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Stage Right

Interview With A-B-A-C-A Entertainment Group's Debora Nortman
Representing Independent Artists, Bands And Labels At MIDEM And Popkomm
by Anne Freeman,

A-B-A-C-A Entertainment Group is a multifaceted company that includes A-B-A-C-A Entertainment Group / A-B-A-C-A Music Publishing Inc. / A-B-A-C-A Records Ltd. As a record label, A-B-A-C-A has a roster of bands, singer/songwriters and smaller record labels from Canada, USA, Australia, U.K., Netherlands and Russia and Mexico.

A-B-A-C-A specializes in foreign territory Licensing/Distribution, Sub-Publishing and Record Label deal placement and offers "Personalized Artist Representation" while attending domestic and international music tradeshows. A-B-A-C-A Records has FACTOR recognized distribution to all the major retail stores across Canada.

A-B-A-C-A also assists in brokering deals with companies/production houses and artists/bands that have the right to license recordings that may also be used in film, television, sports videos, video and computer games, background leased music, in-flight programming, for special project compilations and/or for licensing to other record labels. A-B-A-C-A is also a member of the Board of Directors of the International Federation of Festival Organizations (FIDOF).

It is A-B-A-C-A's role in representing artists, songwriters, and record labels at domestic and international trade shows that is the focus of the following interview with Debora Nortman, President ofA-B-A-C-A:

[The Aspiring Songwriter] Debora, I under stand that A-B-A-C-A is now accepting submissions for representation at the Popkomm Music Conference in Berlin, Germany, taking place September 14-16, 2005. How long has A-B-A-C-A Entertainment Group been representing artists, bands, and record labels at MIDEM (Cannes, France) and Popkomm (Berlin, Germany)?

Debora Nortman 2006 marks our 14th year of representing new material from independents at MIDEM. In the past, our company has shared a stand (as exhibitor) with Beat Records of Italy (seven years), Tandem Music Group of Canada (two years), and FIDOF of USA (three years). As well as providing us with other special perks, which we would not otherwise experience as non-exhibiting 'walk-in' participants, being an exhibitor with a stand has opened up many wonderful opportunities for A-B-A-C-A to meet with companies during stand 'set-up' times prior to the conference and at after-hour receptions. Popkomm is a unique conference that is smaller and far more relaxed, making participation in a stand unessential.

Jan Cooper (Cooper Studios), Sid Bernstein (Promoter of The Beatles), Debora Nortman (A-B-A-C-A) and Linda Davies (Tandem Music Group) at MIDEM

[The Aspiring Songwriter] What is happening in the music and entertainment business that would make it important for serious artists, bands, and record labels to be represented at MIDEM and Popkomm?

Debora Nortman In my opinion, very little is happening today in the North American scene for artists. In the first place, record labels and music publishers will seldom accept unsolicited material from artists/labels with whom they are not familiar. And even if an artist can get past the front desk, fewer labels are willing to take a risk on lesser-known artists/bands unless they have a strong fan base, airplay rotation, and significant CD sales. And, unfortunately, distributors (including online distributors) are reluctant to pick up individual artists unless they are already signed by a label, unless the artist is represented by a credible party such as an entertainment lawyer, publisher or established brokering agent like A-B-A-C-A. Furthermore, radio won't put an artist into rotation unless they are in the stores and there is some kind of buzz happening around the artist.

It is a vicious circle around and around it goes! So, what is an artist to do? From my personal experience attending foreign trade shows, I have found over the years that many companies are very amenable to accepting lesser-known artists/bands because for them it is mainly "about the music" not about the packaging. Virtually ALL of the companies I meet at any given foreign conference will have expressed in communications with me prior to the conference any interest they may have in seeking out new material (artists/bands/label catalogues) to sign. If a company is not interested in signing on new material, then I will not set up an appointment to meet. When we do meet, it will then become a question of whether the material is what they had in mind or whether it is interesting enough for them to undertake a more thorough review at a later date.

Any artist A-B-A-C-A represents can expect to receive the same level of respect, review, and critique from our A&R associates that our own label catalogue will receive. In my opinion, there can be no greater opportunity than this to connect with A&R people, short of showcasing in front of a group of them.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] You mentioned the importance of licensing music on your website. Do licensing deals happen a lot at these conferences? And what other kinds of deals are made?

Debora Nortman First of all, deals are very rarely made on the spot at the conferences. If they are (and they have happened for me from time to time), then it is either simple happenstance where one encounters the right party at the right time under the right circumstances or it is the result of many months of prior negotiations. Having said this, while we are still pursuing licensing deals, there have been changes in the last few years. More and more companies seem to be opting for distribution deals (especially in Europe), i.e., importing rather than licensing albums for manufacture in their own countries.

There are a number of reasons for this, including the issue of piracy in some regions, the downturn in CD sales in the last few years, weak economies in certain territories, the ability of the album owner to maintain more control and keep the other party accountable, and so on. Other kinds of placements are occurring with more frequency. For example, we are experiencing more offers for sub-publishing (everyone wants a piece of the publishing if they can get it) and there is definitely a surge of online activity. In one respect, because of the advent of digital distribution of music, the window has never been so open for lesser-known artists. A-B-A-C-A has access to nearly all of the online digital distributors worldwide, including mobile companies.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] What benchmarks do you look for to determine whether or not to rep an artist or band at MIDEM/Pokomm? What do you look for in record labels?

Debora Nortman Well, for one, to have any hope of licensing the master of an album or song track, the production must be up to industry standards in terms of musicianship, vocals being on key, the quality of the mix, etc. For export, an album should be packaged with a graphic design that will suit as many national aesthetics as possible, and certain basics like spine codes and bar codes are a must. If I'm shopping the songs to publishers, production and musicianship/vocals do not have to be at anywhere near the same level as for an artist or band seeking an album/song track licensing deal. If I'm shopping the act, rather than focusing on their album, then I look at the artist's level of talent, dedication, and maturity. In that case, the production level of the artist's recording(s) is not such an issue because the label will be looking at the artist's intrinsic talent and stage skills, rather than the production quality of his already-existing ! body of recorded work.

Having said this, I expect to be provided with up to five of the very best "bullets" that the artist can provide. You aren't going to get interest from the industry with filler material, so I need at least one or two "bullet" tracks to 'peak the interest' of our A&R contacts so that they will want to hear more. I handle all music styles. However, when it comes to lyrics, I have to be comfortable with the content. For example, I am NOT INTERESTED in songs or spoken word with coarse language, that encourage violence, or that celebrate pimps/prostitution and/or drugs. And neither is most of the industry. That pretty much leaves everything else open. For record labels, believe it or not, my sentiments are just the same. I have received some pretty questionable and poor quality recordings from smaller labels as well as independent artists.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] After you have selected artists/bands and record labels to rep, what is next? Do you have face-to-face meetings with the clients that you will rep at the conferences?

Debora Nortman First of all, I go to the online database of currently registered companies that are planning to attend the conference or to the previous year's hard copy directory book, then I start with countries beginning alphabetically from A to Z. I will search through each company listing in that country in order to determine what activities and music styles each company is involved in, and whether or not they are appropriate to the material and acts A-B-A-C-A is representing. Then I will email relevant companies to set up meetings. By the time I have gone through all the countries, I will have sent off as many as 3000 emails or more, and it is not unusual to communicate several times with a company when securing the date/time to meet. By the time I actually get to meet the company representative face to face, I will already know what they are basically seeking and it will be just a matter of sorting out what product we will be exchanging a! nd the terms of how we might do business.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] A-B-A-C-A brings electronic press kits (EPKs) and CD samplers of the artists and bands it will represent to the conferences. What other information would you want to make available about your clients at the conference?

Debora Nortman We recognize that industry is reluctant to accept individual artist product when attending the foreign tradeshows due to the inconvenience of lugging it all home and the extra costs incurred from airline baggage over-weight restrictions. So as a courtesy to our industry associates, A-B-A-C-A offers three alternatives from which the artist can choose, depending on their preference and budget:

A)A-B-A-C-A strives to be ahead of the curve with its compact and effective DVD EPKs, as one of the first companies to take full advantage of current technology. Artists/bands included on the Artists In Development DVD EPKs will each have featured:

* Up to 5 Songs in CD-quality stereo
* A Slide Show of pictures set to a soundtrack of artist's music
* Highlights of artist's music resume along with any reviews or press information
* A Music Video (if one is available)
* Links to artist's website and pertinent contact listings for booking/touring opportunities.

This year's Artists In Development DVD EPK will feature:

* A state-of-the-art look, with graphics created by the visual effects team that worked on designs for HBO, Warner Brothers, Disney, AOL and eFilm;

* Superb audio by the sound designer who was a 2005 Golden Reel Nominee for "Best Made-For-Computer Entertainment";

* A renowned Hollywood multi-platinum music producer that will oversee the project as Executive Producer, insuring that the DVD will attract the attention of the industry professionals who can make things happen.

B) The Preferred Edition EPK CD-R will feature some of the same information as its DVD counterpart, but the video will be of lower resolution and the audio format will be MP3.

C) For the artist with a minimal promotional budget, the New Talent Power List promotional compilation CD is available. This will contain only one track per artist (which in my opinion is less than ideal in terms of representing the diversity of an artist). While it does have its uses, we consider the CD compilation, as a promotional concept, quite limited and somewhat outdated.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] What materials do you bring for the records labels? Anything else?

Debora Nortman Record label catalogues and their product compilation samplers, if they have one. Full-length album product and individual press kits can be mailed out to interested companies following the conference, which is determined through the follow-up process.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] How are the EPKs and CD samplers put together? Do you generally accept press kits and music from your clients as is or do you "massage" them?

Debora Nortman We prefer that the artist comes to us with their music, biography, reviews, photos, slideshow of photos, and video or film footage excerpts already compiled in digital format (for use on CD-R or CD or DVD, whichever the case) in order to help keep costs at a minimum. Our production team will go over it to ensure that it is up to the level we require. However, if in the event that the artist is unable to do so, our production team is able to offer assistance in compiling, scanning, and extracting the above information at a modest rate.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] Debora, you do a lot of preplanning prior to attending the conferences. Whom do you seek to set up meetings with and how do you select them?

Debora Nortman There is a huge amount of work that has to be done, both prior to and following any given conference. We all know that any idiot can go to a conference to shop recordings, but it is extremely unlikely that they will be able to meet with very many A&R VIPs because industry member schedules are usually booked far in advance, and they often have limited time at the event. Because of this, I always plan on approximately three months of research, communication, and other related activities prior to attending. For example, there have been more than a few occasions where companies have requested that I send out a package of material in advance. This can help both parties avoid wasting time with a meeting if the material is not what the company is seeking. If the meeting is set, then I look for some sort of offer or proposal during the meeting itself and it then becomes a matter of writing down the details, terms, etc.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] What are some examples of the kinds of company reps that you meet and what they're looking for at these conferences?

Debora Nortman Although they are seldom looking for new artists at these events, I always make it a point to meet with the Majors. If nothing else, it allows me to maintain a courtesy relationship with them, providing me a better chance of getting an opportunity to introduce them to new artists. I have spent many years meeting the larger independent record labels, music publishers, licensors and distributors and, in more recent years, I have made a point of also seeking out foreign management companies and booking agents for those of my artists/bands who are wanting to tour overseas. Over all the years of going to MIDEM/Popkomm, I can confidently say that I have met with at least one representative from all of the relevant companies that regularly attend.

Graham Way (Tandem Music Group) and Debora Nortman (A-B-A-C-A) sharing a booth together at MIDEM

[The Aspiring Songwriter] How successful are you in securing meetings with potential dealmakers for your clients? Why do they agree to meet with you?

Debora Nortman Extremely successful. They agree to meet with me because I am also seeking new material for distribution in Canada and for worldwide online distribution. Also, as I indicated above, many are familiar with me and they respect the quality of acts that I represent. In short, I do not have a problem securing meetings. If anything it is the reverse because there is no end of companies that want to meet with A-B-A-C-A to shop their music and acts to me but that, in many cases, are not actually seeking to sign new material for their own country. So, for this reason I have carefully devised a screening method that is part of my pre-event communications that allows me to accurately screen out the companies wanting only to export their catalogues. This helps to deal with the real problem of best allocating one's precious time at these conferences.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] Briefly describe a "typical" meeting that you would have at the conferences representing when you are repping an artist and repping a label.

Debora Nortman Generally, after brief introductions we discuss the suitability of the material for the company and terms of a possible deal. If it appears that there is potential for a deal with the company, then we will agree to have the matter pursued following the conference. As there is only approximately 20 minutes available per meeting, I really do not have time to go over each and every artist I may be representing. For this reason, we have created our EPKs to ensure that artist information and music samples will go home with each company representative for later reviewing.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] Assuming that no one is signed on the spot and the conference is over, what happens next?

Debora Nortman FOLLOW-UP! FOLLOW-UP! FOLLOW-UP! I prepare a summary report of the results of my meetings for each represented artist/label and, if requested by a company, send that company material specific to the artist(s) they are interested in.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] Debora, if you hear back from someone at one of your meetings who is interested in contacting an artist or label, what role does A-B-A-C-A play at that point?

Debora Nortman It depends on how the artist wishes to be represented. For example, lawyers whose clients I may be representing seem to prefer being in 100% control of everything! So, for them, by special arrangement, I will provide a very detailed report describing everything that transpired during the conference that was relevant to their client(s), including company name and contact information etc. However, most of my bands/artists generally don't like involving themselves in the business side of music. Most prefer that I handle the contract negotiations and/or other communications, only wishing to become involved when it comes time to sign. So it really depends on each individual, as everyone is different.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] If you are successful in securing a deal for one of your clients either during or after the conferences, what happens then?

Debora Nortman If A-B-A-C-A is offered a deal on behalf of an artist who is not on A-B-A-C-A's label, it is my job to present it to that artist for consideration. A-B-A-C-A is very willing and prepared to assist in the negotiations, as I am experienced and familiar with the latest deal trends in terms of what is acceptable and what is not. However, the artist is advised to seek legal counsel before signing any agreement. If A-B-A-C-A, as label, owns the rights to the recording, then I have the legal right to conduct and conclude negotiations on A-B-A-C-A's behalf without involving the recording's artist(s).

[The Aspiring Songwriter] How would you describe your track record for artist/band and label representation at MIDEM and Popkomm?

Debora Nortman A-B-A-C-A has received offers and concluded deals after every MIDEM and Popkomm in which it has participated. However, it is an ongoing business conducted throughout the year and we can see deals come in as early as one week after a conference or, as was the case with A-B-A-C-A's First Impressions album deal with Sun Records of Taiwan, years later.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] Since you represent a fair number of artists and labels already, why do you take on new clients for the conferences specifically, and how do you balance your time between all of your clients to ensure that they all receive adequate coverage?

Debora Nortman It is important to go back to a particular conference each year with new material. So, in terms of independent artists/labels we represent, we only present our latest EPKs and CD compilations, which contain new artists or new material from artists we have also represented previously. We also will present A-B-A-C-A's label recordings, but will focus our attention on our label's newest product. The remainder of the catalogue we send out during the rest of the year as we are doing the follow-ups. As a rule, we do not present individual artist CDs. However, we do take a couple of full-length copies of each artist's CD and/or DVD in case someone asks to see it.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] What is the bottom line for a label or artist for securing a rep service such as the one offered by A-B-A-C-A? Why not just attend the conferences themselves?

Debora Nortman Actually, I suggest that an artist should apply to showcase at the conference. If accepted, it can prove to be a phenomenal opportunity for the artist to be heard by industry. If one of my artists is accepted, I will make a point of getting industry A&R out to see their performance. If showcasing is not possible, then I still think that it is a GREAT experience to go and, if they do, they should also try to book a small tour around the trip to make it worthwhile.. However, if an artist decides to go, they should also have a reality check. These trade shows are for professionals who are involved in the business of music; artists that wear their hearts on their sleeve will soon find that it can be brutal to the ego! Furthermore, artists should not expect to get meetings with busy A&R VIPs because appointment schedules get booked up far in advance and RARELY is industry willing to meet with people who do not represent multiple acts a! nd catalogues.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] What is the deadline for submissions to A-B-A-C-A for representation for the upcoming conferences?

Debora Nortman Preferably, the earlier the better so that I know exactly what I will be representing at the conference when scheduling my appointments with industry. Ideally, I like to have time to secure appointments that are appropriate for the artist. Getting the artist on board in time for the EPK/CD compilation production/manufacturing deadlines is always a main issue, as well.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] Are there any other conferences other than MIDEM and Popkomm where there are good opportunities to seek deals for your clients or to discover new acts?

Debora Nortman Of course, but none of the other conferences offer the same impact or are attended by the number of international companies that attend MIDEM and Popkomm. We will be adding other conferences in the future as well, such as SXSW in 2006.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] Thank you, Debora, for speaking with us today. Is there anything you'd like to add?

Debora Nortman I sincerely try to do the best that I can for each and every artist, but if I can't help in a certain area I will seek out and refer them to qualified associates who I believe can. I would have this to say to artists: do the best that you can by making each recording a 150% bullet track. Slowly add to your selection of tracks as you can best afford to do. And remember: you don't need a whole album's worth of recorded material to get signed, but avoid filler material if submitting very few songs.

Do your research and try to take as much control over your music as possible, but, if ready, start building your team (manager, publicist, promotion/marketing person, booking agent etc.) to assist you.

Bands: designate the work fairly and make sure you have a band partnership agreement in order. Remember, if you have a sore tooth, you go to see a dentist, not an accountant, so ensure that you are enlisting the appropriate people to help you who have expertise in their respective areas. If you can't get your music overseas or solicit to industry yourself, enlist the assistance of an experienced professional who can. But most of all, before you do enlist ANYONE's services, be sure to check them out!!!

Debora Nortman, President
A-B-A-C-A Entertainment Group
4316 Marguerite St., Suite #1
Vancouver, B.C. Canada V6J 4G4
Tel: +1 - 604- 731-8689
Fax: +1 - 604- 731-8523

General Inquiries: tunepeddler@telus.net
Website: www.abaca-music.com

Provided by the MusicDish Network. Copyright © Tag It 2005 - Republished with Permission

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