Interview with MARC LABELLE, VP of A&R at Shady Records for 50 Cent, D12 - Nov 28, 2005
“50 Cent used the mix tape circuit - he took all the hottest beats from every artist and flipped them with better hooks.”
… says Marc Labelle, VP of A&R and Marketing Director at Shady Records USA, home of Eminem.
Marc has A&R breakthrough credits for hip hop superstars 50 Cent, D12 and Obie Trice, for which he was awarded No.1 on the World Top 100 A&R Chart Of 2003.
Read about what it takes for a producer to make beats for Eminem and 50 Cent, and what a new artist should do to get in the position of being offered a record deal.
What did you do before Shady Records?
I’ve been involved in the music business for the last 15 years. I started working in the club business at a very young age in 1986 as a bar back and got into promotions at the club Red Zone. From there I moved forward into merchandising, club production, and promotional street campaigns and so on. In the mid 90s I worked predominantly as a club promoter in New York.
I used to host and promote hip-hop shows and release-parties for various record labels. I worked at TVT Records for a short stint of time, where I predominantly ran the shipping dept. However I had the opportunity to listen to demos, and learn all aspects of the record business. I worked on the re-launch of Modern English, Nine Inch Nails and various hip-hop acts.
Then I worked for a company called Giant Step, the leading acid jazz promotions company in New York City. They were responsible for breaking Jamiroquai in the U.S. They worked with Rahzel, the human beat box from The Roots, and did the early Fugees shows on the first record. At this company I handled production, street promotions, and event production, eventually also developing their merchandising line and bringing it to market.
I’ve also worked with Rene McLean, RPM Productions, on and off over the past 10 years. Rene runs a convention named “The Mix Show Power Summit”, which is 9 years old now. It’s a yearly event which basically showcases New Talent and Veteran artists to DJ mixers from top radio stations from around the world. These DJs are responsible for breaking records. I also handled all his college radio promotion and all record pool promotions for him when he had his tenure at Interscope Records in 1998.
Meanwhile, I had a lawyer friend who ended up being Eminem's lawyer. When I was doing release parties or hosting events with bands he used to review contracts from booking agents to make sure that everything was in order, and that I was getting a fair deal. He introduced me to Paul Rosenberg, who is Eminem’s Manager. That was in early 1999.
I was actually working Eminem’s record ‘Hi, My Name Is’ at the time under Rene McLean at Interscope for his RPM group. I was trying to break it as a radio record and at the college level.
Goliath Artist Management, Eminem’s management company, needed a new road manager, and one thing led to another. I got a call right before the beginning of the Warp tour, summer ‘99. I asked myself, “Do I want to keep doing clubs, promotions and parties? Or do I want to try something new?” I’d done a ton of production on events, and had always been connected to hip-hop – I’d road-managed bands like The Groove Collective, and managed another rapper Babee Power who I took to Israel.
So I had a bunch of music experiences that I knew would benefit me production-wise for Eminem. So I ended up as Eminem’s assistant, then road manager, and eventually his tour manager. And then as the label Shady Records got launched, I moved from the director of A&R position to the vice president of A&R, and now I’m also the director of marketing.
Do you have a musical background?
I have little musical background. I played a trumpet in junior high school, which opened my mind to the structure of jazz music, and all music for that matter. I have a communications degree from university. I was always more business minded and worked in a round production, running events, networking, and building relationships with club owners and artists.
But music has always been a love and a passion of mine. It’s like when all is going wrong and you’re having a bad day you can put on a record like “My Life In The Sunshine” by Roy Ayers, or “Children’s World” by Maceo Parker, or cheer up listening to some old soul or jazz music. Or for instance when Wu-Tang were expressing themselves and changing the face of the music industry in 93-94, I loved and related to the angst and the aggression in the music.
What do you do as a marketing director?
The background of running clothing lines and doing club promotions led me, with my experiences with Eminem and Paul, to eventually start building the marketing and promotion end of Shady Records. So I’ve been able to bring people up with me from the club world, where I was developed as well. So there’s Burn it Down Productions w/ Alvon Miller and Dro Genoa, helping to implement marketing and street promotions. These guys are part of our team and are now coming up under Shady Records. We are doing Marketing and Promotions in conjunction with the Interscope team.
Do you still do A&R?
My function is very broad here, but, yes I definitely do A&R - I listen to music as much as possible. But I also help handle the administrative end of the label. I smooth out issues that arise during recording and/or with our artists. Also making sure that the mother label Interscope is helping us to handle the bills, payments, and whatever other support we need to finish production when making an album.
How large is Shady Records?
12 employees. We are a boutique label but have all the outlets of a major with Interscope backing up our every move.
Are the creative parts and the marketing campaigns in Shady’s hands?
Yes. Marketing campaigns are in the hands of Shady with the ultimate sign off in Paul’s hands, obviously, as the president of the label. But as stated before we have the outlets and backing of a major behind us.
We have our own graphic designers. But we also see what their graphic designers do as well. We have access to the photographers we like, when we want to do a photo campaign. Interscope has the people that oversee it and handle the budgetary needs.
Are you still on the lookout for new talent?
Definitely! I think a lot of the talent search comes from research through relationships, through knowing what’s going on in local areas; looking to what’s happening in the local radio, listening to what’s moving in the college system, etc. But it also comes from being out, or having my street team people out and the two A&Rs under me, Riggs Morales and Dart La. You’ve always got to be on the look out for the next thing and watching for what else is going on out there.
What makes you want to work with somebody?
For me I always like something new and different, innovative and creative. I don’t really like following the trend. I like all kinds of music, not just hip-hop-based. If I find talent that works in other ways and isn’t exactly right for Shady Records, then it would be something I’d recommend to Interscope directly.
One of the hardest things to do is being able to hear past someone’s bad production to be able to hear their real lyrical skills, something that makes you go: “Ok, is this person doing a showcase, are they here in New York, will I get to see them perform? What’s their on-stage personality?” So there are a lot of steps involved. First and foremost it’s about being able to hear their lyrical ability. Then, do they have that star quality that an artist needs to have?
How many new artists can you put out per year?
If we were to find 10 great new artists tomorrow we could build a system to figure out how to infiltrate the music industry from a marketing and promotions perspective, and then put those artists out when the timing was right.
What kind of artists are you working on right now?
Right now we’re working Obie Trice and setting him up for his sophomore record. He’s got a phenomenal new song called “Wanna Know”, but it’s more a kind of rock rap song that hits a different demographic market than straight street records.
We have Stat Quo, who is finishing his record, for which we did a deal with Shady/Aftermath. His record’s being finished right now by Dr. Dre. That record will be out next year as well.
We just signed a new artist called Bobby Creekwater out of Atlanta. We’re just starting to build and market him. And we have a record on him, a first Eminem’s “Hi, My Name Is” kind of record; the signature record for people to find out who he is. We’re going to work that in the Atlanta market first, to build his local home buzz, and from there it will build out.
And then there’s obviously 50 Cent as well, who has got a soundtrack coming out in December. We’re also finishing Eminem’s new ‘Curtain Call’ record, which will be Eminem’s greatest hits record. That’s coming out on December 6.
Then there is D-12, who are just in the preliminary planning process of putting out their 3rd album.
Would you work with artists outside the US too?
Definitely. It would have to be the right fit. There has been stuff we’ve liked, musically, like producers. So there‘s no reason why we wouldn’t.
Is there any limitation where you say, ‘we’re only going to do artists in a certain style’, like just “Eastside” artists?
No, not at all. Artists like Eminem are universal. We want to expose them for everyone. It’s not that we make East Coast music. You have to look at how hip-hop is growing. Music that was once considered only for the Houston or Atlanta areas is now the music that crosses and even opens up the European and other markets throughout the world.
What advice would give to an unsigned artist at the independent level?
Keep on grinding, keep on trying, keep on hustling, keep on making great music, keep on trying to get exposure. That’s going to be your ultimate tool to break into the industry. In other words, being in a position where other people know about you, working with local DJs, having your music being played locally, getting people becoming interested in your music, so you can say: “Look, here is my demo. Please listen to this. I perform at this club, this DJ at this club is playing my record, this DJ who makes mixtapes has my song on his mixtape. I hosted this event… etc.”
The more an artist is able to bring to the table, the more exposure they can create for themselves. But if we find raw talent that no one has heard of, not even locally, we can help build their reputation, as with Bobby Creekwater - the focus for him is to build his exposure in his own market. He’s taking a hands-on approach, rolling through Atlanta, saying, “OK, this is what I would like to do”, and we’re then assisting him and getting him promo products. As well as giving him access to our local street teams.
It’s really important to have an artist who has the depth, the juice, to have their home market locked down. When your home backs you, you then build from who you are.
Do you listen to unsolicited material?
Yes I do, as much as I can. But we get so much stuff - and probably because of HitQuarters! You are crediting us with what we’ve done here, which I thank you for. I get 20-25 new packages a day! I try to listen to them all but I also have other responsibilities.
Not to mention what I focus on and have to do whenever Eminem goes out. I handle all his stuff as a tour manager, too. We also have other A&Rs in place to go through the packages.
So how do you like artists to get in touch with you?
Send me packages, and make sure your contact information is on there. If I can I will talk to you and advise you on it, but my time is limited because we’re building a company and the amount of calls I get is crazy. I put time aside every week to listen to new acts, go out and see people, go to open mics, etc.
Are there open mics or showcases you do through Shady Records?
No, we’d rather just show up somewhere and listen to music rather then be responsible for showing it and throwing it. We’ve been involved in stuff. There was a showtime special 2 years ago set up to find the “best freestylist”, with celebrity judges. Paul was the executive producer of that TV show. We did stuff like that, bringing thousands of demos in and then getting to see all these rappers battle. The one who won ended up with a deal through someone we work with and the Interscope system.
Are there monthly or weekly places where you go check out talent?
There’s nothing here in New York on a stable weekly basis - clubs and shows always fluctuate where and when they take place. Plus I’m out of town probably 6 months a year. Therefore it’s good to get a feel for stuff all over the place, in other cities, too.
There’s never one particular promoter who comes to me. There are people reaching out all the time saying, “I got an open mic”, “My new band is performing”, “We’re signed to an independent and not to a major”, “Can you come and listen and give me some advise?”, “Tell me what you think of the group?”, etc. etc.
What’s the next step when you find a new artist? Who makes the decisions?
The first thing to do is to get the rest of the A&R department’s opinion on it. Then it definitely goes to Paul. If it makes sense and Paul likes it, it moves forward to Eminem. Sometimes Paul makes the decision by himself depending on the record, but we all work together. But it’s definitely something you want Eminem to be excited about it and like. He’s somebody who changed the industry over the past seven years.
Are you making artist development deals, too?
Not yet, no. We haven’t done it, but we would. What we do is kind of the same way as with 50 Cent, where 50 came in our system, wanted a deal with a set up, and ended up putting out all the artists he wanted through G-Unit Records. But he’s still signed to us. So by his infiltration into the market by himself, he was able to get his own label situation.
When you want to put out a new artist, what needs to be done?
To develop a good plan to get the artist the exposure they will need, the notoriety throughout the world. First and foremost an artist needs to make great music. Then it’s about helping to get the outlets for them in place, whether it’s MTV, BET or Viva in Europe or the performance shows in London. Across the board it’s definitely about being in a position and giving them the outlets.
When you’re recording, as much as it’s about making great music, it’s also about helping the artist to find stuff. From an administrative and artistic perspective it’s important to help the artist find the direction for what they’re trying to do, so they can be really focused on creating the best music they can make, with all the tools around them that they need.
Can you describe the process of putting a marketing plan together?
Depending on what the lead record is, you start developing marketing plans. You can’t make a blanket marketing plan that always works when you apply it. It’s got to be developed through the direction of the music, and what the artist is saying, and how you’re breaking certain records.
Are there some methods that have worked particularly well with certain artists in the past?
Yeah, there are tools that do work and have worked in the past. But I think each tool is developed pertaining to the projects; promotions, in-stores, radio promotion, working the mixed CD circuit with a certain record that infiltrates the streets so you get the real hardcore set behind an artist…
A good example is 50 Cent, who used the mixtape circuit - he took all the hottest beats from every artist and flipped them with better hooks. They then got into all the markets on the mixtapes and, more and more, all the mixtape DJs were messing with them. So before his first record came out he already had everyone so excited about him because he took over the whole mixtape circuit. With that he killed the industry by coming from a different perspective, and that bubbled into putting out his first record.
Do you look for beats and songs for, let’s say, Eminem or 50 Cent?
Eminem pretty much makes his own beats these days. He’s grown into a great producer, and interacts with Dr.Dre, who I think is the best producer ever in hip-hop. Remember Eminem was discovered and brought to Dre and they worked really well together. They had a good chemistry. So if there is a beat that I or one of the A&Rs in the office hears we definitely send it forward to Eminem.
Eminem is at a point where he produces to how he sees his lyrics being written. In other words he has an idea of how he wants his song to be structured based on the lyric and then creates music according to that.
But if there is something absolutely amazing, like for instance the song ‘Stan’, which came from an idea and/or scratch track produced by Mark The 45 King. And then Dido’s vocal was sampled in. But it turned out to be one of Em’s biggest songs and helped launch Dido’s recording career to new heights.
Are there other artists on your roster that look for songs?
We go through material and have relationships with different producers in the industry. People bring us stuff. For instance Riggs is great at picking tracks that Obie likes, but then it’s the artist’s job to expand on what he writes about. You also have to do things that shake it up a little bit, have songs that are different and new.
You have to develop a record that’s going to have singles on it, stuff that’s right to the artist, stuff that will market and sell and stuff that works for the radio. It's great to make a raw, hard record. But at the end of the day you won’t get as much exposure as you need, like being able to get it on radio and all that.
In what direction do you see Shady Records heading in the future?
We’ll just keep continuing to do what we do - putting out great records. To keep on developing and working with new artists, wherever we feel the talent comes from. I think the whole hip-hop industry will keep growing, and Shady Records will grow with it.
Interviewed by Jan Blumentrath
Read On ...
* Aftermath producer DJ Khalil on working with Eminem's 'Recovery'
* Shady A&R Riggs Morales on socially conscious rap
* Aftermath A&R Angelo Sanders on life as Dre's right-hand man