Address Island / Def Jam Records

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Island / Def Jam Records Information



Def Jam Recordings

Def Jam Recordings is a US based hip-hop record label. It currently operates under the banner of the Island Def Jam Music Group as part of the Universal Music Group.

Def Jam was officially founded in New York in 1984 when aspiring producer Rick Rubin and concert promoter/artist manager Russell Simmons issued LL Cool J's 'I Need A Beat'. The success of this and singles by the Beastie Boys led to a distribution deal with Columbia/CBS records the following year.

Simmons and Rubin's pioneering years together came to an end in 1988, when disagreements about label direction led to a power struggle that Rubin lost. The result was that Def Jam stayed in the hands of Simmons, with Lyor Cohen - Simmons right-hand man in his Rush Communications corporation - becoming label president, and Rick Rubin leaving for Los Angeles to found Def American.

Meanwhile CBS Records was sold to electronics giant Sony - which evolved into Sony Music Entertainment in 1991 - who thereby inherited a 50% stake in Def Jam.

Cohen ushered in a new era for Def Jam in the 90s, by expanding their artist roster into other musical genres. Nevertheless despite recent multi-platinum success with artists such as Public Enemy and LL Cool J, Def Jam found itself in financial crisis and close to ruin. In 1994, its saviour appeared in the guise of PolyGram, when they purchased Sony's stake in Def Jam.

Under the supervision of PolyGram - who meanwhile increased their ownership of the label to 60% - a revived Def Jam released a string of major successes, which included artists Warren G and Foxy Brown. They followed this with the announcement of a new hugely profitable distribution deal with Jay Z and Damon Dash's Roc-A-Fella Records, who with their central star Jay Z would take Def Jam to unparalleled heights as the century drew to a close.

In 1998 PolyGram was bought out by Seagram, who then absorbed it into its Universal Music Group and in so doing created the largest music label in the world.

The following year Universal Music Group purchased the remaining holdings in Def Jam - with Simmons selling his stake for a reported $100 million - before merging it with Island Records to form The Island Def Jam Music Group. Despite the collective title however Island and Def Jam continued their operations independent from one another.

Roc-A-Fella Records was sold to Def Jam by Dash, Burke and Jay-Z in 2004, upon the latter's step down from the label.

Haydn Mullineux, 2006

Island Records

Island Records is a record label currently operating in the US under the Island Def Jam Music Group banner as part of the Universal Music Group.

Island Records was founded in Jamaica in 1959 by producer Chris Blackwell and Graeme Goodall with an initial investment of $1000. In May 1962, after 2 albums and 26 singles of popular Jamaican music issued with the Island imprint, Blackwell moved his operations to the UK.

Although Island found almost immediate success with the niche market of Jamaican music in Britain, the 60s saw the label slowly branch out into rock music.

In 1971 Blackwell signed Bob Marley to Island a move which effectively turned the reggae talent into a superstar icon and the label into the most widely recognised reggae label in the world.

Island's overseas licensing arrangements often meant that whilst Island was marketed as the primary label, with Island's label designs appearing prominently on the discs, a different company was actually responsible for the records' manufacture, distribution and marketing.

The late 1970s and early 80s saw the company facing financial hardship, a situation not helped by the death of label figurehead Bob Marley in 1981 nor by Blackwell's decision in 1983 to fund a new film production and distribution company, Island Alive, using the label assets.

By the mid-1980s, Blackwell was forced to accept a loan from recent Island-successes U2 in order to help keep the company afloat.

In July 1989, Blackwell sold Island Records and Island Music to PolyGram UK Group for a reported £272 million. Island's reign as the world's biggest independent record label was over. Nevertheless PolyGram continued to market the Island brand, and Blackwell stayed on as CEO of PolyGram's Island Entertainment division.

PolyGram's acquisition of Island prompted a massive programme of CD reissue of its catalogue, and overhaul of its worldwide manufacture and distribution network but also led to unremarkable decade of contemporary music operations.

In November 1997 Blackwell resigned from Island Entertainment and went onto found Palm Pictures the following year.

In December 1998, Seagram purchased PolyGram and merged it into Universal Music Group.

In late 1998/early '99, Universal Music Group put the Island brand in the charge of three divisions; Island Mercury Group in the UK, Island Mercury Label group in Germany and in the US, Mercury dissolved, and Island and Def Jam Recordings merged to become the Island Def Jam Music Group.

In 2002, Island Mercury Group became Island Records Group.

Haydn Mullineux, 2006

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Interviews with A&Rs at Island / Def Jam Records

Interview - Robert Stevenson, VP of A&R at Island/Def Jam - Dec 4, 2006

“How is artist development possible if staff turns over every two years? I’ve been here for eight. That’s one of the reasons my artists are successful,”

picture ...so goes Robert Stevenson's call for long-term vision in the music industry.

Stevenson, VP of A&R for Island/Def Jam, currently works with Thrice, Sum 41, and The Killers (Top 10 US) among others.

He talks to HitQuarters about how good songwriting and gradual build-up is forgotten in the current state of the industry, and about the need to look years, not weeks, ahead.


How did you become executive VP of A&R for Island/Def Jam?

I worked for a company called AAM in New York, who does producer management and also had a college radio promotion company. I started my own independent record label called Derailed. Through a very long chain of people I met Steve Greenberg, who was the Head of A&R for Mercury at the time.

He was looking for somebody and we hit it off. The week after I got hired Universal announced that they were taking over Polygram and that there was a signing free at Mercury. For a year I sat there doing nothing. After that year we merged with Universal, and they combined Mercury, Island and Def Jam. And I was just making so little money that they decided to keep me around.

What artists are you currently working with?

Lady Sovereign, The Killers, Saliva, Sum 41, Fall Out Boy, The Bravery, Thrice. And I have some new acts coming up that I’m very excited about like Young Love and PlayRadioPlay!

What do you think is important for an artist in the rock genre?

The same as in any genre - to have great songs. As artists become more multimedia geared, having blogs and shooting their own videos for YouTube, the songwriting is taking a backseat to image. You get artists that are very ‘of the moment’.

While you’re watching them play or watching their video, it’s very enjoyable, but you can’t take anything away from it as a listener. You don’t remember the songs
.

You stated that in this day and age, you are starting over with every record. There is no carry over from record one to record two. What does that mean for your work?

The songs have to be that much better. It’s becoming increasingly more and more difficult for artists to stay afloat. They have to be patient and only release records when they’re absolutely ready.

Everyone is so worried over having to release a record every year or year and a half or people are going to leave them, when the truth of the matter is, they always stick around if the songs are good. But if you release a record every year and the songs suck, no one is going to stick around.

What’s your definition of a good song?

That song that makes you want to get up and dance or put your fist in the air or cry. It’s got to make you want to do something. If it doesn’t make you want to do something it’s not going to stick around.

How did you first learn about The Killers?

I was turned on to The Killers by a friend of mine who writes an A&R tip sheet. I was asking him why he kept writing about The Kills. I mistook the band that he was writing about. I’m not a fan of The Kills at all. And he was like, ‘Dude, you got to read my column! It’s The Killers!’

Then he was overnighting me the CD, and while he was doing that I called my friend Sarah Lewitinn AKA Ultragrrrl who has a blog that is very popular. I asked her to find out anything she can about this band online. She called me back and said, ‘You just sign this band right now!’

That forced me to listen to the demo the next morning. I fell in love with it right away and was out to Vegas to try and get them. They released a single on Lizard King Records. But I found out about them through that industry tip sheet.

Their demo consisted of ‘Mr. Brightside’, ‘Somebody Told Me’, ‘On Top’, ‘Jenny Was a Friend of Mine’ and ‘Glamorous Indie Rock & Roll’. I heard it in my car. It was those five songs. The best demo I’ve ever gotten.

How was your first meeting with them?


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


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Interview – Shakir Stewart, A&R Island/Def Jam US - Nov 13, 2005

“Twenty-five years ago Detroit, Motown, had the market. In the early 90s Death Row had the sound with the success of Suge Knight and Dr.Dre. Right now the sound is in Atlanta,”

picture … says Shakir Stewart, VP of A&R at Island/Def Jam USA for Young Jeezy, whose debut album entered at No.2. He has also been A&R for Teairra Mari and Christina Milian and has been awarded Top 10 in the World Top 20 A&R Chart.

He is frequently traveling between New York and Atlanta. Read about how he regards the differences between the cities, creatively and business-wise, and how he discovered and started working with some of the most successful debut artists of 2005.


What was your route to becoming an A&R?

I graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. I used to throw a lot of parties while I was in college. I took the money that I made from there, and with a couple of buddies of mine, we built our own small studio. We signed a bunch of hot young producers in the Atlanta area.

Antonio "L.A." Reid had a company that he was just starting, called Hitco Music Publishing. He acknowledged my skills as a young talent magnet and offered me my first position as an intern-level creative person.

"L.A." realized that I had my finger on the pulse of the next generation of hot producers in the Atlanta music scene, and he wanted me to be a part of his team. He was trying to get connected to a completely different market of producers and songwriters.

What artists are you currently working with?

I’m starting on a new Young Jeezy project. I’m finishing up Christina Milian. I’m starting on a new Teairra Marí album. We just finished a big remix with Mariah Carey featuring Jay-Z and Young Jeezy.

How did you first learn about Young Jeezy and Teairra Marí?

A buddy of mine named Henry ‘Noonie’ Lee, who’s Jazzy Phe’s manager, brought me a demo that they had put together and I fell in love with it the first time I heard him. This was in May of 2004. I took it to "L.A." and he recognized the talent as well. He gave me the green light to sign him, and the rest is history.

A buddy of ours named Daryl Simmons brought Teairra Marí to us.

Why did they choose for Island/Def Jam?

Young Jeezy was the hottest thing on the street. Everybody was after him. Warner Brothers, Interscope…, but he wanted to be in business with myself and "L.A.".

Teairra Marí worked with Jay-Z, in his first collaboration project since becoming president of Def Jam, to create "Make Her Feel Good", the hit single from her debut album on Def Jam's Roc-A-Fella Records label.

Why did you want to work with them?

I wanted to work with Jeezy because I believe that he has a very distinct voice and he has a message in his music. He writes excellent songs and way he describes his story is very clear and unique. And the people love him. That’s why he’s the new artist of the year.

Teairra was a star when she walked into the room. She captured the room when she did her audition. We fell in love with her from day one.

How did you work with Jeezy?


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


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Interview - Mar 24, 2005

“Talent is everywhere nowadays—there’s a very healthy band scene in England”,

picture … says Ferdy Unger-Hamilton, A&R at Island UK, a Universal Label. Artists he works with include Keane (UK No.1), Gabrielle (UK No.1) and Portishead. He was awarded No.1 on the UK Top 40 A&R Chart of 2004.

How did you get started in the music business, and how did you become an A&R?

When I was seventeen I worked for Brian Lane, who at the time managed Yes, amongst others. I learnt a bit about music from him, and I worked out what A&R was. I also toured with a group for nine months and after that got a job as a scout at Chrysalis Music. It didn’t last very long as I didn’t get on very well with the boss and after six months he gave me the sack. But I was determined to stay in A&R, and I got a job at Go! Discs. After a few months there I found Gabrielle, and in the same period I found Portishead as well.

Gabrielle’s first single, “Dreams”, went to No.1, and then we put out the Portishead album, “Dummy”, and it all started to happen from there. Go! Discs was then sold to Polygram, and John Kennedy and Roger Aimes at Polygram asked me if I would like to carry on running Go! Beat and do a joint venture with Polygram. I decided I wanted to stay with my artists, and so I carried on running with Go! Beat as a satellite label to Polygram, using Polydor as its marketing company which began my relationship with Lucian Grainge.

I worked with Go! Beat for seven years until the end of our contract when I decided to sell my part of it to Polygram, because it had become something of an outdated business model to have a small company through a major. I spoke to Lucien, the chairman, and we agreed that it would probably be best for me to go and see Island, another Universal/Polygram label. I got on with Nick Gatfield at Island very well; we had a similar vision of how we wanted things to be. So I folded Go! Beat into Island. Shortly after I got there I found Keane, and now we’ve just signed a new artist, Tom Vek.

What experiences have helped develop your skills as an A&R?

In different ways you learn everything on the first things you do and in Gabrielle and Portishead I couldn’t have had two more different approaches. With Gabrielle I was very involved in choosing the collaborators, the style of music, the songwriters, I even co-wrote some of her songs.

With Portishead, I couldn’t have been less involved. They delivered me the album and I just said thank you! They played it to me along the way, but I just allowed them to do what they do, and at the end I heard a fantastic record. Those two experiences at the beginning were so far apart from one another that I just worked out what needed to be done. There’s no rule and sometimes the approach just is, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

If you were an artist, by what criteria would you judge an A&R and label if they were offering you a deal?

The important thing is to have a picture of what it should be in the end and to see if they share your vision. You should know where you want to end up and make sure that the A&R person understands your sound, your songs and your look. There’s no point in signing to somebody who wants you to be someone that you don’t want to be.

Would you consider the A&R’s track record?

Their track record is something that you would obviously look at, but you can’t assume that somebody is an idiot just because they haven’t done anything yet. Still, if someone has got a track record, then you know for a fact that they can do their job right and you take less of a chance in those cases.

What artists are you currently working with?

Keane, Gabrielle, Portishead, and Tom Vek, our new signing. He’s a very talented young man from London.

How did you come across Keane?

I first learned about Keane through a pretty big industry buzz; it wasn’t like finding them under a rock. In this case the hard thing was getting them more than finding them. I started at Island almost at the same time as their buzz was blowing up and the UK was very excited about them. I read a big piece about them in the Sunday Times and I heard “Everybody’s Changing” on the radio, which was initially released on the independent label Fierce Panda, and I went to see a show and they were brilliant.

What attracted you to them?

I heard five songs and every one of them was brilliant. They were “Everybody’s Changing”, “This Is the Last Time”, “She Has No Time”, “Bend and Break” and “Somewhere Only We Know”. Their songwriting was incredible and Tom Chaplin’s voice is amazing, and, again, they had a fantastic live show with lots of energy. As soon as I heard them I wanted to sign them and had I not been able to see them live, I would have tried to sign them anyway.

Several labels were bidding for them, so why did Keane choose Island?


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


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The SongQuarters membership includes HitQuarters membership, which gives you access to in-depth interviews that will provide you with a great deal of knowledge on the music industry. You can also present your music and photos on your own web page and discuss the issues that concern you with other members in the HitQuarters Forum.


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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.

To become a HitQuarters member for only USD15 per half year, please click here. To gain a better understanding of how HitQuarters works, please read the Advisory Text.


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