November 6-7, NYC. GEMS is a pretty big conference for indie entertainment and media types for a reasonable price (about $100 in advance).
Here’s what they have to say about themselves:
- The Entertainment Business as we once knew of it, is over. Radio is hardly playing new music. The studios are releasing the same movie over and over again. Television is at the worst state it’s been in for years.
But for the independently thinking creative artist and industry, there’s an incredible opportunity.
As the major companies have consolidated and radio airwaves have become controlled by a few mega-conglomerates, there are still new and exciting opportunities for those who know how to take advantage of opportunities, and those who know how to create them.
GEMS was created to provide a forum for the exchange of views, ideas and contacts in the independent music, film, video and multimedia worlds of the entertainment and communications industries in a context of innovation, reinvention, and the creation of possibility for sustainable careers and a revolution in marketing and distribution.
Previous speakers, panelists and participants have included recognized leaders in media, humanitarianism, music, film and video.
Welcome to your future:
With an entire industry in transition, it has become an absolute necessity that the music industry reinvents itself in order to survive in the long run. The Summit will not only address these important issues, but provide its audience of music, film and media artists and industry with enlightenment and new opportunities to gain the access they need.,
By bringing together visionary leaders from the music, film and media worlds, it is our intention to provide a productive forum of ideas and new distribution concepts that when acted upon, can help the industry grow effectively. that helps to facilitate change for the industry.
The schedule is here
Heading up the “Producers on Artist Development” panel are my old pals Phil and Joe Nicolo, aka the Butcher Brothers. I interviewed and profiled them a few years ago:
Twins Joe and Phil Nicolo – aka the Butcher Brothers – have exec-produced, produced, mixed and/or engineered an astonishing array of music over the last 20 years. They are owners of Philadelphia’s Studio 4, and Joe is president and co-owner of the wildly successful Columbia imprint Ruffhouse. Between the two of them (separately or as the Butcher Brothers), they have produced the rap of Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E., Cash Money, The Goats, Hard Corps, Kris Kross, The Psycho Realm, Schoolly D, and Urban Dance Squad; the rock, modern rock and metal of Anthrax, Big Chief, Dandelion, Dishwalla, Fig Dish, Life of Agony, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Skypark, and Urge Overkill; and the everything-else of Goat, James Hall, Hamell On Trial, Billy Joel, Taj Mahal, and Wailing Souls!
The brothers Nicolo were born August 21, 1955 in Wayne, Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia. By the age of 7 they were fascinated with music (Beatles, Motown) and with the process of recording. As teens they built their own recording studio in their parent’s attic; and friends, neighbors and countrymen kept them busy recording. They attended Temple University and built another studio there, followed by yet another studio with partner Dave Johnson called Half Track when they graduated Temple in ‘77.
The brothers built Studio 4 downtown in ‘80, where many of Philly’s finest recorded – often with producer Rick Chertoff [see entry] – including the Hooters, Tommy Conway and the Young Rumblers, Robert Hazard, as well as D.J. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince.
Joe became “Joe the Butcher” around ‘82 when editing tape for the late producer Ray Monahan, who said: “You need a nickname. The way you chop up tape, let’s call you ‘Joe the Butcher.’” Joe said, “Perfect, because my father literally was ‘Joe the butcher.’” In fact, since Studio 4 moved to suburban Conshohocken in ‘94, it has been located across the street from what was Joe Sr.’s butcher shop for 35 years.
Joe and Schoolly D-manager Chris Schwartz started Ruffhouse Records in ‘86 to capitalize on the wealth of rap talent from the Philly area. In the late-’80s Joe produced, engineered or mixed (for other labels) Schoolly, the 7A3, Steady B, Blackmale, Roxanne Shante and many others, establishing his rap rep. After foundering under an onerous distribution deal with Enigma in ‘87 and ‘88, Ruffhouse came to fruition when distribution was switched to Columbia. The label’s first release was Cheba’s “The Piper” in ‘90, and their first hit was Tim Dog’s “Fuck Compton” (with Joe mixing) which topped the rap charts in ‘91 and fueled the East/West rap wars.
The label came into its own with the release of the first Cypress Hill album, a double-platinum slice of THC-soaked L.A. Latino rap, exec-produced and mixed by Joe. Ruffhouse’s biggest hit came in ‘92 when a pair of Atlanta 12-year-olds under the wing of Jermaine Dupri [see entry] (with Joe and Phil engineering and mixing, and Joe exec-producing), released the quadruple-platinum Totally Krossed Out (No. 1). The label’s other commercial and critical cow has been the Fugees, whose The Score went quadruple-platinum in ‘96; solo releases from Fugees Wyclef Jean, Lauryn Hill, and Pras have all succeeded as well.
Eric Olsen: Do you approach things differently when you’re doing a hip-hop versus a mainstream, versus a hard-rock record?
Joe Nicolo: From a preproduction standpoint there’s a little bit different mindset. With a band you’re probably going over arrangements, and with a hip-hop thing you’re going more through parts, loops, samples. But the overall process is basically the same. You want something to grab your attention – something has to change your life as you know it, so to speak, and then you want to capture whatever that essence is on tape.
Phil Nicolo: And try to get it in a real flowing, emotional way. Whether it’s a vocal performance or a musical performance, capturing that on tape and creating an atmosphere… I don’t know if you can tell, but we like to have fun. It’s like coming over to Joe and Phil’s house with state-of-the-art incredible equipment, in a really cool environment where you can feel relaxed and kick ass and create music.
It’s worked. The very first record we did in the new place was Dishwalla and it did great. “Counting Blue Cars” (No. 15) was on the charts for like a year. These guys had never made a record, but they came in and they felt really good and they played and J.R. [Richards] sang and it just translated into the record.
EO: How do you work together?
JN: It depends on the act and what’s happening on any given day. Phil has great technical ability in mixing a record from a sonic standpoint – he gets great sounds. I have a shorter attention span and I usually gotta run in and out of the room a lot. I’m more trying to figure out what wacky thing can we do in the overall principal of the song and Phil’s getting the incredible drum sounds. But it varies.
PN: It does. There will be times when Joe will come in with his sampler. I can barely put a sample into the damn thing, but he plays it like an instrument. He brings it in, and all of a sudden you’ve got this industrial loop going on underneath that changes the whole texture of the music. I think it’s really cool that two heads are better than one and we get along great. So, I’ll bring it to Step 1, and then Joe will bring it to Step 2, and I’ll bring it to Step 3. We sort of magnify each other’s talents. In every case, the stuff that we work on together is the best stuff that we’ve done.
EO: What are your most important records?
JN: For me two records come to mind: Schoolly D’s Saturday Night, because we didn’t know what we were doing and we were establishing an aesthetic at the time which seems to still hold up today.
After that the next thing would have to be Cypress Hill, because at that moment nothing sounded like Cypress Hill to me. I was a 35-year-old white guy from the suburbs, but this shit was slamming. I loved it. When it came out it made a statement that no other rapper at that point had made.
Most recently it would have to be the Fugees. And being nominated for a Record and Song of the Year Grammy with Billy Joel [“River of Dreams” – No. 3, coproduced with Danny Kortchmar – see entry] was a personal accomplishment.
PN: I think the things we often feel strongest about are the things that go the farthest. The early Hooters stuff was monumental because it was the first real record I worked on with Rick Chertoff. Kris Kross – it was so weird about the song “Jump” – I didn’t think it would do anything. Also, I love the Wailing Souls and Dishwalla stuff.
EO: Has anything changed over time?
JN: Thank God it’s as exciting as ever. Working with someone like Billy Joel, I still get goose bumps. I’m watching Billy Joel playing different parts and he’s asking me my opinion on them! It is still exciting to hear the music develop, and at the end of the night feel pumped about it. As long as I still get that charge I’m still going to have fun doing it, and we’re still going to put out 120%. So, in a lot of respects it hasn’t changed: it’s still that excitement of watching the creative process happen and feeling so lucky to be a part of it.