Today’s blog features an interview with successful A&R, Conquer’s very own Grady Spivey. Grady, who is the longtime friend, advisor, and managing partner for super producer, Swizz Beatz, and Vice President of A&R for Sony subsidiary company, Full Surface Records has signed major acts to the Full Surface Records company such as Cassidy, Bone Thugs and Harmony – all of which have collectively sold 30 million records, not to mention our very own Director of Artist Services. Grady also aided in the development of careers for artists such as DMX and the Ruff Ryder Regime. Alongside Swizz Beatz, Grady has facilitated and directed movie scores such as new Line Cinema dance flick, “Take The Lead”, starring Antonio Banderas. He has also coordinated the production of the “Americas Best Dance Crew” season finale featuring a Swizz-produced music selection. Grady is also on Board of Advisors for the very popular and industry leading forum “The New Music Seminar”. Here is what Grady had to say during our interview:
Amanda: How long have you been working in the music industry and how did you get your start?
G: I have been working in the music business officially for 11 years; unofficially for 15 years. (Saying officially meaning paid work, albums released, credited work etc..)
Amanda: How was it watching Swizz grow as a producer compared to an artist? What do you think about the evolution from producer-to-artist in general? Is that a more promising career path?
G: To be honest, both career advances have been great! Producer holds a sentimental period in our lives because we were younger and less knowledgeable of the business politics. It was more about the fun and the competitive artistic nature of wanting to achieve greatness, while carving out Swizz’s niche as a producer. Knowing at that time his competition or expectations of a hip-hop producer to live up to were those of Dr.Dre, Timbaland, Dj Primier and Jermaine Dupri, then, to experience and achieve success at that was surreal. It was a great ride and adventure. At those earlier times in his career, Swizz’s success didn’t only reflect him, but it felt like it belonged to all of us who supported him.
This new transformation as a vocal artist is fun because it helps rebirth that feeling of overcoming a challenge, and brings that breathe of innocence back into the business for us. The feeling of knowing but not knowing what will happen, that first feeling of achievement in a new field, it helps make it special again. Unfortunately, we are very familiar in the entertainment business now, so certain aspects of it we are a little jaded, lol.
To finally answer your question, at all times your being an artist it’s just which side of the fence your on vocally or instruments, it’s still all art and your hoping that people will share, appreciate and understand your art form! They are equally promising and all relative; producers are vocal artist and vocal artist are producers. They share the same drive, journey and path. On the business end, they both get paid the same way. It’s all based on ownership and residual royalties; you get paid for people purchasing, buying, licensing etc. Sometimes the artist gets paid more, sometimes the producer gets paid more. All depends on the split and percentage you own of the composition. Hopefully I didn’t get too record industry lingo on you guy’s, but if you’re pursuing a career path in the entertainment business, you should be able to follow or do your homework and understand what I’m talking about 😉
Amanda: You helped jump-start the careers of artists like Eve and DMX. Were there any challenges along the career path that you helped overcome? How did you overcome/face them?
G: Well, I helped in the jump-start of DMX’s career. He recorded his first album, “Its Dark and Hell is Hot”, in my home recording studio. DMX and I over that time grew a close relationship. Regarding Eve, I can’t stake claim on the success of her career even though she is a dear friend and like a sister to me. I support her, have watched her grow and develop as an artist from the beginning. I have been fortunate enough to be able to help and support the career of a lot of artists and look at it all as a blessing. I am grateful for and humbled by all of my experiences in this business; good and bad. Yes, I did have many challenges in choosing this career. As I stated earlier, watching Swizz’s career path unfold and develop was an experience and eye opener. Unfortunately, you pay for what you don’t know. There are not too many people out there who are not willing to educate you and tell you the pitfalls of the music business. Most people and artist say after going through certain experiences that, “Its the word business involved with music business” because its a business first. This is so true. It’s sad because most artist and executives in the entertainment business start out and do this for the love, and then we figure out sometimes too late that it’s a business as well.
Also, in case you meant what challenges did I have in breaking artist. Some of the challenges I faced were that people didn’t take me serious because I started out young or most people didn’t take the artist serious or believe and see what I saw. However, I didn’t let this stop me. I continued to support and believe in the artist. Never faltering. Artist sometimes are there own worst enemy. Drugs and different elements can get in the way and cloud judgment. That is what I have seen be the worst set back and challenge for artist. This also is sometimes a challenge for others trying to manage or develop the artist. Ego is also something you cannot let become to dominate in your character. Confidence is great, but cockiness and arrogance is a turn off to all! Making people not want to deal with you and resulting into no support leading a short-lived career.
Amanda: What do you think is the biggest challenge for an artist just starting out in the industry?
G: I think the biggest challenge for artist now a days is not having an exact distribution platform or outlet. Artists are still following the old business model formed by a decaying recording industry. There is not a platform that exists where artists can comfortably focus on creating and know their business will be properly handled. The newer artists are falling by the waste side, and so many people with talent are not being allowed the same forums as artist that have the larger fan base and following. It’s not an even playing field. Yes, its always been that you have to pay your dues and prove your value in the music business, but its just too up hill for up and coming artists and totally unfair in my opinion. Artists are not allowed to be artists. Before, artists were supported to be artistic and create their own niche. Now, it’s supported to be just like what already exist. New artist have to be concerned with marketing, promotion, and distribution in order to build some sort of success instead of focusing on what is most important for an artist – and that’s the art! You use to just be responsible for creating a hot record and a record exec would sign you, polish you, and take that cut, plug it into the machine, and take it to the top of the charts. Now, its reversed you have to take it to the top of the charts, and then take it to a record company.
Amanda: How has the music industry changed since you have been in it? How do you think it is going to change?
G: Well, as stated before, the music business has changed drastically. Since I’ve been in it, I’ve witnessed the record companies downsize and lay off talented executives, keep only their buddies in key positions at the record companies and drop talented artists; only supporting artists that they have in these obscure 360 contracts – which is basically a super management contract from your record label to you, where your record company gets a percentage of everything you do -literally. The industry is desperate and looking for a fast dollar any way it can. Music has become more of a promotional tool, and there is more value in everything that revolves around the business, (i.e product placement, merchandising etc), than the actual business of selling music. I see the music business becoming more and more digital-based and less physicality. CD’s will fully be extinct within the next few years. An example of this is Dr. Dre’s, “Beats By Dre Headphones”. These headphones are owned by Interscope Records and distributed the same way music used to be distributed; marketed, promoted and manufactured in a similar fashion. This is the direction of where the music business is going. Creating revenue from everything around the music.
Amanda: If an artist was only able to focus on one thing to become successful, what would you say that thing should be? In other words, what do you believe is the one single most important area to achieve a core competency in? (If it is great music – which I thought you might go there – also give the single most important business thing)
G: Yes Amanda, I agree it should be great music. Great music supersedes all factors. Staying creative and being willing to push the envelope. Also, always creating that “wow” factor will give the edge. Remember, this is entertainment. If you think of the most successful artists, they were all entertainers in their own right. Whether it may be Elvis to Michael, or more current from Gaga to Kanye. As much as we criticize, they do create that “wow” factor, and we all find ourselves watching to see or hear what they will do next. They are true creative artists creating the trend and following some of the great footprints of the past laid before them, and giving it their own twist to create the wow; owning it, and making it their own. In business, the single most important thing is to know your business. Know how you get paid and why you get paid. This way you never have to worry about getting cheated or blaming someone else for shortcomings, because you know your business and shouldn’t allow it.
Amanda: What are some of the biggest mistakes you have seen artists make/ reasons why you have seen very talented artists not quite make it?
G: Always keep your ear to the ground and listen to your fans; give them what they want. As soon as you stop doing that, you lost. You’re only who you are because of your fans and your fan base. The relationship with the fans who support you and love you is the most important. You sell and grow as a star, brand and musician because of your fans. Also trust in your team. If you look for “yes men/women” that is the worst mistake. Have a team that will tell you the ugly and honest truth. This will help you make sound decisions. Remember, change and growth is never comfortable. If you feel comfortable while you’re at the gym, you’re not working. It applies in this business as well.
Amanda: What is your definition of a successful artist?
G: A successful artist is an artist that accomplishes what he/she sets out to accomplish as an artist, whether it’s getting your music heard on the radio and having a number 1 record, or touring the world. It’s whatever you set out for a goal. Achieve that goal, then create a new one and achieve that as well. Success is not failing. Failing is not trying.
Amanda: Any last words of wisdom for aspiring artists and indie artists out there who are just on the fence of reaching their goals but are not quite where they want to be yet?
G: Never be satisfied. Don’t expect any handouts or feel anyone owes you. Do not look for that overnight success story; most people work very hard and sacrificed years to get where they are, and have been working at it for years before they even start to get noticed or we acknowledge them. Nothing is an overnight success, especially now in the state of the music business. Do it because you love it and have fun in creating. Set your goals and benchmarks, and achieve your goals. Do not stop until you achieve your goals!!!!