For those artists who are unsigned, do you handle domestic promotions and marketing or only on an international level?
No, we don’t do anything domestically. Ledisi got her deal at Verve after we had already taken her overseas for about probably five years and she built up a name internationally. Like Josephine Baker and James Baldwin [during their times], I think Ledesi realizes that there is an awful lot of love overseas and if stuff is not necessarily popping here [in the U.S.] you can go over there. Now the equation has tilted a little bit. I used to get a lot of people who would come up to me and say, I have absolutely nothing going on in the States, I need you to help me overseas. Well since the Internet, we are just one big world so before where it would be special for an international market to get something from a US artist because they had not been serviced by the label in their territory, but now they can get it simultaneously with the help of the Internet.
People like Ledesi, Jill Scott, and India.Arie–even Jaguar Wright who has not had a major deal–all these people can go over, book shows and work regardless of what’s going on here and that is really what I love. Take Kindred Family Soul who is on their third album and have not had a tremendous amount of mainstream success here in the States. For me to take them overseas and for these people to know every single word of every song, it’s personally gratifying.
When you look at hip-hop we all know that it has broken cultural barriers, but when it comes to soul and R&B, many don’t know how widespread the genre is outside of the States. Are there certain countries that embrace that music more than others?
Sure, what I love about overseas is there is not as much segregation. At the Kindred Family Soul show in London, I ended up dancing with a man that I found out was 57 years old, white and he knew every single word to their songs. Then you take somebody like Joe, he is one of my favorite clients because he gets it. He’s an artist who probably tours more overseas than he does here. I just came back from London with him last month where we did a release party and there were just as many white women at that party as there were black. It just doesn’t matter. I think that it’s music that hits the soul, that’s what soul music is. They had been brought up on it by their parents, who had vinyl so they know. I mean look at Joss Stone. Joss Stone didn’t come out the womb sounding like she does. That was her mama. That was the soul music influence. Motown was huge overseas.
Different territories like different things. Japan is very big on reggae. When I signed Shaaba Ranks, he would go there two or three times a year because he could really make a living. In New Zealand, they’re very big in hip-hop, who knew? South Africa is huge for gospel and house music.
I’ve noticed that …
The South Africans put together their own form of house called Kwaito. Germany tends to be more beats per minute than any other place. Germany and the Netherlands really do like techno and cheesier kinds of things. The UK is probably the broadest because there is no language barrier. Canada reflects what’s going on in the U.S. because of all those border cities that are listening to American radio frequencies.
Is there a particular formula in an artist who is embraced better overseas than others?
Artists that do the work, without a doubt. The artist that gets up at 3 o’clock in the morning to do an interview. Artists who go overseas and say, ‘I’m not going to make any money but I’m going to invest in my career.’ You have a whole slew of new soul artists who do that. Like, I’m in love with Eric Roberson, Anthony David and Angela Johnson. I’m just picking a few like Leela James who don’t care if they bringing back a whole bunch of money. If they can broaden their horizons by travelling, it makes sense. When was the last time Bilal had a record out in the United States? But he can still tour overseas.
One of my favorite times of the year is summer in Europe because at the end of May through September, its festival season. You’ve got festivals in every country. I went to the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam for the first time as a fan and I got to see artists of all different genres like a marching band from Minnesota, Jill Scott, Angie Stone, Chaka Khan, a group from Japan called the Foil Pimp Sessions that I had never heard of. Just to be able to be in the midst of music lovers is great because these people go to the festival knowing they’ll get good music, not because of who’s going to be there. You’re always going to discover new stuff and it’s my favorite time of year.
Check back for Part II on Friday!