AMIR WINDOM: On Music, Life and Success vs. Significance
At the youthful age of 28, GRAMMY Award winning music executive Amir Windom has experienced unprecedented career success.
Windom’s creative genius on Trey Songz, Kanye West, T.I. Lupe Fiasco and B.o.B’s albums always yield impressive results. He has also developed marketing campaigns for renown brands such as Adidas and Kodak.
AimerAmour speaks with Windom about his ‘Significance vs. Success” motto; how artists can better prepare themselves for the music industry and we learn how he’s helped to build global brands in his 20s!
AimerAmour: You frequently say, “Be more than successful, be significant”, can you explain your definition of success versus significance?
Amir Windom: One day I was on a plane, I was in my early days and I was trying to figure out what I was going to do to be unique. What’s going to be my legacy? What was I doing differently that others weren’t doing? What am I bringing to this industry that doesn’t already exist? And it just hit me; I want to be more than successful, I want to be SIGNIFICANT.
I want to leave a legacy that matters; I want to leave a legacy that my family can be proud of. The success part is winning GRAMMY’s, having platinum plaques, ‘money, cars, clothes, the h**’s, I suppose’ (laughs). Significance is when you improve the lives of others around you. That’s how a legacy is built beyond the money and success of someone’s career. Those who have truly done things to enhance the lives of others are those who really go down in history as the most memorable. That’s how I differentiate success from significance.
AA: How do you create marketing strategies to get fans to buy music when they can just get it for free?
AW: If I wanted to fly to LA right now, I can’t just go online and get a free flight. You can maybe buy 10 flights and then get one free. There are often buy one get one free sales at grocery stores. But the music business is very different. The music business is the only industry where if there’s an album or song that you want, there are tons of file sharing sites where you can get it for the “free 99.” And because of this, it’s hard to think sales will just jump back up, if we don’t change the mind set of consumers.
In our parents’ generation, people took pride in the buying process. When you had company over and they would look at all of the music you owned, they would say ‘damn, your record collection is tight!’. It was like having 1st place trophies on the wall. Previous generations would shine their records like they were brand new leather shoes. I’m trying to get that same since of pride back when it comes to buying and marketing in the music industry.
We have to get people to change their mindset from ‘GIVE US FREE’ to more so “GOBO”. “GOBO” is something I created which stands for “Get One Buy One”. You have to give away free music because that’s what consumers are used to, but I also think we have to start marketing to them that if you like what you hear, buy it as you would buy food or shoes that you like. I’m working with several record industry organizations so that we can put more marketing communication out to the public that simply encourages that consumer buying model.
So many people say ‘I love music, it’s my life! I wake up to it everyday! However, these are the same mofo’s who aren’t supporting their favorite artist in the slightest. They aren’t spending any money on the thing they say they love. And we know that when you love something, you invest time, energy and resources into it. We’re trying to get people back to investing into music, artists and into the creative arts as a whole. It’s basic strategic marketing.
AA: Is there anything in your career that you would have done differently?
AW: Life is about not letting your past spoil your future. My advice for up and coming artists and anyone who wants to be in the entertainment business, you have to understand that it’s a marathon; It’s absolutely not a sprint. It’s the 10,000 meter race where people normally go get snacks because it seems like it just keeps going and going; that’s the record business. A lot of people want to jump in and be the star sprinter in the 100 and 200 meter race but the industry legends are excellent distant runners. So stock up on the Gatorade, Red Bull and Nike’s.
I also believe you have to be in the mindset that there is no set course on how to succeed. If you wanted to be a doctor, you know you have to major in bio pre-med in undergrad, go to med school, do a residency and there’s a good chance you’ll end up a doctor. In the music business… there’s no set course/path that will guarantee success. I don’t think people understand that. So many people come up to me and say they’ve put out ten mixtapes and no label has signed them yet.
You have to have a passion and a love for this business because you’re going to get a lot of disappointments. You should have the mindset of, ‘No success is attained without struggle’. You’re going to have to struggle, which in my opinion is not only a part of the game, but a part of life.
AA: You’ve said that as an A&R, you’re only looking for ‘GRAMMY Award winning talent’. So many up and coming artists say they’re “hustling” and “grinding” but it isn’t yielding results. What are they doing wrong and what should they be doing to place themselves in a better position to get signed?
AW: This industry is a lot about timing and luck. Sometimes it’s not that anyone doesn’t have talent or their doing anything “wrong”, but a lot of artists are only preparing themselves for the entry level of this business. They’ll have one or two songs played on the radio, get famous for a little while…pop bottles, meet models and within two years, their moment of fame has disappeared. A lot of aspiring artists aren’t preparing themselves to have longevity. And that’s where the problem lies. Did they really do all of that alleged “hustling” and “grinding” for years, just to get “in” and be famous for a hot second, then be irrelevant?
One of the biggest “mistakes” an artist can make is simply lack of preparation. They need to take more time to learn the industry. How can you dominate a business if you don’t truly understand it? How could you want to be an artist but you have no concept of publishing and royalties and how you’re supposed to get paid?
You also have to learn how to differentiate a hobby from a career. I look at the music business like professional sports. People in that industry have God given, undeniable talent. They came out of the womb ready to shoot a basketball then they fined tuned an enhanced their God given talents. Professional athletes have a gift. I can’t just jump into the NFL because I’m fast and strong. You have to have some skill level and a relentless work ethic to compliment it.
Some people think work ethic is ‘I stay up all night’. Skill level is about working hard, but it’s also about being intelligent and knowing the business. You might stay up all night and make music, but who are you going to market it to? How are you going to develop your fan base? Who do you know? What have you done to develop your contacts and your network?
What have you done outside of just making music? I think that’s where a lot of artists fall short, they think the talent is just going to speak for itself, but, it doesn’t work like that. Talk doesn’t always get you the success you desire. It isn’t all about talent all the time. Sometimes it’s about your ability to effectively communicate. How are you reaching your fans and making people like you as a person, not just an artist? It’s easy to sit in a studio and talk to a mic all night, but is it as easy for you to go out and talk to random strangers that you want to buy your music? Nowadays, consumers support artists not only based on their music, but the person behind the music.
AA: What artists and/or producers that have built their brand outside of music would you advise aspiring artists to study?
AW: Pharrell Williams has always been the person in this industry that I’ve admired the most. He truly has a lot of God given ability; he’s an extreme visionary with his music and his creativity. He approached the music industry from a different standpoint. He didn’t want to be known as just a hip-hop producer. He’s created so much diverse music for so many people in various genres. And of course he started one of my favorite bands of all time, N.E.R.D. Pharrell has helped advance the music careers of so many others… He’s found a way to keeps his hands everywhere, but in a neutral standpoint where he can never be classified.
Mos Def is another person who’s God given talent was music, but also knew he had a lot of other gifts. And he didn’t just jump into it, he went to acting classes and studied other people he admired to see what’s making them great. He and Pharrell are so versatile to the point where you can’t put them in a box, they’re just entertainers.
AA: How does your work as a Music Supervisor for feature films differ from your work as a record executive?
AW: Being a music supervisor is a bit more challenging than the record business because you have to have an imagination like a kid and a vast musical library of ALL GENRES, programmed in your head. The first step is to read the script to truly understand the essence of the movie as well as visualize the scenes. From there, I get the blank scenes with no sound or music behind it. I looked to see what happened before the scene and what’s going to happen next. The music has to compliment both.
Then, I have to figure out if there is a song that already exists that can truly fit this scene. It’s not like I can go into the computer and type ‘emotional R&B song’ and think the perfect track is going to pop up. This is where having that mental musical library comes in handy. You have to see things in that scene that brings out particular sounds or song trigger points. For example: If I’m working on a scene where it’s about to get to a very climatic point, I’m thinking about songs that have high chimes, cellos or dramatic transitions. My initial thoughts are the instrumentation. Once you figure that out, you can start thinking about what songs may have the lyrical content to compliment the scene. Keep in mind, this is if a song already exists that can fit. If not, you have to create it from scratch. You have to develop the song concept and musical direction first, before you bring in composers. Then you have to have contacts that you know can deliver the type of track you need. From a production standpoint: vocalists, writers, instrumentalists, choirs, score directors, symphony orchestras, etc. It’s definitely a fun challenge for me every time.
AA: You’re a proven tastemaker within your field. You have GRAMMY’s, platinum plaques as well as extensive experience in the music and movie industry; what do you have left to accomplish?
AW: I’ve been blessed to see a lot of amazing things and work with a lot of amazing people in my short 28 years of life, but I’m never content. Sometimes I ask myself if I’m over doing it. I’m always trying to figure out how I can be more than successful, but significant. I’m looking at more ways to reach the world and work on global projects. I’m continuing to expand my music supervision skills. I’m always looking for new talent, not just in the music world. I think most industry people will tell you, we have extreme ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and it’s hard for us to just focus on one thing. But the ADD causes me to be ambitious and get to the next levels of my personal and professional life, so I guess it isn’t such a bad thing!