Interview with TAAN NEWJAM, producer for Britney Spears, Omarion, No Angels - Jul 9, 2007
ďNowadays you can theoretically produce a finished master hit record with a laptop,Ē... states Taan 'Dragonman' Newjam, who wrote more than 1000 songs, some indeed on his laptop, as well as produced and remixed Britney Spears (No.1 US), Omarion (No.1 US), Sugababes (No.1 UK), No Angels (No.1 Germany) and many others.
Grammy-nominated Newjam is an example for a Europe-based producer who not only had alot of work in the US, he also broke American artists in Europe. He talks about building his reputation and about the differences between the markets.
He also talks to HitQuarters about the necessity to rely on placing music in ads, TV and film in addition to album or single releases, about big corporations becoming obsolete, and about the importance of writing one song every day.
How did you start out in the music business?
I started out as a remixer in Stuttgart, Germany. When I was still at high school someone asked me to do a remix for a house record. Back then we did more hip hop and R&B, working with the Americans in South Germany.
They liked the house remix. And all of a sudden we made our first money with music. Before that it was a hobby.
Then I did more and more mixes and productions for that one label management in Stuttgart.
Why did you found Jiggy Joint Productions?
Jiggy Joint was found in 1999. By that time we moved to Hamburg, because it was the centre for the German music scene.
We were 4-5 writers/producers with two studios. We wanted to give our production company a name. ĎJiggyí stands for something funky and cool, and ĎJointí is more like a song. It basically means like a hot cool funky song.
My business involves songwriting, producing and managing. We also have a publishing company, where I have those songwriters signed. We all work as one team. Iím sort of the General Manager.
Besides songwriting and producing I also take care of management, publishing and the song plugging for the whole production company.
Why do in-house publishing?
I was signed as a writer first to Warner Chappell. Then they gave me an option to build up my own team. To finance that team I got them advances. It went through my co-publishing.
I built a publishing company together with a major publisher. They financed the writers and I took care of their songs.
We always work with various major labels. We develop a project and then we mostly license it to the major labels or sometimes smaller indie labels, depending on the artist.
Why did you also start Jiggy Joint Records?
Itís basically just a label name. We usually start up doing a little vinyl distribution. Just basic stuff to build up a project of an artist.
Then we look for a major company or another partner to license the project and work together with them.
What is your musical direction in regards of whom you take on?
Mainly urban. But I always say itís urban/pop. I like all kinds of music. I like good songs. I produce it mostly in an urban way, because thatís danceable. Itís what I enjoy myself.
But itís all about the song first. You can produce it in many ways.
Iím also still a remixer. Mainly US urban artists are remixed through us and then brought into the European more mainstream pop radio market.
We did the main radio and video mixes for groups like B2K, Omarion, Lil Jon.
Were you surprised to be nominated for a Grammy?
Yes. I was nominated as a songwriter for a Latin Grammy in 2004. It was a song called ĎLipstickí by a singer called Alejandra Guzman. It was co-produced and co-written with Desmond Child.
We did the song a while ago in London. Someone got it into Desmond Childís hands. He loved it. He produced it as a single. The album was called ĎLipstickí too.
Alejandra Guzman is an icon in the Latin American music world. The song was very successful. It was nominated in the Latin/rock category.
What artists are you currently working with?
Iím developing my own artists. Iím working with Dan Hogan from Germany. And a newcomer, an 18 year old girl called Jasmin.
I just did remixes for German groups like No Angels, Lexington Bridge. And Iím also working on a new artist on Universal Records called Jimmy Fu.
How did you form your songwriting/production team JiggyJointSouth?
Weíre based between Stuttgart and Berlin now. Some guys have their studios in Stuttgart. Iím in Berlin. We always travel back and forth.
We all grew up in Stuttgart. Ernest Newsky and myself founded the team. We were the first guys who got song placements and production deals.
Meanwhile, we also developed those other writers/producers. We are all longtime friends and collaborators.
S. Storm is our newest member. He just came on board like three years ago through Keno. We always look for new talented songwriters/producers.
Iím mainly managing more songwriters/producers. Not so much artists. I find it easier to deal with. Itís more about the music and studio stuff, which Iím more involved in.
How did you get your first placements of songs?
The usual A&R tours. You just have to somehow get an appointment. Through friends, through direct, cold calls. Stay in contact and build relations. And then have the right song at the right time.
The most secure way to get a placement is if you produce and create your own project and try to get a deal for it. Because then you can make sure that your song gets released.
What makes you take on a project?
There has to be an obvious talent behind a song, an artist, a voice or production. Even like a sound or a mixing from the producer.
If it sparks my interest, it could be a reason that it sparks other peopleís interest. As always in this business, itís mostly a gut feeling.
How did you get projects from big artists, even in the US?
Sometimes publishers opened doors. But it was mainly by traveling abroad and physically being there. I spend probably three to four months a year traveling.
I got projects by physically being present in New York and LA making connections and networks, and working these networks.
And then slowly but surely getting to the right people and then making sure you get a foot in the door. With us it was always through a remix.
I could open up the European market for American artists by a Jiggy Joint remix. Thatís why I remixed so many US artists.
We could prove that our remixes worked for Europe. We broke a lot of artists like that. But the remix budgets are getting smaller and smaller.
Nowadays itís not so easy anymore to get those big mixes again. But sometimes the right remix can do miracles. There were so many songs sort of dead, no one wanted to release them. The remix revived them and made it big.
The remixer only gets the flat fees. Sometimes they do the full production, and we do everything new. We just get the vocal track. And we normally get a flat fee.
Occasionally, you get some royalties on a few license points. But thatís more of an exception.
Whatís the difference between working with established artists and new artists?
With established artists you have so many other things to take into account. There is an A&R, a manager, and the artist who has a certain style. You have to cater to them and see what could fit them for the next direction.
With a new artist itís more like a tool for myself and my co-writers/producers to create a totally new vision. Or just to use other songs that I think are just too difficult for other artists to break through.
A lot of big producers, be it The Neptunes or whatever, they all broke their sound with another artist attached to them. Kelis was sort of their thing to break them as producers.
You always try to find a vehicle for your songs and sound and productions to transport your new vision.
Could you point out significant differences of working in Europe, US and Asia?
Iím working in Asia for mainly placing songs. Iím not physically there that much and producing. I had a few placements with some Chinese artists.
A few of our songs became singles for Japanese artists. But this goes more through the publishing side.
In the US Iím working with bigger budgets. Musically, what they consider pop and urban in the US differs from what Europe considers pop and urban. The US has a different urban history. What they consider pop is already urban in Europe.
For the US, urban is more about the beat. For Europe you have to write bigger melodies and bigger hooks. In the US you always have the feeling that the B section is already the hook.
What has changed over the years in producing records?
The digital revolution of the production process. Nowadays, if you have the know-how you can theoretically produce a finished master hit record with a laptop.
When everyone started it was all about having to invest huge amounts of money to have a solid set-up. Nowadays, if you know how to use your equipment in a digital world right, you can do a lot of stuff.
I first didnít embrace the digital world. But now I finished a remix myself on the road, on my laptop already, which was taken and released in the US. Thatís all possible nowadays. Youíre more flexible and mobile.
What does your management set-up involve?
I havenít managed that many artists yet. If we produce an artist and if they donít have management, we take care of it until it becomes too big.
Iím approached by artists to manage them, but Iím not looking for artists to manage. Iím looking for songwriters/producers to manage. Iím looking for a guy or girl who can complement the team.
If we have a lot of track guys who do instrumentals, then the best way is to look for a lyricist and melody writer. I also try to consult them and develop them as creative people. I give them feedback to their songs.
And itís also about creating opportunities for them. Getting placements. Trying to put their music into films or advertisements. This is what I consider real publisher/management work.
Where do you find that new talent?
Thereís no ads that weíre looking at or anything like that. It just comes through the creative people, like other writers or other artists talking to other people.
Itís a small and creative community. They sort of pop up. And if youíre there at the right time and you talk to them and they like you, then you can find a deal in a way. So it mainly works through personal contacts.
Is it hard to find new avenues for branding?
Iím trying to find ways and opportunities to have that catalogue that the songwriters/producers create and to use it for advertising, film and TV. Music is needed everywhere.
Nowadays, as a songwriter/producer, you canít only rely on the record CD selling business. Itís not in a good state right now. If you only rely on that then itís pretty dangerous.
You have to see where else people need music or managers or consultants who know a lot about music and can put the right music together for whatever project it might be.
How do you form the right team for a new project?
Our team is pretty big already. All the guys that I work with are very respected by themselves.
We can take on a dance project, a pop/rock project or a pop/urban project. Weíre all instrumentalists and we all like all kinds of music. So it usually remains within the team.
Sometimes I bring in other songwriters, Ďpop linersí, who write lyrics as native speakers. Mostly guys from England or the US. Just to get better lyrics and melodies. But for the production and music side it mostly stays in-house.
What does a good song has to have?
A great catchy melody for the hook. Lyrics are important too. But from what Iíve signed itís more about the melody.
So many songs work where people donít really get the lyrics. In Germany not everyone speaks perfect English, but they still understand the English on some great songs.
Nowadays, in our world, itís also about a feel, a vibe, which are basically the music and the production. And in our case the beats help the melody to shine through even more. But itís always the deadly combination of a great melody and a great groove.
How do you write your material?
I mostly start with a backing track with a beat, a groove. I look for different sounds and musical hooks and melodies that are inside the music already. And then I collaborate with other melody writers and lyricists.
Do you prefer solo writing or co-writing?
Co-writing. The main hits that we did were mostly co-written. Mainly two or three people involved. Occasionally, I write one song all by myself, but itís an exception.
What advice would you give aspiring songwriters?
Writing, writing, writing. I have probably 1000 songs or so which Iíve written and maybe 1% gets played and gets out there.
Itís all about creating that catalogue and then at the end sort of stealing from yourself. Looking at your material; there was this great verse, the great melodic idea I had a few years ago. Maybe I can re-invent it.
You have to be ready to work in different scenarios with different styles and just basically try to pump out a song a day.
What will be the new music industry routes to the consumer?
Itís already happening. Itís going to be more direct. If you can use the Internet to your advantage and communicate with your audience and your consumer more directly, be it as an artist or a band or a production company, thatís going to be the future.
All those middlemen and big corporations who were trying to hold music back or were only trying to make some sort of big monopoly, will stop soon. Itís already on the way out.
Thatís why the mainstream will be built out of hundreds of thousands of small little niches. Thatís the future.
If you can be big in your little section and first cater it to your core audience, and then cross over and break through; thatís the only way nowadays for an artist to really be successful long term.
What has bothered you over the years in the music industry?
Iím a music consumer myself. And what a lot of music consumers used to be bothered by is that if I hear something and see someone on a video, I canít instantly get it and listen to it again and buy it legally.
The whole promo thingÖ we have to hype the things up because we need all the marketing to be at one point in release state. This was part of what killed the music industry.
And also the way consumers can get music nowadays. Even if they want to get it legally, itís still very hard for them. They have copyrights all over the tracks.
There is a big gap between the industry and the actual client and consumer. That needs to be made smaller.
What styles of music would you like to see gain more popularity?
I grew up in Europe. Iím part of the dance music scene. I always liked dance music, from techno, to house, to electro. Especially in Berlin thereís a big electro scene. I also like urban music like hip hop and R&B.
A combination of those two worlds is already creating interesting results. This will be the music of the future. Especially for the club scene.
Nowadays DJ friends of mine play hip hop and electro on the same set, which would have been weird five years ago.
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Interview by Kimbel Bouwman
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