The Hot Seat: Nick DiDia, 301 Studios

Published in The Music Network

 

Nick DiDia’s sonic fingerprints can be found across some of the biggest rock records of the past 20 years. The celebrated producer, sound engineer and mixer has worked on a staggering hit-list of albums by Pearl Jam (Vs., Vitalogy, No Code, Yield, Backspacer), Bruce Springsteen (The Rising, Magic, Devils & Dust, Working on a Dream), Rage Against The Machine (Evil Empire, Battle of Los Angeles) and many others. DiDia has a strong affinity with Australian artists, having worked with the likes of Katie Noonan and newcomers Holland, while his efforts on albums for Powderfinger (Internationalist, Odyssey Number 5, Vulture Street, Fingerprints, Golden Rule) and The Living End (The Ending Is Just The Beginning Repeating) have had legendary results. Now, DiDia is getting closer to his spiritual home. He recently touched down in Byron Bay, where he’s taken a full-time position at Studios 301.

You seem to have a real bond with Australia.

I first came to Australia in 1998 to work with Powderfinger and I’ve wanted to get back ever since. I’m not sure if it’s that I just fit in, but I really like it here. My family and I spent about two months in Byron in 2009, and we all just fell in love with it. My situation coming here, even though it was planned for a while, it was kind of last-minute when I actually arrived. I was working up to the point when I left. It was a 14-year journey which happened in about a month.

Australia has a long history in rock. Is that where Australia’s strength lies?

I’d say its strength is in playing real instruments. Even though not all of it sounds organic, most Australian bands come from a point of really learning their instruments. Which to me is the basis for any great band, whether it’s a rock band, or pop or folk. There’s an emphasis placed on the ability to play. For whatever I’m known for, my emphasis is placed on trying to capture a band and their energy when they play together. Australian bands typically do that really well.

That might have something to do with our garage culture?

It might. The Living End was the perfect example. As far as three guys in a room bashing it out, it’s pretty fun to be a part of what they do. The Australian music scene is great. It’s really diverse and different.

You’ve worked with some of the biggest acts on the planet. Is there a common thread which runs through these enormously successful bands?

Great singers, and great songs. That’s not to take anything away from the bands, but that’s what they have in common. And they all have a sound that helps identify it. People generally connect with the guy or girl who’s singing the song.

Do the big acts leave the ego at the door?

At that level, everyone is there to work. And get the job done. Not that it’s formulated or calculated. There’s not a lot of room for ego. You can get a lot done if you just work hard in the studio.

Do you have a favourite album you worked on?

Probably The Rising, the first Springsteen record I was involved in. That was one of the first bands that I worked where I was a fan of since I was a kid. That and Pearl Jam’s Vs. That was the first album Brendan O’Brien and I worked on that was really anticipated.

Do you feel anxious ahead of a release?

Yeah, absolutely. You do your best and hope people like it, especially if you’re taking any kind of chance with the record. Obviously it’s the bands’ faces on the front of the album; they probably feel more responsible for it. As an engineer or a producer, the primary thing is that the band realises their full potential on the record.

How do you set about making the record?
I’m just trying to make it sound great. If I’m producing a band, I really try to spend a lot of time on the songs before we get into the studio. Just working on the songs, arrangement and lyrics and trying to create an atmosphere in the studio that’s fun and people are excited about recording.

Where do you find inspiration?

A lot of the time, it’s from the young bands. When it’s the guys or girls’ first experience with making a record, their enthusiasm just rubs off on everyone involved. By the same token, working with Springsteen was that way, where he is such a hard worker and so inspired that everyone around him wants to work harder. Working with people who are really dedicated to what they’re doing makes you want to be better.

Is there anyone you’re desperate to work with?

I was a prog-rock fan when I was a kid. So Peter Gabriel is on my list, as he is with most engineers of my era. Beside the songwriting, sonically his music is always so interesting and groundbreaking at times.

Have you ever been tempted to run a label?

It would be exciting. Everyone who does this at some point thinks that they should be–maybe unwisely–finding and picking the band. Many have tried and failed. But it doesn’t stop people from trying it again. I’ve been involved in a band, Von Grey, who are now signed to Red Light Management in the States. We’ll see how that goes.


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Mark Brown, Founder and owner, Cr2 Records

Published in The Music Network

 

Australia has a renowned dance music scene which sells records and tickets, and from time-to-time launches a global star. With that in mind, it’s no surprise Mark Brown wants a bigger piece of the action. Brown, a high-profile British DJ, has set-up a local version of Cr2 Records through a joint-venture with German-based Kontor Records. Cr2 is one of the U.K.’s most consistent hit-making independent house labels. The company celebrated its milestone 100th release back in 2009, in what was its fifth year in business. Now, the label Brown set-up with Christian Rodwell has almost 300 releases behind it, including works by David Guetta & the Egg, Eric Prydz and Steve Angello.  The new label has already made an impact on the ARIA Club Chart with tracks by Nicky Romero, Redd feat. Akon & Snoop Dogg and Brown’s own project MYNC.

 

Mark, why are you setting-up Down Under?

I’ve always had a strong affiliation with Australia. There’s a lot of demand and love for electronic music. Obviously you’ve got some huge festivals and some great artists. Until now, Ministry of Sound released our music locally. But I just felt it was time to do our own thing. We’ve got the knowledge of the market and we’ve got the right music to release locally. I’ve been coming to Australia for the last six years as a DJ. One of the first bands I tried to sign was Sneaky Sound System. I’d played “Pictures,” and had never had so many requests from a clubbing audience. That was really the start of my education on Australian dance music. I was really impressed by the quality and level of production and the songs that were in the market, being made by local artists.

What’s the make-up of your local team?

Most of it is done from London. But we’re working with promo teams in Australia like Frank Varrasso, and Gabby and Anthony Colombi from Global PR. And we have some local scouts who feed back to me what’s going on in the marketplace. At the moment, iTunes is our distributor, but we’ll probably be looking to work with one of the majors on a product-by-product basis. We will be releasing (physical), depending on whether there’s demand for it in the marketplace.

Will you be looking to sign locally?

Definitely. We’ve got a record coming out by the Stafford Brothers who are the largest DJ duo in Australia at the moment. The single Pressure was last week sitting at No. 7 on the ARIA Club Chart. My focus is to find as many good, local Australia artists and A&R them. And make them worldwide stars.

So what’s the mantra of the label here?

The aim is to make sure we have the best music possible in the market, rather than quantity. It’s about passion. And signing music because we love it, maybe not because it’s commercially viable. That’s always been my ethos for running the label on the U.K. side. I was taught that way of working when I was with Parlophone in London. They released acts like Coldplay and Radiohead, who were able to develop and release their own music without being forced into making the wrong decisions. To start with, we’ll probably release 12 singles a year and a couple of albums. We’ll focus on records that we think will penetrate and impact the market in a really good, positive way. We don’t want to be a factory. We want to be a leading, respected independent label. We’ll be looking at co-branded CDs. And, obviously, Australia is a huge fitness market; we’re looking at moving into those areas, because our music is relevant to what happens in gyms nowadays. We have an in-house studio (in Britain) where we make the records for MYNC and a lot of developing artists. And we think it’s an essential for the label, for any independent, to be able to have many different services available to artists.

Electronic dance has gone huge in the U.S. What’s behind it?

It’s amazing that they’ve finally embraced what’s happening with dance music. Because they’re the guys who were behind it from the start. But the market never really embraced it. Now, the old hip hop and R&B fans are dancing to our music. It’s taken a long time but it’s there now. It’s going to be there for another 10 years, just getting bigger and bigger.

Dance labels have been hurt by file-sharing perhaps more than any other genre. Is now a particularly tough time?

I’m really receptive to the new digital era. We’re lucky we were involved in it from day one. Although we do get effected by digital downloads, there are a lot of other revenue streams for us as a label, which we didn’t have three years ago. Spotify for us now is the second income for the label. It’s huge. As that develops in your country as well, that’s going to be a really big help to a lot of labels. It’s really about getting your music exposed. If the record is good enough, it will go on to become popular. Avicii was heavily file-shared but has gone on to be a No. 1 record all over the world selling three or four million singles. Dance music now is at the highest it’s ever been, profile-wise, since I’ve been working in it. It’s just good to have your music exposed. The new generation of kids, they’re not really a record-buying public as such. They think music is for free. It’s about us educating them on how to buy their music. But it’s also about showing them different services where they can listen to it via their iPhone or stream it legally.

The Hot Seat: Michael Parisi, Wunderkind

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Michael Parisi is one of the most accomplished Australian A&Rs of his generation. A journalist early in his career, Parisi made his mark during two long stints with Warner Music Australia. He served with WMA as A&R manager from 1993-1999, where his hitlist of multi-platinum signings included Regurgitator, the Superjesus and the Whitlams. He later headed the A&R department at Mushroom Records.

In 2000, Parisi set up Sputnik Records, a joint-venture with Mushroom Records, where he signed a little known prog-rock trio from Devon by the name of Muse. Parisi has also served as head of Festival Mushroom Records and, later, as president of A&R for WMA where he signed and guided the careers of Daniel Merriweather, George, Eskimo Joe, George, Motor Ace, Machine Gun Fellatio and Gabriella Cilmi.

In 2009, the exec launched the Wunderkind label and Michael Parisi Management, which includes a consultancy arm The Right Path which works with such companies as Red Bull and 3D Marketing. Parisi also partners Profile Music U.K.’s Paul Guardiani on the in-store music business Profile Audio Branding.

Wunderkind recently struck a joint-venture with Michael Gudinski’s Mushroom Group, ahead of releases from Parisi signings Owl Eyes and Stonefield.

Michael, you’re relaunching Wunderkind through Mushroom?
It feels like I’ve come full circle. I originally joined Warners in the early ‘90s and left in 1999 to start Sputnik, a little label inside the Mushroom family designed to sign young, developing acts. I left Warners 12-13 years later to start with Mushroom again, this time with Wunderkind. It feels like history repeating itself. Michael Gudinski has always been there for me to offer advice through all stages of my life and my career. With Michael, there’s no hidden agendas. He’s inspirational. He’s visionary. When he gets behind something, he’s unstoppable.

What’s the mission of Wunderkind?

It’s meant to be an incubator label, which is to take artists from a very early development stage and develop them carefully until they become big artists. I make no bones about the fact we want our acts to succeed on a commercial level. But it’s about the journey, and how we get there. And we’re proving that with Stonefield and Owl Eyes. We’re going back to the good old days of artist development where you can take your time and stagger your releases, helping artists to build their fanbases so when you do drop a record, there’s someone there to catch it. Most of the acts I’ve worked with over the years I’ve developed over a period of time. In the case of Gabriella Cilmi, for example, it took three to four years of development. Unfortunately for her the second record was rushed and a major disappointment.

It’s been said the majors don’t have time to develop artists any more.

Bigger labels have different agendas. They have to make ends meet on a daily basis. They have to have hits in order to survive. Whereas with labels like Liberation, their business is not predicated on music sales alone. With the majors, it’s predicated on selling music, though they are starting to partake in artists’ other income steams. Too often, though, record companies try to rush the creative process. We’ve all been guilty of it in the past. When you try to fast-track the process, things can come undone really easily. Artist development is so crucial these days, but it appears it’s only happening in earnest in the indie sector.

What releases are on the slate?

Owl Eyes has a debut album due October 12. Brooke has been in development for nearly three years. We’ll have the album finished by the end of July. Producers Jan Skubiszewski and Styalz Fuego are working on some tracks. Chet Faker, Dan Hume from Evermore and Geoffrey O’Connor have helped out. Stonefield are a work in progress. Two of them are still at school. In someone else’s hands, there may have been a temptation to thrust them into the spotlight and throw them into the mass media pot. But we’ve held back intentionally. Another act I’ve been developing is Way Of The Eagle, which is basically the brains trust of Jan Skubiszewski. Jan has been working with the likes of Illy, Phrase, Merriweather, Owl Eyes, Alex Burnett from Sparkadia. It’ll push the boundaries in terms of production in this country. We’re probably looking at an EP release later in the year, followed by an album first quarter next year.

Let’s talk about A&R. Sony Music UK boss Nick Gatfield described it as a “dark art.”

He’s not wrong. A&R is probably the most subjective concept in the world. One man’s treasure is another man’s trash. What you’re trying to do is second-guess what the market is going to like. And what they’re going to buy. It’s a constant battle getting your bands heard and appreciated. It’s an uphill battle every step of the way. Not only do you have to get the public on side, but you have to get your record company on side first. Everyone thinks they’ve got an A&R brain and it’s a relatively easy process to find great bands or songs. A&R by committee is essentially what kills companies and projects. It’s probably the most thankless job in any record company. If you get it right, you’re a hero. If you get it wrong, you’re out of a job.


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The Hot Seat: Vince Bannon, Getty Images

Published in The Music Network

 

Vince Bannon is the music man within the billion-dollar Getty Images content library. The Canadian-born exec oversees Getty’s vast and growing vault of digital music-related resources. Bannon began his music biz career back in 1979 when he launched Concert Company Ritual while still at college. The promoter grew to 110 staff, and worked with the likes of Nirvana, The Police, Prince, Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews, Nine Inch Nails and Guns ‘N’ Roses. Bannon served as president of the company until 1993. The following year, he moved on to become Senior VP of Artist Development at 550/ Epic Records, where he worked with Oasis, Celine Dion, Travis and Macy Gray. Mark Getty and Jonathan Klein established Getty Images back in 1995, with an ambition to bring the stock photography specialist into the digital era. Bannon has been on board since 2004, during which time he’s played a hand in the company’s exclusive Led Zeppelin reunion pact, the acquisition of Pump Audio, and the recent launches of Premium Playlist and the Guestlist music supervision project.

You’ve had your time within the major-label machine. How did the big labels miss a beat?
In the end of the ‘90s, they wanted to be risk averse. They wanted really big wins. The record industry made so much money from people going from vinyl and cassettes to CD. I’m a total believer that artists should be paid, and copyright should be protected. But, sorry, you don’t sue your customers. And if your customers want something in a particular format, you give them the possibilities of doing it. It’s happening with the film industry. The fact they don’t release on all formats right away is the biggest mistake they make. But they’re into this idea of a chart position, a box score, rather than trying to find where the audience is.

What happened in the music business, the audience embraced and fell in love with Napster. The industry had an opportunity there and they did everything they could to decimate it to protect the old way of doing business. I made a firm commitment to embrace technology when I left the labels. And I felt it would only get better for everybody. You’re finally seeing that now. When streaming came out, it was stuck to the laptop. You’re no longer tied to the laptop. There’s still a really decent concert business and festival business. Unless the artist charges too much, it’ll continue to be. Every time I got up to the Bay Area, or Silicon Alley in New York, I see all these young people, building really interesting and great things, and having the mind-power to do it. I’m really optimistic for the future.

Are the major labels sitting on a goldmine of art?
Absolutely. I’ve approached them all to do deals where I could make them revenue. And every one of them gets bogged- down because they don’t have the bandwidth. They don’t understand the rights they have and don’t understand how we monetise that. There’s so much great artwork–especially with some of the legacy companies, like Sony’s Columbia and Epic, and EMI’s Parlophone and Capitol–but it’s sitting in warehouses and basements. There’s so much money left on the table by every major record company. A lot of them haven’t totally embraced the change. It’s not about it being a premium, it’s about micro-payments.

Where does music fit into your business?
It’s easy. We’re a digital content business. We started in the stock imagery business. They moved over to editorial when they acquired Allsport [in 1998]. They grew both businesses through acquisitions, then they moved into the film business. As a rights and clearance partner we were already getting music for many of our clients. So it was a natural fit for us to add music. It’s been a business that’s grown 100% year on year on year. Who can say that in the music business right now?

How big is the Getty beast?
There’s probably 100 million images and every day they’re adding 30,000 more. We manage Time & Life, Sports Illustrated, the Washington Post, Paris Match, Discovery Channel, National Geographic. We aggregate the content and re-licence it for editorial and creative use. We’ve added a lot of Australian partners to the market. Our Australian office is a hub for a lot of our developing businesses throughout Asia. We have 650 sales people around the world.

How do photographers get involved?

The quickest and fastest way is iStockphoto. When Getty acquired it [in 2006], that business went from doing half-a-million dollars a month, to a million dollars a day. There are photographers who contribute to it who make a million dollars a year. It’s really a primer on how to become a really great photographer.

There’s been some debate here from photographers blasting bands for placing draconian conditions on them.
I think [those bands] are hurting themselves. It’s not like they’re making millions of dollars licensing their photos. A lot of bands look at everything they do as their intellectual property. The fact they won’t let really decent wire-photographers shoot – the AP, Reuters, us – its just silly. A lot of my photographers have great personal relationships with the really big artists. So, we don’t find that. Also, what are the artists doing about hanging onto those photos? Where are they putting that stuff for when it all starts going down the other way?


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