Interview with HENRIK UHLMANN, A&R for Basshunter - August 11, 2008
"It requires some craziness to start out in the music business."It does not happen everyday that an A&R based in Sweden breaks the UK with a chart-topping act like Basshunter.
Henrik Uhlmann is the person behind this success, and many of his other artists are breaking several other European markets. Next goal is naturally the US.
Uhlmann talks to HitQuarters about the differences between music markets, about his expectations from a good song, and about the need for uncompromising treatment of piracy.
How did you start out in the music business?
I started in 1993 as a tour manager/agent. I always worked with commercial dance. My first success of the local market was a broad act that became a huge hit. My first gold record was with an act called Look Twice in 1995.
What was your vision for Extensive Music?
I founded Extensive Music in 1993 together with my brother Robert Uhlmann, whoís a producer and songwriter and a terrific keyboard/piano player. Iím the manager. I never worked as a producer, musician or DJ.
Itís a broad company. We work as a record label, management, music studio and agency. Weíre from a small country, so we had to cover all these four perspectives to make enough money.
In 1993 I was 20 years old. Today Iím 35 years old. The vision changes along the way. I was very naÔve in 1993. Most people that start in the music business are naÔve in the beginning. It requires some craziness to start out in the music business.
99% of people will start out in this business if they have relatives in the music industry. I was naÔve. I thought back then that if I would work in this business I will meet more girls.
After a couple of years I discovered I had to also make money!
I told my brother one day: ďWhy donít we try to do something?Ē He wrote some songs that I liked.
I printed a CD myself that went into the Swedish Dance chart at #12. Were I to have released it today, I wouldnít be the happiest person in the world with it. But as a first release it was amazing.
That was actually my first act. After that I focused more on the agent side. I signed many songs, especially local songs, at an early stage. And at the same time we produced other artists.
How can you combine A&R and management?
A successful manager today has to be an A&R as well. Iím selling the project to everyone. I canít sell something that I donít believe in 100% myself.
Did you start out with any strategy for breaking artists?
It differs from case to case. Iím probably famous in this country for being one of the most strategic industry persons.
We have done very conceptual acts. In 1998 we did an act called Dr. Bombay, which was a huge success in Scandinavia. Itís the ninth most selling record in the history of Scandinavia.
There was a lot of strategy and A&R thinking behind that. I always work very closely with Mattias Wachtmeister at Warner Music. When we do something together, eight times out of ten itís a No.1 in Sweden.
I donít sign that many acts. I havenít signed an act for two years now. I have successful acts already so there is not much time left. And I have to feel 100% right before I sign something. You have to work with your feelings and instinct.
How do you decide what record label you want to work with when you have a level of interest?
I have Extensive Music as my own label operating under Warner Music Scandinavia. I can sign and release whatever I want. Last year we were the most successful label in Scandinavia.
What is a stable environment for artists, producers and songwriters to work in to be motivated to develop and create new ideas resulting in increased revenue?
In my office we have two floors. Itís a very creative office. On the second floor we have the studio. On the first floor we have the office sections.
Itís good to have the studio near the office section because then they are closer to the business. And as an office we are closer to the artists and the development of the music.
What active artists are you currently working with?
Arash, who recently did a duet with Shaggy. We did a show two days ago in Poland for 50,000 people. I work with Basshunter, who had a No.1 album in the UK last week.
I work with a new dance project, Ali Payami. We are No.1 on two of the dance charts in Germany this week. I also work with an artist in Sweden called Velvet. My focus is dance/pop.
Iíll expand the roster if we find something that suits what we want. We get like thirty projects presented to us per week.
How did you meet Basshunter?
It was a DJ friend of mine who came to me and said he worked on this song that he thought was a great hit. He took Basshunter to my office, we listened to the song and I also thought it was a great hit.
We had to finalise the demo version. We did that very quickly on April 2006. And I thought it was a summer hit.
Arash worked in the studio as a producer for many years. We needed some music for a movie. Then we built on that.
How come you work with so many ethnic-sounding projects?
On the agent side I work very commercially. I did tours in Scandinavia for artists like Eiffel 65, Paradisio (ĎBailandoí), Scooter, BlŁmchen, 666, Cascada and a lot of other acts.
After doing a lot of events with my artists all over Western Europe Iím always looking for new challenges. With Arash we did a song in one of the biggest Bollywood movies of 2005.
Iíve done shows in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Russia, Ukraine, and Chechnya.
I worked a lot in Russia for the last five years. I see Russia as the most interesting market in Europe. Not always for the record sales, but more for the live market. The live side generates a bigger income than anything else nowadays.
Russia is the No.1 market in Europe, if you do it properly. As an A&R Iím doing well there. Of my Swedish acts there are always two or three in the Top 100 there. They donít have a sales chart but more like an airplay chart.
In Russia you can work in so many different ways. I have my own promotion office there. If you sign a record deal in Russia with an unknown person you canít expect a lot of things to happen.
Nowadays, I only experience the exotic part. Things that happen in Russia only happen in Russia. But competition starts to be very tough over there now.
Itís a huge market. There is no country in Europe that has 150 million population. When I talk about Russia I combine it with the Ukraine and all other countries in the region. Then weíre talking about almost 300 million people in that market.
Is it an easier step to go international?
We come from Sweden and not the UK or the US. I always believe in projects that donít sound like anything else.
Arash is a totally unique project. He sings in the Persian language and itís oriental music. There is no other artist in the world that sounds like him.
Of course, itís harder to go through the wall. But once you are through everybody will remember you. You get a bigger fan base when you have unique music.
Did you find new talent in Russia or in any other unknown territories?
Very seldom. I havenít signed anything for two years. Itís very hard to find new talent. There is a lot of it, but then maybe itís a good singer and there is something else thatís missing. They may have a fantastic song but they donít know how to represent it.
The song is the most important, more important than a good singer or a good-looking artist. Sometimes even bad singers can do it in such a personalised way that it sounds unique.
Where do you find songs?
Sometimes they are sent to me. Sometimes itís something developed in the studio that we A&R together. Sometimes itís just an idea that we are developing. Itís different all the time.
Basshunter, Arash and my brother are all very good songwriters to work with.
What package needs to be ready in order for you to start working with a new act?
I need to have some hooks in the song to move on with. If I donít have that, then I donít do anything. If itís something that can work out I feel it immediately.
And when I have something the producers or songwriters will develop it in the studio.
How involved are you with repertoire and production?
It depends on the project. I am very involved when it comes to singles, but it also depends on how much we have to do in the office since Iím working as a manager too. All my active artists except for Velvet write their own material.
Iím usually A&Ring the projects together with the producers or songwriters. Theyíre sitting and working with the project. Then weíre listening. Then either I or them come up with ideas that we can combine.
How long does a recording process take?
That can be everything from one week to three years. When I signed Basshunter, four weeks later it was No.1 in Sweden.
How much patience do you have when disagreements occur?
As I donít sign that many projects and Iíve been very successful with almost every one, I have much patience. If I decide to sign something, I give it 100% effort.
Sometimes it takes time. Dr. Bombay, with whom we sold two million records, took three years before his debut came out.
Is going on the road the best way to develop an artist?
No, the best way to develop an artist nowadays is music videos. Good songs and good videos. Even if it costs a lot of money, itís worth it.
Are any songs appearing on TV ads, programs and movies?
Yes, plenty. We have a strong collaboration with Warner/Chappell. They handle all from computer games to movies and ads.
Which territories do you want to break?
It depends on the project. Arash is going really good in Eastern Europe, Russia and the Middle East. We have done totally well in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Scandinavia. His music suits these areas.
After traveling around the world so many times, I have learned that musical taste differs enormously from country to country. Thereís even a big difference between Denmark and Sweden.
If itís a universal hit, nine times out of ten itís from America, because everybody is listening to America.
America is the country where you want to have the big No.1. Unfortunately, we never had that. Not on the Billboard sales chart at least. On the Billboard dance chart, yes, but thatís not the same thing.
Sweden is a small country. You donít get the attention from the UK or the US. Itís much harder. We always have to deliver in our own country first before anyone takes notice.
Of course, we have good relationships and can do it a little bit quicker than the normal person, but itís still a hard fight coming from Sweden.
We do a lot of shows in America too. Arash is so big in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, so since there are a lot of people from those territories living in America, it spreads over there also.
He has already sold out Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles and Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas.
Internet has been a big help for artists like Arash and Basshunter. Basshunter has only been to America one time, but heís successful there. We start to work more in America with these artists. But Iím focusing on the whole world.
In what way do you adapt to all the changes over the years as a manager?
Weíre focusing very hard on the live side. Nowadays, itís more about artist branding. Of course, we do everything in our power to sell as many records as possible, and we can have ideas, but weíre a one-man-show in that matter.
Itís the big players that have to act, even if we come with ideas and push for our own artists in different corners.
Are you always trying to get the act up to the highest standard?
Of course Ė getting an artist to a No.1 spot, preferably in America, thatís the highest standard you can get. Itís different to have a No.1 with a dance/pop act than with a rock act.
But the fact is that weíre working from Sweden. Thatís our disadvantage. Seven of the last ten songs I released have been No.1 in Sweden.
What does it take for unsolicited material to grab your interest?
I donít go through every package. That would be too time-consuming. Maybe I miss something here and there because I donít have the time.
I know a lot of DJs all over. Iím using them a little bit as a filter. When they have something they always come to me with their ideas and then I go through it.
The best way to catch my attention is to know somebody that knows me. But no matter where it comes from, it has to feel like a hit immediately. On the first listen, it has to feel like wow!
If you could dramatically change some aspect of the music industry, what would you do?
I would do the same thing that is done in Turkey for example, or even in Dubai, where I do a lot of shows as well. Itís where they have blocked websites like Piratebay.org or similar websites that spread music illegally.
I canít understand why these countries can do it, and other western countries can not. Iím sure that if they would block websites like these, the market would be working ten times better. Itís totally crazy that itís hasnít been done yet.
Whatís coming up in 2008 for Extensive Music?
We release the new Arash album, and the English version of the Basshunter album. Ali Payami will have one of the biggest dance hits of the year with a song called ĎBladeí. Velvet have a new album coming up.
What do you see yourself doing in five years from now?
I think I always will be working in the music industry. Iíve done it for fifteen years. What would I do else? Hopefully in five years I will work with bigger artists and bigger events.
Itís always a team effort. Itís not only about me. My best skill is that Iím a good team worker.
My team differs from artist to artist. You have the team with the local record labels. You have the local people who are working with an act in the UK, France, Germany or Russia.
You have to build up trust between people. When you have that trust, things go so much more smoothly than how it goes when you donít know anything.
Every market where I never had a hit in before, I donít really know. Itís brand new. Itís a new strategy in every market. Itís a team effort and you have to be a flexible person.
One other skill that I have is that Iím quite good at fixing problems. Problems always appear, especially when you succeed. The more success you gain, the more problems come along. But at the same time, more fun!
I donít think anyone who works in this business is in it 100% for the money. If youíre in it just for that, then you will be out quite soon. For me, satisfaction is to have a No.1.
If you wish to publish this article, or parts of it, you are welcome to do so after having received an approval from us. Requirements are statement of origin and link to HitQuarters. To get an approval, please contact us
Interview by Kimbel Bouwman
Read On ...