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Respect the Hustle: Nigil Mack, Dir. of A&R at Universal Republic

What qualities and skills in your opinion are needed in becoming a successful A&R?

I think understanding marketing and promo is important, also having a background in the creative side. It’s definitely and obviously important. I think the major thing is just understanding ’cause the thing with A&R, it’s like a weird thing, you have to take your personal feelings out the equation sometimes. There’s a lot of stuff that I personally like, but I’ll never sign it because I know it wouldn’t make sense to go on a major. I think it’s understanding and not just totally being “I just love it, I wanna sign it” and put all this money into it, you know you gotta really analyze and look at things like “once I sign it, how could I get this out the building?” That’s the major thing ’cause as an A&R your whole career is based on what you sign and what you bring in. That’s it, there’s nothing else like you’re whole career will always be attached to the artist you signed. It’s that extreme.

What qualities do you look for in your artists?

The first thing I look at is if they have star quality. Like when they walk in the room do people be like “Yo, I don’t know who they are but they must be an artist.” After that you get into the music and you see if the music is compelling, if it makes sense, and what lane it’s in. Some people are the stars, they walk in the room and you’re just like “damn!” I’ve been in situations where I walk to the room for a meeting and I don’t know who the artist is. The artist looks like one of the homeboys or the weed dude or the manager. The dope thing about it is you have to be your music. You can’t just be boring ’cause people live vicariously through you. That’s the whole point.

What are some of the biggest misconceptions that are always associated with your position?

The biggest misconception I get is people thinking that it’s so easy just to sign an artist. They don’t understand it’s a whole process you know what I mean. Then, the other misconception is there’s a lot. Let me ask you this, what are some of the biggest misconceptions you hear?

Basically, that A&Rs just sign artists off of buzz.

Oh yeah, that’s a big misconception. Like only people with buzz or radio spins, all that stuff. I’m not gonna lie like that does happen, but that’s not the whole thing ’cause there are still people that we’ll just hear music and be like “Oh shit. We got to hop on a plane and go get ’em.” But, that’s a rarity. People still get signed off a song or just talent if they’re really just that dope.

But it’s that star quality that counts, right?

It’s the star quality. The biggest misconception that I get is from people who be like “but what do I have to do for you to give me a deal?” I gotta be like, “Yo, it don’t work like that.” I would say that’s the biggest misconception. People be like “so how many spins or how much YouTube views?” It’s like, “Yo, you could have a million YouTube views, but that doesn’t matter. You can’t call me or have a meeting and then talk me into giving you a deal. It don’t work like that. The way it works is I hunt you down, you don’t hunt me down. I would say that’s the biggest misconception.

It’s somewhat the back in the day element, though. Some people think maybe if they go rapping in front of a building or something, they probably get signed. What do you have to say about that.

You know what, I don’t knock that type [of] stuff ’cause I’ma keep it 100 with you. Back in the day when me and my people in Baltimore, if anybody, I don’t care who it was if anybody came to Baltimore or D.C., we would be there with our demos. It got so bad, I remember one time, I’m not even gonna say the rapper’s name, but we followed somebody and threw our demos through their window. I don’t knock nobody’s G, like if you gotta stand in front of a label, stand in front of a label and freestyle ’cause at the end of the day you never know what could happen. You definitely gotta be proactive.


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