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Interview with PAIGE LEVY, A&R at Warner Nashville for Dwight Yoakam, The Forester Sisters, Paul Brandt - Nov 27, 2000

"If I was Queen of the World, I would outlaw payola to radio and let good music and good entertainers stand on their own. I would also make the creators of Napster move to Russia and work in nuclear waste sites."

picture Paige Levy, Senior Vice President of A&R at Warner Nashville is responsible for signing and developing multi-platinum selling artist Dwight Yoakam, The Forester Sisters, The Texas Tornados , Paul Brandt and Michael Peterson. As the Head of A&R, she oversees all recording projects and artists at Warner Nasville as well as being the dedicated A&R for Dwight Yoakam, The Lynns and Trick Pony.

How did you become an A&R?

I was working for a gospel music management company here in Nashville, and in 1980, our building went up for sale. A producer called Jim Norman, who was producing a lot of artists here in Nashville, wanted to open an office. He ended up buying the building, and I stayed along with the copying machine. I screened songs for all his projects. In 1983, Jim and I came to work at Warner Bros. - he came in as head of A&R and I was the A&R assistant. Now, 17 years later, Jim is the president of the division and I'm head of A&R.

What are the most effective sources of new talent and how did you find Paul Brandt and Michael Peterson, your latest successful signings?

The most effective sources are publishers, producers and attorneys. Paul Brandt is from Calgary, and we have a very close relationship with our Warner Canada office. For years the A&Rs from both branches have been looking for projects to work together on. Their A&Rs sent me some demos, and one of the packages they sent down was Paul’s. I really liked it - he’s got great potential as a songwriter - so they sent him down to Nashville to do development. It was a matter of putting him together with the right people, people whom he could not only relate to and write well with, but who could also teach him.

So every other month he would come down from Calgary, and we’d get him together with some really great, experienced writers. That resulted in a lot of the material for his album ("Calm Before The Storm", 1996, certified gold by RIIA June 13, 1997 ). In the case of Michael Peterson, he was being pitched around the labels by his publisher.

Have the sources of new talent changed in the last years and do you ever advertise for new talent?

Sources haven't changed - there's just more of them. No, we never advertise, but occasionally, as was the case recently, when I didn’t have a band and needed one, I sent letters out to radio stations, asking if there were any local bands they particularly liked, and that they could recommend.

When considering signing an act, do you pay attention to things like who the manager is, who the attorney is, who the team is?

Management is extremely important. If a new artist does not have management, we encourage them to work with us in finding the right team. It doesn't matter who the attorney is.

How important is it to be located in Nashville for an aspiring artist/songwriter?

It's not important to live in Nashville. If you move here, you run the risk of starting to write and sing like everyone else. Stay where you are and keep the originality.

What are you currently working on, and how were you approached by these acts?

I'm working with four different artists right now, but the only one I'm responsible for signing is my new band, Trick Pony. Their producer gave me some demos last fall and I saw them perform the first of this year. The other artists I'm working with came over with the Asylum merger in March.

Has anything changed within the company due to the merger?

We have a larger promotion staff to accommodate the larger roster; we have a larger A&R team - generally, all departments have gained an extra member of staff. Unfortunately, there were also job losses due to the merger.

Do you work with acts from outside Nashville?

I signed Dwight Yoakam 15 years ago and he still lives in LA One of our Asylum artists, Lila McCann, also lives in LA Over the years I've worked with artists who lived in Texas, Arkansas and Canada.

Do you ever get approached by artists from outside the US and Canada?

Yes, several times a year I get pitched artists from different countries, as a matter of fact just this mornent I had a meeting with a woman from Australia. So certainly, there are country artists everywhere, although to date I haven’t yet worked with acts from further afield. Logistically, if we signed an artist from abroad, they would have to move here, as we break all our acts on country radio, so they’d have to be here to do the promotion.

There was an act last year that I was really interested in, eight teenagers from Russia, and they were just phenomenal. They were over here on work visas and I spent a couple of days with them. In the end though, as much as I wanted them, I just thought, "What a headache!" trying to deal with visas, and then there was the fact that they were underage. So they ended up not getting a deal because it was too much hassle.

Do you work only with finished productions or do you take part in their development?

If I'm doing a demo deal with a baby act, I am involved in development in all areas. If I'm signing an act to an album deal, it's because I think they are already developed.

With every act I A&R, I am involved in producer and song selection. If the artist doesn't write, I'll listen to hundreds of songs before we find the ones we all agree on. If I truly love a song and the act doesn't, I ask them to work it up and do an acoustic demo so that we can all hear how it sounds. Sometimes this changes their opinion of the song and sometimes it makes them hate it more.

What marketing tools are most important for you?

Our marketing tools for country artists are trade ads, video play, price and positioning at retail and an occasional TV commercial for our bigger artists. Running consumer ads is too costly. Of course, once you reach the level that Faith Hill has, you get additional exposure because of national sponsorships and national TV appearances.

Do you accept unsolicited material?

We accept unsolicited packages from new artists, but are not legally allowed to accept song submissions from writers and publishers whom we don't deal with on a regular basis. As long as the package says "Artist Package," we'll open it and listen. If it doesn't have that written on it, we have to return it.

How many songs do you receive from unsigned acts per week?

We probably receive a dozen new artist packages each week. They are all listened to by different members of the A&R department.

Do you consider unsigned acts to have a good general knowledge on how to approach the business?

Unsigned acts who have a good general knowledge of the business are the ones who have been touring for at least a year and have learned how much business there is to take care of and how expensive life on the road is. Acts that have not yet toured are totally naive and think it's the record company's responsibility to pay for everything.

Can you offer some words of advice to unsigned artists, with regards to contracts? What can they demand and what can you offer?

New artists cannot demand anything, unless they are in a bidding war, which I will not participate in. I will only sign an act if they know WB is the best place for them to be regardless of the money being offered. They should only work with attorneys who will take the time to explain every aspect of the contracts.

What qualities are needed to be a successful A&R and in what ways do you believe that these apply to you?

I think the real way to judge the success of an A&R rep is by the success of the artists they sign. In my case, the artists I've signed (Dwight Yoakam, Forester Sisters, Texas Tornados, Paul Brandt, Michael Peterson, etc) have sold millions of albums and have been profitable for the company.

Another way to judge the success of an A&R rep is by their ability to find the best songs in town and match appropriate songs with the appropriate artists.

A good A&R rep knows how to communicate well with the artists, and spends a lot of time with them on the road, so that he or she knows every aspect of their abilities and personalities. Then he or she can pass along to other company execs the best way to approach the artist regarding issues.

If you could dramatically change some aspect of the music industry, what would you do?

If I was Queen of the World, I would outlaw payola to radio and let good music and good entertainers stand on their own. I would also make the creators of Napster move to Russia and work in nuclear waste sites.

How do you think the Internet will change the way record companies work, if at all?

The way record companies work will not change dramatically because of the Internet. We'll just become more savvy in marketing to that consumer and will hopefully come up with a way to sell music on the Internet that is fair for everyone. I think that as soon as the Time Warner/AOL merger is complete, measures will hopefully be taken to make people pay for music downloads. I can see using online A&R services once the technology speeds up the process. Right now it takes too long to get to the music/video/whatever. In the time it takes to review an act online, I could go through at least 3 artist packages that were mailed in.

Can you see a trend of where country music is going stylistically?

The "country/pop" trend we've experienced over the past several years will probably be with us for a while. I can't see any traditional country acts breaking through anytime soon, unless they bring something really unique to the table. It's just not fun to watch somebody stand in one place with an acoustic guitar and sing the same song with the same chord progressions over and over again. An example would be my new band, Trick Pony. They sing traditional country music but have unique vocal qualities, unique instrumentation, and an extremely unique stage show.

Interviewed by Luci Vazquez

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