Interview with ADRIAN 'A.D.' NURSE, CEO at Spaz Out and producer manager - Jul 31, 2005
“One thing we look for is how well you can chop up a sampled beat and make it unrecognisable. That shows how talented you are, because you’ve taken somebody else’s work and made it sound like something else,”… says Adrian “A.D.” Nurse, CEO at Spaz Out Entertainment Group, New York City, USA. He manages producers with credits from US Top 3 artists Mya, Fabolous, Memphis Bleek and more.
Read about how producers can benefit from managers, what advice he has for new Urban producers, what it takes for him to sign a new producer, and why he prefers to deal with the artists directly instead of going through the labels.
How did you become a manager for producers?
I first started as a road manager and A&R for Cella Dwellas at Loud Records. On the road I was hanging out with other managers, such as Chris Lite, who taught me a lot. And I thought: ‘this is what I do everyday anyway’. Then I met producer Nick Wills and he asked me to manage him.
I gave up on my dream of being a big producer such as Dr. Dre myself. I didn’t like the way the management and label treated Cella Dwellas, so I took over the business side of things and actually liked it a lot more than production.
How did you build your network?
I’ve kept my contacts from working for a few labels and magazines. A lot of people know me from the Load Records years, such as Shawn C, who is now working for Fat Joe and has an artist with his own label at Bad Boy. I have been in the business for 10 years and it’s all about building relationships and friendships over the years with people.
UG, who is an artist from Cella Dwellas, is now a partner at Spaz Out Entertainment Group, helping out with the music and management side, and we have 4 employees.
What producers do you manage?
I manage 2 different producers. One is Omen; he’s produced stuff for Mya, Fabolous, Keith Murray, Jay Millz and various other people. The other one is Qwan; he has a production team called The Incredibles Inc. and was just on the new Memphis Bleek album “534”. His partner Karen is doing all of the background music on a cartoon right now called Ghetto tunes Inc.
There is also one new producer, CY, an 18 year old from Canada. He's working with UG and is getting a lot of work now making beats for MOP, Ludacris and 4 eyes.
How do you find out which successful artists are looking for songs?
A lot of music business people know us and will call us, or we’ll run into these guys at parties. Or we make calls and find out who’s looking for work on that label. Then we’ll go to play beats for them in their studio, or I’ll send one of our producers to lay the track.
Mya for instance actually heard a track that Omen did for Fabolous’ first album. She liked the track and contacted DJ Clue at the time to let him know that she liked the track and that she wanted to use it for her new album.
He contacted us and we went into the studio. Omen added a few extra pieces on it, worked with an orchestra, then she flew to New York with us and we co-produced the track. She liked the little additions we made, sang on it, and it turned out to be the track “Taste This”.
The first big artist that we produced was Memphis Bleek, since Omen had been involved with him. He called him up in the studio and played some tracks for him. He picked the ones he liked, went in and recorded them.
How do you show the music to the artists?
We just show instrumentals, and preferably show them the music directly in the studio. We also definitely use the Internet a lot. Most of the artists we are trying to work with now are out of town. So we email mp3s, so they get the music right away.
Sometimes we also play it over the phone, and the artist goes, “Wow, that sounds good over the phone, but I want to hear it close, in the studio.” That’s how we get invitations to studios.
Is there a way to hype a producer, apart from playing the tracks?
Yes, like with Omen we did the soundtrack for Paper Soldiers. Right now we’re promoting him on that, trying to get more score work and working the magazines. We have publicists that are always doing email shoots to let people know what the producers are doing, what new tracks are done and what new albums he is on.
People see it and they’ll contact us and ask for tracks. So we use the Internet a lot to promote our producers.
Which magazines are important for the producer hype?
For our type of music I would definitely say The Source, XXL and Scratch. Basically we utilize any Hip Hop oriented magazine that’s out there to let people know about the articles and the reviews that are done on the albums.
How ready are the productions when you show them to artists?
We definitely try to have a track all done; we put everything in a song mode and try to vary the song. We pick the amount of bars for the hook and the verses and make it as simple as possible. We give the artist a beat that is 90-95% done and there’s very little to finish up at the end.
9 times out of 10 there’s not really that many changes to the playback after the vocals have been recorded. The hook makes a very big part of the song; the hook is where the change comes in. That’s when we come in and finish up the last 5-10% of it. We just add little accents, little instruments to the hook. What else to add or how to finish it off depends on what hook it is; how catchy it is. Everything is basically finished within the mix.
Do you record the vocals in your studio?
It’s very rare that we record vocals in our studio. Usually the artist has a specific studio they work out of. We make demo-songs in our studio, but then we’ll go and finish it in a studio of their choice.
When you give the music to another studio, do you give the individual elements or the whole track as one piece?
We usually give them a CD or an mp3 with the whole track. Then they do the vocals to it and after this we go to the studio to lay every individual sound on top. So one of my producers just brings a laptop with Fruity Loops and plugs it to the board. The other producer takes the Pro Tools file and sometimes we have to take equipment like sound modules or synthesizers to the studio. But most of the studios have the same equipment, such as the Akai MPC2000.
How involved are you in the production process?
With my newer producers I’m very involved. I try to mold them, season them within their own sound. But.with Qwan and Omen it’s a free run; I basically let them do what they have to do. I just let them know what type of music the artist is looking for, then they give me their material and I’ll decide what I’m going to play to the artist.
How important are remixes?
I think it helps the artist to cross over. If you have a pure R&B song and your remix gives it a more club/hip-hop feel, the artist can cross over to a different market that he/she might not have had before. This works out for a producer as well, because you’re being looked at as:
“He wrote a big song”, or “they did a club hit!”
What makes a producer special?
You need to have a specific sound. You don’t want someone who sounds like somebody else. If they come with their own sound and I can play it behind one of these records that are already out, then that’s what keeps them getting work. When I look for a producer I try to look for something I may not already have, or I look for a different sound.
Furthermore, I look for producers that can finish up a product themselves. You don’t want to sit in the studio with an artist saying: “but you should add this…but you should have the keyboard here…” etc.
How do you find new producers?
It takes a lot of work. I’m looking for new producers every day. I travel all over between Atlanta, Detroit, Chicago, New York. We go to open mic sessions listening to artists, and might bump into a producer there. Even now and again I bump into a few interesting people on the Internet. For instance, we’re picking up one production team we met through Hitquarters.
Do you listen to unsolicited material as well?
Oh yeah, everyday. We haven’t heard that much stuff that we are interested in taking. But we do ask people to send things out. We listen to everyone and if we can’t take something we definitely give advice.
What is your advice to new producers?
Go to open mics and meet up with other artists and producers. Get the artists in your studio and play them beats and try to create your own sound from there. Just start shopping. You can even go to a manager or lawyer and try to get your beats shopped to major artists.
How do you find open mic sessions?
We find them in the local newspapers, or go to the local mall and find flyers of parties in the area. We’re always looking for new artists, and certainly want to build a record label as part of the company.
Here in New York we have an open mic battle called Fight Club, which we definitely check out for talent producers and artists.
How do you know if a producer is truly talented and not just using stolen loops?
Everybody can just sample, take a loop and throw some drums and a bassline behind it and make a hot record. But we get turned down a lot when producers use samples, straight loops or older beats.
One thing we do look for is how well you can chop up that beat and make it unrecognisable. That shows how talented you are, because you’ve taken somebody else’s work and made it sound like something else. But there are also keyboard producers like Omen who don’t sample at all.
I really respect him because I think it’s harder to make music that sounds like a sample but isn’t. There’s a band out called Dijeous. They are doing some production work with one of my artists and they do everything live.
If you sample, don’t just loop it, be a little bit more creative with it. Make it hard to find out where the sample was from!
How much tracks do you need to hear from a producer to find out if he’s special?
Before I even decide to manage a producer I have to hear at least 2-3 CD’s, with at least 10 tracks per cd. Even from the producers that I have right now I want at least 5-10 tracks a week. I need constant updates to able to sell a producer. Under pressure you might find out that they are sometimes not that talented.
By asking for a certain amount of beats per week, I can find out how good they are going to be and if they can keep giving me a certain quality type of work. Some artists who call me say: “My album is going to be out end of the week, I need beats right now! Can I have 5 to 10 beats in 2 days?” Or, “I need to have it by tomorrow!”
Who pays for the production?
When the artist picks up a track, most of the time the money comes from the record label. More artists have production situations, agreements and deals with the label. Or the label gives them a certain amount of money. That way the artist pays for the track. But it’s very rare that you see it like that now unless you are on a label that is under a subsidiary, such as Ruff Ryders.
Do you sell the whole production for a certain amount of money or do you have an agreement with percentages involved?
We sell the track for a certain amount of money. We usually see that we get some basic advance for the work in the studio, but we also get a percentage as well, like with the Mya track for instance, which was all original music and no samples. Omen got a writer’s split of 50% and 3 % of the album sales.
Unless you sample, the writing is usually split 50% for the music and 50% for the lyrics, but if you sample it’s different. For instance, the producer Ayatollah sampled Aretha Franklin and did a track called "Ms.Fat Booty" with Mos Def a few years ago. She charged them $10,000 to use the sample, and they didn’t get any writer’s fee at all; she took all the publishing.
Does it ever happen that you don’t get any advance?
Oh yes. Sometimes the A&R at the label might not like the music but the artist does. Then we try to find a way around it and record the track with the artist nevertheless. When we go back to the label they end up liking the music most of the time anyway, so we get paid afterwards.
When we’re dealing with labels this happens 30-40% of the time. Nowadays you have A&Rs who think they are producers, especially the younger ones who think they know what should be out there. No disrespect to the A&Rs, but we usually go with what the artist wants.
For instance, when the Fabolous track “Why Would” came out, labels called us and asked “why didn’t we receive a track like this?” But that was a track that I had already sent them several months ago. Sometimes they need another artist to come out with the track in order for them to like it.
How much does a production cost for a new artist?
We will work with everyone, even artists that don’t have deals. If we feel that the artist is really good we just give him the track, help him to get on a big stage where he can get some type of exposure. If the track is hot, everyone will ask: “Who did the track?” and that is very good promotion for us.
What would you say are the biggest problems for new producers?
The demos sound bad. I think a lot of producers may not be able to afford the newest
keyboards and sound equipment. I think they have good ideas but they need to sit back and polish their music. I think producers who work with computers have kind of the upper hand. You can get a cheap program like Fruity Loops with the sounds in there which is better than waiting three years to buy a good keyboard.
We get a lot of demos where there’s no creativity. They are trying to sound like the Neptunes or Swizz Beats or something, and doing a bad job of it. Of course, if you are new you have to sound like somebody. But you have to find your niche. For a demo you should have your own sound.
Would you manage producers of other genres, too?
We are specialised on hip hop. But we do have an ear for alternative music and pop music.
It’s definitely an avenue we will try to explore in the next few years.
What does a management deal with you look like?
I give all my producers a 3-year contract. I take care of publicity, make sure our producers are in magazines and that they are constantly getting work. Sometimes I feel like a babysitter or a father to them. You can be one of the top producers today, but if your business is not being handled properly another producer will come and take your spot right away.
Our fee depends on how much the producer is paid. We take from 10-20 %. If the producer is paid anything under $2,000 we take 10 %.
In what direction do you see hip hop and R&B going in the future?
I hope hip hop is going back to what it was a few years ago, when you didn’t have to sound like another artist. I miss the days of Redman, Biggie Smalls and Das EFX, when you could be original and be yourself.
Interviewed by Jan Blumentrath
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