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LAST UPDATE: 09.20.2007    / 13.30 p.m.                                               Web        Thaformula.Com          


  J.R. Rotem
"These days the competition is crazy. Everyone is making beats. It's not enough to just make beats. People get lucky and make a good beat or there are tons of talented people making beats. So it takes more then that. It takes more than just sitting at home and you know making a bunch of beats and sending them out. I mean that is definitely a good way to start, that's how I started but there is a lot of levels to productions. I mean there was a point where I was just making beats at home and sending them out and obviously it got the ball rolling and it did start me out so it was a necessary part of it, but now its about songs and I think the industry is changing. These days every rapper has his boys making beats for him so to really get a placement you've got to step it up. You've got to either put a hook on the beat and a concept, you've got to know the right people, and you have to put together a song."
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Hip Hop
Q & A W/ "J.R." Rotem: how to build an empire
feedback: info@thaformula.com
September 2007

thaFormula.com - Now originally you stated that you started out selling your beats for $100 to $500 a pop, did you consider that a lot of money for your beats back then?

Jonathan "J.R." Rotem - I never really considered it a lot of money at the time but I knew I had to pay dues and give beats away for free and you know just kind of get my name out there so I was happy to just be making money off of the music that I was making.

thaFormula.com - When was the first time that you realized that you could actually make a living off of your music?

Jonathan "J.R." Rotem - I would say probably when I got the Destiny's Child placement. That's when I said "hey this means I'm good enough to be like a part of major label artists and make music on that kind of level." Even thought it took a while after that to actually get in the scene and be consistent with it.

thaFormula.com - It's kind of rare to get a placement like that with someone like Destiny's Child when you didn't really have a big-hit background or anything right?

Jonathan "J.R." Rotem - Yeah that's true, my background was in classical and jazz piano and that kind of thing. I was beginning to make a name over there as a jazz pianist but not really as a producer so when that happened it was really an incredible experience.

thaFormula.com - For people that don't understand the lingo, what exactly are placements and how important are placements to a producer when doing this full time?

Jonathan "J.R." Rotem - A placement is getting a song on an album. So a placement is everything. It's just slang for basically getting a cut with an artist. If you don't have placements you are really not putting your songs on major label artists. So a placement is very important. .

thaFormula.com - Has it gotten to the point where the labels look at how many placements you have had?

Jonathan "J.R." Rotem - Numbers are a big thing. Beyond just having sheer album cuts, singles is an even bigger deal. Having the record company choose your song as the single to promote the album is one of the biggest things so yeah, it's good to have a lot of placements. It shows people that I'm doing a lot of consistent work in a lot of different genres and things like that. But it was when I did "S.O.S." which was a number one worldwide hit that a lot of pop doors opened up and then I was in with all these people. All of it is important.

thaFormula.com - Now when you moved from the Bay to L.A. you talked about how the record industry was harder to get into than you imagined it would be. Can you talk about that a little for those that are now in that same position?

Jonathan "J.R." Rotem - I didn't know anything about the music industry, about the politics, about the fact that people really pay dues a long time to get where they are. You know sometimes when you're on the outside, you just kind of figure hey you just get lucky or you're in the right place at the right time or if your talented enough everything is gonna happen immediately. I moved to L.A. after having a Destiny's Child placement just being very naive thinking "hey I'm gonna move down here and just be Dr. Dre within a couple of months." Obviously I found out that there is a lot more that goes into it. First of all I had to step up my level of production and that took a while. It took trial and error and making tons of beats and things like that. It also is about who you know. You have to get into the right clique and when the opportunity opens up you have to have the right music. So you have to have the right connections and really it's just a process of building your name. It's like any other industry. You know people get up to high positions, not usually by chance, but by hard work and paying dues. So it really took a while to break in. I had to meet one person and meet another person and then I met this person and finally when I met my manager things really started to happen. So it's definitely a very difficult thing to break in but I believe that if you are very dedicated and you are good at what you do, work really hard and send out positive energy, it will happen. You just never know when it will happen, it's just that I think it takes longer then most people expect.

thaFormula.com - Yeah because I meet a lot of producers who have great production, but expect someone to just hand them a deal or a knock on the door saying "here you go." They don't make the effort to get out there and make things happen. For those producers like that, what are their chances of breaking into this industry in your eyes?

Jonathan "J.R." Rotem - I think they are a lot less likely because a big part of the industry is getting out there. You have to network with people. People have to know what you're doing. These days the competition is crazy. Everyone is making beats. It's not enough to just make beats. People get lucky and make a good beat or there are tons of talented people making beat. So it takes more then that. It takes more than just sitting at home and you know making a bunch of beats and sending them out. I mean that is definitely a good way to start, that's how I started but there is a lot of levels to productions. I mean there was a point where I was just making beats at home and sending them out and obviously it got the ball rolling and it did start me out so it was a necessary part of it, but now its about songs and I think the industry is changing. These days every rapper has his boys making beats for him so to really get a placement you've got to step it up. You've got to either put a hook on the beat and a concept, you've got to know the right people, and you have to put together a song. There is more to production than just beats, at least at the level that I'm trying to play at which is the people I'm looking at like Quincy Jones, Dr. Dre and people like that. A lot of these beats you hear on the radio…I mean they might not be the craziest beats ever but it's a song, so the point is as a producer your goal is to think of things as a song and a beat is only part of a song, it's not the whole thing.

thaFormula.com - Did it take you a while to kind of figure that out as a producer?

Jonathan "J.R." Rotem - I think it really takes a while, a lot of trial and error and experience to fully understand it. It's one thing to say it and to hear it from other people but its another thing to truly make beats and you know see what that gets you and then feel like "okay what else can I be doing to try to get more placements." Its kind of a process and everybody does it their own way. I'm just speaking about the way I learned how to do it. Different people come up different ways and find success in different ways. People produce in different ways. Puffy (P Diddy) is a producer and yeah, of course he knows how to make beats but he also has people under him who are making beats and then he might be like "okay you know what I like that idea, lets put this person on it, lets add that to it." That's production too. You know Dr. Dre may not necessarily play piano or keyboards when he makes the beats but he is like an orchestrator. He uses these musicians as tools to get the sounds that he needs. Then there is other people like myself and Scott Storch who do play and you know we are the ones who are actually like composing the music and doing that as well as producing. So everyone does it a different way. Some people start as beat makers and some people are DJ's who become producers. So I think different people figure out their message just by trial and error and I'm still figuring out mine. Everyday is like a learning process to try to get up there so it's infinite. It really takes a while to understand what it is that goes into making a song that really connects with people and I'm still learning about it. There are producers that have had hits for years and years and years that have mastered that craft. You know I consider my self new to that school of really understanding what it takes to make a song. A song might sound catchy and simple, but there is actually a lot that goes into it to get it to sound like that. There is actually a complex method in understanding a song that makes you be able to make something that sounds simplistic. In other words it's deceptively simple.

thaFormula.com - Has your piano skills played a big part in getting you where you are at today?

Jonathan "J.R." Rotem - I would say truthfully that it is a core of who I am. I consider myself a pianist and a composer first. I'm a pianist turned into a producer. Some people start out DJ'ing and then they become producers. The roots of my sound are all the classical and jazz piano that I play so I couldn't even conceive of doing what I do without that kind of training, but on the other hand it's not necessarily that I recommend to people to do that. I went to Berkley College of Music and I don't necessarily tell people that it's necessary to go study music from a book or from a college or anything like that to make it. There are people like Timbaland who don't play anything who are geniuses at what they do. But as far as for me that is just who I am. I am a classical and jazz pianist and I put that into the music.

thaFormula.com - When you came out here you said you were teaching piano lessons and hoping that you would get a chance to meet Dre. Did you ever reach a point when you got out here where you just felt it wasn't gonna happen for you out here?

Jonathan "J.R." Rotem - The thing with Dre was weird thing. Obviously moving here and being so influenced by his music by the Hip-Hop end to me I thought there would be no bigger honor and no better job then to like plays keys for Dre like Scott Storch did on "2001." So I definitely held on to that dream for a while and then I finally did get a chance to meet him and play him my beats and he really liked them and he was impressed with my piano playing and he actually ended up buying tracks for Detox. So that was all an incredible experience and there was a couple of times when I went in there and played keys, but it never really panned out to me being his usual keyboard player. But the thing about it is that by that time I had already felt like I wanted to be my own producer. So it no longer seemed to be that appealing. Not to take away anything from Dre, he's incredible but you know Dre is a producer who uses keyboards players to get his sound. For me I have my own vision of the way I want songs to sound so I don't necessarily want to be under somebody. So the dream didn't happen the way I thought it would, but I'm glad that it didn't because I wouldn't really wanna be stuck playing keys. I felt that I wanted to be a producer and that's something that Zach my manager helped me out with. Because when I first moved here I couldn't conceive anything bigger then playing keys for Dre. He was like "no dude you have your own sound and you need to develop it and you could be a Dre one day." So yeah that's how that worked out.

thaFormula.com - Is Dre in your eyes everything they say he is and did you learn a lot from being around the man?

Jonathan "J.R." Rotem - Well first of all, yes to answer your question Dre is everything they say he is. He is absolutely like a genius and he's incredible and I can elaborate on that if you want.

thaFormula.com - Please do, because there is always so much talk of Dre not being a "real producer," what are your thoughts on that?

Jonathan "J.R." Rotem - When people say that I understand why people would say something like that, but I think that when people say that they don't truly understand or appreciate what production actually is. Production is not the same thing as beat making, it's not even the same thing as songwriting. It's true that when you are a producer a lot of times when you compose the music you are also a song writer, but the two can be independent of each other. For instance when Rick Rubin produces the Red Hot Chili Peppers or something like that, he might not necessarily be writing the songs but he is producing. So what I mean to say is production is really the person who oversees the creation of a song from start to finish. So that might not necessarily mean that you're the guy who programmed the drum or played the key. Like an orchestra conductor, he might not necessarily have written the piece of music. Let's say he's conducting a piece of music by Mozart or Beethoven. He didn't compose the music and he is not the one playing the violin, but what he is doing is he's conducting the orchestra, it's his vision. He is saying "yo this composition here, we are gonna interpret it my way. So violins you play it this way, you speed up there or you play it harder there or you back off. Trumpets you do this you do that" so at the end of the day it is his vision. I mean he didn't compose it and he's not playing the instruments but he is conducting, he is putting all together. So producing is a lot like that. When Quincy Jones produced "Thriller" for Michael Jackson, he wasn't necessarily the one programming everything. He didn't write "Billie Jean." If you look at the credits, "Billie Jean" was written completely by Michael Jackson. So what did Quincy Jones do if he didn't write it and he wasn't the one playing it? He was the producer, and you can hear that sound in his music. So when you hear a Dr. Dre production you know its Dre even though he didn't play the keys. It's like when you hear Dre with Scott Storch on there, yeah you can tell its Scott playing, but there is a difference between a Dre production and a Scott Storch production. Not to say that one is better then the other at this point but just to say that they have different visions. So there is a difference between playing the keys and producing. I think when people say Dre doesn't produce they might be like "oh somebody else made that track" or "oh Daz did this track, Scott played this," but Dre is the one who took that and said "you know what let's change this drum sound because it's gonna hit harder, lets make sure that the mix sounds like this, lets put this rapper on it, lets get this guy to write this rap for this rapper, lets put her on the hook, lets make it sound like this." At the end of the day you know its Dre. Dre obviously has a sound that you can tell. Does he use other instruments or people to contribute to that sound? Absolutely. But its still Dre at the end of the day so that's why I give him that credit and I think he deserves that credit. Hopefully that answers your question. I think the more success anyone has, the more critics and the more haters there are and that's just a sign of being very big. There is always gonna be people who don't like what you do or criticize it and that's fine, not everybody has to like what you do. But I think the more haters somebody has probably means the bigger they are. He also has a lot of people that consider him the biggest producer in Hip-Hop ever and an innovator of sounds.

thaFormula.com - Are you the type of producer that makes beats 24/7 or only when you are in the mood?

Jonathan "J.R." Rotem - Well I pretty much work 24/7 so no I definitely don't work only when I feel it, I work non-stop. As far as making beats, I'm to the point where it's not all about beats. There was a time when I was making 10 beats a day or whatever it was but spending all day making them. Now I'm in the studio with artists every single day so instead of making a batch of beats and sending them out, I'm to the point where we might have an artist come in and we will just all make a beat from scratch for them and I will have my writers there if we're doing a R&B or pop thing and we will create a song. It's all about making a song. I might have some beats lying around that I made in my spare time that I think will fit them. But for the most part I don't kind of like sit there and uh, it used to be I would just make beats for weeks and weeks and then put the best of them on a beat CD and send that out or play it for people. Now it's cool because artists are coming in and we try to make a song right then and there from scratch or if I have an idea prepared for them, maybe I'll make a beat thinking about "okay I know I'm gonna be in with this artist and I have some spare time, let me make a track that I think will be good for that."

thaFormula.com - Is it a huge difference actually going in the studio and making something from scratch as opposed to just having something ready?

Jonathan "J.R." Rotem - I would say that yes it's a different thing. At first there is definitely pressure you know if your gonna try and make the beat with the artist there and it's the type of thing you kind of have to work up to. It takes a while to do that. First I would only have beats ready to go and then I would start getting keyboards in the studio and being like "hey either we can listen to these beats and see if that works or we can always make a beat from scratch" so it is a completely different process. I'm to the point to where I'm just thinking I want to make the best possible song at the time and a lot of times it's just doing something from scratch with the artist there but there could be certain times where you already have a concept that's strong and you use that. So I just do whatever is gonna make me the best song. If it's using a track that I already have, cool. If it's making one from scratch then that's fine too. Different people are comfortable working different ways. There are some people who I think only do something from scratch and don't have any beats and then there is some people who only have beats ready. I'm comfortable working either way.

thaFormula.com - Are you a fast worker in the studio or a slow worker perfectionist type?

Jonathan "J.R." Rotem - I'm definitely a perfectionist but you know again, I think there is a limit to being a perfectionist. At the end of the day, music is music, it's meant to make people feel something. I think that over analyzing something and spending weeks on one track is usually not the best use of my time. So while I definitely don't turn anything in until I feel its completely ready and I will tweak it to no end and mix it and all these kind of things, I don't want to make an artist or an A&R wait too long before I submit a song.

thaFormula.com - How important is it to have a manager like Zach in this business and how has he helped you in your work?

Jonathan "J.R." Rotem - For me it's pivotal to have a manager like Zach and Zach is not just my manager anymore. He is my manager and lawyer and also my business partner because as you know we have the joint venture label deal with Sony/Epic which we are 50/50 partners. So Zach is like my right hand. The whole operation I couldn't even envision it without him. I mean when I met him, he was managing Denaun Porter and Hi-Tek so he really helped me. I would come in and play him beats and he would be like "this is a good idea but dirty this sound up or make the drums a little bit more like that." So he would definitely help me get my sound to more of like a Hip-Hop kind of thing. So it was very important. Then we started selling beats. He had the ears to help me shape my sound and he also had the connections to get it to the right people. So right off the bat it was incredible. I went to not really selling any beats to having him help me with making my beats better and selling them. Then what also helped is that he put me together with Denaun and Hi-Tek so I would start off with like playing keys for them and then co-producing with them and then I ended up learning a lot about production from them. So that was a very big part of it and then when I started getting my own sound he saw my work ethic. I was like "yo, I'm trying to be number one" and he really respected that and he felt the same way like he wants to be number one. So we just connected and we just had the same way of working together, it just felt natural and together we built it to where we are today to where I'm his only client and we have this production company together and also a publishing company together where we are signing writers. He always wanted to build an empire with the right producer. He wanted to do that so I think when I came along we really just influenced each other and helped each other out and it was just a natural fit. For me, part of this whole thing is Zach. I don't look at him as just some guy who I just send stuff to or pay a commission to and he gets my stuff out there. He is literally my friend and business partner. It's a very close business relationship as well as friendship.

thaFormula.com - So then how crucial would you say it is for a producer to have the right manager?

Jonathan "J.R." Rotem - I think it's incredibly important depending on what you want to do with your career. I'm trying to build very big things. I'm thinking on a high level here and there is no way I would be able to do it by myself. You have to have a team of people who you could trust to work very, very hard who have a good reputation and just are positive people. Because I think when you're trying to do anything like on the level that I'm trying to do it, it's like you cannot do it by yourself. There are only so many hours in the day. I can't make this music and handle the business and negotiate and bring in different meetings with artists and writers and put this whole thing together. So Zach is definitely my right hand.

thaFormula.com - From all the producers you have talked to and worked with, who would you say you have learned the most from?

Jonathan "J.R." Rotem - Well I would say that one on one Denaun Porter was probably the most generous and taught me the most because you know he would fly me to Detroit where he was based or if he had a session in New York he would fly me there or when he was in L.A. He was just extremely generous. He liked the way I played keys and respected my sound and really gave me a shot, really included me in a lot of his things. I would just learn by watching him by like the way he would start a beat, the sounds he would use, he showed me the different keyboards he would use, he gave me drum sounds, he showed me how he programmed as far as his style. So I really drew upon it a lot. I mean I don't think my sound is very close to his. I think we hear music very differently but at the same time he really taught me about production. I think he helped me see the difference between being kind of a keyboard player for other producers as opposed to learning how to produce yourself in a commercial way. So I would say as far as one on one Denaun is the one I learned the most from. I probably learned the most though and was influenced by Dr .Dre but that was more from listening to his music as opposed to working with him one on one. There is a power and drama in Dre's music. Like it's always dramatic and there is tension to it so I was very influenced by that. Dre is the type that will take a very potent like simple musical idea but just make it dope. That's what I liked about him, the economy. He is not gonna put like 15 different instruments at the same time and over saturate it. It always sounds clean but he has the right thing playing there. So that's kind of what I learned from him. Like every single sound is there for a reason and there is not more sounds then there needs to be. It's very concise the way he produces and I think that that's why people really connect with him. I think his music really resonates with people because at the end of the day people don't wanna hear a bunch of cluttered shit, they want something that they can understand and Dre's music is something that has a power to it, a simplicity that you can understand.

thaFormula.com - With all that you have accomplished so far with the label, Sean Kingston, etc., what is the ultimate goal for you?

Jonathan "J.R." Rotem - I would say the goal still is to definitely make hits for different people no matter what the genre but as far as the label, we are trying to grow an empire like anything else. Like an Aftermath, Interscope or anything like that. So for us we kind of want to have a very diverse label but just be known for quality. We don't want to have a bunch artists sitting around that you know aren't the shit. We want to be known for people who bring it every single time. So we are being very selective, we're not just trying to sign anything but ultimately we would like this thing to grow into a big, big operation where there is writers and artists and tons of things like that and its very difficult because the industry right now is in very, very tough shape as far as album sales being way down because of piracy and the Internet so its very hard right now for people getting into the industry. A while ago there was tons of money flowing and all this kind of stuff and now album sales aren't what they used to be. The industry is changing, it's all downloads and ring tones so it's a very interesting time. Kind of like you don't even know what to expect. Who knows where the industry will be a year from now.

thaFormula.com - And does that end up really cutting into what you make as a producer and does that force you to bring your price down?

Jonathan "J.R." Rotem - Yeah definitely. Not that I am in the upper, upper uh, I'm not on the Pharrell status or anything like that but in like 1999 Swizz Beatz when he was doing all the DMX stuff before the internet really took over the top price for a producer was like 200k for one track. Nowadays those people are charging more like 60k for a track. So definitely there is a lot less money. If you look at videos they look like a lot less budget. It's affecting every part of the industry because at the end of the day the industry is run by record sales and things like that and if you look there is less companies now. There is like 4 record companies, there is a lot less people in every company. People are charging a lot less and people are making a lot less money and everyone is feeling it. There is really no time to waste because the opportunities are not the same as what they were. I think if you work hard and you are positive, the cream always rises to the top but yes, overall this industry is in a very transitional phase.


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