Back in June, Danish artist Erika de Casier signed a record deal with British independent record label 4AD. In connection to this, MXD did an interview with Briana Cheng, founder of b4 and A&R at 4AD in New York, regarding the processes of signing Erika de Casier as well as guesting SPOT Festival in 2019.
Can you tell us a bit about your role at b4 and 4AD?
“Well, I was doing A&R at another label called Downtown Records, when I got invited to go to SPOT as well. But towards the end of my time there, I frequently met with Simon Halliday, who runs 4AD. I was expressing to him that I needed to do something different and that I wanted to work with acts on a shorter-term level and develop their story with them, as opposed to how Downtown Records operated. At that time, Downtown Records functioned very much like a major label, and all the acts that you were able to sign had to have an existing fanbase, and their numbers needed to be “streaming already””
“I think it started with a conversation where Simon was expressing wanting to appeal more to the youth market,” Briana explains and continues: “Simon and I have known each other for years, and he is kind of my mentor, so I basically just suggested: …Why don’t you give me a label… I’ll do A&R for you on 4AD, but you let me have b4 to cater to the youth market.”
Briana illuminates how b4 was her solution to working with acts and investing in a younger generation of artists, without feeling like everybody needed to be profitable, and elaborates: “b4 could be viewed as the stepping stone for an artist career, and I want the artists to succeed beyond just working with me – that could be 4AD, it could be any other indie label or a major, as long as they continue their career afterwards.”
You mentioned that you went to SPOT when working at Downtown Records. What was the reason for you to come back last year?
“I think Lisa Marxen (Project Manager, MXD) saw the potential in inviting me again!”.
Briana explains, that her new position at b4 and 4AD gave her significantly more leverage and freedom in signing new artists, and continues “When Lisa heard that, I think she saw the opportunity for me to actually work with artists at a very early level and the benefit of having me come again. But also, I was telling her that I was talking to Erika de Casier already.”
So, what was your first encounter with Erika de Casier and her music?
“I got in touch with Ketill Myrstrand, Erika de Casier’s Manager of Erika de Casier, last spring, after what I think might have been the British magazine i-D writing about her single. He sent me the album Essentials and I was like ‘oh my God, this is amazing. I would love to put it out on b4’. At the time, I think they wanted it out really soon, but I hadn’t worked on projects of that length before, and we only just started doing EPs on b4 plus 4AD had an album campaign every week… so last year was really busy,” Briana describes and adds: “for a while, I kept thinking, she was ‘the one that got away’ before the 4AD deal happened.”
What was it about her music that caught your attention?
“Well, someone at 4AD in the UK said, ‘she’s going to be the next Sade’, and ever since he said that I haven’t been able to get that out of my head. But I think, it’s the fact that it is so memorable, and her lyrics are so relatable. It wasn’t until recently when I read an interview, she had done with Crack Magazine, that I realized she’s heavily influenced by early 2000 and 90s R&B. I grew up listening to that, and I think sonically I was attracted to the modern version of that. Also, I love that she can produce on her own.”
Generally, how important is it for you to experience the artist live before signing them?
“I think, specifically after seeing Erika live SPOT, I knew, that she was ready for the support of a full-on international label.”
Briana elaborates furthermore how it’s also all about your own intuition: “If everything feels good, why not go into this partnership together. I guess, especially during these times, where you can’t actually take a meeting with people anymore, and because the deals are more short-termed, I’m at a point where I can easily sign someone for a single, without having to meet them.”
We, at MXD, see how the visual presence in the digital sphere (YouTube, SoMe, etc) is more important than ever. How great of an emphasis does a label like 4ad and b4 place on an artist having an online impact?
“Well, I love the music videos that Erika has been making, and I appreciate how important it was for her and her team to retain a lot of freedom in relation to her visual output. To everyone else, like my lawyers, it seemed like lot to commit to so early on in the process, but to me, because I was so familiar with her music videos from YouTube and how she works on them herself, I knew, that whatever she wanted, she would be fully capable of executing her creative visions on a level that is authentically her,” Briana explains, and indicates, how the already released music videos by Erika de Casier definitely impacted how she views Erika as an artist. “She wants to do everything on her own; the music, the visuals, and the pictures and everything – and that is very inspiring to me.”
Did you see any other shows last year at SPOT that particularly excited or inspired you?
“Everyone was really excited by LISS and I fell in love with Josephin Bovien”
Do you have any pieces of advice when contacting A&Rs at music and showcase festivals?
“I guess it varies. Sometimes I do panels for music festivals, and my advice always is to just make it as brief as you can – get straight to the point – and make sure to have all the links there. I think if people are asking for advice in the music industry rather than just pitching you their act it feels genuine and really sweet. But also, just doing your research and knowing who it is that you want to speak to, so you’re not wasting anyone’s time is good. Yeah, so be genuine and straightforward.”