Interview with RANFI RIVERA, A&R for Musiq Soulchild, Lumidee - Aug 20, 2007
“A big part of the success within a record label is having a champion within the building, who’s going to make sure your project gets the attention it needs”Ranfi Rivera, Director of Business Services, is a senior attorney with 15 years of experience and demonstrated expertise in entertainment including music, new media, television and film.
As A&R for Eastwind Entertainment, he handles artists such as Musiq Soulchild (No.1 US) and Lumidee (Top 10 US).
He talks to HitQuarters about the need for demos to be a close-to-finished product, about making E-commerce more available for small labels, and about his total involvement in every project.
How did you start out in the music business?
I started back in 1991 when I graduated from law school. I was very good friends with Heavy D, who was just starting his career. Every now and again I answered quick questions for him.
I developed an interest in music, and then developed an expertise representing songwriters and artists. Eventually that expanded into the creative side.
I learned the business side of things here in New York on my own, representing independent labels, songwriters and artists.
What is your vision for Eastwind Entertainment?
Eastwind Entertainment was founded in 2004. The vision is to be a content company that would be able to provide entertainment across various platforms.
Are you also affiliated with the Inasirkl Music Group? And the production company Splash Entertainment Inc.?
Yes, J. Hatch’s Inasirkl Music Group. We’re a little bit affiliated. He has a production company. We also have a production team called The Prosecuters in New York.
Splash Entertainment Inc. is another company that we work with on Peedy Wheatstraw, an artist currently signed to Atlantic Records.
What artists are you currently working with?
I’m working on a variety of different levels. A couple of the artists that I’m working with are Lumidee, Musiq Soulchild, and Bayje, whos a new artist signed at Atlantic.
My creative partner JoJo Brim and I are currently working on the next Tyler Perry soundtrack and a Musiq Soulchild Christmas album.
What was it that made you want to work with them?
My partner and I do creative consulting for major record labels including Atlantic Records and Warner Music Group. Through our relationship with Atlantic we came to work with these projects.
JoJo Brim was the A&R who worked Musiq’s first project at Def Jam. He discovered Musiq Soulchild.
I went out to work with him on his first album, second album, and then we continued that relationship. I wasn’t involved with the signing. That happened through Def Jam.
I started working with him through my creative relationship with JoJo. We now consult Atlantic Records, and he was one of our projects.
How do you work with them?
We work with them creatively to help mould their sound, depending on the level of the artist. If it’s a new artist, we help the artist find their sound, develop the concept for the project, find the appropriate material, inspire their creativity.
We help to create the right environment for them to be creative, to write and record. We also help shape their image and make sure that every facet of the project is consistent with the product that we are developing.
From the video, the marketing campaign, styling, the photo shoots. We’re involved in every aspect of the project.
What’s the difference between working with established artists and new ones?
When you’re working with established artists it’s obviously easier because there is already a market for the product. The consumer has an expectation about the product. You don’t have to come in and introduce the consumer to new product.
What needs to be ready before signing?
An artist has to have momentum. By that I mean, usually a record in play and some sort of buzz in their market.
What do you think is important for an aspiring rapper?
Originality is the most important. Having a point of view is also crucial, making a statement.
What’s usually discussed in the first meetings with a new artist?
What their vision is. How they see themselves. Who can be considered their peers. And what goal they’re trying to achieve.
How important is it for you to work long term with an artist?
Our interest is only in working and having long term relationships with artists. JoJo and I believe in creating and helping to nurture and develop careers.
At what point do you go for producing a music video?
When a particular record gets attraction in the market and we feel that it is starting to be accepted and well received. Usually about that time we will start developing concepts for a video.
What input do you have on the productions?
We will sit with artists and screen through the music. We’ll present them tracks. We will help nurture their ideas when we understand that there’s a concept that they like to express.
We will always keep our ears open to see if we can find music that will fit the concept. We will have them work with new and up-and-coming producers in a creative session. Recording the album is a process.
Do you look for outside songs for your artists?
We typically utilize our network of producers and writers. We are always open to submissions. But sometimes it gets a bit overwhelming.
How do you find new talent?
We used to spend time in the clubs, and looking at showcases. Lately we’re very blessed. Our new talent is finding us.
How valuable are the unsigned artist music showcases?
They’re valuable to the extent that they give the artist a platform to perform live, and really hone their performance skill.
How should unsigned acts present their material nowadays?
There are two factors right now to keep in mind with respect to demos. One is that It’s an incredibly competitive market. The second factor is that the barrier to recording is very low.
The expectations are more generally for the product to be close to being finished or finished.
With regards to the physical packaging I’d say no more than three songs. Let the music speak for itself.
It should always be neat and presentable. It shouldn’t have errors and mistakes in it. It’s a reflection of who you are. It should be your best foot forward.
We get some packages that are very lavish. They’re kind of catchy and interesting, but the music doesn’t always support the package.
What advice would you give unsigned artists on how to build a career?
They should prepare themselves by being open to utilize non-traditional methods of marketing and promotion.
If you would turn into an artist yourself and were offered a record deal, by what means would you go about evaluating the A&R and record label?
If I was an artist and I had a choice between record labels, I would lean towards the label and the A&R that is most enthusiastic about my project.
A big part of the success within a record label is having a champion within the building, who’s going to continue to fight and claw and scratch to make sure your project gets the attention it needs.
Who are the most important people in your network?
First and foremost my creative partner JoJo Brim. After that, my creative team The Prosecuters and our network of songwriters and producers. Then our relationships in the industry with other A&Rs and colleagues, and then my legal colleagues.
How do you view the current music business climate?
It’s an exciting one. JoJo and I think the prospect of it is the ‘Wild Wild West’. And because of the Internet now everybody can compete on various scales, and there are opportunities everywhere.
If you could dramatically change some aspect of the music industry, what would you do?
I would make E-commerce more readily available for independent labels. They’re getting a little hung up and slow to adapt to the ability to profit from their content in a meaningful way.
What kinds of artists would you like too see gain more popularity?
Artists that break away from the pack. Artists that aren’t necessarily mainstream.
How can they be successful in doing that?
To continue to pound a way. We recognise the challenges that those kinds of artists have with radio formats, with pricing, with distribution.
Finding the right market for niches. I would encourage them to stay true to their art and continue to pursue their vision.
What’s the future for hip hop?
It’s like every other genre. It will have its ebb and flow. I’m sure it will continue to evolve into the next phase, and come back with raging popularity.
I know it’s waning a little bit with pop and rock making a resurgence, but that’s natural. It’s a good thing that every genre gets a little breath.
Can you tell something about your expertise in new media?
I’ve been working in new media for some time. Essentially with web development, promotion and distribution. We are now focusing on mobile marketing and distribution.
I’ve done deals for promotional websites on a national level for various projects, mostly in television.
The focus now is not just putting up a website to describe what it is you’re doing and get people to sign up. It’s about using the web and mobile platforms especially to integrate the content into your life and to engage the consumer.
Can you tell something about your film work?
The current project that’s taking up a lot of my time these days is a going to be debuting at the Rome Film Festival in competition. It’s Patti Smith’s ‘Dream Of Life’.
We’re very excited about it. Patti Smith was just nominated for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. She’s a legend in the punk rock scene.
And about managing music documentaries?
I also worked on a variety of music documentaries and performance programming. The Bob Dylan documentary a couple of years back.
More recently, ‘Atlantic Records, The House That Ahmet Ertugun Built’. Very significant production. We had all the high profile artists from Atlantic participating. Focal point was obviously Ahmet Ertugun, the founder of Atlantic himself.
I do essentially all the negotiations on the production side.
Can you give an example of non-traditional methods of marketing and promotion?
We’re in such a unique time, where we have the ability to utulize a huge platform that can reach directly to the consumer, but at the same time it’s cluttered with almost too much unscreened content.
There’s no one really monitoring the level of content. You can look at it in two ways. The glass half empty or the glass half full.
From the glass half empty perspective, it’s difficult for people looking for content to find things because there is so much clutter.
The glass half full is that everyone has a platform. So, it’s a mixed blessing.
These days, the most effective methods seem to be viral marketing on platforms like YouTube and MySpace.
Regarding representing songwriters and counseling clients, what are the most common conflicts or problems that need to be solved in regards to distribution, outsourcing, licensing?
The most challenging issue with distribution right now is the co-ordination and exploitation of rights.
The record companies almost essentially need to obtain as many rights as they can just to stay competitive.
Yet at the same time, the artist wants to be able to maintain a certain amount of rights. Particularly, in areas that have not been traditionally exploited, so that they can utilise them and promote themselves and have other sources of revenue.
When you think about an artist and all of the revenue streams - touring, merchandising, record sales, all the other revenue streams are becoming more critical in light of declining CD sales.
There has been much more discussion about all these other revenue streams as part of the total package for the artist and the value that the artist can bring commercially.
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Interview by Kimbel Bouwman
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