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The A&R Report had the pleasure of connecting with one of the most well-respected executives in the music business, Steve Rifkind. Steve Rifkind is an American music entrepreneur who is, responsible for breaking in some of hip-hop’s biggest artists in his 25 plus years in the business. Rifkind was the founder and chairman of Loud Records as well as the founder and current chairman and CEO of SRC Records. He is associated with breaking artists such as Wu Tang Clan, Mobb Deep, Akon, David Banner, Asher Roth, Tha Crow, Joell Ortiz and Big Pun to name a few.
Check our latest A&R Talk with Steve Rifkind below:
Tell us about your new initiatives All Def Digital and ADD 52?
All Def Digital and ADD 52 are two different companies but at the same time they are related. ADD 52 is a platform for new artists to be discovered. You can be in Alabama or Wyoming and if you have something that we should hear you should use our platform. We check everything out and if we like what we see and hear then we will offer you a singles deal and then from there you’ll be able to promote and market your record and give people the ability to share it. Truly, it’s a new platform for new and emerging talent.
With All Def Digital, its the parent company in partnership with Youtube. We allow for creators to make new content that will hopefully be able to upstream to a network where we can leverage deals with the likes of Netflix. Currently, we have very successful shows with Spoken Reasons who has a show called Dr. Reasons and the new show Pedro’s Auto with Youtube Sensation SUPEReeeGO.
What inspired you to create ADD 52?
As I’ve been doing this for a long time. One day I was thinking about my 4 biggest acts of my career from Wu-Tang Clan, to Akon, Three Six Mafia and Big Pun and they all started their career off with a single’s deal. So, I said to myself – out of the 52 weeks we run this campaign if we find one that’s a real hit we’re ahead of the game. If we find two, we’re ahead of the game – then some. That’s how I was looking at it. In addition, it’s also making me and Russell Simmons relevant in today’s music business. We’re meeting with many young directors for ADD, up and coming producers with ADD 52 and we have a joint venture with Universal Music Group at the corporate level where we get to pick and choose what company we want to be with inside of the Universal umbrella.
What do you think needs to be in the foundation of an artist to be successful in the digital world and would you say that in today’s business that Artist Development is a dying art?
You’re always going to need a hit record if you want to be in the music business. The first is always the song. Then you have to have a vision for the song, then a vision for yourself. Even though there are a lot of one-hit wonders and there are all these single deals. The goal for us is to really develop these new artists from the ground up. The digital world is giving it a chance to come back. In the offline/record business world they don’t develop anything anymore.
What do you think is important to ensure Quality Assurance within a record company today? With so much content being pushed out on a daily basis there’s more room for mistakes and less quality.
It’s important that you have a plan and execute that plan! You have to ensure that you have the best team around you. I have the best team in the world. I look at my team as ‘acts’. I have two superstars, if they were recording artists they would be multi-platinum. One goes by the name of Carmen Murray who is our General Manager, and the other is Liz Hausle who is our Executive VP. It’s really about your team. Personally, I feel my team can go toe to toe with any major out there and it’s just the 6 of us. We have our own studios, our own choreographers. We’re making our own content and that’s key. I believe the problem with the major record label’s today is that they are making the wrong content and they need to get in touch with reality.
Artists are breaking without a record label in today’s market. What’s your thoughts on that?
Let’s take artist A who’s breaking without the record label. Then Artist A runs out of money and the record company comes in and says ‘here is a million dollars’. This is how stupid the record company can be sometimes. They will pay a million dollars for something that’s well deserved but now they’ll want to be fully in control because they’re ego driven. How are you not going to listen to this artist who is breaking by themselves? The only reason why they came to you is because he/she ran out of money. So shut the f— up and let the artists do the work! That’s why the major label business is going to become extinct in 10 years because they don’t listen!
Do you feel that the artists should always have creative control?
I don’t think the artists should always have creative control. I just feel that the record company should always listen to the artist and get their insight.
What do you look for when signing a new artist? Has it changed from 20 years ago to today?
Yes and no. For example, Niykee Heaton who is our first artist. I’m looking to see what their socials are about and how they can market themselves. Before the digital age, Wu-Tang marketed themselves. Big Pun, Three Six Mafia and Akon marketed themselves. You have to check their social and digital following. But again, a song is a song and if you have a great hook – you’re halfway there.
What qualities do you feel embody a great leader?
The qualities of a great leader are someone who doesn’t have an ego. Someone who will listen and somebody that can communicate without getting emotional. Somebody, who’s team will go the extra yard for them.
Let’s say you were the CEO of a major company like Sony, Universal Music Group or Warner. What changes would you make in the major label system?
I would cut half my overhead. I would have more ‘little guys’ then top heavy staff. I think everyone is so ‘top heavy’ and distracted with the wrong things that they are forgetting what the little guy is doing.
How important do you feel blogs are today in regards to breaking new act?
They are very important. Blogs are today’s radio station. You definitely need them to grow a new artist.
You’re well known for creating strong campaigns and starting street movements. Do you feel movements have died because of social media and blogs?
The streets will be the streets. The problem is there are no more street records. Bobby Shmurda is the last thing that came out of New York. Kendrick in LA. We have to go back to breaking records. It’s really the executives that we have to blame. I want the executives to be accountable for these records and take their time. Go back to developing an artist.
Where is the money in the music industry in 2014?
I have no idea. In the music business it’s from touring and publishing. The record company has to make changes, drastic changes.
Are you fearful as a business man, that now artists have more leverage when it comes to their art?
No not fearful at all. I think that’s a blessing. My dad owned a record company. The company was called Spring records. This was in the 60’s and 70’s. He would give artists real equity in the company. That’s something I’ve followed. Nothing would make me happier then to give equity in my company to give to an artist that blows up.
Other than ADD 52 and All Def Digital. What other steps have you taken to maintain and grow your relevance in today’s music business?
I don’t know if I’m relevant anymore but at the end of the day all I have is my word, and when I say something I do it.
Is there any artists you’ve passed on that went on to do big things?
Not that I passed on them, I wanted them but BMG wouldn’t let me sign Jay Z, they wouldn’t let me hire Irv Gotti – also Eminem.
What resources do you use to stay current in what’s going on in music today?
I listen to my kids right now. I have a 19 year old who’s playing college basketball and I have twins who will be 14 in December. They know everything that’s going on music-wise. I listen to them.
Would you recommend going to school to be in the music business?
There’s a thing that my father taught me. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. I recommend everyone to go to college to get a degree. It’s not what you learn it’s the relationships you build.
What legacy do you hope to leave when you look back on your career?
I never thought about that. I feel like I was brought on earth to save children. If I could save one child then I’ve done my job and that’s how I look at it. It’s not just about music. For example, my son is in College and he’s taking a hip hop class. The teacher, was talking about Wu-Tang but they got it all wrong. One day my son was texting me in class and he didn’t want to embarrass the teacher. One day he challenged the teacher and the teacher asked ‘how do you know this?’ He replied, ‘well my dad owned Loud Records’. The teacher then realized that he didn’t know who my son was and then saw that that my son had my last name. [Laughs] That said, I’m going to go speak in the class and I’m going to tell them the real story.
I haven’t really thought about my legacy yet. I just want to help children, my foundation and help people overall. I’m learning about balance and boundaries right now.