Interview with CONRAD DIMANCHE, Sr. Dir. of A&R at Bad Boy Entertainment - January 22, 2007
"An unsigned artist is like a politician, who goes out and tries to win votes one by one. You really got to be ready to go out there and kiss all the babies and shake all the hands. Artists have to be out there working for themselves"After starting his career running a family hair salon, Conrad 'Rad' Dimanche made the unusual progression to signing and breaking acts like Danity Kane (No.1 US), Yung Joc and Boyz N Da Hood (Top 10 US).
He talks to HitQuarters about what unsigned artists should do in today's industry climate, and what kind of artists he is interested in.
How come you were so anxious to immerse yourself in the music business?
Iím an entrepreneur at heart. Just doing business in general in something that always intrigues and excites me. Just seeing whatís going on in the music business. I watched Puffy in his early days, Russell Simmons, things that they were doing. I also had peers that were close to me as I was just getting started in the business.
I started out managing a family hair salon. From managing the barbershop and being successful, it attracted local talent. I started with a local DJ named D-Life that asked me to manage his career. When that was going good I attracted some local artists that wanted me to do the same for them.
I decided I wanted to play with the majors. Just get into the game. I wasnít really in the business because I wasnít working for any big company. I started to seek out an internship. I got lucky at Haworth Pr and Bad Boy gave me a shot to do the intern and A&R department in January 1998.
In 1999 I got laid off. At that point I was already managing producers. When I left I just went full throttle as far as getting my management company, Big Bang, up and running, which did pretty good. After about a year Bad Boy called me back to be the A&R Director.
How did you manage to build strong relationships in the industry?
When I was laid off it was an important lesson for me. By 1999 I already had a nice amount of albums under my belt. I thought it would be easy to find another job. I made some phone calls and sent out my resume.
Unlike other A&Rs I donít spend so much time in the office. 95% of my time is spent in the studio working directly with the artist. I didnít get out much at all to build relationships.
After the experience of getting laid off, not being able to find a job, and a lot of people not taking my songs, I realized the importance of building relationships. Coming back in 2000 I was conscious about building strong relationships with everyone from the President down to the intern, the DJs, promotions people, marketing people.
Iíve done a great job at that. Just getting out more and meeting people and keeping in touch with people, even if itís just calling someone and say happy birthday.
What artists are you currently working with?
Right now Iím working on Yung Jocís sophomore LP, Boyz N Da Hood sophomore LP. Just wrapping up 8Ball & MJG. Sophomore LP with Buzz.
Also starting Danity Kaneís sophomore LP next month. Ness, Aasim, Babsí album. Talking about eight different albums.
What was it that made you want to work with these artists?
having substance in what theyíre doing and really loving what theyíre doing. When Iím signing artists I really look for something unique and edgy. People with great personality and a hunger to make it.
Today in this business, an artist has to do a lot more than you had to do seven years ago. Artists have to have the right work ethic and no ego. Things like that makes it real easy and the process comes out better that way.
How do you work with them?
Part of my job is micro-managing the sound. Every artist album is like a movie. You need to pick the scenes for what the album is supposed to be. Finding the right tracks, the right writers, the right producers.
And then sitting with the producers, the writers and the artist and making sure every adlib is right, every melody and harmony is correct, and sonically the album feels good.
Why did they choose to sign with Bad Boy?
Puff has built a brand, and all that the label represents as far as a ratio of putting out gold and platinum albums, meaning the amount of albums that we put out and the amount of them that go gold and platinum. This success with marketing and breaking artists. Bad Boy has also got a family vibe that attracts artists.
Whatís usually discussed in the first meetings with a new artist?
What vision the artist sees himself fitting in. What kind of music they would like to make. Also just getting to know each other. There has got to be a strong bond between myself and the artist, and then the artist, the producers and the label.
Itís important for the label to understand who they sign as an artist. From how they dress to things that they think about, and things that they aspire to do.
Is there a certain time schedule to show some success for a new artist?
Absolutely. Especially in todayís industry. Itís not what it used to be seven years ago as far as signing an artist and the long process of development. We definitely perform a quicker time turn around from signing an artist to when the artistí album is ready to go.
Today the ideal situation is signing the artist when the album is close to done and the singles are already in place. We sign them and four or six months later we could drop an album.
How important is it for you to work long term with an artist?
Long term as far as more than one album, definitely. The first album is something that breaks the artist into the business. Itís nothing like having a franchise artist signed to your label that you can do four or five albums with.
At what point do you go for producing a music video?
A particular single must be giving an indication that itís going to work and has the ability to grow at radio before you go for a video. But that also varies per artist.
How do you work with your A&R team at Bad Boy?
Honestly, Iím the A&R team at Bad Boy. We are a boutique label, so Iím the only A&R there. I definitely have the help of Puffy and Haworth as far as the direction, but a lot of the day-to-day is handled by me.
How do you find new talent?
It comes from all over the place. I keep a network of DJs, publishers, managers, production companies all over the country and even outside of the US.
I canít go through every demo. I depend on those people. I respect their ears. When they come to me and tell me that they have something thatís hot then thatís something I pay attention to. And just keeping my ears to the street.
How should unsigned acts present their material nowadays?
As professionally as possible. You want to make sure the package is right with a good enough picture. Thereís nothing worse than just getting a CD written with a marker and you can barely read what it says. The artists that have their stuff together also take care of that aspect of it.
What advice would you give unsigned artists on how to build a career?
Start from the ground up. Itís like a politician, who goes out and tries to win votes one by one. You really got to be ready to go out there and kiss all the babies and shake all the hands. Artists have to be out there working for themselves.
They canít wait for the label or wait for their management or depend on the production company to create situations for them. They really have to be out there on their own. Just passing out their CDs themselves in front of the club.
Do you still give New York Classes for the Learning Annex?
Yes, Iím teaching one thatís on. Itís about writing hit songs, getting your songs heard and into the hands of the decision-makers, how to put together a marketing plan, how to distribute your music, and how you put together a winning team for your album.
Rapidindustry has a showcase feature to review demos for upcoming producers, R&B singers or rap artists. What do you think of their source for hip hop music?
Rapindustry.com as well as other hip hop websites is doing a great job. Itís a good platform for a lot of our new artists trying to break into the game. The online experience on the whole is something thatís definitely changed the way the business works.
Thereís also another website, PMPworldwide, thatís supposed to be launching in about a week and a half. Itís something like a premier production marketplace. My peer A&Rs will be going to aspiring production.
I think that is something that is going to revolutionize the way artists make albums. Especially newer artists having the same access to an A, B, C class producers as anyone from New York.
Some of the biggest problems for newer artists are their resources, especially outside of New York, being able to get to the hot producers. The online experience has changed the game.
How do you view the current radio situation?
Tough. Radio is like the hardest it has ever been. The politics behind getting records played. You have 1000 singles trying to fit into 35 slots at radio. Thereís a lot of fighting that goes on as far as trying to get your single in one of those 35 slots, and then trying to keep it there.
How do you view the current music business climate?
Iím not mad about it. Itís a little scary with the CD sales going down, but at the same time you got the ringtones, the iTunes downloads that kind of offsets the loss of CD sales.
I think overall in the music business and music in general, thereís so much going on online, thereís so much free music, thereís so many different things today to take a kidís attention away from buying into an artist or buying an entire album. There are so many free singles to be downloaded. Itís just a lot harder business. And thatís not fair.
Artists have to do so much more to grab the attention of the consumer. There has to be an emotional attachment there to move a person to get up off the computer to go to the store and buy the authentic CD. Everyone just has to work harder and do more and be innovative about ways to grab the attention of the consumer.
If you could dramatically change some aspect of the music industry, what would you do?
I donít know if I would change anything. Life is about evolution. You canít be scared of how things evolve. So, I wouldnít mess around with it.
If you would turn into an artist and were offered a record deal, by what means would you go about evaluating the A&R and the label?
Just researching sales and how successful they were with the music genre I was going to be in. Also researching how many artists they have that come close to whatever music genre I was going to be in.
Like how much competition am I going to have at the label as an artist, as far as releases and attention go. I donít think a lot of artists do that when they are getting signed.
What kinds of artists would you like too see gain more popularity?
True hip hop artists. There are not too many of them. Thereís only a handful. You got artists out there with a lot of substance to what they rap about. A lot of the times, those are not the guys that win.
You got the finger-snap music and I can listen to that music and I can dance to it, but I really love that thing of substance, in any genre of music.
What do you see yourself doing in 5 to 10 years?
Probably dabbling in the real estate business. If Iím at a label after 10 years I could be like a Vice President running the label, not just the A&R department. I like to be handling the business of music, not just grinding in a studio.
Interview by Kimbel Bouwman
Read On ...
* Bad Boy A&R Daniel 'Skid' Mitchell on signing Janelle MonŠe