Weekly Success Story - Apr 30, 2001Every week, HitQuarters presents a new story of music business success. This original feature will explain how an artist went from being unknown to becoming a major hit in the charts. Which route through the industry did the artist take? What is there to learn from the artist’s mistakes and achievements?
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The week of Apr 30, 2001 features:
Da MuttzSkeewiff, Shaft and Da Muttz are all projects dreamed up and executed by UK-based production team Al & El, real names Alex Rizzo and Elliot Ireland, who met in Brighton, UK circa 1992. Both with international origins and an interest in electronic music, they found much common ground and soon began pooling their resources in order to buy music equipment.
Once they had a decent home studio, they began what is still a work in progress, compiling a huge database of samples and soundclips. Their biggest hit to date originated here: a sample of an old Perez Prado (50s King of Mambo) song entitled "Sway" became "Mucho Mambo" by Shaft, which, along with Lou Bega’s "Mambo No. 5" (curiously enough, also based on a Prado song) competed for the top position in the UK Singles Chart in the summer of 1999. Now "Wassuup!", a timely collage of the Budweiser ad catchprase and the Rick James track "Superfreak", memorably used by MC Hammer in his megahit "U Can’t Touch This", is making waves all over Europe. Essentially a novelty record, although a second single and album will follow, it’s performed by Da Muttz, the latest of the Al & El projects.
Al & El operate, as do many dance producers, under various guises. Before Shaft and Da Muttz came Skeewiff, of some notoriety on the UK dance scene. Going back further, their personal histories span stints working at promotion companies, record labels and as musicians, remixers and studio engineers - all these invaluable to them not only as experiences in themselves but also as a way of building up a contact base across the whole music industry. The highlight in this formative period is a spell working at Power Studios in Acton, where they come into contact with legions of well-known dance and pop acts. They carry out remixes for Bjork and produce tracks for Alison Limerick and Schooly D, amongst others, and periodically release their own records on their own label Drop Dead Discs ( now defunct ). They eventually tire, however, of churning out tracks for the dancefloor, and long to produce something with more longevity. They begin work on the first Skeewiff album, soon to be released on their own brand new imprint, Jalapeño Records ( teaming up with the Ministry of Sound’s FSUK label ) and for the aforementioned Shaft project they sign to Wonderboy Records and the A&R there, Pete Lions, in 1999. The year after they join Head On Management ( after a stint with Jonathan Walker and Hemish McLean at Seven Music Productions ) where Phil Nicholas, together with Head On directors Guy Trezise and Steve Baker, currently represent them.
When the Budweiser ad hits TV screens in the UK, Al & El are convinced that "Wassuup!" is about to become a cultural phenomenon and think they can capitalise on it. As we shall see later, they aren’t the only ones. They make a demo version of the track they have in mind, and send it round to record labels. They also give a copy to their mate Jonathan Dickins, Junior A&R at Eternal Records, a Warner subsidiary. Steve Allen is head of the label, and he’d been concentrating his efforts on getting a "Wassuup!" track released. During October/November 2000, he receives more than five different versions made by various people, but decides that his is Al & El’s. Timing is obviously crucial, and within two weeks he signs the project to Eternal.
Difficulties arise, however. Budweiser had copyrighted the dialogue in the ad, and much of this dialogue is on the Da Muttz demo. The dialogue has to be removed, but Da Muttz are free to use "Wassuup", because, being a phrase of common usage, the company cannot claim ownership of it. Then there is also the matter of the Rick James sample, which has to be cleared. To ease the process, Al & El replay the parts of "Superfreak" they want to feature on the track, so that they don’t have to pay a license fee to use the original recording. Head On Management approach Alison Hook at EMI Music Publishing, who hold the publishing rights to the original recording. A deal is struck, whereby EMI keep approximately 50% of the income from publishing, something considered fairly standard in these cases, although publishers have been known to be intransigent in their demand for the full 100%, as was the case recently with Black Legend’s "The Trouble With Me", based on a Barry White track.
All these legal issues hold up the release, and during this time lapse Positiva, the UK dance label, release their own "Wassuup" track, of which they sell 40.000 copies, creating further difficulties for Da Muttz. Steve Allen has some trouble convincing Warner to fully support their track, and when it is finally released, in early 2001, UK radio stations, including BBC Radio 1, refuse to play it, claiming it has come too late. For this same reason, the video doesn’t get much exposure either. Against all odds, however, the song goes on to sell 150.000 copies in the UK. Now "Wassuup!" fever is spreading fast across mainland Europe and the Da Muttz track seems to have gathered a momentum all of its own – it’s already shifted 400.000 copies in France, and looks set to do as well in territories such as Sweden, Belgium and Spain. Next step for Al & El is a publishing deal, something which they are negotiating after many offers and which looks set to consolidate their hit-making status.
Written by Luci Vázquez - Research by Stefan Sörin & Kimbel Bouwman
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