Introducing Interscope Records A&R, Nick Groff. He’s provided us with a lot of insight, inspiration, and knowledge in regards to what it takes to have a career in the music industry, both as a professional, and as an artist. Nick has worked with artists like Robin Thicke, LMFAO, Avicii, The Black Eyed Peas, Fernando Garibay, & Kelis, to name a few. Take a look at his journey, experiences, and advice:
A&R Report: Nick, firstly, thank you for taking the time to talk with us. Let’s dive right in! So everyone in the music industry, whether you’re a professional or recording artist, has a story of how they got started. How did you get your start in the music industry and what influenced you to choose this as a career path?
Nick: On the surface it would seem like my entrance to the music industry was blind luck. In actuality, it was my willingness to outwork the other candidates.
I applied for an internship position in International Marketing at Interscope Records in 2007. Suited and booted (I looked ridiculous. My suit was too big and my shoes were likely from the ‘80s). I noticed that other candidates could only work an average of 2-3 days per week, so I shifted my class load to night classes to accommodate a 5+ day work week at the label. I made it my goal to become an irreplaceable asset to the department. If I left, I wanted my departure to create a void within the department I worked in.
In the international marketing department, I shadowed Faithe Dillman, Don Robinson, Neil Jacobson and Martin Kierszenbaum. I worked as much as possible. I was often times one of the first ones in and last out. I was driven by the opportunity to learn from the best. I was a sponge. I said ‘yes’ to every opportunity and delivered on every task. If I was the coffee runner (which in the days of the international department, I often was), I would get the coffee as fast as possible often times buying extra cups just in case there was someone in a different department I could mingle with over a free cup of Starbucks. If I had to make an 8:30PM dinner RSVP for 8 people for Neil at Boa Steakhouse at 8:13pm that same night, I sold my rights to the hostess or offered my first born or the willingness to come wash everyone’s car at Boa to make it happen. I didn’t want to be the ‘no’ man or the ‘sorry I couldn’t get it done’ guy.
My first assistant position was temping in Martin Kierszenbaum’s office after he fired both of his assistants. I was told ‘I was unqualified for the position, but Martin needed someone to work his schedule and answer his phones while they found the replacements.’ For me, it was the ‘IN’ I had hoped for.
I then transferred to Neil Jacobson’s desk in a newly built management division within the label. Soon after, we became a hybrid department. On one hand we managed artists, writers, and producers and the other was a full blown A&R division with our (Neil’s) first signing being LMFAO. I spent the next 6 years climbing the ladder under Neil’s guidance within the department. I started as an intern, jumped to temp, got hired as an assistant, moved to ‘A&R Coordinator’, shifted to day-to-day manager, started co A&Ring and now A&R and management. Neil has been an incredible mentor to me. I would venture to say he is one of the most well liked and respected young executives in the business and it has been an honor to be his understudy for this long.
A&R Report: You’ve worked with Robin Thicke for several years now. Did you and your team at Interscope anticipate how commercially successful “Blurred Lines” was going to be? It really took Robin to a global level.
Nick: Haa NO. “Blurred Lines” and “Party Rock Anthem” [LMFAO] were both pleasant surprises. We knew they were great songs in their own right, but didn’t anticipate the global acceptance immediately. With any record it’s a process. Research dictates the marketing level of involvement in many cases. These songs were no exception. As a company, these records became ‘hits’ because our ability to move as a cohesive unit amplifying the artist’s vision. It took all facets of our label to turn these into global records.
A&R Report: You are an expert at discovering dance, hip-hop, urban, and pop artists, producers, engineers, and all other aspects needed in creating a hit record. Do you use social media outlets to discover new talent (e.g. Soundcloud, Twitter, etc.)?
Nick: Sometimes. I long for a way to use social media and online resources but haven’t found a reliable platform. I was working with NEXTBIGSOUND for a while to build out a function to set metrics on bubbling talent. There are also several Billboard charts to follow for this approach. These resources don’t account for outliers though. I use my network to find collaborators. It is still my trusted source. I find writers through our producers, publishing companies, managers, word of mouth, co workers, the blogs, my friends, my family (my little sister Frances was on Macklemore SOOO early, I’m an idiot for not listening to her immediately), live shows etc… There is so much talent out there. For me, I have learned to internally subcategorize writers, producers and artist by their strengths.
A&R Report: How important is it for an artist you are about to take on to have a clear vision for themselves?
Nick: Its essential. It is incredibly hard to manufacture and fabricate an artist in this era of music. Fans want believable and relatable talent. Consumers (Myself included) gravitate toward authentic artists that are constantly creating. The artist’s team can create opportunity, but the opportunities are only brought to amplify an artist’s vision.
A&R Report: The “A&R” position has evolved, just as the music industry as a whole has evolved. What are your most important duties now as an A&R at Interscope Records?
Nick: Loaded question. Maintain relationships. Build a large network of creative collaborators and politic for your artist. You are the congressional representative for your artist at the label. A&R duties do not stop once the recorded music is finished. An A&R needs to amplify the vision of the album to the label and politic on the artist behalf. A&R roles play into marketing (domestic and international), publicity, video, syncs, legal, and every other facet of the label.
A&R Report: Fellow A&R Chris Anokute cleverly said that A&R should also stand for “Artist & Relationships”. Can you stress the importance of creating and maintaining strong relationships amongst you, the A&R/label liaison, and the artist at hand?
Nick: Essential. Your relationship with your artist is everything. You and that artist need to become a cohesive element. You are the voice of the artist to the label. You often times need to speak and politic on behalf of the artist you work with and you need to clearly understand the vision to do so.
A&R Report: How can a new artist attract your attention? What do you look for in an artist?
Nick: Very simple. Great Music.
A&R Report: You’ve worked with electronic acts like Avicii, Arty, Will Sparks, Norman Doray, Fernando Garibay, and LMFAO. Did you foresee the boom and rapid popularity of electro/dance music over the past few years in America?
Nick: I didn’t grow up listening to dance music. I’ll be the first to admit that. I grew up listening to hip-hop, rock and pop. I noticed a change in culture after moving to LA in 2007. I would go out to clubs in Hollywood and noticed a distinct trend bubbling. People were dancing to a different beat so to speak. At some point the club culture transitioned from open format / hip-hop to dance heavy. At that time I started noticing this LA artist named Sonny Moore (aka Skrillex). I remember asking my friends Brett Fisher and Ryan Jaso to introduce me to this artist. One night, one of our artists (whom I should say is EXTRODINARILY talented) Natalia Kills was playing at Cinnespace in Hollywood. At the time, I was following Skrillex on Twitter and saw that he tweeted a message stating he was at the show. It was late, but I saw that as my opportunity to meet him. I drove out to Hollywood and called Brett and Jaso in the interim to make the connect in person. They intro’d me to Sonny that night and I brought him into Interscope the next day. I connected him to my boss and co-worker and passed the baton off. I learned an extremely valuable lesson during this interaction with a soon to be superstar. It didn’t matter that I was one of the first to bring him in. I didn’t maintain the relationship!! (See the question above) At that time, in all fairness, I had no idea what I was doing. I knew there was something special about Sonny and I wanted to be apart of it. From that moment on I kept a keen eye on the bubbling scene within American ‘dance’ music. I also worked across a spectrum of dance cross over records that helped bring a lot of Progressive house infused pop music to light. We did the Black Eyed Peas albums: ‘The E.N.D’. and ‘The Beginning’, we also had the LMFAO records and the Kelis album ‘Fleshtone’ (Which I have background vocals on LOL) and a few other remix collabs. All of the above records had a hand in the ‘dance music scene’s’ popularity in America.
A&R Report: The music industry has been harshly labeled as “doomed” because of declining & dismal record sales. I think music is in a great place and it’s more about adapting to the changes we face. What are your thoughts on the future of the music industry as a whole?
Nick: Strap in… The music industry is headed for a boom. People who reference its doom are short sighted. The future of recorded music is going to rely heavily on streamed music and the illusive ‘cloud’ we’ve heard about for the last few years. We are currently at the mercy of the speed of the Internet and the reliability of the content platforms. In the next few years, music will become a perceived ‘utility’. When you can convert consumers to a trusted platform of released material, it will become the combatant to piracy. This is a conversation I could jump into the rabbit hole on, but a brief answer to your question is; the future is bright. For more info on this topic, see below. This is a great article:
A&R Report: Are there any projects you’re currently working on that you can share with us?
Nick: In due time, I will share them all. I will say that I’m working with a legend right now and couldn’t be more excited. Over the years I have worked with some amazing artists. From Robin Thicke, LMFAO, Avicii, the Black Eyed Peas, to Arty, Samantha Ronson, Natalia Kills, Fernando Garibay, Jeff Bhasker, Emile Haynie, Norman Doray, Will Sparks, Kelis, and Angel Taylor.
A&R Report: A&R can be a difficult career path to choose. There’s no established trajectory. What advice can you offer for aspiring A&Rs and music business professionals? What are some progressive steps that can be taken?
Nick: Hype is irrelevant. It may help you in the short term, but people see through hype quickly. Work on developing great music and make wise decisions on when to solicit that music to your label, lawyer, artist, producer, writer, etc.
A&R Report: What is the most satisfying part of your job?
Nick: Affecting global music. I feel privileged to play a role at my label.
A&R Report: What are your ambitions as an already established A&R?
Nick: My ambitions… I just want to continue to work with artists that inspire me. I’ve been extremely blessed so far. I want my legacy to be a brand that I build over the years routed in consistency. Great songs and great music; knowing no boundaries by genre or perception.