Luis Navarro, is an independent A&R & Music Manager, who recently left his A&R Manager position at RedZone Music and Epic Records to pursue his own endeavors. Luis has been in the industry for about 9 years and has an impressive resume having worked with artists such as Michael Jackson, Celine Dion, Heavy D, Katy Perry, Ciara, Rihanna, Future, Justin Bieber, and Snoop Dogg just to name a few. He’s also worked under executives LA Reid and Tricky Stewart. We got a chance to catch up with Luis to hear what he’s up to.
Luis, how have you been? What’s new? What are you working on?
I’m doing great, working hard as always. I’m going to be a father in a few weeks so I’m extremely excited about that. I’m on my independent grind now, starting to build my own empire reaching out to all my contacts and sitting with people, meeting with people to see what everyone is working on at the moment. First quarter is always exciting because there’s a lot of different artist/projects being worked on. This is the first time in 5 years that I am out on my own so I’m basically re-establishing myself as my own entity.
How did you get in the industry? What’s your story?
I started as an intern at The Boom Boom Room recording studio in Burbank, CA back in 2006. I wanted to become an engineer, I went to recording engineer school and graduated top of my class. So I worked my way into those rooms at the studio and before I knew it I had major artists and producers requesting me on their sessions. It was then that I figured out that this industry is all about relationships. It used to trip me out because I couldn’t figure out why these people kept requesting me when all I was doing was being myself and making sure quality control was in place. Once I started to see how records were made from start to finish I was hooked forever!
I started to build a passion for making records from that and never wanted to look at pro-tools ever again. But by this time I was pretty good on pro-tools so I was able to literally run a whole session on my own with no assistant engineer or anything. I was fortunate enough to watch and learn from greats like Heavy D, Rodney Jerkins, Bryan-Michael Cox and 9th Wonder. But the most significant person I met during this time was Tricky Stewart. Tricky and The Dream, who at the time were partners booked the whole building all of 2009 and went on an amazing run working on Mariah Carey, Rihanna, Justin Bieber, Ciara etc. By the end of this run the opportunity to leave the studio and pursue a different part of my career came about and I went to work for Tricky at his label RedZone Music. A few months after that another opportunity presented itself with Epic Records. Being fortunate enough to have gotten all of this education first hand is what has me in the position I am now, and that’s working for myself.
How was your experience at Epic Records and what projects did you get to work on?
It was a great experience over all. I never saw myself working in an office for a label so it was a huge learning experience for me. I got to see the ins and outs of how it all works behind the scenes. I worked on Future “Pluto” Ciara “Ciara” and the Think Like A Man soundtrack. This was all a learning experience for me every step of the way so I continued to make more relationships and just further my knowledge on the music industry.
How was Red Zone Music? What differences is there between major and independent labels?
Being at RedZone Music before and after Epic was an extremely great learning experience. I got to see what an independent label can do when you don’t have to go the same route as the major labels do. If you are in an independent label its usually a small team of people that make the major decisions, as oppose to a major label where there’s tons of approvals needed to make one play. Usually at a major you have to turn people that don’t get your vision into believers because there are people in various departments with input or a say. Whereas an independent, usually the reason why one is hired onto a small independent label team is because your word and opinion are valued and they already believe in what you bring to the table. Now I can take everything that I learned and apply it to what it is I am doing.
How was it working with LA Reid and Tricky Stewart? To have top music executives mentoring you must of been great and helpful.
I saw how they work, I soaked in everything I possibly could from them. There’s ways to present yourself in meetings and in studio sessions. You have to make your artists comfortable as well as let them know that you mean business and know what you’re doing. I have been fortunate enough to make relationships with genuine people and maintaining your relationships is everything. I take the good and bad from every situation, there’s always something to learn.
Why did you decide to leave Epic Records?
I missed the studio environment I wasn’t an office guy. I love being around the creativity not in meetings all day. I want to find talent and develop them hands on. Being at a major label wouldn’t allow me to do that. If I sign somebody its because I want to be there for the long run and watch them win for years to come, not just while they have a hot single on the charts.
Did you ever think you would become an A&R after being an engineer?
Never, till I fell in love with the process of making records. Like I mentioned I got to the point where I knew my way around Pro-Tools pretty well and I realized that, that was my way to A) get in the rooms with the artist, producers, writers and managers B) keep watching and learning how these records are made. Looking back now it’s a blessing that I went this route because I know what goes on during sessions and am pretty good at the technical stuff. I remember working with producers Tim And Bob and having to hook up all their gear. I’m talking about 10 keyboards and 10 stand-alone sound modules. Tim had about 5 MPC 3000s. All of this had to be setup in the room and work together through midi. But one thing I never did was stop listening and soaking everything in whether it was from the great engineers I got to work with or just observing every phone call or meeting I was able to without over stepping my boundaries – of course. So over all, I’m grateful for all the lessons I’ve learned.
Why do you like being an A&R?
I don’t look at it as just being an “A&R” because now a days that name gets misconstrued. I love being a facilitator; I love being part of something great and innovative. At the end of the day the reason why I do what I do is because I love music. So for me being able to be part of this industry and be respected by my peers is very humbling. The icing on the cake for me is watching dreams come true. Whenever I can find a great record for an artist or help get an artist, producer or writer a great deal.
Do you recall any great memories with any artists?
One of my fondest memories was being in the studio with Heavy D, God rest his soul. He was one of the first people I met in the music industry that genuinely cared about young passionate people in the game like myself. He was a pioneer of hip-hop music and he showed me a lot. He took his time to explain and give me the breakdown. Don’t get me wrong, he meant business and when it was time to work there were no games played. He gave me my first opportunity to work on a major album, which was his 2008 comeback album “Vibes”. To top it off it was a Reggae album – which I’m a huge fan of Reggae music, so watching him chop up those samples and record all those live instruments from top to bottom was an honor for me. The album was nominated for a Grammy that year as well.
Also watching The Dream write and work is absolutely amazing. Till this day his work ethic is inspiring to me. I remember so many times he would just randomly show up to the studio to write. It could be a Sunday at 2am or a Wednesday at 5pm but one thing was for certain and that was that when he stepped foot in that studio he had something on his mind and he was ready to lay it down. He never wrote anything down or warmed up. When he was ready that was it. One of the things that got me to earn his trust was that I always had everything ready. I’m talking microphones inside the control room, all his equipment was always turned on and ready to go and the main most important thing was that the microphone in that booth was always ready to go. Watching him create hits like “Baby” for Justin Bieber to “So Hard” for Rihanna to my favourite “Throw It In The Bag” with Fabolous. But watching him write Mariah Carey’s “Memories Of An Imperfect Angel” entire album was the craziest. That was extremely memorable!
Is there any other A&R/ Music Executive you love to work with?
Yes, Malik Rasheed, who I met during my time at Epic. He is former VP of A&R for Epic. He’s one of my good friends outside of this music industry as well but we have similar taste in music so we always work well.
What made you want to be in the music industry?
I’ve had a passion for music since I was about 10 years old. I would spend all my lunch money on music and back then CD’s were anywhere from $15.99-$17.99 so I basically would starve in order to have the latest music. After high school I went to ITT Tech to be a computer tech. But 3 months into it I was miserable there, and I knew I wanted to work in the music industry. I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do in the industry, but I was going to figure it out and make my way in.
Are you open to all music genres or do you have a specific genre?
Yes, I’m open to all genres. I’m the youngest of 4 so growing up, my two older brothers schooled me in music. I’m so thankful to them for always letting me hang with them and listen to whatever they would be into. I love everything from Wu-Tang to the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Stevie Wonder to Bob Marley. There’s nothing like putting my iPod on shuffle and just vibing to everything I have on there. I love being open minded about everything – especially music. Good music speaks for itself; it’s the universal language.
Do you have a favorite album you worked on?
There were a few. Wallpaper -“Ricky Reed Is Real” is definitely one of them. Ricky Reed (Wallpaper’s front man) is very talented and creative. I worked hands on with him from start to finish on the coordination of this album. Michael Jackson’s last album to be released titled “Michael” was a historical moment for me in my career to work on. Although I wasn’t in the studio with him being part of the making of that album was amazing. I worked on the record called “Monster” featuring 50 Cent. Watching 50 write and record his verse from scratch in the studio was a great experience for me. Also being part of the mixing of that with two of the greatest to do it, Teddy Riley and Jean-Marie Horvat was also amazing. But hands down my favorite is Ghost Town’s “Party In The Graveyard”. They’re a group out of LA that sounds like nothing you’ve ever heard before. This album was a key factor in them getting their record deal so that was very fulfilling to me because I saw them start out in the industry just a short time prior to that.
What’s your take on the music industry changing with Technology and the Independent movement?
It’s exciting how it’s constantly changing and evolving. For example, an A&R had to fly around or go to shows to discover talent years back. Now with technology you can find the next big star right on your computer by simply doing your research. Now you have artist breaking into the industry and bypassing major label’s and corporations because they see how they can promote, market and record their music/content on their own.
What’s your take on the top music executives stepping down and going the independent route?
I love that, its very inspiring to me. I think a lot of executives that have been doing it for years are still full of passion for artist development and the success of their careers for the long run. Once you work at a label you get to see how things work, so I think that with the knowledge they acquired they can now do it themselves and build something from the ground up and change the music industry the way they see it.
What do you look for in an Artist?
Initially, their drive and personality. You can tell a lot about a person from simply speaking to them for a few moments. I love artists that speak about real life situations they have been through. Being an artist requires a lot of hard work and dedication. It’s much more than just being in the studio and shooting music videos. You have to tell your story; you have to do something different. Without passion you will not get far because if you’re getting into the music industry to become rich and gain fame and all that other stuff, you will see how hard it is and how passion is what’s needed to drive you.
Is there any artists you’re listening to that we should know of?
Yes I’m listening to a band called Hudson. They’re a rock band out of LA doing some great stuff. They just did a residency at the Viper Room for two months and are constantly building their name and fan base by doing shows and interacting with the fans. Also my guy Eskeerdo from Miami is making some noise right now by doing shows and releasing content as well. Lastly, HiGHFii KiDDO & Ken Nana out of LA are doing some dope stuff together. You can download their latest collaboration EP on iTunes called “No Hard Feelings”. I’m excited for all to break through and share their talent with the world.
What’s a typical day for you?
I wake up and reply to emails and messages on my phone. Then I usually go on a hike, I love having a clear mind on a daily. After, I normally go online and read the latest news, go on Twitter, YouTube and all the blogs that are cranking out content on a daily. I like to stay updated on what’s going on. Sometimes I have meetings during the day followed by studio sessions in the evening.
What are you working on right now? Any projects?
I’m working with my production team The Agency. They’ve worked on Ciara, Meek Mill and a few other projects. They are currently in the studio writing for a few artists and constantly perfecting their sound. Be on the look out for them in the immediate future.
Do you have any advice for aspiring music executives and creative people?
Definitely, stay hungry and most importantly humble. In this industry your intern or assistant can become your boss in the blink of an eye. I’ve seen it happen more than once. Your struggles and sacrifices usually don’t pay off right away but stay focused on your dreams & goals and you will get there. Meet as many people as you can and stay connected. You have to stay passionate about the music above all.
Where can people reach you at?