When Emoni Matthews first spoke to Rostrum Records founder Benjy Grinberg she saw a gap in the market. With Hip Hop, R&B and Soul traditionally being under-served genres in the sync community, she set about creating a high quality production music library for the label. We recently sat down with Emoni to discuss the process of building up a high quality library from scratch, and working with some of the best production teams around the world.
Hi Emoni! Can you tell us how you first got involved with Rostrum Records and how the idea for the Drip Library came about?
I met Earl Johnson (former A&R/ Head of Music Promotions at Rostrum) and Rostrum founder Benjy Grinberg and they were thinking about putting some of their catalogue into a production library. I was working at Extreme at the time, and that was one of their options. Benjy spoke to me about his goals and I explained that he didn’t need a third party – they already had the resources and I had the connections, so it was an easy marriage. He trusted me to start the library and to spearhead the whole thing, and we’re really beginning to see the work pay off.
You mentioned before that Hip Hop, R&B and Soul are traditionally under-served genres in the sync community, and that production music in those genres are really just catching up in terms of quality.
Yeah, people are really starting to pay attention to it. When you start not being able to fulfil your sync requests, you realize that you need to do something about it. Hip hop used to be really difficult to pitch because people thought it was going to be really hard to clear. There also didn’t seem to be much of a vetting process – pretty much anything would get thrown into libraries.
“With Drip I wanted to fill all of the holes that I saw at other libraries, and make sure that we became the go-to source for hip hop production music.”
With Drip I’ve been very particular about the quality of the production, the topics being discussed, the words being used. I’m very particular about how much slow music we have, how much fast music we have, how much music we have from female artists, because that’s another huge hole in the industry. Some people really get to the particulars and want music that’s created by female producers, for example. With Drip I wanted to fill all of the holes that I saw at other libraries, and make sure that we became the go-to source for hip hop production music.
Can you tell us about the process of building the library from scratch? Were the artists and producers already affiliated with Rostrum?
The artists weren’t really affiliated with Rostrum beforehand – Drip Library is its own entity with a whole new camp of artists and producers. I did most of the A&R work for the library, which involved reaching out to people that I’ve met throughout my years in the industry, as well as people who were recommended to me, and selling them on my vision.
These were not people that were new to sync, they were just new to the process I was giving them and the level of creative control I was giving them. I wanted the music to be authentic and so we gave the producers and artists complete control. If they needed more time because they wanted to use real instruments, we gave them more time. We wanted to be able to compete with the best.
What were the biggest challenges involved?
Timing was definitely a challenging factor because we recorded all of the music (300 songs) in six weeks. I swear we hit a world record or something! These were full production tracks with vocals that were mixed and mastered in six weeks, so it was a little intense – it was like boot camp. We didn’t really come into too many challenges though as everything was laid out beforehand and everyone was familiar with the process of production music and the contracts involved. The biggest challenge was probably choosing a platform to work with and then Synchtank came along and it felt so familiar to me. So that just made everything easier.
Can you talk us through some of the production teams and artists in the Drip Library?
Yeah, they’re all great. I’ve known The Commonwealth Music Group for about six years now. I started a label in college and one of the owners of The Commonwealth was my production director. I think it’s amazing that we’ve become each other’s networks and that this opportunity to work with him came up. He’s worked with Snoop Dogg, Kid Ink, Zaytoven and a bunch of great people so I already knew the quality was there.
The Homeroom were recommended to me by friends. One of the groups I originally planned to work with had to go on tour, so they basically came in to save the library and do all of the 90s music. It was super fun. They’re a group of about 8 producers, 6 writers and 5 vocalists, both male and female, and it was like a factory. In one room we’d have two producers and two writers, then we’d have the same in the next two rooms and in the studio downstairs we’d be recording the finished songs. It was like a huge writing camp!
I met Johnny Thomas Jr earlier this year and he’s super good. He’s worked with Ray J and Molly Music and Lupe Fiasco, and he also introduced me to Oxford Park who are a part of his other writing team. Most of them are really big in the gospel arena, and I needed some gospel and Christmas music, so it fit perfectly. Another of our writers, Jhay C, lives in Australia and he gave me some amazing Latin Hip Hop and R&B. I remembered him from the Extreme catalogue because he did amazing work.
J Rhodes is my uncle – he’s worked with Rick Ross, Royce Da 5’9, The Game – so he was there for whatever I needed. And then Krunkadelic has done so much stuff from Temperature by Sean Paul to Ludacris and Nelly Furtado. I met him at a writing camp J Rhodes hosted when I first moved to LA, and he’s just an amazing, super honest guy. I’ve known Darryl Swann for about 8 years now, he’s my mentor. He won a Grammy for Macy Gray’s first album, he’s worked with Erykah Badu and Babyface, and I just knew he could kill my Neo Soul. Aydin I had met previously in his studio and he played me the theme song for The Quad before they had used it. That stuck in my head so I called him up and said, “Remember the track you did for The Quad? I need about 20 more tracks like that”. So it all just worked out.
I’m still working with these artists and producers now that the first huge batch is over. We’re doing one offs and throwing them in the studio and seeing what happens. Krunkadelic has been in the studio with some of our Australian writers, so now I’m mixing my teams up. It’s like playing matchmaker. The music is coming out so good and they bring different nuances because they’re from different places, so it’s a great little mash up.
You’ve got this great combination of amazing quality and one-stop clearance.
Clearing hip hop can definitely be a headache, so this type of library is definitely needed. I also wanted to make sure that it was customised to my client’s needs. I always had my clients in mind as well as culture. I wanted it to be authentic and the music is really good. I listen to it on a daily basis, and not just because I’m pitching it!
Artist development is really at the core of what Rostrum does. How does sync play a part in that?
I think Rostrum is a jewel because of their approach to artist development. Another reason they brought me onto the team was because they felt like sync was the last piece of the puzzle for their artists. It’s a great way to promote them. Rostrum has some amazing artists, from Taliwhoah to Innanet James, Caleb Brown and Lambo Anlo. A lot of their music is great for sync and I think they hired me to hear that – to hear where it needs to be pitched instead of just blindly throwing it at people. I’ve really just been narrowing down their back catalogue as well as their new releases and pinpointing who needs to hear this music, according to what clients typically want.
And of course there’s the huge Rostrum artists like Wiz Khalifa.
Yeah that makes some things a lot easier – you don’t really have to sell those names!
Where are you seeing the opportunities for urban music in sync?
Right now I’m seeing opportunities everywhere. Trailers love hip hop – trailerized hip hop music is a thing now. Most of the popular tv shows like This is Us or Insecure love urban music. Ads right now are into urban music. Sports is heavy in hip hop. Right now it’s football season so those are the requests I’ve been getting. And then video games are a no brainer. Hip hop and rap and R&B really give you an upbeat feel.
“It’s no longer do we need urban music? We all need urban music, so are we going to use the same library or something different? And that’s really how I’m talking to my clients – I’m something different.”
It’s no longer do we need urban music? We all need urban music, so are we going to use the same library or something different? And that’s really how I’m talking to my clients – I’m something different. You don’t hear this stuff everywhere you turn. They appreciate that, especially when they’re trying to be more creative with their sync choices. Hip hop is so universal now. It’s the soundtrack to our lives so there’s no reason to shy away from it in the sync world.
It is often argued that artists don’t need labels anymore. What does signing with a label like Rostrum bring to the table?
Rostrum is an independent label so they are more artist friendly than most. I still really think that you need a team. Even independent artists who only have distribution deals need to be able to delegate and breathe a bit. You can’t do everything yourself. I love people wanting to be independent and entrepreneurial, but labels like Rostrum really show that you can do some great things with the right people around you. And you have to have persistent patience – I was taught that by one of my mentors. Get your music out there but be patient enough to know that when it’s time it’s time. I think this summer/fall has been Rostrum’s time. We’ve been making a lot of strides towards great things and we’re excited to watch our artist’s careers blossom. If someone is excited for you it makes you work way harder.
Taking time and being patient is so important.
Absolutely. For example, Innanet James’ first release was really good because Rostrum spent enough time with him to figure out his vision and then guide him towards the bigger picture. They allowed him to showcase his true artistry. Sometimes when you’re doing it alone you kind of get lost. It’s healthy to have a team around you.
Have you had any recent sync highlights?
There’s a workout app called Victorious that loves us right now, they’ve synced about 20 songs from us. My main focus at the moment is really working with my clients to figure out what they need and then going into production and getting that for them. Sync is always a fishing situation – you put your reel out there and you see what bites. Right now our focus is client relations and making sure people know who we are and getting them familiar with the music that we have.
What are your plans for future of the Drip Library?
Our goal is to get every facet of urban music into the library. So we’ll jump into jazz, and we’ll jump into blues and 50s and 60s and so on. We’re working with people who see the vision, and that’s really the goal, especially when you’re growing. Nothing’s out of reach.
Check out the Drip Library catalogue now!
Awesome article, Emma! This new frontier is in good hands with that creative visionary, Emoni Matthews! Rostrum Records scored big time with her! True pioneers, leading the way on this exciting & “very necessary” music front! I was glad to be a part of Grammy Award winning producer, Darryl Swann’s team! Thanks guys for lettin’ A brutha’ roll! #represent