
I think itís very important to have a reference. You donít only sign only the music of a band you sign also the Ďdearest and nearestí, the surrounding of a band. So itís very important to have a professional structure around a band.
Itís easier to work with than just with artists, who are good musicians and have a nice demo but nothing more. I think itís very important to create a professional surrounding around the band before you get signed.
But you have to be very careful with selecting. Itís more the question of having a solid base as a band. Sometimes itís good to have a professional management but the first thing is to have people in the team who are very honest, self-critical and can be professional when the band is signed.
How much do you involve yourself in the creative side?
The best decision for an A&R is to sign an act with the people around who have the talent and discipline to manage most of the creative processes by themselves. In this case we speak about top artists, top managers, top producers, top engineers, etc. Probably the only talent I have is to see the talent of others.
How important are band contests?
Big band contests are a good platform to perform as an artist under professional circumstances and with higher awareness. There are different kinds of contests in Germany: non-profit contests, regional contests, contests by branded companies, contests of record companies, casting shows, etc.
I signed Radiopilot after seeing them at a John Lennon talent award in Germany. I saw them in the semi-final and then flew to see them winning the final.
How much of the German music industry is based on German music?
The percentage in album releases is around 35 %
How does the rock market in Germany work at the moment?
I'm mot specialized in the rock market in the sense of rock/alternative/metal. I can say as far as I can do as a rock/pop A&R that the rock market and especially the live market for rock bands is one of the most constant genres in the music industry. The rock fans are some of the most loyal fans. I think the rock market works especially for specialised labels and bookers.
What is the most important media in Germany when it comes to launching a new rock band?
Definitely the live circuit. No impact can be stronger than the live impact! Support tours to build up a strong fan community are the most essential marketing tool now where classic marketing/promotion channels are getting too expensive or lose their relevance.
Would you sign a band from abroad directly?
When it comes to talent, music, sound, style, I would sign anytime a band/act from everywhere in the world. But for organisational reasons it has to be checked very carefully. In most offers from abroad I have the opinion that the artist should be signed in their home territory or to the next nearest and relevant market.
But in principal everything is possible. I didnít yet sign any band from outside Germany, but a coleague of mine signed a band from Denmark for example. Itís a good example because the next nearest market to Denmark is Germany. Itís easy to travel to Hamburg or Berlin.
What is the main revenue stream from a band for the record company - downloads, album sales, touring, merchandising?
If you look to the future and think about touring, merchandising and downloads I think the companies have to change things. You will not be able to earn enough money with only selling CDs. But what you can see is that the touring and merchandise business is going very well.
A record company builds up brands so they should get a share on these other business parts.
We had some acts where we had shares but itís not enough if you look at the complete artist roster. Record companies tend to go more in the direction of becoming entertainment companies.
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Interview by Jan Blumentrath
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