Interview with JORDAN JAY, A&R for Girls Aloud, Sophie Ellis Bextor - June 2, 2008
"If you put too many songs on a demo it looks a little bit desperate,"... says Fascination/Polydor A&R Jordan Jay, a person who is a champion of the great, memorable pop tune.
With Fascination Records being Polydor's pop stable, Jay have overseen the success of British stars Girls Aloud (Top 10 UK) and Sophie Ellis Bextor (Top 10 US).
He talks to HitQuarters about his new girl group, about what makes a pop song great, and about the importance of being approachable as an A&R.
How did you get started in the music business?
I started out by doing work experience at Sony/ATV Music Publishing. It was a highlight because I got to meet a lot of people.
Following that, I set up a publishing company with my dad, who is a songwriter, called Favored Nations. We signed a couple of songwriters and developed a couple of artists there.
I then went on to work as A&R for an independent label, Purple City, where I developed a few artists and also signed a dance record called ĎLucyí by Jealousy, which was a UK Top 40 hit and a Top 10 UK Radio Hit.
Then I found myself at Polydor Records as A&R for the Fascination label, which is what I do for over a year now.
What was significant in developing your A&R skills?
Literally working with songwriters, working with songs. Being around songs my whole life. Then using that to practice. A&R is about your skills with people as well.
Whatís your mission and vision for Fascination?
They brought me in to help establish it as one of the best pop labels in the UK. Weíre slowly getting there.
The vision is to carry on with great pop acts and try to create Fascination as a brand for new emerging pop talent.
ĒFascination Records, The Future of Pop Music is Here!Ē - What does that entail?
Fascination Records is the pop division of Polydor Records and sister label to Fiction Records. Established in 2006, the label encompasses all areas of pop music.
Weíre always looking for the next big pop act, and always coming up with ideas to try and keep pop music current and keep bringing on the great acts that we have been involved with so far. So, I keep developing new acts.
What happens with the song catalogue of Favored Nations?
Favored Nations is the publishing arm of the Purple City Music Group of companies formed by Barry Blue in 1985. The catalogue is all still in existence. My father still runs the company.
How do you find new songs and tracks?
Iím always meeting with writers, managers, managers of writers, publishers. And I get sent a lot of blind emails as well. I always listen to everything I get sent, because you never know what you might miss otherwise.
What do you do when you find someone on MySpace?
Iíll always go see them live. Especially in the current climate of the music industry the live sector has become more important than it ever was.
Then I get to meet them. Get to know what theyíre like and what theyíre striving to be. And then I introduce them to my Managing Director, because itís always good to have his blessing on everything.
What makes a good demo?
Something that captures your ear in the first 20 seconds. Nothing that has too many songs on it. If you put too many songs it looks a little bit desperate.
Three or four songs are enough. Songs which donít drag on too long, and get to the chorus pretty quickly. That gives you enough time to make your mind up, after the first chorus.
Does it need to be a finished production?
No. Itís quite expensive to do so I donít expect a finished production.
What new avenues are you trying to find to launch and develop your artists?
Mainly online. We also have a TV production company within Universal. We always look to team up with them on any television ideas that we have to launch artists.
But the Internet now is becoming more key than TV. Using social network sites like MySpace and Bebo, and using portals such as YouTube are becoming increasingly important.
Are you also affiliating with certain brands?
Thatís something Iím currently looking into with a couple of brands and a couple of artists that I have as well.
Affiliation is great, because you can learn exactly what an artist is based on what the brand they team up with. It works hand in hand for both the brand and the artist.
How do you hook up artists with writers?
From managers who are managing the writing teams, publishers, or responding to any demo I get sent from writers.
Sometimes when you look at an unsigned artist, theyíve obviously co-written with some unknown writer.
When thereís something there which triggers my interest, then I look into that as well and maybe get ideas from that sound for some of the artists that I currently work with.
Do you give your artists directions and a style for their writing, which connects who they are with their music?
Yes, thatís always key. We have a new girl band called The Saturdays. I put them together through auditions. It was important that they didnít sound like any other girl band that is around at the moment.
We received a song from Norway, which we really liked. The whole style developed from there. Weíve now created a record, which sounds like it could work in the US, the UK and the rest of Europe.
Whatís usually discussed in first meetings with new acts?
We discuss who they see themselves as, and who they are inspired by. Where do they see themselves in the current climate of music. Who their contemporaries are. What I as representing Fascination/Polydor can do for them.
What is the level that an artist needs to reach for you to start working with them?
They need to have ambition. They need to be determined. And they need to be talented.
What are the steps taken after a signing?
You make the record. Find a sound. It takes a bit of experimentation until you get the sound. And then you start the marketing process basically. Thatís my Product Managerís job. I oversee all that.
Just to make sure that your artist is marketed in the right way and that everything is connecting and that it all works with the music.
The key is connecting the music to the whole marketing plan and that youíre making it all fit nicely in one little circle.
How do you work in the studio?
The producers that we work with understand exactly the direction that we want. If on occasion they donít, I just point out some references.
Iíd say, for example, Ďwhy donít you try something like this?í Or suggest a change to the kind of beat. It can vary completely. It depends on the act, on the songs and the producer.
Can you give an example of when things donít work?
When things donít work you start again. Itís never nice to set a time limit. If thereís still faith in the artist within the whole label, then you carry on until you nail it.
But when the faith starts dying, then thatís when you decide that itís probably best to part ways.
Itís an investment, but itís also about trying to keep your marketing team and promotions team sold on the idea of the artist and still understanding who the artist is.
And when theyíre engaged with like 20 acts thatís quite easy for an artist to get lost if they havenít nailed the direction or theyíre still developing.
Itís quite important now that you get everything straight and you completely define the sound before you start any of the other processes.
How long does it take to develop a new act?
With The Saturdays for example, weíve put them together in November 2007. We were doing auditions in September 2007.
We had the girls in November and then we started recording in December/January. We are just about to finish off the record in the next couple of weeks. So, thatís a good eight months.
What artists are you working with now?
Iím working with new artists such as The Saturdays and established acts like Girls Aloud and Sophie Ellis Bextor.
Iím working with Andrew Lloyd Webberís artists such as Lee Mead and Connie Fisher. As a label, but not me personally, we also have The Jonas Brothers and Tokio Hotel.
Whatís the difference between working with established artists and new ones?
Itís just the kind of experience. The new artists come in quite starry eyed and quite excitable about everything.
Established artists have been there, theyíve done it before, they know what is required, and they just want to get it done and dusted as soon as they can.
Whatís the radio situation nowadays in UK?
Itís still very important. Radio is still integral to the success of an artist, because you get to reach so many people the whole time.
Itís slowly starting to change and you slowly start to hear more pop music on the radio when it was mostly indie bands beforehand.
If you see and hear artists that interest you, how do you approach them?
Iíd probably speak to the artist and get them to introduce me to their manager. Then it starts rolling from there. I havenít signed anyone like that recently, but it does happen a lot.
How should up and coming artists present themselves nowadays in order to pursue a professional career?
A lot of up and coming artists have the means to be able to start a buzz on their own now. They can start doing gigs.
They can start using the social networking sites to get their music heard. They can start using YouTube to be seen.
When an artist starts doing that and they show that theyíre really determined to do it themselves whether anyone else wants to help them do it or not, thatís always great and exciting for a record label to see.
When you look at Kate Nash and Lily Allen, those are two good examples of doing it yourself and then signing to a major record label to become really successful.
Whatís the secret of your success working with these artists?
There is no secret. Itís just about knowing the right people, making sure that you always have your ear to the ground, always meeting new people and making sure youíre an approachable person.
Itís key that you understand that you listen to other peopleís point of view without forgetting that youíve got a job to do at the end of the day. Thereís no method, it comes down to great songs and great artists.
What is a truly great song?
A song that is memorable on the first listen. A song people can relate to lyrically. A song people can remember its melody. A song that has a really catchy hook.
How do you prepare an artist for the US market?
I havenít launched any of my acts in the US yet. Iím obviously working for a major record label. Polydor has a deal with Interscope. So they get a first option on any of our acts.
And thatís all left to our international department. They work out which acts they reckon could succeed in which territory.
If you would be an artist yourself, how would you go about evaluating the A&R and the label?
Itís got to be someone who is approachable. Itís got to be someone who you feel comfortable with. And itís got to be someone that you trust.
If you could dramatically change some aspect in the music industry, what would you do?
I would make people buy music more. Iíd just like to see people value music more than they do now. You see music being given away the whole time.
What type of artist would you like to see gain more popularity?
Pop artists who make people feel good and make people feel happy. Because in the current economy people are struggling and people need something that brings a bit of entertainment and happiness into their life.
You get that with pop artists. Thatís what I like to see in the periphery. Your Mikaís, your Scissor Sisters, your Girls Aloudís. Those kinds of artists.
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Interview by Kimbel Bouwman
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