Interview with BOB ARNZ, manager/producer for LaFee and the Big Brother TV show, Germany - Sep 24, 2007
"Even though Iím thinking so much marketing-wise and concept-wise, first and foremost itís the song and the voice that makes the hit."Bob Arnz is one of the first producers in Europe to successfully cross over from the music to the TV industry, producing over 100 songs and selling five million records related to the Big Brother reality TV show.
Not abandoning his own projects, he discovered, developed, and took LaFee to the German No.1 Album spot in 2007.
Arnz speaks to HitQuarters extensively about the impatience and fear typical to the current industry climate, the way YouTube influences what gets released, the success of German language acts, and why an artist's personality is more important than perfect singing.
How did you start in the music business?
I started as a musician. I had a rock band and was the drummer for about seven years, and then I started singing. We released two albums, but were not very successful. I was not yet a producer. I just had my own band and that was it.
I got an offer from EMI Germany to join as an A&R manager in 1986. I was there for five years, and I then founded my own publishing company. At first it was affiliated with BMG, and later on I stepped over to EMI Publishing.
At that time it was very difficult to get good artists. I started writing together with a friend of mine to get good songs. And out of this songwriting I started producing as well.
What was your vision for TwoFor Music?
From 1996 on I worked with Christoph Siemons, with whom I founded TwoFor Music around 2000.
At that time it was very unusual to speak as a music producer to TV channels, which nowadays is totally normal and nothing new. At that time nobody did this kind of cross-producing.
We went to all the TV channels in Germany and asked them if they had candidates in shows or needed any title music. We sought any possibility to work together, a way to write music for them.
The main idea was not to produce only an artist and wait for a record company to invest money in it. We wanted to have the promotion platform right from the beginning.
It worked out real good. We worked with about three TV channels and one of them was EndeMol, which is the production company for Big Brother. Thatís how that all got started.
How did you develop your company over the last seven years?
Initially we produced some soap stars. We produced a girl group named Diva, which was released by Sony in 1998. They had two Top 20 hits and an album planned, but then the girls didnít like each other anymore. So, I cancelled the whole project.
After that we started the whole TV thing. And the main success for TwoFor Music was Big Brother. We worked exclusively for Big Brother for about four years. We produced more than 100 songs.
The success I had with LaFee didnít happen with TwoFor Music. That happened with the renewed publishing company.
After working for all those years with my partner and producing so many songs, we parted ways. Not as friends, but as producers. We knew each other too well. We needed new challenges. He started his Krypteria project, and I went on to do LaFee.
What artists are you currently working with?
Currently Iím working on LaFee, which is very successful in Germany. Sheís starting to have success in France, and in all East European countries also.
Together with Tokyo Hotel, those two acts are the first German speaking acts receiving European-wide success. It has a lot to do with the Internet.
LaFeeís singer, Christina Klein, is only 16 years old. I was pushed by her parents to not only be the producer but also to do management for her.
Itís a lot of work. I write the scripts for the videos. I put together the band. I take care of the whole musical direction for the tour.
One year ago I started to work with Carlos Sancha. Heís a German rock singer, and will be launched in the beginning of next year.
What is it that makes you want to work with an artist?
Itís the creation of the whole thing. Iím used now to work differently than many normal producers who get a finished band, who write their own songs, then get into the studio and try to get them in a framework that works.
What I mostly did was looking for nice marketing concepts. Iím looking at the music market and think about what is missing. What could be there which is not there now?
I start looking for singers who fit in this concept, and then I build the whole concept together.
I work very closely with the video director Bastian FranÁois, who is doing all my videos. In Germany itís very unusual that you always take the same video director for one act.
I try to create a complete visual concept of the whole act. I like to have it all in my own hands so that Iím not depending on people I donít know. They might be good, but I donít like surprises.
How do you combine producing and management?
When I left EMI in the Ď80s, I managed three German metal bands. They had success in Japan. After that I thought I would never do management again, but I have a responsibility for LaFee and have to do it still.
Currently, I have a management assistant, who is travelling with LaFee.
The problem is that in Germany, professional management cannot be financed. Normally, a manager gets 20% of what the artist gets. You donít sell that many records in Germany or France in order to have professional management like in America.
Whatís your view on artist development?
I did this Big Brother thing, which is more or less very much pushed by TV. And that is not really artist development. I had a lot of success with it and I loved it, but Iím happy to be doing more development now.
Iím working with Christina Klein since she was 11 years old, which is a really long time now. I spend a lot of money and time. We got the record deal with EMI when she was 14.
Thatís three years of work, not only on that person but on the whole concept. For me itís much more fun. Youíre involved in everything from the beginning on. Youíre really a part of the success.
Itís not only writing songs and producing some tracks and then putting it out and earning the money.
How did you find those artists?
I donít have possibilities like a casting jury on TV. Itís always a big problem for me. I would love to have the possibility to look at thousands of singers and pick the best out of them.
For me itís mostly a coincidence. This girl in LaFee I saw in a TV show when she was a child. My daughter was watching the show and thatís how I got to see this girl.
I discovered Carlos Sancha on a friendís wedding. He was playing guitar and singing at this wedding. I liked his voice so I started working with him.
Many new artists are vying for quick success. How do you educate them to be patient?
Itís very difficult, because the whole music industry is not patient anymore.
The artists are more patient than the industry. How can you teach them patience when everybody else is not?
Patience also means time and money to invest. Thatís the reason why I go to record companies with my artists when theyíre really ready to go.
In the whole process of putting it together, I could play those songs earlier to record companies, but I never do that. I start playing it to record companies when itís really finished.
It normally takes two to three years until Iím at that point where I can say, now Iím going to do it.
They learn the patience with me. The moment they are at the record company the patience is gone. Then everybody wants the quick success.
I donít know one record company at this moment, which really puts money into two or three albums of an artist and wait until itís successful. Normally you see them drop the artist after the first album if they donít sell enough.
What is happening in this process of two to three years before releasing the album?
I always think about a full album concept. You donít make much money with singles nowadays.
In these three years I start building a concept. But I never take a singer and change him so much that he fits into my concept.
I always start with a raw concept. Then I look for singers. With this singerís personality and mentality I start changing the concept so that it fits the singer. This process, including writing lyrics and music, takes very long.
I also do a preparation for those singers and for the whole team to get on a professional level. Because once youíre so successful like LaFee is, then you donít have any more time to learn whatís happening in the music industry.
Everything must be clear beforehand, as much as it is possible to explain in advance.
How is it possible for you to finance an artist over such a period of time?
I have to thank Big Brother for some financial success. We sold five million records. So I had time and money to spend on longer term work.
I just had a talk with the CEO of EMI about this problem. If I would have the same artist and Iím a 20 years old producer, I would never get a deal. I would not be able to make it that perfectly, because I donít have the money.
The record companies become very lazy, because they get the perfect thing on their table. They donít have to think anymore. They donít have to look at which songwriters or concept to use. They only have to sell it.
For them itís very comfortable, but for somebody like me or other producers itís very difficult, because thatís the standard now at the record companies.
I never play them demos anymore. Even now with the second album of LaFee, while sheís having a deal.
They donít have the fantasy of how it will sound in the end. Thatís very different from the time when I was at a record company. Then you had people who listened and recognised good songs and good artists without having the perfect surrounding.
How strong is the German music market nowadays?
Itís a strong and big market. But itís the same problem that any other country has with piracy and YouTube. It gets more and more difficult, when you invest so much money, to earn it back.
The times of normal record deals like licensing deals are gone. As a producer you do all the work anyway, except for promotion perhaps. You have to find other deal constellations, which allow you to earn enough money.
The whole thing will change rapidly in the next five, six, seven years.
If I wouldnít have had the merchandising, the touring, all those things on my end from LaFee, and if you only see the licensing and the publishing revenues, you would cry. Even when sheís so successful.
Five years ago I would be a millionaire with only those earnings. But those times are gone.
Do your artists use German lyrics only?
We started with German. In France right now, itís a big thing to sing in German. German acts with German lyrics. I think it has a lot to do with YouTube.
In former times, there used to be A&Rs in all different countries and they chose what is going to be released and what not. The audience never heard it because they chose not to release it.
Now, in the YouTube era, everyone in the world can see videos in German, English, Japanese, French or whatever, and they choose what they want.
That puts pressure on the record companies to release things they would normally never have released.
We are now starting to work on the first English language LaFee album. There are markets like the UK, America and Italy, who would never accept it in German.
But does it make sense? Seeing as one of the biggest successes of a German artist in America is Rammstein. They sing in German. The moment they started to sing in English they went down again in America.
Is it always your strategy to break in the UK or US?
No. I know so many people over the years who worked on that. They started an act in Germany in the sole aim of gaining success in America and England. But they never got it. All the people I know who succeeded there made it by accident. It just happened. You canít plan it.
The American and English industries are so big and so arrogant. Whenever I meet people there they make me feel as if theyíre saying, we donít need German music. We have the best musicians in our country. Why should we license music from Germany?
They are not really willing to acccept foreign music in their country. And that makes it very difficult.
What new projects are you working on?
Carlos Sancha that I mentioned. He is a German rock singer. Itís more old-fashioned style rock.
I have the feeling, and I hope Iím right, that music will turn a bit back into rock music. Back to the Ď70s and Ď80s. AC/DC and Led Zeppelin kind of stuff.
What is a good song for you?
A good song today is what it was 20 years ago. A good Beatles song is like a good Marilyn Manson song.
Is it a good song when a big audience likes it or when you like it?
I try to write songs for the audience. I like having hits. But the best moment is when I write or co-write a song and I am happy with it myself.
When I hear the demo and the song and I like it very much, then thatís my instinct speaking. When I like it I hope others like it too. I have no other option other than to rely on my instinct.
Iím very song-driven. Iím very melody-driven. The whole European dance techno stuff was very difficult for me to understand. Even the credible hip hop stuff I donít understand.
I only understand those big guys. Every time I see a big hip hop star rising, he has nice melodies. Thatís the reason for me why those guys are more successful than all the others.
I need a good melody. When thereís only rhythm, only bass, only dance, itís not my kind of music.
Do you also get unsolicited material sent to you?
Yes. And I listen to all of it. But when a band from Australia sends me a tape, and I donít immediately think thatís the biggest thing Iíve ever heard, I wonít work with them.
Iím now 45 years old. I donít want to spend hours of discussion with a guitar player about why he should play a guitar solo only one minute instead of three.
I donít want to sound arrogant, but I donít want to do that again. But if Iím ever going to get a good tape, which I think is perfect as it is, then I would go for it. But until now it didnít happen.
Whatís usually discussed in the first meetings with a new artist?
Their personality. Iíve seen so many people becoming successful and turning into monsters. I want to have fun with my job.
When the artists become monsters because they think they are big and think that they can do whatever they want, then itís no fun anymore.
I try to figure out their personality in the first two or three meetings, what could happen to those people when they become successful.
And the other main thing is the voice of course. Itís not about whether theyíre able to sing four octaves or if they sing everything perfect. I like singers with personality.
If I would look only at perfect singing, Mick Jagger would have never existed. Itís a nice thing in the rock Ďní roll and pop business that itís the personality thatís making the star, not the perfection of it.
Do you already present them your concept in the beginning?
No. In the beginning I start about what the music could be like without telling them too much about my concept.
If Iíd start directly talking about the concept, they would feel like a piece of soap, which Iím going to sell.
When I have a concept in my mind, Iím looking for people who fit in that concept. When I start working with them and I feel comfortable, then I start slowly explaining them what I want.
Even though Iím thinking so much marketing-wise and concept-wise, first and foremost itís the song and the voice that makes the hit, not the concept.
How do you work on marketing?
I try to keep my eyes open. I had that one time luck with those TV channels. I was the first one in Germany at the time working with all those Big Brother guys.
I learned from that. Now Iím always looking for new platforms. But everybody is talking about the Internet as a platform for promotion and jumps on it, even the record companies. I donít know if thatís right.
I have a 13 years old daughter, and when she comes home from school she switches on the computer, puts on YouTube and listens to free music all day.
On the one hand itís a nice platform for promotion, but on the other hand you donít earn any money with it.
Until now I havenít really seen new platforms, which could be interesting money-wise. Itís always the same thing with cinema, TV channels, commercials or other media.
As Iím working so much on the concept, itís very difficult for me to find a platform that fits.
You have those testimonial deals. You build up an image for a singer and the people love him, he has credibility on his own, and then McDonalds comes along and asks to use him for commercials for only 200,000 euros.
It has to fit with the image. Otherwise you disturb everything. Itís not easy.
Where do you look for outside songs?
I mainly use my own material. Iím successful with that and earn more money with it. But when someone approaches me with a really good song, which I know I could never write myself, I use it.
I have my own style. Sometimes I need songs in another style that Iím not able to do.
If you have an album, which sold three million copies because of another song, which is not written by me, and the other ten songs are from me, then I donít mind.
Iím not looking for outside songs. I receive them. People see a successful act and send me songs and ask if I could use them.
How do you view the current music business climate?
Itís scary. I only know the European record companies, but they are all sweating. The record companies are still the big dealers, but nobody knows for how long.
If I look in the faces of the guys who are working there, theyíre all looking scared. Every decision they take, they think about what could happen with their job.
Thereís no more playground for creativity. Those guys are dancing on a volcano. Theyíre making their parties, doing their big MTV Awards and everything looks big, but if you look behind the curtains everybody thinks, oh hell, what is going to happen in two years?
The singer/songwriters and producers are in the best position. They produce the creative thing, which they sell. But the people in the music industry are really scared. And as far as they can see, they have no solution for how to get out of it.
If you could dramatically change some aspect of the music industry, what would you do?
I would put away all the overhead costs of all those big companies. They have 50 people working on things and nobody really knows what they are working on.
Two weeks ago, EMI was bought by Terra Firma, which is an investment company. They started some big news about EMI only being creative and not able to handle money, and that they will show them how.
That they donít need people who know Robbie Williams, but people who know how to earn money with Robbie Williams.
Thatís the biggest problem of what is happening now. The record companies donít earn so much money, so people come into the music industry, who only think about money to save whatever they want to save. But they kill the whole thing, which is based on the music.
I would love to make the whole music industry smaller, more creative and healthier.
What are your future plans?
Iím working in the business for thirty years now. I hope that I stay on this wave of success, but Iím aware of the fact that no producer is successful all of his life.
There are three years of success, then you have three years of preparation again, then you start something and it flops.
I hope that I learned enough out of my faults over the last twenty years so that I donít produce many flops.
Who will be the artist of the future?
I hope itís going to be LaFee! To get a world star out of Germany is very difficult, because of all those business problems. I see this 16 year old girl, and I never planned to have so much success with her.
One week ago we had a European EMI convention where all the old chiefs and directors were sitting, and she was singing two songs, and she was the only one who gave them all tears in their eyes.
I would love to have an international success with an artist of mine. But I canít plan it. Itís all about luck.
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