And finding someone is a matter of then what?
It's just the beginning. Finding someone is the beginning. The next stage was to believe that Sarah could deliver live. So we arranged a date in L.A., which she did to track. We went to L.A., thought she was fantastic live, and then the next step is to try and get her a record deal, to develop the songs she working on, and go through the various ramifications and journeys that you have to. …
I think she has that magic quality of connecting with an audience, of being one with an audience, whether they're eight years old or 58 years old and that she has a sparkle and a charisma that will translate to people.
[How does she distinguish herself from other female singer/songwriters?]
She's Sarah Hudson. She's of herself. And I think that's important. If you had seen her and said, "Oh my God, she's just like Avril Lavigne," then we're wasting our time. I think she's original, in the way Madonna was, in the way Avril is.
The question for an Avril and a Sarah is not necessarily the first hit, but whether they can have staying power in the way that a Madonna does.
What is that ingredient?
I think number one, that they are part of the writing process themselves, so they're expressing themselves in their songs, not just being written about by a third party, which a lot of the popular acts are. And I think an ability to reinvent themselves. I think the amazing thing about Madonna is she reinvents herself continually. Maybe in a way sometimes we don't notice, but if you go back to the different incarnations of Madonna, sometimes you can't really believe it's the same person. …
[Her father] talked to us at great length a couple of different times. … He was hoping she'd go to college and in fact she wants to be an artist and it just kills him to see her want to do it. Has he said those things to you, and do they ring true?
I don't recall discussing it with him. What I do recall is the first meeting where Mark brought Sarah to the office. We said to her, "Sarah, you know this is really a horrible business. And in fact if you wanted the first piece of advice from us, it would be don't do this." Because it is a horrible, nasty business whether you're successful or not. If you're successful you have all the problems of dealing with success. If you're not successful you have all the problems of dealing with a failure.
And Sarah's immediate answer was, "Listen I grew up with this. I know that. This is all I want to do." So I think she knows certainly what she's being let in for, and so does her father.
How does that distinguish Sarah from other young women that you've heard about or know about in the business, the fact that she could answer the question that way?
I think to me it showed a real determination. I think a lot of young people think they want to be pop stars, but don't really go for it, aren't really prepared to fight and go through obstacles. Which can take many forms and shapes, you know.
What lies ahead for her?
That's a big question. I think the journey already has had its ups and downs. I don't know whether you discussed with her that she was signed to London Records and the label closed. Then there was a long gestation period to get a release from the label and a new signing to a new label, to S-Curve. So it's taken patience and she's gone from a 19 year old to a 22 year old, which to me, or to you, big deal, she's still a kid. However to her that's a big chunk of her life. Where in some ways I'm sure she's felt at times her life is on hold, and her career not going anywhere.
So I think she's developed a patience, I think she's developed a worldliness to things are never quite as they seem or take much longer than you hope. I think what's ahead now is the task of putting this record before the public and ultimately to hope the public connects with it. But before the public even gets the opportunity to connect with it, it's our job, and Joanna Ifrah's job, and S-Curve's job, to get this in front of people so they can make a judgment.
That also isn't easy, when something like 20,000 albums are released in America. How to sort of wade our way through the seaweed and everything, to get through to the public and let them see Sarah Hudson.
I talked to Nic Harcourt at KCRW in Los Angeles. He hadn't heard the record, but I said, "What's required for the Sarah Hudsons of the world?" And Nic said, "She's got to have a story that you can take forward to DJ's, you can take forward to the American public." What's Sarah's story? In the first place is that true? Does she need a story? Is Nic right about that?
I'm not sure that she needs a story per se, because if you do that with every artist, I think you struggle to come up with the story. You know I think that's a little bit hype-y. You know it's convenient that certain artists lived in cars or did this or did that.
Now if Sarah has a story, it's a story of growing up in our business, surrounded by people who are superstars, be it a Jon Bon Jovi or a Steven Tyler or a this one or that one, and yet still having the crappiest car at high school. So it's that juxtaposition of being surrounded by what is the best and most exciting in our business, and maybe having to struggle a little bit as to where she stands in that. So that I think is tough. And I think if you listen to the songs on her record, clearly some of that angst, some of that drama, is in songs like "Naked Truth" and "Strange" and, you know, "The Rebellion" and all the rest of it.
But I think her story, other than that, is the story of most or any kid growing up. And she is telling that story in a way that I believe will connect with kids, and they will say, "Listen I understand that. You know, everyone thinks I'm strange at school -- well so was Sarah and look how Sarah's doing now."
So I don't think per se you need some original, amazing story. She is a person. And every person has a story.
What was Joanna's role in all of this?
Oh Joanna has been incredibly loyal, number one. Joanna was the person who signed Sarah at London Records and then ultimately re-signed her at S-Curve, EMI. I mean Joanna has been incredibly loyal, incredibly involved in the making of the record. I mean Joanna in many ways has been Sarah's alter ego in the making of this project. I think it would be hard to imagine this album without Joanna's involvement. She's been fantastic.
Why has she done this? That's kind of beyond the expectation right?
I think when Joanna feels she has something special, as for example in her prior incarnation when she was involved with Ricky Martin. When she believes she has one of those people, who have the opportunity to really be special, she puts her heart and soul into it. It becomes part of her life, in the best possible way.
What kind of a deal is it, when somebody like Sarah signs up with a record label? How does it work financially?
It's tough. You know we're in the music business that had a very rough three years. Budgets are reduced, signings are reduced, the money available to be spent are reduced. Everything in the music business has been contracting for three years, including the number of companies. We're down to four majors. Maybe we'll be down to three majors soon. So it's a much tighter situation than say, seven or eight years ago. Seven or eight years ago, had a company wanted to sign a Sarah, she would probably have had a much bigger financial cushion than in this deal.
The deal she has is a deal where she got a little bit of money to live on. But as I said earlier, the record took much longer to make, will take much longer to be successful than anyone thinks at the beginning, and she'll run out of money. Being a musician and getting a record deal is not instant riches, you haven't won the lottery. …
Are riches are the end of the rainbow for almost any Sarah now?
I think potentially if we're talking money, pure money, yeah. I think with a hit record, a Sarah can make a lot of money. There are now more opportunities than ever with success -- be it branching out into movies, be it television series, be it commercials, sponsorship. You know sponsorship and commercials were a dirty word 10 years ago. Now tell me an artist that's not happy to have sponsorship.
What does sponsorship mean?
Well, for example, let's say Sarah becomes successful. Let's say I'm right and she does an arena tour where she's playing to 14 to 18,000 people a night. I'm sure there will be a company, be it Jaguar motorcars to Citibank sponsor, who would love to underwrite the tour, pay her a lot of money to have her associated with them. To bring in her fans to want to bank with Citibank, or maybe their parents to buy a Jaguar motorcar.
What is in the immediate future for Sarah now, in order to sell the record?
Well I think tomorrow, the day after this interview, she goes on a three- to four-week promotional tour. Going around radio stations in America, meeting the programmers. At some of the places maybe playing two or three of the songs with an acoustic guitarist. Hopefully if she does that, the radio programs love the song and talk about adding it to their playlist and do add it. And over the next two or three months that song develops in radio, she hopefully makes a video in the next month to six weeks that goes to MTV and VH1, and they start playing it. And the album, hopefully released early June, starts to sell. That's the concept.
What can happen along the way?
Radio might not play the record. That would be a problem. Radio plays the record and it explodes, we sell a lot of records, she's everywhere, she becomes the Avril Lavigne of 2004. Many permutations.
How will you know how she's doing, and how soon will you know?
I think it takes, again, longer than anyone thinks. Everyone wants the answer this week, but the real answer could be months away. This song could go on the radio. Even that doesn't guarantee anything, just going on the radio. Will the song sell CDs, or will it become just a song that works for radio but doesn't necessarily get the purchaser into the record store? Is it a song that people believe, "I like that song, but I'm happy just to download it either illegally or for 99 cents, and I don't need the CD."
So it's a journey. And the journey, we might not know really where we are. If "Girl On The Verge" is a hit, we still might not really know where we are until we find out the second song is a hit. And it could be the second song that really creates the real record sales.
How did you decide "Girl On The Verge" was the first single to drop?
… "Girl On The Verge" to me always sounded like a smash, from the first time I heard it and I think it's important to go with your instincts. Obviously after you've heard a song a thousand times, it's hard to judge. So it's important to go back to your original instinct and say, "Look, I know what a hit record is, I've spent a lifetime doing it, this should be the single." And I think a few of us eventually came to that conclusion. And hopefully we're right.
Is that the one you liked?
I love all of it, but that to me was the perfect first single. I think the song is an anthem for women of all ages. I really, really believe that. And I say that with great kindness and love of women, but I think most women are on the verge of a nervous breakdown most of the time. …
Let me ask you about, kind of remaking Sarah. I mean we all get this kind of impression that, you know, it's a concoction. That here's this girl, she's clay--
I don't think so. No I don't agree with that at all. I don't agree with that at all. We haven't molded Sarah. We haven't gone out and chosen her clothes and told her what to sing. I mean again, going back to this record, she is a co-writer I believe on every song on the record. You know, she's not molded. This is Sarah. Which goes back to, when you ask me, why do you think she's going to be successful? Because this is her. I think false images don't last that long. I think something that comes from the heart and the soul of an artist can last a long time. I think that's Sarah. …
So tell me what happened for the business. Why all these stories? Why this spate of, you know, "the music business is dead, it's dying, it's constricting, it's over, consolidated." A lot of people say the perfect storm moment has happened between business consolidation and, you know, the radio down to one or two or three -- basically Clear Channel and Cox. What happened?
I think there was in a sense a perfect storm, with downloading. I think downloading was a huge problem. I think the business was too late to be aware of how damaging it could be. The business as a total industry left it very late to combat downloading.
I think also though there was a confluence of other issues. Confluence of we had a tremendous boom with pop records that maybe skewed sales too much to the upside, for it to be sustainable. People had bought all the CDs they needed to buy to replace their old catalogs.
But I see a lot of hope. I think [with] the i-Tunes, the legitimate downloading, I think we've turned the corner. People always want music. But as our lives get more interesting, with other things competing, more and more things competing for our time, music has to find its place. It's not 1966, where music was almost the only entertainment for kids. Today there's dozens of things that kids can do.
But music will always be there and I think it has hit the trough and will come out of it. And quality music will always be successful.
And the odds on Sarah Hudson making it?
The odds are against her in pure odds terms, statistical terms. But I have absolute belief that she will make it. Absolute belief. She's a star.
What does "make it" mean?
Make it means that she can make her choices as to what she wants to perform, what she wants to sing, and the public will definitely hear it and make their own judgment. …