In the latest part of our series talking to up-and-coming bosses, get a moment or, more often than not, both, we speak to Carl Samuel, head of A&R at Columbia Records UK and manager of up-and-coming Brighton rapper ArrDee…
Carl Samuel may be just starting to disrupt the charts in his role as Senior A&R Manager at Columbia UK, but he’s been popular as an executive for a number of years and in a previous life influenced as an artist more than a. a decade ago.
He explains, “I was the first MC to make a funky house song. I did an album with Katy B called tell me it was one of the first British funky songs to really, really get big.
“I was also part of the Crazy Cousins group, with Flukes and Kyla. They did do you mind swear go away [Do You Mind was later heavily sampled by Drake for his 2016 hit, One Dance]. It was the summer of 2007 – 15 years ago, wow, that’s fucking wild…”
He then took it up another level with the release on Funky Anthem (The video, shot in Ayia Napa, featured Skepta, Tinie Tempah and other big British rappers of the time.)
“I came home to England, gave everyone the song; nobody cared. I skipped the video; everything changed. The whole funky house scene blew up even more. I was getting bookings up and down the country for two or three years.”
It was then, however, that he decided to step off the stage, away from the spotlight and instead build a career behind the scenes, first as an executive, then as a label A&R (and still managing key client, ArrDee).
Samuel’s first Columbia signing, Liverpool rapper Hazey, reached No. 11 with their first single, Packages and drinks. ArrDee, meanwhile, has already gone Platinum and played on the platform.
His manager confidently predicts that he will be a festival headliner next year and then go global the following year.
And if you think that’s ambitious, wait until you hear Samuel’s plans for his own career…
Why did you stop MC’ing and go into the management side of things and eventually the A&R arena?
Because I got tired of my own voice partner, to be honest [laughs]. Garage and funky house use the same lyrics over and over again. The people don’t want to hear anything new, they want to hear what they know. There’s only so far one could ever go, I wanted to get to the next level.
What was your first step?
I started managing AJ & Deno, who I had seen on Instagram. Their first song did quite well and then their second song, Londonreally exploded, it ended up going Platinum.
I then found EO. I saw his song German, German, German on YouTube, caught up with him and said we’re going to make this a proper album. We went to Columbia, Ferdy [Unger-Hamilton] signed it, bang, Platinum song again.
Amelia Monét started going out with EO, I did a song with her called The worst – who was also signed to Columbia. I thought, ok, every day is fine now.
Then Covid hit. what do i do There are no shows, no money – but there is studio time. I thought, you know what, I need a rapper, a British rapper.
I got a little studio in Woolwich and I got an engineer in, a guy from Crawley. He begins saying, “I know this sick rapper from Brighton, this guy called ArrDee (pictured), honestly he’s sick. I’m like, “Whatever bruv, whatever.” But then I saw him on Bl@ckbox, and guess what, he was very, very sick. I got him in the studio and that was it mate… [laughs].
What was your first impression when ArrDee came to the studio?
I thought he was very talented, but would the UK take this deep talent to rap? I told him he had to be a little cheeky and do some practice. Going in that direction changed his life and mine.
How soon did you become his manager?
Within a week of meeting him. It’s been a year and a half, he’s had two platinum albums – Flowers swear Oliver Twist – as well as what he is on [Russ Williams and Tion Wayne’s] Body. He has played Wembley Stadium, O2 Arena…
How did you get ArrDee signed to Island Records?
Every label wanted to sign ArrDee. I knew Sam Adebayo from the scene, from German, German, German days, and he – and Island – made the best offer, it’s that simple.
How is it working out there?
It’s all good, because he’s actually got three A&Rs now, three people looking after him, guiding his career.
What’s next for ArrDee?
Next year ArrDee is going to be headlining UK festivals, and in two or three years he’ll be a global superstar, 100 percent.
How did you end up at Columbia?
During Covid I spoke to Ferdy and I told him we should work together more. He agreed and offered me Senior A&R at Columbia. So I took it upon myself, but I immediately told him, “Ferdy, I’m not going to sign any acts that I think are OK; I’m going to sign acts that will blow up immediately.’
I saw Hazey (pictured) do Packages and drinks going viral. I knew we had to get him in the studio. We got him in and did the whole song properly. It was my first signature and it went to no. 11 on the list. I thought, you know what, this is good, this is very, very good.
When and how did you find Hazey and what made you want to make it your first purchase?
I first saw Hazey in February and I immediately thought he stood out as a star. He was from Liverpool, he was fresh. I want to sign artists who bring something new and different to the table. A lot of UK rappers are all ‘bad man, bad man’, but this was different.
Everybody wanted to sign him, but from the beginning he was like, Carl, I’m with you.
What is it about Colombia that made you want to join the team?
Columbia is Sony’s best label, led by one of the best businessmen in the business, Ferdy.
They have the best artists – Harry Styles, Adele, Calvin Harris; they are about career advancement. They are not about singles or songs, they are about building artists properly.
What makes a good A&R person today, what is the most important skill?
A good A&R person must know exactly what is happening on social media, it is so important now. And of course you must know a quality song. Not necessarily what you like, you have to know what the kids like.
How do you go about discovering talent?
Relationships are important, people are important, but it’s all about social media now. I can spend all day on my phone today and I will find someone worth following. That’s the game, really.
And is TikTok the main place to look?
It is now, yes, but I look everywhere. I watch YouTube, SoundCloud, everywhere. You can’t just watch TikTok, because everyone sees it. With the labels, if something is popping on TikTok, everyone has seen it and it’s a bidding war. It’s not A&R, is it?
I started managing ArrDee when he had 6,000 followers, he now has 1.1 million. I must know something! [laughs].
Once you’ve secured a signature, what’s the most important thing you can do for an artist afterwards?
What I tell young artists is, OK, you have a contract, but this is where the work begins. I also always tell them: don’t buy too much stuff and try to stay away from smoking weed. I’m serious!
I have managed and worked with many young artists, I have seen good times and bad times. I’ve definitely seen things go wrong too many times. And it’s always to do with weed, girls or their girlfriends telling them crazy things. Ignore all that.
How difficult is it to convey this message?
It’s hard. I was 28 when I signed my first contract and I made some of these mistakes. Imagine being 18 years old, with double the money – two hundred, three hundred thousand ISK. What are you going to do, go home and read a book? You’re not, are you? [laughs].
Have you got any recent signings that you can tell us about that maybe haven’t even released music or been announced yet?
I haven’t signed anything since Hazey, because nothing stands out. There are a lot of good rappers out there, a lot of good singers out there, but it takes more than that, you need to stand out, not just be saying the same old stuff, gang, gang, gang. I get it, but it gets boring.
Look at 6ix9ine. What made 6ix9ine stand out? That’s because he was a crazy guy with dyed hair. You couldn’t see him without wanting to know, who is this guy?
You have to make people push to share. If they’re not pushing share and they’re not talking about you, you’re screwed.
I’m not signing anyone just for the sake of it. I have to see more than just a good artist – and I have to see someone who is as hungry for it as I am.
What would you change about the business now, what issues do you think are not being addressed?
Too much TikTok, that’s the thing. I love TikTok, they support us a lot, but not everything can be built on TikTok. It is making people laaaazy. It’s more or less about having a meme and going online. A great idol
Have you had any mentors in your career so far?
To be honest with you, the only guidance I’ve had so far that has been really, really helpful has been from Ferdy. He was the one who showed [me] how to make career artists, how to think about 10 and 15 years, not about two or three years.
And Colin Basta, to be fair, because I’ve seen him go from managing artists, to being the main man at Universal’s distribution company, plus he’s got other things coming up. I would like his career! [laughs].
What is your ambition?
I plan to acquire the largest publishing and management company in the world, with Sony, in four to five years. That’s it. Remember I said this.
And within that, I will have a built-in consulting service for all my artists. I think every artist under 25 in the industry today needs some kind of advice.
What advice would you give to a young manager just starting out?
If you don’t have a heart, don’t even think about it. This industry is cutthroat and you have to be on top of it. You have to be like in it
and as committed as the best artists. If you’re half-hearted, if you just want to make a little money and bounce, you’re not going anywhere. Make sure you come prepared and be tough, because this industry is not a game.
This article originally appeared in the latest (Q3/4 2022) issue of MBW’s premium quarterly Music Business UK, out now.
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