Music Industry Upstart

Posted by Denis Wilson on May 10, 2011
Music Industry Upstart
Name: Riggs Morales
Title: Head of A&R
Company: Shady Records

Riggs Morales’ job is to find the next big thing—which often starts out small. Like a scrappy white rapper he stumbled upon when he was working at the hip-hop magazine The Source. Morales became one of the first writers to sing the praises of Eminem, who duly took note. Now Morales is head of A&R at Shady Records, Eminem’s boutique label, charged with the task of scouring the hip-hop world for the next generation of stars. His artists have to fit into the label’s image, resonate with its audience, and last but not least, make money. Morales’ ability to scout winners like 50 Cent has made him one of the most successful A&R people on the planet.

Here's what Morales knows:

I know my strengths, whether it be ideas or spotting something that’s gonna be the next big thing.

I have to keep in mind that beyond what I like, new artists have to be something that the masses can appreciate and spend their hard-earned money on. I have to balance that with making sure that our brand stays true to what it is.

This is a machine that needs to keep runnin’. I’m looking for franchise players—people who can sell to the masses even in this day and age. And with record sales dwindling and the public’s attention going toward downloading for free—this day and age ain’t easy.

How do I gauge whether to invest in an artist? One, I have to like it. Two, what’s it gonna take to break this artist and how much is it gonna cost? But you have to get to Phase One before you even contemplate the business aspect of it.

I tend to be traditional. I think if you have a certain quality that makes you stand out from the rest of the pack, the higher-ups will take notice and want to do something with you.

Early on, I was very hungry. My first assignment [at The Source] was a refrigerator box of demos that accumulated because the previous staff had walked out. My editor said, “Take care of that first.” I knocked it out in about three days. For the editor, he saw that I was really into the music. For Paul [Rosenberg], my boss here at Shady, he saw that I can pick talent.

Production is costly. We’re one of the last labels that prefers to develop our artists instead of just throwing them out there. And that’s something that we have to keep in mind financially.  

A lot of good people don’t make it because you have to deal with a cast of characters that’s really gonna test your patience. The ones that make it are the ones that figured out their lane and can adjust.

Ultimately, this is a business. It’s the business aspect—not the music aspect—that has gotten people laid off over the last couple of years. That’s the reality check.

Marketing is marketing all across the board. Even if you were in marketing at Nike and [you want to work here], if you can market a product—cool.

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