Producer Crosstalk: Tab Nkhereanye

Songwriter and A&R executive Tab Nkhereanye embarked on his career when he began to scribe alongside multi-platinum artist and producer Robin Thicke. That golden gig was followed by a publishing deal with L.A. Reid and he went on to write songs for artists including Mary J. Blige, Britney Spears and Justin Bieber. After 13 years of turning out tunes, he migrated his talents to the executive side of the business. Auspiciously, the first artist he signed was Frank Ocean. He’s performed A&R services for a range of labels, notably Def Jam, Republic and BMG, where currently he’s the senior vice president of A&R.

Interestingly, on his first day at Def Jam, Nkhereanye signed Alessia Cara, an artist about whom he was passionate. His instincts were vindicated when the Grammy-winner’s debut Know-It-All earned more than a billion streams. “I believe that life will give you opportunities if you stick to it,” he notes.

Everyone is drawn to music for their own unique reasons. For Nkhereanye, artists’ stories have always attracted him. “I listened to [Bruce Springsteen’s] ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ the other day,” he recollects. “That song is songwriting 101. It’s got a true American story of a guy coming back from the war, the big anthemic hook and it’s passionate and vulnerable. I always tell artists that you don’t have the same fingerprint [as another artist] nor should you have the same stories. Find that thing that resonates with you. The world can feel authenticity.”

To become a successful artist, a modicum of talent is required, of course. But there are other elements that also play a significant role. “Hustle definitely matters,” Nkhereanye observes. “It’s something artists need to have to survive in today’s world. I’m also into artists’ stories. For example, Eminem made you want to know more about 8 Mile in Detroit.”

Throughout his career, Nkhereanye has endured countless difficulties, all of which have only served to strengthen his skills and resolve. “As a songwriter, the challenge is to convince artists to step outside of their comfort zone and to take risks,” he asserts. “The songwriting process is very intimate and you have to get them to reveal themselves. You’re a bit of a therapist. As an A&R rep, today things are so research and data driven. I understand that analytics and data matter but they don’t tell the whole story. I love artist development: taking something that’s a little rough around the edges and getting it into the marketplace.”

To rising songwriters and A&R reps, he offers this guidance. “You have to learn to critique and be hard on yourself,” he insists. “Your mom or girlfriend may think that your song is a hit but that doesn’t mean that it is. You have to write bad songs [before you can] write good ones and you must know the difference. For A&R reps, it’s important to get your head out of the screen and go live life.”

A veteran of the industry, Nkhereanye remains productive and driven. He aspires to work one day with his production team heroes Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. His vision of the industry’s future includes streamlined operations with markedly smaller staffs.

Contact - linkedin.com/in/tab-nkhereanye-a02b5625; 

Joe Gallo – [email protected]