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Interscope Records Information



Interscope Records

Interscope Records is a major US record label based in Santa Monica, California. It is a subsidiary of the Universal Music Group.

Interscope Records was founded in 1990 as a small alternative label. Founders Jimmy Iovine, a successful producer, and Ted Field were assisted in their venture by Atlantic Records, who provided both financial assistance and, in their subsidiary East West Records, an initial distributor. In return, Atlantic were given a 50% share of the fledgling label.

The modest enterprise quickly grew in prominence; the following year saw the label begin of a string of successful releases and Warner Music Group purchase a 50% stake. 1991 also witnessed such influential acts as No Doubt, 2Pac and Nine Inch Nails added to their talent roster. Nevertheless, despite its varied genre mix, it was with hip-hop that Interscope would become inextricably linked; firstly as a purveyor of critically-scorned "cookie-cutter" mainstream hip-hop, and then, at the opposite extreme, as a key force in the rise of Death Row Records.

Suge Knight and Dr Dre founded Death Row Records in 1992, whilst Iovine provided financial assistance and arranged its distribution deal through Interscope. Death Row rapidly became a major force in the burgeoning - and massively controversial - Gangsta Rap genre, with hugely successful debut releases from Dr Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg. As a result Interscope's power and influence soared.

Nevertheless Interscope was not powerful enough to rise above the furore that its protťgť soon sparked. Time Warner, keen to disassociate itself from the Gangsta Rap image that its subsidiary was seeing to promote, vetoed the next Death Row record, a June 1995 release by Tha Dogg Pound. And then in late 1995 Warner sold its entire stake in the label to MCA Music Entertainment (later the Universal Music Group or UMG). The new owners were no more welcoming of Gangsta Rap and so too refused to distribute many of Interscope's Death Row releases. These outlawed releases had to be released by alternative labels such as Island.

This period in the mid-90s also saw Interscope begin to venture more outside of its familiar hip hop bracket, a direction that it would continue to follow and lead to them enjoying success with artists from a wide range of genres.

Death Row began to break apart in 1996 following the death of Tupac Shakur, the departure of Dr Dre and the incarceration of boss Suge Knight. In August of 1997, pressure from UMG finally forced Interscope to sell off its entire share in the label.

After UMG acquired PolyGram in 1998, it then merged Geffen Records and A&M Records together into Interscope, thereby creating one of its most powerful and formidable units.

In 2005, Interscope launched a new imprint, Cherrytree Records for emerging artists.

Haydn Mullineux, 2006

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Interviews with A&Rs at Interscope Records

Interview Ė Mark Williams, A&R at Interscope Records USA - Apr 16, 2006

ďGwen Stefani didnít start from scratch. She was a known personality. People were eager to hear what she had to do. But the music had to be interesting, innovative and a reflection of who she was.

Gwen has a lot of variety in terms of her musical style and taste. The challenge was making a record that reflected all of that,Ē

picture Ö says Mark Williams at Interscope Records, the No.1 A&R on the World Top 100 A&R Chart 2005. California based Williams is the first non-New Yorker ever to top the yearly A&R chart. He is credited for Gwen Stefaniís album ďLove, Angel, Music, BabyĒ, the biggest selling debut album in 2005, and Queens Of The Stone Age. His roster also includes Beck, The Hives, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and M.I.A.

Read about what he expects from new artists, what artists should look for in an A&R and why it is important to record when an artist is at the creative peak of their writing cycle.

He also talks about the challenges and development processes of the albums by Gwen Stefani and Queens Of The Stone Age.


What was your path to becoming the No.1 A&R in the world?

I started in 1979 in college radio out in Atlanta, Georgia, working as an intern for A&M Records. I moved out to Los Angeles in 1983 to take a fulltime job at A&M working with the new and developing acts from the label. In 1986 I went to Virgin Records. In 1996 I left Virgin to do a label that went through Geffen Records called Outpost. And Iíve been at Interscope Records since 2001.

Iím fortunate to work at a place where thereís a wide depth of roster with a lot of variety Ė Gwen Stefani, No Doubt, Queens of the Stone Age, Beck, Marilyn Manson etc. My skills allow me to be able to work with a variety of different types of artists and types of music.

How do you go about your work?

I approach A&R by helping artists make records and trying to figure out what is needed in each particular case. There are different needs and strengths and weaknesses to each particular project, depending on the artist. I try to help figure out what the strengths are and what the needs are and fill them in appropriately. Whether itís making the right producer match or making suggestions or encouraging how the songwriting is going.

We have a wide variety of artists at Interscope Records. I work with more varieties than most people do. I donít just do hip hop. I tend more towards the Alternative and rock/pop side of things. But I also work with groups like Jurassic 5, who are musically different from Queens of the Stone Age or The Hives or Gwen Stefani. Itís the variety here that I enjoy working with. Different types of music reflect my tastes, which tend to be very varied.

If youíre interested in a new artist, how do you start out with them?

The first thing that attracts me to an artist is simply the songwriting and the sound that goes with it. Do I feel they are doing something different and unique thatís setting them up to be their own special leader in whatever kind of music theyíre doing? Is the songwriting and presentation strong enough that it just takes over everything else?

I look for artists who are different, because I think they stand the best chance of creating their own unique careers. If somebody is doing something different from other people, then I think theyíre the sort of person who will stand the test of time and tend to stand out.

Artists who are doing something unique or special and who stand out tend to be the ones who are going to have a longer and more successful career over time. If they stand out to me then they are also going to stand out to the general public as well in a way where it cuts through some of the other music and artists already are out there.

There is so much glitter these days that competes for peopleís attention. Not just music, but every form of entertainment. And itís a double-edged sword. In one sense, there are more tools than ever to reach people. At the same time, thereís a lot more stuff that has to cut through to compete for attention.

The artists who ultimately win are the ones who are doing something really special. I donít think you can calculate something to be truly different. It has to be true to itself.

Someone who truly is who they are, who isnít trying to be something that theyíre not. Or theyíre not trying to do something that they think you will like. Itís really about who they are. They have no choice but to create the music the way they create it. Those are the ones that I like to work with.

What is generally discussed in the first meetings?

I like to know their background. What made them interested in becoming a musician, a songwriter/artist. What influences and drives them. Iím interested to know how passionate they are about what they do. All artists are as different as people are. They all have different backgrounds, interests and things that drive them. It comes easier for some, and others they have to work a little harder at it.

It doesnít mean that the people that work harder at it arenít any less successful than those to whom it comes easier. Itís just a different process. I like to see what goes into to it, and what motivates them, because it helps me assess what it would be like to work with them and how far they would be able to go with their career.

How do you help an artist to realize his/her vision?

If itís a self-contained rock band then it tends to be more just letting them write and find their natural curve before they go in and make a record. A lot of musicians go through cycles of how theyíre writing and where theyíre at musically. I try to encourage them when theyíre ready to record, when they come to that creative peak of that particular curve.

It might be suggesting a producer or a mixer that helps complement the project and bring it to fruition. Gwen Stefani uses producers who also write music. Because she writes the lyrics and melodies, itís about paring her up with someone that is going to bring out that side of her musically.

What input do you have on the productions?

If itís something where they feel my presence is helpful and where I can lend an objective ear, then Iíll come in from time to time and help move things along and give my input. With an artist like Beck, he just tells me what heís up to before he goes in, and then I hear music towards the end of the project. With Gwen Stefani I was in the studio quite a bit.

With Queens of the Stone Age, Josh Homme will typically play me the songs before they start recording. He doesnít really do demos. Heíll play them to me live, which is great because I get my own Queens of the Stone Age unplugged concert.

Then about midway through recording Iíll come in and get a feel of how things are going and make a few comments and suggestions. And towards the end of the project during mixing, Iíll check in as well.

What artists are you currently working with?

The Hives are back writing for their new album.

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs have just finished completion of their second record for us and itís coming out at the end of the month. Iíve been working with them in the set up phase of that project.

We are currently working with Gwen Stefani to get a follow-up record for her. Potentially as early as this fall. We had a lot of songs that were recorded from the last record, and she had done a bit of recording since then. We have enough music for another record.

M.I.A. is back in the studio. I work with her from the US side of things. Sheís writing her follow-up record.

How did you find these artists initially?

The only ones where I was involved on the signing side of it were The Hives, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and M.I.A.

M.I.A. came to my attention through a lot of the press that she had generated from her release in the UK and Europe. XL Recordings, the label who had initially signed her, reached out to us that they were open to a deal. We started negotiations that way.

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs came to me through Debbie Southwood-Smith, who A&R-ed for me in New York. I saw them in Austin, Texas at the South by Southwest Music Convention several years ago. I was blown away by their performance and told Debbie we needed to move forward on that.

The Hives had been making some noise with their previous releases. When it became known that they were available we jumped on that, because I think they are a fantastic great rock band.

Why donít you accept unsolicited material?

Thereís not enough time. There might be some good stuff out there, but a lot of the great things rise to the top by people doing the work themselves at first. And then it hopefully comes to our attention.

Most of my time is spent working with an artist on an album, helping them make their records, set up the records in terms of marketing and to the rest of the company. I have a couple of people who do more full-time scouting work and who bring stuff to my attention as well, and I rely on that a lot more.

How should new aspiring artists present themselves?

If youíre a pop act and youíre able to create your own music, whether itís more club-based or if itís more straightforward, the Internet is a wonderful tool these days that has really come to fruition, particularly with sites like MySpace, where you can start to create your own site and awareness.

If youíre a rock band then itís simply touring, playing in and around your hometown, and creating noise. And if you got something thatís working youíll know pretty soon because youíll see people coming to your shows. You make your own CDs, you can sell them that way and you can put them up on your website. You start to create a following. Pretty soon people will start to write about you. And it starts to evolve from there.

The main thing is to work on your music and make your sound as unique as you can. Write great songs and start to try to create your own little universe within what youíre doing, whatever type of music it is.

How should today's musicians think outside the box of the traditional approaches?

They should look within and be inspired by what inspires them as opposed to what they think might work, or what they think someone might want to hear, or what they see people doing around them. Do your own work. If you have that special talent then youíll find it.

What advice would you give unsigned artists on how to approach the biz and build a long-term career?



... to read the continuation of this article, click here.


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By reading the in-depth interviews we regularly publish, you can gain further knowledge of the music industry. You can also discuss the issues that concern you with other members in the HitQuarters Forum.

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