Interview with UDO LUCA KRUMM, manager for Nevio (Top 10 GER) - Nov 12, 2007
"Radio DJs these days don't discover artists, they just play hits,"
... so observes Udo Luca Krumm, who might strike you as old-school - yet in the finest possible sense, as demonstrated by his dedication to the artists he works with, and by his genuine concern for music quality in an age of instant hits.
Krumm's dedication might also be related to the fact of him being used to work on both sides of the fence - he was a successful musician, producer and remixer mainly throughout the '90s, to big names such as Moby and Faithless.
He talks to HitQuarters about working with German Top 10 Pop Idol runner-up Nevio, not as a manufactured star but an accomplished artist.
Who do you currently manage?
I am working with Sarah Grace, a gifted 17 year old singer from Vienna, Austria. Since we first met, I am overwhelmed by the maturity and emotionality of her performances. Sarah learned very fast and she is working very hard, so every time I’m impressed by an outstanding performance, her next one is even better. She understands the essence of a song.
Additionally she works hard in her dance and piano lessons and by now you can’t tell from her voice if she's from Vienna or Miami. We also encourage her to involve herself in songwriting and arrangement, in order to make her songs even more personal.
For songwriting we are also collaborating with Benjamin Groff, David Frank and with a very talented young lady who was formerly working with David Foster. You can hear three of our first preproduction demos on the Sweet Dreams Music website.
For me, working with an artist means searching for his true artistic nature. It is not about building up an image, I am talking about finding the true personality whitin the artist himself.
We often collaborate with our networking partners, like manager and booker Heinz Gross of Jointventure Concerts – his artists already won 8 Grammies. Our network includes studios, A&Rs, composers, musicians and other producers. Each artist needs individual input and support and if this exceeds my limits, I am glad to involve a specialist.
Your newest artist Sarah Grace being 17, and seeing as many other newcomers can be as young as 13 or 14, is it essential for someone starting in the music business to be so young?
When you look at long-term successful artists like Ray Charles and Quincy Jones or Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake, most of them started their career at a very young age.
To me, the most significant reason is that you learn easier when you are young. Especially the uniqueness in a voice, which can be trained better. When you start an apprenticeship, you are normally 16 or 17. Sarah has already successfully finished college.
How did the partnership with Nevio come about?
Nevio came to my Studio for an audition. When he started singing and playing the guitar, a certain magic filled the room. At that very moment, he was the first newcomer I ever met who knew exactly how to perform a song in the most sensitive way, even when singing it for the first time.
To generate a fanbase, Nevio participated in the third Season of ‘Deutschland sucht den Superstar’ (DSDS), the German Pop Idol, where he made the 4th place. When he left the show, he gained popularity, without having lost his artistic independence.
Throughout the following months we spent days and nights together developing him as a self contained artist. We got Mike Rose (who had hits with Kylie Minoque, Boyzone, Ronan Keating to name a few) to co-write with him.
Here, my work also included A&R, this led to Nevio’s second single ‘Runaway’, which hit the charts for nine weeks this summer and achieved gold-status.
With the DSDS-fanbase he had the opportunity to begin live activities. He debuted successfully in his home town. That was the easy part. But we also managed to sell out the Columbiahalle venue in Berlin. This was a great concert for his fans, in which we invested a lot of money and preparation for specials like a 12-piece all-female string orchestra. To us, it was an outstanding showcase for record labels.
Right after that concert, Nevio was signed to Universal Music Germany. So I am proud he had the opportunity to be the first contestant of DSDS getting a deal with a major label after leaving the show.
How much time do you spend with him (is it working on a daily basis?) and how important is it to have a good personal relationship with the artist?
While working on his artist concept, Nevio and I spent several weeks together living and working; it was like running a family business. Developing someone’s ‘artistic personality’ is a very intense process and involves your heart and soul very deeply. Nevertheless a personal relationship and an artistic relationship should not be confused.
I feel more like a personal coach. Successful development needs time and there is no alternative to spending that time with the artist. This includes also taking care of the artist's personal surrounding. With rising popularity those yes men and two-faced friends often use the natural naivety of young artists to mislead them onto the road to the ‘fast money’.
We are trying our best to give advice and support their personality, so the artist has the self-consciousness to resist. Sometimes I am scared seeing young artists and their entourage. What happens there? Who takes responsibility? Who catches them, if they stumble on something? And who the hell is backing them all the way?
How did you start in the industry and how long have you been in it?
I am making music since I was a child and was influenced by jazz, soul and dance music while growing up. For my own clubs in southern Germany, I began working also as booker and agent in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s and worked with artists and living legends like ,b>Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Tito Puente, George Clinton,/b> and many more.
During the ‘90s I moved to Ibiza and soon started to produce my own chill-out tracks. I was the first producer using real instruments in this genre. This invention was one of the reasons for the chill-out/lounge hype since the beginning of the millennium. Gary Cooper (former Head of A&R at BMG-Munich, now head of Brand & Celebrity-Agency who is still a mentor and friend, discovered me as producer and artist.
The track ‘Blue Moon’ was hyped by DJs like Todd Terry and went straight into the UK Top 10. ‘Do You Remember’, ‘Feels So Good Inside’ and ‘Brazilian Angel’ by Two Men Ahead, the project I created together with Thorsten Stenzel (DJ Sakin; York), can be found on any chill-out compilation from those days when I was also working on remixes of artists like Moby and Faithless.
During the following three years I did my kind of sabbatical to re-discover, re-define and re-invent my music. I went back to my musical roots of jazz, soul and dance.
I started also to discover R&B and pop where I found new inspiration as musician and artist by adapting my commitment regarding quality and production for these genres. Afterwards I started working with Nevio and now it’s time to go the next step with Sarah Grace.
Tell me about Sweet Dreams Music and your role in it.
It is the company I own. All my activities as musician, producer and manager are under that roof. To handle all this crazy and creative ‘mess’, I am working with a team of creative freaks.
Is being a multi-tasker (producer, manager, musician) coming out of love or necessity?
For me, success and quality requires to fulfill all these activities. I enjoy very much to pull the strings, but sometimes it's just a duty. I am leading the way and my team is doing a lot of the detail work.
Do you prefer concentrating on one artist?
I invest a lot of time, power and dedication in any artist I work with, so I concentrate on one or maximum two artists at a time.
What does the future hold for you in today's industry climate?
Most of the discussions of recent years like for example ‘online or retail’ or illegal downloads only cover the consequences of technical development and forget about essential industry home-made issues.
A special problem here in Germany, is that nearly all large radio stations have no more music-driven DJs. They do not discover artists, they just play hits.
This makes life more difficult for A&Rs breaking new domestic artists as radio plays no more active role. To be on the safe side, they use casting shows which make their lives much easier. You have a show, which creates a hype and nearly everyone who called in for a winning contestant will buy their records afterwards. There is nothing bad about this. But very often these manufactured idol’s careers only last for a very short time.
The record company already had its profit and so the higher risk of signing and releasing a new artist without these so convenient media-platforms counts even more. This leads to less diversity and finally for more and more potential record buyers it is getting more and more difficult to find the records they like to buy.
When I was young, we all made our copies of cassettes and no one was bothered. Today, when the focus is more on the individual hit, not on the album, the value of music falls and no one buys the album, even if it has several hits on it - they just copy.
Record buyers are not stupid. You can trust them more than you should trust market research. Most important to me is the endurance of the artist’s career. And the base for endurance is credibility and quality.
In order to really manage someone successfully, is it necessary to give up one’s self, IE your social life?
What I am doing is no nine-to-five job, it is not a job at all. It is my life, and that decision comes from my heart.
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Interview by Leila Rozario