Industry Vets: Young Guru and Sean C. Visit Berklee Valencia

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This week students at Berklee Valencia’s campus had the opportunity to meet and interact with two music industry veterans, Young Guru and Sean C.  If you aren’t familiar with their names, you’re most likely familiar with their repertoire. Young Guru has worked as a highly esteemed engineer and has also worked alongside respectable and notable artists such as Jay-Z and Kanye West. Prior to meeting Young Guru, I indirectly felt as though as I knew him due to Hov’s various shoutouts throughout the years. One of my favorite Hov shoutouts was when he told Guru to “turn the lights down..let’s keep it smooth” on Party Life (American Gangster album) LOL

Our other industry vet, Sean C. is a Grammy-nominated producer and A&R that has produced for hip hop artists such as Diddy and Jay-Z.  I was especially interested to hear Sean’s perspective on the industry and the future as an A&R since my career interests are specifically in that field. There were various workshops held over the two-day period while they were here in Valencia. One of my favorite workshops was the A&R session that was held on campus in our studio on the film scoring stage.

Berklee Valencia Studio

(Berklee Valencia students pictured in the studio with Young Guru and Sean C. for the A&R workshop)

(Photo Credit: Disrupcion Records)

Both Sean C. and Young Guru provided feedback to Berklee Valencia artists who submitted music. I’m currently working as an A&R for my culminating experience thesis, so I was super excited about the opportunity because both of the artists that I’m working with were chosen to participate in the session.  It was such a humbling experience to receive feedback on their music from industry professionals and to use that info to tweak their projects and to make them even better! This was a great experience both creatively and professionally.  Another workshop focused on innovation within the industry.  During this panel, both guests answered various questions that students had re: career advice, music production/technology, the direction of the industry, and evolving with the industry to ensure your position/career. A highlight for me was Sean’s response in reference to being a woman in a male dominated industry. His consciousness about the issue was indispensable and re-emphasized some of the points that I’ve learned throughout my professional career.

Young Guru and Sean C

This experience was one that I longed for as a student in the Global Entertainment & Music Business Masters program.  The knowledge that both gentlemen dropped on us was absorbed like a sponge and truly invaluable.  It’s a great opportunity to meet people who are working in positions that many of us aspire to be in. The grind continues….

Emerging Producer of the Week

First, before I introduce this awesome producer I just found, please excuse my slight feminist tangent. Maybe one mistake I’m making with my previous blog posts and that a lot of people are making is writing blogs and articles about “female” producers. Why not just call them producers? By writing articles about how someone is the “best female producer”, it still sets them apart from male producers as different. Why should they be any different? Maybe it’s better to just call them producers and act like they are supposed to be getting as much attention as male producers. It’s kind of a problem that everyone keeps treating female producers as different and so out of the ordinary- like wow she’s a good producer…for a girl. I always hated when people would say stuff like that to me. So, maybe this changes my whole point of view of my blog, but opinions are allowed to change, right?

Let’s bring into the spotlight another producer I think should already be in the spotlight! DJ Soupa Model is a producer, DJ, songwriter, arranger, and remixer among other things. She has her own production company, indie label, artist development, and branding company, Music Boulevard Group-  based in Washington, DC. She is also a producer for NappyBoyRecords, T-Pain’s label. She has worked with a ton of music industry stars like T.I., T-Pain, Jason Derulo, Wyclef, Ace Hood, and artists on Konvict Music, Sony, and Universal.

Having lived in Africa, the UK, and the US, she has been exposed to a ton of different backgrounds and cultures and experiments with a variety of different genres, making her sound a unique one. She recently collaborated with Grammy Award winning dancehall artist Beenie Man. 

“In fact, my most recent production for Mims is a mixture of electro, dubstep, and South African drums,” she says in her biography on the Music Boulevard Group website.

I love how she takes all these different flavors and mixes them into her sound, yet her sound still sounds very appealing to fans of mainstream hip hop! I think she could potentially be a big influence on making changes in mainstream hip hop’s sound. 

Niche Market Female Producers and the Fluidity of the Definition of “Producer”

It seems like the short list of women producers people tend to talk about consists of producers who produced hits from over 10-20 years ago. These are producers like Linda Perry, Trina Shoemaker, Sylvia Robinson, and Sylvia Massy. These producers, however, were successful when then definition of “producer” was still quite a concrete term and when there weren’t as many complex subgenres of music.

In those days, job titles in the record industry were much more easily defined. Today, being a “producer” can mean many things. There are many circumstances where there is a big overlap between “producer”, “songwriter”, and “artist”. Someone can write the beat for a hip hop track, create the synths for an electro house track, write the lyrics for an R&B track, or help arrange all these aspects together into a finished product. Many artists are also their own producers. Many are also DJs or also create remixes.

We really have to consider these factors when we try to figure out why we aren’t seeing as many standout female producers:

1. The industry is gaining more and more niche markets and genres.

2. The definition of “producer” has become more fluid.

3. Anyone can produce their own music as a result of technological advances and collaborate easily with anyone because of the internet.

That said, there are many great female producers (many of whom produce their own material) in underground, subgenre, or niche markets in the industry. Here is Tokimonsta, a producer from LA featured in MTV Iggy’s article “16 Female Producers You Didn’t Know Are Running Things” (see previous blog post):

Maybe the title of that article is a little misleading, because I wouldn’t say any of these producers are really “running things”. Yes, they are producers of some really good music, but they haven’t really produced hits in popular genres. They very well could be, but do they want to? That’s a different story… well, this is one way to gain notoriety:

Apparently Diplo loves her.

Understanding the underground club music industry: managing and booking new talents at The Secret Agency (Interview with Ben Start)

The secret Agency, LondonThe secret Agency is a development of the legendary London party crew secretsundaze. After 11 years of parties and strong relations formed with both artists and promoters across the world this seemed like a logical progression. The agency aims to continue the secretsundaze ethos of openess, honesty and forward thinking musical direction and ultimately delivering results for both the promoter and our artists. The reputation of our artists is based as much on their ability to spin records as to make them. We pride ourselves on looking after artists individual needs and being pro-active in terms of seeking work for our artists as opposed to sitting around waiting for the telephone to ring. With regards to dealing with requests from promoters and bookers we aim to give a professional, reliable, honest and efficient service.
Hello Ben, from secret agency in london, thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience about your job in the electronic music panorama…we are here to talk and understand a little bit more about the underground club music industry, how it works behind the scenes and how it is actually different from the rock, pop, urban and indie rock, especially in finding, managing and booking new artists…let’s begin!
First question: given the fact that in today’s industry the “artist” is often the producer as well as the live performer and the DJ… What do you look at first in finding new talents?
I guess the main resources are the labels, if an artist is signed to a label that we respect, then this could trigger our interest for sure… Of course they need to be skilled DJ’s that we would feel confident sending to a club to represent our brand, or even book for one of our events and parties. In addition to that, it’s all about their ability of delivering good releases or albums, and yes, obviously their attitude! Do they really want to make something in this music industry?
What are your main resources in finding new artists? Do you think an artist has to have already built a strong following to join your company?
We look for artists worldwide mainly through the internet, the records we buy, mixes we listen to, parties we go to, interviews we read. It’s quite difficult these days to find an artist fully developed with a strong following, who is not already signed somewhere; it seems that every young DJ and producer has a manager these days!
How do you deal with the fact that many record labels integrate a booking and management agency within the same structure? Would you consider them competitors?
Well, usually labels unearth new talent and promote their own music, agencies make sure that the artists are getting the right exposure through the other side of what they do: the performance. There are labels like Ramp which are building their “own family” at the grass roots and like to take care of the booking for their artists at the same time, but this is quite rare though. The Secret Agency works under the secretsundaze umbrella, along with all the parties and the newly launched label, so it actually feeds into each other.
Do you think is more important for an artist to have a strong live performance rather than good EP’s/Albums? What does actually trigger your interest the most?
I think that now competition is tougher than ever !!! An artist really needs a strong live/DJ set, good releases and remixes. Having their own label might help them, as well as a decent haircut and some nice trainers! 😉
How important is the personality of an artist behind his or her skills? Is it something that you considered as a key-point?
It’s important to have personality in this industry, but different people express this in different ways! As long as the music or the live performance has something that set it apart from everything else, then this is the most important thing. Of course the artists are performing in a social environment, so it’s important that [they] are able to deal with this in a good way.
In what do you think a good company has to be good at these days, in order to discover a new potential superstar? Are there still potential superstar out there? How do you recognize when an artist is ready to take the big leap?
We are still dealing with very underground artists, so the leap you mention usually happen organically, so an artist will have a break-through-track which will receive lots of exposure, support, booking, and fame and girls soon follow… There are always potential superstars out there! As music becomes more democratic and small scale, in some cases this has opened the door to more and more managers at grass roots level, so I think there is intense competition for people with potential star-quality, resulting in people getting picked up early.
Do you think that “do-it-on-your-own” strategy to build a career could work in the electronic music scene? How would you compare this to the more common “who-you-know” policy? What’s your opinion on that?
I think the do-it-yourself approach can work, but there are certain rules and obstacles individuals will face at some point. The right contacts and the network you have are always going to be useful when you come up against this.
How is your approach in evaluating how to achieve goals? How important is your consulting service/advisory in planning his or her career at the beginning?
Most artists know exactly where the best clubs are and of course [they] want to play there! It’s up to us to work with them steadily in order to get them there, or at least helping them get closer to that. It’s really important to listen to their thoughts, we’ve come to realise that really are the little things that count in this job!
How difficult is it to sign a contract with a company like yours? How much does the whole process usually take?
We work on a no-contract basis with a artists… Usually we work on an initial term of one year; some artists will take longer to settle in than others, but we constantly evaluate their performance as we go, as they do the same with us.
Which is the most challenging issue that you’re facing right now in the industry?
The biggest challenge is the competition we are facing from other agencies, artists can sometimes think that the grass is greener on the other side (even if it’s not), but at the same time competition is something that we are all exited about!
How do you think this economic recession has affected this industry?
I think that the recession is definitely catching some promoter clients off guard. People have been tightening their belts for the last 4 years, some have been squeezed out, but that means the competition that remains is stronger; it’s a natural selection.
What do you think you will need to improve to stay ahead of other competitors in the industry? How will you differentiate yourself in order to succeed?
We need to continually improve to stay in the game. In terms of our range of service, we need to address their individual needs and wants in a better way every year. We also need to continue to improve our roster and offer a exciting variety of artists. We generally try to differentiate ourselves by giving a friendly, “boutique-like” service but with a very professional edge. Of course what makes any company unique is the type and the quality of the music it represents!
Would you like to give us some good advices to follow for a young artist? How can they trigger the interest of a manager?
Be yourself, confident, daring, be willing to experiment but also be able to focus your goals…
Finally, how do you see recruitment and scouting as a value in the future?
Its an ongoing, never ending task. Our stock of artists needs to be continually developed and updated. This development can also come with artists already on our roster adding new strings to their bow through their natural development, or experimenting and reacting to what is going on around them. Without this, well the roster would get stale and promoters would lose interest very quickly. So it all feeds into each other!
Ben StartBEN START : Ben was given the enviable task of shaping the secretsundaze vision of an agency in late 2009. With a varied background in many facets of the music scene he has helped to mould a modern, forward thinking agency. Ben enjoys the hands on, day to day task of dealing with genuine legends of the scene, thriving on building relationships worldwide.
ROSTER : ALEX COULTON, AMIR ALEXANDER, ANTHONY NAPLES, BLEAK, BL, BRAWTHER, BROTHERS’ VIBE, CALL SUPER, CHEZ DAMIER, CITIZEN, DANTON EEPROM, DELANO SMITH, DJRUM, ETHYL, FCL, FLORI, GILES SMITH, JAMES FOX, JAMES PRIESTLEY, JAY SHEPHEARD, JOHN DALY, KEITH WORTHY, KEVIN MCPHEE, NICHOLAS, NYRA, PATRICE SCOTT, ROYALTY, SAN SODA, SEI A, SIMBAD, STELLAR OM SOURCE, SVEN WEISEMANN, TWO ARMADILLOS, YOUANDEWAN