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Music Exec LA Reid on Music, Jay Z, What Makes a Star, and More

ReidThis month, music exec LA Reid came out with his memoir Sing to Me: My Story of Making Music, Finding Magic, and Searching for Who's Next. If you're a music fan with any interest in how things work behind the scenes (and most of us are), you'll find this to be a fascinating read. Here's a list of some of the the artists L.A. Reid has worked with: Usher, TLC, Outkast, Sean "Puffy" Combs, Justin Bieber, Jay Z, Mariah Carey, Jennifer Lopez, Kanye, Pink, and Rihanna.

I had the chance to talk to L.A. Reid on the phone a few weeks ago. He's a star in his own right, charming and gracious, and while talking to him I gained even more insight into why he's so successful. Here's is a portion of our conversation:


Why did you decide to write the book now?

I decided to write the book because—it's funny, I was just talking about this—I was hopeful that maybe this story could provide some inspiration to people, to young people in particular. And the other reason is that I kind of like my story, if you want to know the truth, and I'd like to share my story while people might give a damn about the artists I worked with, rather than wait until I'm a hundred and they don't know the artists anymore--and they say "Who?" I wanted to write it in the time that these artists are relevant.

When did you know that you wanted to do what you do?

I knew I wanted to be a record executive when I read Clive Davis's first book. It was the coolest think in the world, and he had photos of himself at the Beverly Hills Hotel pool with Miles Davis, and another photo of himself with Sly Stone, and another photo of himself hugging Janice Joplin, and I was like "holy crap, this is the coolest job in the world." And I was eighteen years old, so it took me twenty years but that was always my goal.

What was it like when you first met Clive Davis?

I had already read the book, so I was already in awe of him. And you know what, I just really wanted to go into a room and figure out how I could copy him. He was model. He was an example. He was a blue print, someone I could study. And he was unquestionably one of the greats. I loved it.

You worked with Jay-Z as an executive but you also worked with him as a recording artist. How did one relationship affect the other?

I think it was all complimentary in every sense. He was probably a better executive than people who were only executives. He had a duality, because he was also an artist. And I think he was more prompt, and more serious, and more studied, and more effective as an executive than many, many executives. And as an artist, I think that he separated the two. He's one of the great poets, if not the greatest. He's one of the great poets of our life and time, and he didn't compromise one for the other.

In the book you have a story about what Pink taught you about artistry...

Pink was one of the early artists in my career to come in as one person and then morph into another character, one that she named "Pink." Watching it happen was educational in a lot of ways. It was inspirational, but it was also an education: like, oh my god, here's how is happens. And I thought to myself, even then, this must be what happened to Madonna. At some point she must have been this person… and then Madonna was born. And all the greats were like that—that's how I thought about it. And I also realized that it wasn't something you could coach an artist into. It was something that either happened or it didn't. I watched it happen with Pink and it was magical.

What is it that makes somebody a star?

I don't know what makes anybody a star. All I know is that some people just have this magnetism about them. And when they walk into a room, you look, and you're stuck, and you feel the air get sucked out of the room. I can't explain it, because it's not like you have this certain look and that makes you a star. Or you're so beautiful and that makes you a star. You could be beautiful and be boring. Or you could not be beautiful but be just a big character. There's no one thing--for me, it's just a feeling—it's a feeling I have when I'm in the presence of stars. And I love the feeling, by the way. I absolutely love it, and I live for it. I've experienced it at times that had nothing to do with business. And those are the times that really were the lessons. I remember the time I was in a room and Barrack Obama walked in to the room. And he was the senator from Illinois. And it was eleven o'clock at night and we had a conversation. And I knew the minute he walked into the room that, oh, my god, this guy is a star. Who is this? And shortly thereafter he was the President of the United States. But he was a star.

What's your proudest moment?

I can't say I have a proudest moment. I think I have proud moments often, honestly. Every time I hear my songs on the radio, that's a proud moment. Or every time somebody says, "You know, I used to listen to Babyface, and that's how our children were born," that's proud. I have so many, and I really mean that in the most humble way. Just having been involved with so much music, I have so many moments that I'm proud of.


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