Thad Baron has spent over two decades as a talent and urban music expert. Having worked in major record labels such as Universal Music and Edel records as an A&R manager, he became Head of Music at MOBO’s and continues to be known within the urban music scene as the A&R guru. The Big Music Project finds out a little more about this musical genius.
You’ve been an A&R manager for so many years, what was your first ever job in the music industry?
Being a DJ and running my own club nights in London. In those days, you would have to design your own flyers and albums, then hand them out by hand across London to promote your nights.
Also as an up-and-coming DJ, you don’t get the best club nights! I was given nights like Monday’s and Tuesday’s when nobody wanted to go out clubbing!
So how did you go from being a DJ to breaking into A&R?
A man named Simon Goffe used to run a promotions company called Heavyweight media which was a promotions company. In ’94 he offered me a job as a promoter of new music within the urban music scene.
The next year, Simon became Senior A&R manager at Universal Music. He really liked the work that I did with him so he invited me to join him there. I came to the fruitful decision to accept!
Who were some of the biggest talents that you scouted?
Lewis Parker, Blue, Glamma Kid, Phoebe 1, Kelly La-Roc and loads more.
I worked at the embryonic stage when record labels looked at what was then known as ‘black music’ and decided to invest more in it. This was an exciting time to be in the urban music scene, but it was also very tricky!
That is exciting! Did you face any hurdles?
Well racism was one of them. In the UK, it was difficult to take urban music through the pipeline to make it on the radio’s and television because it was usually only the A&R guy that knew the value of the music. Those at the top (the gatekeepers) didn’t see the value in contemporary music.
Back then, the media at large did not see value in young contemporary urban music.
I was lucky because I was friends with all the DJ’s and producers so I knew them personally, this made it easier for me to plug new songs to them.
Everyone knows music is a very tricky industry. A&R managers do not usually stay in their positions for long, what gave you longevity?
To have the success of putting my artist on the map, I had to be a plugger, A&R, DJ, promoter, PR and much more! That’s what gave me longevity in the game. It was the reason why I stayed in Universal for five years.
But it was still uphill because I remember going to Southampton 18 times to see Craig David. I begged my bosses to sign him but they said he couldn’t sing and his songwriting was terrible. We all know how that ended!
Working in this industry is success orientated like football. Just because Leicester won the championship doesn’t give the manager a career for life! Just like him, if you don’t keep up, you’re out.
Very cut-throat! What are the skills necessary to be an A&R guy then?
Don’t try and be a Jack of all trades. Focus on one genre of music that you love the most and study! Become an expert in the genre so that everyone in the scene knows you are the bridge to the record company. Be a master of one.
You worked with big names, like Kanye West, what did you do with them?
I worked at Edel records, and one of our talents was a young guy who was really talented. My job was to look for how I can get his music onto the commercial market, I spoke to my guys in the USA and got Freeway (From Jay-z’ team) and Kanye West to produce a record for him.
It must’ve been amazing working with him. What would you say is the highlight of your career?
Having a Career is the highlight! This industry is very tricky and not many people last. I am lucky to have lasted so many years.
The secret to having a career is not just wanting a job, but having a passion for the work you are doing. I worked at a record store, was a DJ, knew people within the scene before I became successful. I was just passionate about contemporary music. I would encourage people to just be passionate about something.
How did technology play a part in getting urban music to become so popular?
The reason why black (urban) music was not successful in the 80’s was because then you had to have a lot of money to get a band to play your background, get people to promote your music and give yourself a platform. We didn’t have those resources.
With technology, you can create beats on your laptop and promote via social media. It has really allowed urban artists to create really good music and great content. It has also given them control to promote themselves in whatever manner they wish.
Do you think there are still a benefit to being signed then?
Oh absolutely! The key is speed. Wiley, JME, Skepta and most of the people who are on the urban market now, have spent about a decade building their profile and their base to get to where it is today.
In a similar way, people like Tinie Tempah- who is just as talented- got on to the platform a lot quicker because he was signed to a record label.
Being signed to a record company gives you financial security as well let’s not forget.
How do aspiring artists get scouted by people like you?
Well there is still the traditional method of recording a demo and sending it to our offices. You can obviously email, blog, set up on YouTube or sound cloud and hope you get scouted.
Use all methods because the louder your voice is, the more likely your voice will be heard!
What type of talent are you looking for today? What sort of talent is most sought after in the urban scene?
I am always interested in different contemporary UK musicians. What is popping across the board today is grime musicians.
What we are seeing is the slow rise of UK rap. A voice that has been ignored for over a decade is finally getting the platform it deserves.
Great interview- thanks for your time!
Thank you sir!
As Thad said, there are key skills needed to become a successful recording artist, so keep your eyes out for more exclusive interviews, hints and tips, and even work opportunities to help you break into the industry.