Our latest Rising Star is Will Vincent, senior press officer at Prescription PR...
When did you know you wanted to work in music press?
“When I was half-way through my degree in Southampton, where I was studying music promotion. I ...
When we released Oh No (That’s The Word) in 2000, there were big billboards everywhere, but they didn’t show all So Solid members. That was one of my problems, trying to get all the members up to the same level of notoriety. So 21 Seconds was the answer.
The label said they didn’t mind if we wanted to put more people on a song, but that we should make sure we knew what we were doing when dividing the cuts. We had three-and-a-half minutes, so to get 10 people on a track it was eight bars each. Eight bars rounded up to near enough 21 seconds.
I had a publishing deal with EMI Music, respect to Guy Moot, a big legend in the business. I got a studio in central London. Everybody came down and wanted to write their bars, but no-one wanted to go first on the track. That is why my lyric starts the song, out of frustration. I said, ‘Mega Man up first, 21 seconds oh shit, I ain’t got no time to smoke this, hold this...’ I didn’t have time to even smoke my spliff.
The label said they were in a pickle because me, Lisa Maffia and Romeo, who had all been on Oh No..., were in the top part of the track. They said, ‘How are we gonna get people to listen to the whole song, or get radio to play it?’ At the same time, it didn’t have a chorus. One of the execs said ‘Look, we need to get a chorus.’ Kaish’s verse was the best, the most memorable. It was repetitive, so we made that the chorus for people to stay glued.
Everybody wanted to write their bars, but no-one wanted to go first on the track
When we tried to get it out to DJs, nobody liked it. It didn’t even sound like garage, it was a mix between hip-hop and what Outkast was doing, but with a lot less sounds. We were a young bunch of producers, who didn’t play keys, organs and trumpets. It was real demo-based. In the contract, which was a Megaman single deal, we had clauses for each video to have more budget than the last, so I knew we’d have around £100,000.
We got [directors] Max and Dania in, but I didn’t like the draft. I felt deflated. The feel and energy were missing. We went back to the drawing board and I approved every still, it must have taken a day-and-a-half, making sure no-one looked shit, the dance moves were cool and the effects were right.
The label saw it and said, ‘What a fucking movie.’ They said they had to sell it differently, so we hired a cinema in Leicester Square. We invited press, A&Rs, people affiliated with us, allies, silent enemies... [Laughs]. I did my speech, we watched the video and there was crazy applause.
Everybody got it, the visual sold what the song turned out to be. That’s what catapulted us into that next league, nobody had seen [anything] like that before. There were no urban, street kids in crazy numbers doing something like that on screen. If it wasn’t for the video, I don’t know how the song would have panned out. It’s a great song, but other things made it priceless.
We stuck out like a sore thumb, the first urban act of the millennium, kids doing raw music that everybody in the street could relate to. With the vision, drive and impact we had, we told the label, ‘Boy, you’re getting a bargain.’
We stuck out like a sore thumb, the first urban act of the millennium
We weren’t sure it would be No.1, Music Week would be there, you’d get the magazine or an email and see the midweeks. In the end, we just scraped it. There was no social media, so everyone had to run to the stores to actually buy the single, we had to rely on fans who had never bought a rap CD from HMV or Woolworths.
I was in Ayia Napa when it hit No.1, the other members were doing Top Of The Pops, that rollercoaster of TV and interviews. I was a bit more dysfunctional. I’d be like, ‘You don’t need me...’ so I could get up to other things – branding, clothing, events, holiday resorts, booking flights, creating albums, brokering deals. When I got to Ayia Napa I just didn’t want to leave, the freedom was so good. Looking back, So Solid Crew is still doing much more for me than I thought it would.
Throughout his storied career, the legendary Salaam Remi has produced classic songs with everyone from Amy Winehouse and Nas to The Fugees, Ini Kamoze and Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes. He’s also a businessman: establishing his own label Louder Than Life and a publishing JV with PeerMusic called LifeB4music. Here, he reflects on some of the lessons he’s learned along the way...
My relationship with the music business is probably different to most creatives…“My dad laid out the blueprint for me. He was a musician, and then also worked as a record executive. I sat as a child in marketing meetings, and went to radio stations to get promo done, and everything else. So, when I was creating remixes in the ’90s, I’d be able to say, ‘What station do you want to hit? Which clubs?’ I would create the music knowing who it needed to pass. If I sat down with an A&R, I would know what type of arrangement would resonate with them so that they would pass it on with enthusiasm to the rest of the company…”
Nas calls me a counsellor who knows how to make music…“If I can’t talk to someone, I can’t produce them; but if I can have a conversation with them, then we’ll come up with stuff all the time. Whatever someone’s feeling I allow them to feel it. I don’t work off of a sound, I work off an energy, a vibe. If it doesn’t feel right, it’s not worth it. Especially at this point, my whole modeis, ‘Do it for the culture’. I’m always working on whatever’s going to really work in the long run. It’s great to have songs that are hits and million-sellers, but I just want to capture an emotion. It’s not about accolades, or even about money. This is about me expressing myself. I can pull up a song that I did 25 years ago and I will probably still love it to this very day because it captured something.”
At first, I shied away from being in the 2015 Amy Winehouse documentary…“I didn’t want to do it, so I was probably one of the last people to be interviewed. I’m happy for the accolades and things that came from it, but what I absolutely do not like is that it villainised her father and certain people around her as part of a plot, like you do in a movie. The reality is: I lost a good friend and people lost someone they were a fan of, but that man lost a daughter. What if a fan sees that and thinks things about someone who lost their child? That’s dead wrong. I have a huge problem with that and you’ll probably never see me be part of a documentary that I don’t have control of again.”
My biggest lesson was that I saw that one song can change your whole balance sheet as a creative and as a label
Working with the great Doug Morris at Sony...“I got a whole other understanding of the music business from the top of a global corporation. One of the greatest things he told me was, ‘It’s all about the song – if you have a great song, it’s going to last.’ I appreciated that coming from someone who had gone from being a songwriter to probably the greatest CEO of record conglomerates there has been. A good song can be out for a year or two before it turns into one everyone loves – look at Lizzo! The song that becomes the record of the year might take a year and a half to work. If it’s the right song, it’s going to last. I’m blessed to be able to say that Ini Kamoze’s Here Comes The Hotstepper or The Fugees’ Fu-Gee-La have created as much money this decade for me as they did when they initially came out in the ’90s. That’s because they were the right songs.”
I had a huge hit on my label with Omi’s Cheerleader…“And until you have a song that does a couple of billion streams, you won’t see how you can better your next deal. You’re going to need someone giving you clear advice to your advantage, or you’re going to have to make that mistake to get better with the next one. My biggest lesson was that I saw that one song – that maybe wasn’t the most expensive song I could have done – can change your whole balance sheet as a creative and as a label. Sometimes the most expensive song will be the biggest pain in the neck and it won’t even make you a dime!”
Photo: Nick Perkins