Timbaland: Working with the Great Ones, Overcoming Career Obstacles and His Search for the Next Big Thing

MC: Is there any producer who was a hero to you or that you modeled your career after?
Timbaland: Dr. Dre. I just feel like I’m his little brother. Even though we don’t speak every day, he speaks to me through music. “Nah, don’t do that Tim.” He’s like a brother in music, like a brother I never had. I watched how he hears music and knew how what he did would shape music for the next 20 years, and be still shaking the world.

And he’s a good person to model your career after, [not only in a branding and business sense], but he’s not out there in the media. He’s just Dr. Dre. That’s all you know. How many interviews are there with that guy? It’s like mad scientists sometimes just stay in the lab, we don’t come out. So, like that’s what I try to do, I try to keep it to the craft, because once you go outside the craft you start messing with imperfections and your formula. I look at Dr. Dre as kind of a model of perfection.

MC: As a label head and A&R person, what are you looking for when you are signing an artist? Is their social media presence as important as their demo nowadays?
Timbaland: You gotta think for nowadays, we can’t go back to [the old ways of doing things]. All I can say is what was real for our era verses this era, but everybody’s still looking for that feeling. Now that feeling is going to drive up social media and all that, and I’m not mad at what social media is doing, because it does matter, but you got a lot of people that have a record deal that can’t sing. But the process is fun for me because I love music.

For me, it’s like when you were out and about as a kid and looking for that four-leaf clover. It’s gonna take a minute to find that four-leaf clover. It’s perfection. But once you find it! I try to look for all the perfections in the world, and I don’t mind if it takes me seven or 10 years, I just love music that way to try to find the next big thing.

TimbaFactsMC: Is there still a need for labels or can artists just do it themselves if they can get distribution?
Timbaland: I think that now it comes down to levels of business. You don’t have to have a label to make music and that’s the beauty of it, but the label is beneficial to some artists. There’s things outside of record labels that could be a way of getting in and showcasing your art and your form of music.

I think everything is important, but it depends on what level you’re at. I think there’s more opportunities now, which makes it look like labels are obsolete; with social media, and with other outlets that are provided for us now, things look like you don’t need ‘em, but you still need ‘em. But [on the other hand] it’s not like if I don’t get a deal then I can’t get my music out. No, you can still do your thing.

MC: With so many hip-hop artists dominating the pop charts today, do the terms like “hip-hop” or “pop” even matter anymore?
Timbaland: It’s all one now, but that also depends on the level of hip-hop. Someone like Kendrick Lamar is beyond hip-hop, Kendrick speaks to the world. Pop music speaks to the world, so it’s the same thing. He’s just a little bit more edgy than the other pop.

I feel like when you make music that feels good it’s gonna feel good. I don’t think it’s a name or the category you put it in. I think it’s great music. I don’t know if it’s hip-hop or pop, I think it’s music.

MC: Do you feel in pop music it comes down to the competitive, zero sum game of the charts, or is there room for everybody?
Timbaland: Everybody is trying to compete. I think now it’s more about making that feeling that rocked the world. Like now people have number one songs but Justin Bieber is rocking the world. People look because he’s bringing that feeling. Everybody wants to make Thriller. Look at the Weeknd: everybody is looking for that feeling that shook the world.

MC: You helped shape the landscape of pop music, but do you ever feel like Elvis when the Beatles came out, like “I’m not going to get pushed out. I’m gonna be part of this game forever”?
Timbaland: You’re right, I do. But I just study people. I just sit back and watch it all. I don’t have a formula, but I might look out the window for hours and just watch the mood of the world.

Contact Greg Cortez, 42West, greg.cortez@42West.Net

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