Interviewed by Doug Minnick

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Toronto and have been here my whole life.

How did you get started in the music business?

Originally I was the general manager of a 500-seat nightclub. I used to book all of the rock acts there in the late '80s. Then I saw that there was a new scene starting overseas. It was a dance craze. I started hanging out around the few clubs that were starting to spin. They were very small ones. I met up with a couple of deejays that were into it, and I started to manage them. I got them a radio show playing all this new dance music that nobody knew. And it just blew up. Not only on the radio, but in the clubs.

From there I was offered a position to go on the radio myself as a deejay. They were running out of deejays playing this dance music. I took them up on it, and I had one of the top rated shows in the Toronto area for eight years. During that time period, I was still doing the clubs, and I was also consulting for record labels. I'd tell them the hot product that was coming out from the U.K. and Europe. I also helped with touring all of those acts as soon as we got them a hit here. I was basically breaking them on my radio show, so that's why I was getting all of the new music as soon as it was coming out, many times even before it was even on vinyl or CD. All of the managers of the groups knew that I was playing this stuff, so I would actually get a CDR copy sometimes. What was really nice about it all was that I was the only deejay on the station that was allowed to program his own show. While the rest of them were following a regular playlist of I guess the Top-40, I would come on at 10 pm, and I was playing all of this cool stuff from overseas that nobody had heard. We were breaking records, like, nightly.

Then I moved into producing some tracks myself, starting around 1992 or 1993. I'd do just a few tracks a year. It just kept growing. Now we do more and more and more. Most of our stuff I do for overseas. Plus we have now a bunch of really good writers and vocalists that we put on projects, and we also got into managing a bunch of acts.

What does it mean that you do stuff for overseas? Do you do one-song projects for the dance market? Are you putting together artist projects?

Over in Europe and the U.K., they really are not totally interested in artist projects at the beginning. Over there, they still have a very vibrant singles market and they can sell a ton of singles, unlike America or Canada. A top selling single over in those areas can sell well over a million singles. Whereas, we know a top-selling single over here will do nowhere near those numbers. You can get by with just doing a single project for over there, with various remixes, which is released on vinyl, and then on CD-5—or CD single, as we call it. If it's a hit, then the label will always come back and ask for a follow-up single, which we'll do. If you get a second hit out of that artist, often they will ask for an album. But again, it's really not a necessary thing, because they can make enough selling singles. Compilations over there are a massive part of the business too. If you have a top single, you can sell a lot on vinyl or CD singles, and then they just comp the hell out of it.

How are the singles marketed? Is it totally a club phenomenon, or is there some radio involved?

There is a lot of radio involved. They normally try to start them in the clubs, just build up the hype. Then they're taken to radio. If you start to get a little bit of a radio hit, even if it's only a single, often they will shoot a video for that particular single just to help break it in Europe. I think that a lot of times we in the U.S. and Canada forget how large that market is over there. Basically, the audience over in the U.K. and Europe is actually much larger than the North American audience.

Is there a difference from country to country in terms of what they listen to?

Absolutely. For example, in the U.K. they like their house music very smooth. They like what we call "disco house," which is just like a filtered disco or a house beat that has got a little bit of disco happening behind it. Also over there is what we call "two-step," which is very big. One of the artists that broke over here in America that has got a bit of a two-step feel is Craig David. It doesn't go all the way, but actually the hit that broke him as an artist was done with a fellow by the name of Artful Dodger. Craig was the featured vocalist on a track called "Rewind." It was a massive hit over in the U.K., and that was a total two-step track. That's what brought him the attention as an artist. Then you start to move into Germany. Germany likes it either two ways. They like a little bit more pop in their project. I sometimes even say that they like a little bit of cheese. Or they also like it with what they call the German techno. To me, it's just a four-on-the-floor dance beat that is a little harder than the older dance style. It's very uptempo. Germany loves that. Those are the two major markets over there, so they are the two I always try to look after first. Then we do remixes for the other markets—what I call the secondary markets.

You mentioned that you have writers on staff. How many writers do you have?

I've got about 15 writers that I can call on for any project, whether it be pop, pop/R&B, dance, dance/pop, house... Most of them only write lyrics and melody. For most of the projects that we get involved in, we'll get a bare track of music that needs three elements. It needs lyrics and melody written for it. Then it needs a vocal. Then it gets sent back to the producer who basically finishes off the project.

So you create the beats and the basic track. Do you do that personally, or do you have producers that do that for you or with you?

On my own productions, I do them. But on some of the other projects that we get in, there are collaborations. Collaboration is very big overseas. Everybody collaborates with each other. There are some brilliant producers over there that are just tremendous at writing music. But they don't know how to write lyrics and melody, and/or they don't have vocalists to complete the project. That's where a lot of times I come in. They will call and say that they have this great music piece, but they need vocals on there. They'll send over the bare track, and then I'll try to find who I think is the best girl, or guy—although it's 90-percent female—to put a vocal on that track for them.

How do you find the writers and singers that you work with?

Good question. Basically they find me, for the most part. A lot of it is word of mouth, just people who know other people and they say, "I think you need to give Joe a call." Vocalists are the same way. I know a lot of them from the old days of dance who are still singing on projects. New ones just find me, or I hear about them, or someone will say, "I saw this girl the other day, and she sounds absolutely amazing, and she's not doing anything." I'll say, "Get me her info. I want to hear what she sounds like. I want to see what she looks like." Even though we all like to say that looks aren't important, they areimportant in this business. Even in dance music. You can get away with it a little bit on the house projects, but on the dance that is going to be in the clubs playing towards teens and people in their early 20's, the image and the look are still very important. I'm always on the lookout for top vocalists all over the world constantly. Sometimes someone will just send me a package and say, "Have a listen to my voice." It can come from various areas.

When you're talking about licensing a record overseas, do record companies go strictly on the sound of the record, or do they like to see if the record has some sort of a buzz going already?

They don't need a buzz. Over there, the A&R guys can hear a hit the second they hear it. That's a difference between the North American market and the overseas market that I really enjoy. Over here, the A&R people are very slow to react to things. Over there, I can just send a record over to the right A&R person. After my years of dealing with them, I know who will sign what type of record. I know what their ears are like. I always try to tailor what I send to the person. I send it to who I know is going to be interested. When they hear a record in Europe, that's it. Either they want it, or they don't want it. Hype doesn't mean anything to them, especially over in Germany where I think they have the smartest A&R guys in the world. They'll hear a track, and then they'll pick up the phone and say, "We want to license this record." That's all there is to it.

How is a licensing deal like that structured, in broad strokes?

With licensing—and this is just to put it in its simplistic form—basically, you're not signing a record deal. You're not signing an artist. You are basically renting them a piece of music for an agreed upon amount of time. Most of the deals that come from overseas are licensed for three or five years. The odd one can be longer, but that's very rare. You're licensing a track that they can release, and they can put on compilations. They can do pretty much whatever they want with it in their given territory—which is always part of the contract as well—for that stated period of time. At the end of that time, you now re-own that track. If that original label wants to come back five years later and use it on a compilation again, they have to re-license that track from you. Licensing is very cool.

If a track does start working, then a label might start talking to you about doing more songs with the artist?

All of the deals are usually structured this way: They take the first one, then they have an option for a second single. Sometimes there is an option for a third single, and an option for an album. If the first one turns into a hit, you send them over the second one. That's exactly what it is, an option. If they take it, then the next option kicks in. Sometimes the label will hear the second one and they'll think, this track isn't for us. Now you're free to take that second track to any other label. You can take it to their competitor across the road and license it to them. So often if you look overseas, you will sometimes see a first single by an artist on one label, and the second single on a different label. All that means is that the first label didn't pick up the option on the second single for whatever reason.

If it starts to blow up, then the artist will have to go over and start making personal appearances and press. Is that a factor from the beginning?

It's not necessary at the beginning, but once it starts to build, than yes, they want you over there to do some P.A.s, to do some promotion, possibly a video if they think it's going to be a big enough record. And of course they want you to get out and perform in the clubs. If people see you and they hear the song, the line of thinking is, now those people are going to go out and buy your product. So absolutely, if it's a hit, you have to be prepared at some point that you're going to have to go over there. You'll possibly spend a few months touring and building it into a bigger hit.

How does one develop a career as a remixer or a deejay? How do you start? As a remixer, how do you get access to tracks to remix?

It's very difficult. Basically, you've got to start at the bottom. Or it's who you know. It's that simple. No guy starting out is going to get the top artists' tracks. It's just not going to happen. I mean I'm fortunate that I have access to some of the largest artists, especially overseas. We're often offered the remixes to do. At the beginning of your career, you're going to end up doing tracks for practically nothing until you get your name out there and start to build up your name. It's better actually to start producing your own tracks. If you have a hit, now you have a name, and the other name acts will want you to produce or to remix for them.

Try to collaborate also, which is great to do. That's a good thing about the dance industry, although it hasn't taken effect over here yet. I find that on the American side, everyone tries to stay to themselves for the most part. Overseas, there is a lot of collaboration. They'll bring in remixers and writers from other projects. Sometimes there are vocalists that are on three, four, or five projects at the same time. Sometimes they may not be using their name on every project, but this is what I mean by collaboration—it's always looking for the best talent out there and what will make your record a hit.

What do you look for in new talent? What is it that you listen for that gets your attention?

If it's a vocal track, the first thing I'm listening for is the vocalist on the track. If it's an instrumental track, I'm looking for top quality production. To compete overseas, the production has to just be absolutely brilliant and amazing. Also I look for somebody who has their own sound. I don't want them to sound like somebody else, which is important to me. I want someone who can be a little bit original. To me, those are the important qualities.

With vocalists, especially in dance and house, I'm always looking for that diva sound, like a Martha Wash or Jocelyn Brown. Tremendous voices on these two women. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of these kinds of singers coming up over here on this side of the ocean. At least not that I'm finding. They are all being developed overseas.

What about remakes, or covers, of older songs? Is there much call for that in dance music?

Yes, that is another thing that is very, very big overseas. They like covers of classics. Actually, they don't even have to be covers of classics. They love covers, period. So sometimes when I say be original, that's sometimes difficult. But you can make an old record sound original. For example, we just did a remake with George Duke on his classic hit "Brazilian Love Affair." Now we redid this song in such a way that it has given a whole new sound to the record, a whole new life to it. It doesn't sound like the original, but yet George is on there. He delivered just a tremendous performance. The nicest thing was when George called me and said, "Joe I love this record. What you guys did to this is amazing. It's different, but yet you kept the feel and the integrity of the song."

Another one we just did for Europe is a dance cover of the Eminem song "Without Me," which isn't even a classic yet. It's basically a hip-hop rap song, and we did it very, very uptempo. We didn't use Eminem's vocals on there of course, because the price to clear a sample would be out of this world. We were fortunate that we had a vocalist who sounded very much like Eminem. He could do the same type of delivery and could do the same type of rap. So we built that into a whole new dance track that again gives the song a whole different feel that can be played in clubs.

Did you use his tracks or start from scratch?

We started from scratch. We did it as a cover, but as a dance house cover. The only element that we really used from his original music is what I call that cheesy little sax sound. Other than that, we did all new beats, all new music underneath it, and of course at a much higher tempo. I believe we did it at 136 bpm, where the original is only about 95 bpm. We're wrapping it up right now, doing the final couple of mixes. Already we have a tremendous amount of interest in the track from Europe. Overseas, those tracks sell well. We have a hit going on overseas right now with "Billie Jean." Massive. I'm just about to embark on a few other old club songs from the '80s. These were all massive hits originally overseas where they all sold millions of records. But you have to remember, overseas there is a whole new generation who has never heard these records. They were only 9, or 10, or 11 when these records came out. They weren't in the clubs, so they don't know these records.

What advice would you give to an aspiring dance producer or remixer?

Keep on producing. Try to keep your sound original. Come up with high quality songs and productions.

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