Interview with EDDIE WEATHERS, A&R at So So Def for J-Kwon, Dem Franchize Boyz - May 22, 2006
ďRight now we are looking for a hip-hop rock band. Iím looking for something different, like little kids who rap but who also play real live instruments,ĒÖ says Eddie Weathers, A&R and co-founder at So So Def together with Jermaine Dupri. He signed US Top 10 acts J-Kwon and Dem Franchize Boyz and has been awarded No.8 on the weekly World Top 20 A&R Chart.
Read how So So Def works with new artists, where Eddie found their latest artist Young Capone and which is the hottest club in Atlanta right now to find new acts.
How did you get started in the music business?
Jermaine Dupri and I were best friends and grew up together. We started running parties and mix tapes. We came up with the name So So Def and kept branding it in the neighbourhood. And it ended up being a label.
Jermaine was the producer and I was going to find the talent and bring it to him. Kris Kross was our first major group selling more than 8 Million records and after that came Escape, Da Brat, Jagged Edge etc.
What strategies do you use to find hot new artists?
A lot of people call me and try to arrange appointments. I go to a lot of auditions and talent shows. I look for talent everywhere around the country.
Are there places where you show up quite frequently?
Yeah. I do a lot of high school talent shows. I go as a surprise guest, so the kids donít even know that Iím coming. I just pop up. We have talent shows at 11 high schools in Atlanta. I found Young Capone at a high school talent show. He came out to perform and the whole school went crazy. His record wasnít even out. When I saw the reaction from the kids and they knew all the words of the song I signed him.
Are there clubs with open mic sessions where you go?
Right now people go to the Pool Palace. Thatís where you find new acts, and if your record works in the Pool Palace, your record will work around the country. Thatís one of the hot spots right now in Atlanta.
How developed were J-Kwon and Dem Franchize Boyz when you found them?
They were local artists. I ended up meeting them and actually put them with some better producers and we came up with better records and better songs.
How did they get in touch with you?
They sent me demos. I liked just part of the songs so we went in and started recording records and then once weíd come up with a hot record, we were giving them a deal. J-Kwonís manager called me and played me some stuff, but Dem Franchize Boyz grew up in my neighbourhood and thatís where I met them.
They already had a record deal with Universal but I felt like Universal didnít really know what to do with these guys. So when they got released I told them I wanted to work with them. They didnít like the situation at Universal.
What happens after the signing process?
Once I have some songs recorded, I take them to Jermaine and when he approves them, we test the records. We go around all the clubs and all the little parties. We get it to local DJs in the neighbourhood first. They can pretty much tell us whether the song is cool or whether itís wack.
After that we test it around the hood and play the songs live to see how the crowd reacts. When we get a good reaction we go ahead, get it pressed and put it out. Then we send it to radio and if they like it, we get the spins on. When the spins are looking good, we start shooting videos and all of that.
But if you ask 5 people you get 5 opinionsÖ
If you get 5 opinions and all of them say the song is good, thatís pretty much your answer. Then we have to put it out, give it to DJís and then to the radio. If the radio starts playing it, itís a good record.
So the radio plays it before itís released?
Yeah, in Atlanta. But it has to be a really good record.
Which radio stations do you approach?
107.9 and B103.
How long is a songís test period?
I test the songs for about 5 weeks.
At what time is the video shoot?
If I start getting 600 or 700 spins on a record I normally shoot a video.
How do you get MTV to play it?
We just submit the video to MTV and BET, but they have to like the video first, because there are a lot of strict rules and regulations. And they also check the spins on the radio.
Do you go directly for an album with your artist?
We normally put out a single first and keep on recording, so if the single blows up, we pretty much have an album done.
Can you make the decisions by yourself or do you check everything with Jermaine?
Everything I do has to be approved by Jermaine. I make sure he likes it. Heís the boss. But I pretty much know what he likes, so honestly everything I take to him, he ends up liking.
What kind of artists are you looking for at the moment?
Right now weíre looking for a hip-hop rock band. Iím looking for something different, like little kids who rap but who also play real live instruments. Like a rock band almost, but instead of the dude being a lead singer, I want him to be a rapper. I feel that thereís a void for little kids who really donít like rap music but are into rock music. So Iím trying to make a combination of both.
How do you go through the tons of demos that are sent to you?
Honestly, I had to stop receiving demos, because Iím always in the studio and they send so many that I didnít have the time to go through them. Once or twice a year, for about a month, I let people send demos in. I try to go through at least 20 or 30 a day. But honestly I donít find so many groups when I listen to demos, because about 80% of the demos donít sound that good.
If I end up signing a group, Iíll do a meeting or an audition with them. You have to see somebody in person. You always have to know what they look like, how they present themselves. Youíve got to hang out with them and see what kind of people they are.
How can someone then get in touch with you?
I get at least 50 calls a day with people who want to do auditions. If Iím not in a studio, a lot of times Iíll do it. But if Iím in the studio working on a project all night, in the daytime Iím kind of tired. Right now Iím working on 4 different projects and Iím trying to get these all artists finished and put out.
So the best way is for you to call the label, and I will get the message and weíll contact you. Iím always trying to call, but I wonít return calls the same day because once I go through my messages I end up receiving new calls.
So do you have people who pre-select stuff?
Yeah, thatís Sterling, my assistant.
Have you ever turned down a project in the first instance, but later gone on to sign it?
Oh, thereís a story: Ludacris was my neighbour and he had a song that he had put out. I thought it was cool but I didnít know it would blow up. I had a chance to sign him but I didnít and he got a deal somewhere else. Sometimes you never know. That was like a shocker to me, seeing that song selling millions at Def Jam. I donít do that anymore. So now if somebody calls me with a record and I think itís cool, I always sign Ďem. But heís still a good friend of mine.
If youíve turned down a project before, how do you handle it when the artist comes to you again?
Iím open to that. If Iíve done an audition with you, Iíll never sign you away. I mean, if you want to be an artist thatís how youíve got to be. YouĎve got to show me that this is really what you want to do. I respect people like that.
Would you work with people outside of the US? Like with acts out of Europe?
I wouldnít mind, but itís kind of hard because I donít know the market over there.
When it's overseas and they want to come out over here I need a little background about it.
Are there chances to go with projects like that in the US market?
There are so many rappers over here. Itís kind of hard for a rapper to be honest. I think it might be harder for a rapper over here compared to over there. But I donít know. If he has a hot song over here, Jermaine likes it, a couple of DJs like it, yeah I would put it out. But I would definitely check the record first.
What are the most important things when breaking an artist in the US?
Go ahead and promote yourself independently, and then go to a major label.
Do you like to build artists from scratch or should he/she be pretty much developed?
I like both. I like new artists. Sometimes a new artist doesnít know exactly what to do and thatís where I come in and help him or her re-arrange or re-record their stuff. But I pretty much like somebody who is already almost developed, who knows what theyíre trying to do and has got their own ideas ready to roll. I just come in and switch up a few things, and thatís it.
How important is it for an artist to have local stuff going on before he gets signed somewhere?
Right now itís very, very important for an artist to go out and start their own development before they go to a major label. Thatís how a lot of kids are getting deals now. Theyíre not waiting on a label. They start their own little label and get the buzz going in the streets. Thatís basically how So So Def started. Itís a lot of time and work that the major labels donít have to do anymore. It makes their job easier and mine, too.
Would you ever build an artist from scratch or do you think itís important that he or she has already a fan base?
You better have some fans. But I would say Da Brat was built up from scratch. Jermaine and I met her, she auditioned, and then Jermaine went in the studio with her and came out with ďFunkdafiedĒ. She was one of the first female rappers to ever go Platinum. But that was back in the days. Now everybody is taking it upon themselves to get out and get their own thing going, which is excellent.
What should a demo set from an artist look like?
Just a CD, a photo and a bio.
How many artists can you put out per month?
I try to put out 3 new artists a year. You canít do more because you need a set up time of about 6 weeks to know if you have a record that sounds good and is worth putting out and shooting a video for. I donít want to work shit. I want to take my time and make sure that weíre going to make good music.
How do you work in the studio? Are you sitting together with Jermaine or are you working separately?
Basically I do 80% of the album and Jermaine comes in and finishes it. It's separate. Once I do my 80% that Jermaine approves of and likes then he comes in and finishes the other
20%. It just depends on the artist and on the deal. I pretty much did 90% of the Dem Franchize Boyz album. Jermaine came in at the end and did one song and we were finished.
How big is your influence in the artist direction?
Itís very big because we spend a lot of time together. We argue, we fight, we fuss, we laugh, all of that together. But itís all about making good music. They definitely respect me because Iím a very honest person and I keep it real with them. A lot of kids are quite young, so Iím more like an older brother to them.
What do you do when the artist and you have different opinions?
When you have a problem you have to compromise. They let me have my way, but what you do eventually is you get some people from outside who are just around. You get them to come in and take a listen to it, and if everybody likes it, theyíll go: ďOk, it came out hotÖĒ
Sometimes they want to say certain things and Iíll say: ďNa, donít say that.Ē But then I have to say: ďYou know what, let them say what they want to say!Ē It canít all go my way.
We compromise. There have never been any real arguments.
So somebody from the outside, such as the cleaning lady whoís around, might make a decision in the end?
Yeah, those people are going to be the fans. Itís always good to have somebody from the outside come in. For instance on one of the Dem Franchize Boyz songs on the album, ďGive PropsĒ, one of the guys, who is a rapper, actually started singing. I liked it so much that I wanted to keep it.
He said: ďNo, I donít know how to sing and I donít like the way I sound, letís get somebody professional singing on it.Ē I said: ďNo, leave it like it is because it sounds good to me.Ē So we left it like it was and when Jermaine heard it he said: ďYeah, I like it!Ē So we kept it.
How much are you working with outside producers?
I work with them everyday. They send me songs and tracks and I just go through them. On Dem Franchize Boyz itís all new producers except for Jermaine. Pretty much every song is done by somebody else. I got one young producer called Young Juve whoís signed to So So Def and he did 4 songs on the album.
Which artists are you looking for songs for at the moment?
For all of them. I'm working on Daz Dillinger, Young Capone and this R&B kid name Johntha. We are really just looking for tracks, since all of my rappers write their own lyrics. They donít want complete songs since theyíre not going to do other peoplesí raps.
When you sign a new artist, what does an agreement include?
Itís pretty much a standard contract. It says how many albums we put out, how much money we are going to spend and how many videos we are going to shoot. Some things we change for people, some things we donít.
If an artist comes and complains that he wants to spend a little more money on a video, we change a few things around, but itís not about to be crazy. It depends on how the single is doing. If you have a No.1 single, of course we are going to change a few things around that you want to change, but if you donít, weíre not going to change much.
How long is a typical contract period?
Between 1 to 3 albums. But if the first album doesnít do anything we will release you and let you go somewhere else. We donít try to sign people for life.
What kind of agreements do you make with producers?
We buy the tracks from them and thatís about it. They still get their producer royalties and the publishing. We take none of that. We are very fair in the business. If there is a song we like we just pay for it.
Do you have certain habits when listening to songs?
I listen to them in my car. I have a regular factory stereo there, no big sound system, so if I like it there, I take it to the studio.
So the best thing is to put the demo on in your carÖ?
Interviewed by Jan Blumentrath
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