By Teryl Warren

You’ve seen the super stars in concerts and on award shows, but how much do you know about the people behind the scenes who help them get to the top of the charts? From musicians to songwriters and sound engineers, it takes a team of talented artists to make a song great.  We recently sat down with musician, producer and SVP of A&R at Warner Bros. Records Mike Elizondo to learn more about the business of making music. Here’s some of the industry insight he shared with us.

Wiles:  Who are some of the artists you’ve worked with?

M.E.: I started out as a musician on Dr. Dre’s records, so I worked on songs like ”Let Me Blow Ya Mind” and “Rich Girl” with Eve and Gwen Stefani, Mary J. Blige’s “Family Affair” and Carrie Underwood’s “Cassanova.”  I was a songwriter for Eminem on “The Real Slim Shady” and I co-wrote and co-produced “In Da Club” for 50 Cent.


Wiles: Despite the many things that make us different, a love for music is something that most people have in common. What is it about music that makes it so universal and powerful?

 M.E.:  There are actually a lot of layers to it. People don’t realize how much music is a part of their lives.  As listeners, we connect with the various elements of a song: certain rhythms, melodies and lyrics.  Music, in general, can provide an escape, provide comfort or encouragement and give us each something to relate to and to aspire to.  For me, personally, as the son of a musician, music was always around me.  Growing up in Pacoima, CA, I could’ve fallen into the trappings of gangs, but music provided a shelter for me to stay out of trouble.

 Professionally, I enjoy watching the magical combination that happens when great lyrics are set to great beats and melodies.  The studio is a very communal environment with a “band of brothers” kind of vibe. You’ve got this group of people with a common goal and struggle and it’s very collaborative and empowering. Being part of creating something with other people that resonates with listeners is the ultimate high, and it’s something you want to go through again and again.

 Wiles: Describe a typical day in your life as a busy A &R executive.

 M.E.: I love making records, and I spend about 80% of my time in the studio.  My role is to represent the artists. Depending on where they are in their cycle – whether they’re writing, making records or touring – I work with them to get them anything they need from label.  On behalf of the label, I make sure the artists are delivering what they’re supposed to.


Wiles:  What does it take to be a good A & R executive?

 M.E.  Artists want someone they can relate to and who relates to them.  There’s a stigma that A & R reps have a good ear but they usually can’t communicate in musical terms or speak specifically to what’s going on with a song instrumentally.  Having a background as a musician helps me immensely because I’m able to perform on multiple instruments and help them get certain sounds they can embellish. You have to be able communicate with everyone on the team in ways that speak to them.  Obviously you have to have good taste in music.  You need to have a taste that guides you to things that no one else has heard, because, chances are, if something is really good, there are already four other labels vying for that artist.

Your personality is important, too. You have to be able to communicate effectively and earn an artist’s trust because they have to believe you can help them achieve their goals. 

 Wiles:  What advice do you have for someone interested in becoming an A&R executive?

 M.E.:  Try to understand the process of making music. Spend time with artists, songwriters and producers and absorb the process of what it takes to make music, because that will give you an advantage when it comes to encouraging artists and helping get the best music out of them.

Wiles:  How has technology – particularly the internet – changed the industry?

 M.E.: It’s incredible. Over the last 15 – 16 years, the process of making records has drastically changed. It’s never been easier to make music and there are so many ways you can share your music without having a record deal.  But it’s also created a sort of “wild, wild west” in terms of how people make a living making music. A lot of attention is put on stars, and many fans of music only look at the celebrities.  But behind the celebrities are a lot of people who get paid based on how successfully a record sells. When people buy and share music illegally, a lot of the people behind the scenes lose and that hurts the business.

I’m very grateful I can make a living doing what I love. Thanks to technology and especially the internet, music is being heard and experienced more than ever and that’s a great thing. I would just love to see some structure put in place so that everyone who works in the business is compensated fairly.

Wiles:  A lot of people are skeptical about the future of the music business. What do you say to those skeptics?

M.E.:  Music will always be a part of our culture. There will always be a way to make it, share it and hopefully, be compensated for it. Music is communal, and the best music is made when talented people come together.  Even despite a lot of over-production that goes on, you still see an artist like Adele – who primarily uses live musicians – at the top of the charts.  Her work is true artistry and it resonates.  I encourage artists to keep writing and playing music with other people. We’ve got so many things vying for our attention these days and it’s easy to fall into a cocoon.  But there’s something to be said about collaborating with people. When you find other like-minded artists, inevitably you will learn from each other.

Whether you join a band or write songs as part of a team, find other people you can connect with and make music as a community.  As long as we make great music, people will but it. That’s what will keep the future of music alive.

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