Multi-platinum Record Production Team Banana Toons
We recently interviewed Sean Hosein, who owns and operates Banana Toons with songwriting partner Dane DeViller. The duo has crafted and/or produced hits for: Jessica Simpson, Kelly Rowland, Amy Grant, Stacie Orrico, 98 Degrees, The Corrs, Gloria Gaynor, as well as Laura Pausini.
Hosein and DeViller’s works have earned numerous worldwide Gold and Platinum awards and have amassed international sales in excess of 35 million albums. Hosein and DeViller also founded Shred Records.
How did your path in the music business begin?
Hit songwriter/producer Sean Hosein: I took piano lessons when I was a kid. When I got into high school I joined bands, sang, and played drums. After school, I went to college to study music for a couple of years, but I realized it wasn’t really where I wanted to be, so I started playing in live bands in Vancouver.
At one point, I created jingles for a small company in Victoria, British Columbia, which is where I met Dan. We had similar interests and started writing songs together and soon realized that it was going to work, so we invested all we had in a small studio.
Did you weigh any other career options?
Hit songwriter/producer Sean Hosein: When I was in high school, I was thinking of going into law, because I was interested in it. One of my counselors took me aside and asked me, “If you become a lawyer, are you going to miss music?” The answer was “yes”, upon which he asked “If you go into the music business, are you going to miss not being lawyer?” I thought about it for a while and I realized the choice was clear, I had to pursue music.
When did you first realize that you could actually have a lucrative career in the music business?
Hit songwriter/producer Sean Hosein: We felt something was going to happen when we met Lou Levy, who was the head of Leeds Music Publishing. We made a song-by-song deal with him and had our first cuts with Lea Salonga, who was Miss Saigon. Glen Ballard produced our first cut, “A Flame for You.”
The next cut we got was a song named “Call Me Bad.” Then, Levy took us over to BMG Music Publishing in Los Angeles. As a matter of fact, our first song we did via BMG was the song that really put us on the map, 98 Degrees’ “The Invisible Man.” Then we got a lot of productions for a number of years.
You mentioned BMG Music Publishing (now Universal Music Publishing), some songwriters are very pro publishers and others don’t want to do a publishing deal because then they have to give away some publishing. What are your thoughts about it?
Hit songwriter/producer Sean Hosein: There are a number of advantages working with publishers. The most important thing about having a publisher is that you have to have somebody working your songs who really believe in your stuff. We’ve been on both sides of that.
We had our best success rate because our first songplugger at BMG loved our songs. Our success rate was about 80%. When he left the company, other people came in who weren’t familiar with our material, so our success rate dropped somewhat. Now it’s maybe around 50%. In our situation, we already had success, so people would take us seriously without a publisher.
Another major advantage of working with publishing companies is their ability to help you network with other composers and A&R people, especially for new, up-and-coming writers. Most of the people we ended up writing with we met through publishers.
We really had a hard time when we didn’t know anybody in the US and our publisher set us up with Alan Rich, who wrote “Run To You” for Whitney Houston and with Steve Kipner, who wrote “Genie in a Bottle.”
Could you tell us a bit about the equipment you use and what your process is like for writing a new song?
Hit songwriter/producer Sean Hosein: The equipment I use now is very different from what I used to have. We started on 50 tracks on the Atari and then we moved on to Logitech Audio. We have three separate studio rooms here; two are primarily Logitech and the third room is a large mix room with Pro Tools, which I just upgraded to HD. We have two production teams working here: BananaToons, which is Dane and I and SA TrackWorks, which is Steve Smith and Anthony Anderson.
And talking about the process of writing new songs, quite often, I just write on a guitar if it’s Pop stuff. If the song goes into a more Pop/R&B direction, then we will put a quick track together in the studio.
We usually spend two days writing a song. While we are writing, we are also putting together a rough track with guitars and program the drums. We spend the next couple of days putting together the vocal, finishing up the tracks, and mixing. Generally, it takes about a week from the beginning of writing process to having a mix of your demo. We probably average about a song per week.
What do you think is your greatest asset musically?
Hit songwriter/producer Sean Hosein: Our strong point is probably melody. Clive Davis’s right hand guy for a long while described us as the “Kings of Melody”! I think we’re pretty good lyricists too.
What is one ingredient to having a hit?
Hit songwriter/producer Sean Hosein: The simpler a song is, the more successful it will be. People can relate to it easier. We’re musicians so we like to hear more changes, more melody, and more words. But if you can have a song that has one or two chords in it and a very simple melody, you’re going to have a bigger hit than if you’ve got all these amazing changes and complicated melodies.
To keep on top of the latest trends, it’s important to also listen to other top producers/composers to take apart their production to see what they do.
Speaking of other top producers/composers, do you ever seek out co-writes with other producers?
Hit songwriter/producer Sean Hosein: We used to do a lot of co-writing with major producers
in North America, Sweden, and the UK; but these days, most signed artists already have a production team in place.
Unless you have a single, it’s very difficult to get a cover on someone’s records. We’re getting a lot of cuts in Asia, but it’s more difficult now in North America.
How do you go about pitching songs and what’s your secret to success?
Hit songwriter/producer Sean Hosein: When we meet with A&Rs, we typically spend four or five days in that city (for example, in New York) just to meet people at the labels. Every time we see them we try to play them songs to let them know what we’re doing. We then keep them updated using a little news blog. And when pitching for specific projects, we make an effort to only send them one song at a time. Sending too many songs is too much for people to listen to. When you send one song, you’re saying it’s THE SONG.
How good does the quality of the demo need to be when submitting to an A&R?
Hit songwriter/producer Sean Hosein: I would say that some people don’t have a lot of imagination so you have to make the song sound as good as possible when submitting to A&Rs. When Dane and I started out, we just produced things the way we wanted to. We thought if it’s not exactly how they want it to be, we can leave it up to people’s imaginations. But I’d say at least 90% of the time, what the demo sounds like is what the song will ultimately end up sounding like. That’s how we got into production.
Since we have our own record label (Shred Records) we see the mistake of some songwriters/producer submitting material. Some songs go to five or six different places and it’s really hard to tell where it’s going.
Also, the demo singer sells the song. If the singer is terrible, you have a really hard time listening to it.
What sort of trends do you see in the industry? What do you think will ultimately happen in the record industry?
Hit songwriter/producer Sean Hosein: The Internet is changing the way we distribute music and it’s evolving. It’s a scary time and it’s an exciting time. You can still get songs on records and records are sold. But, bit by bit, they are going to be phased out. You can sell records to people in their late 30s and up who are not necessarily interested in downloading them, because they didn’t grow up with computers.
They have money and don’t care about downloading, so they will go buy CDs. That market will shrink as people get older. For example, Rod Stewart just sold 5 million copies because his fans are not downloading.
The Internet is a blessing and a curse. To the major labels, the Internet is a very scary thing. Record sales are definitely down. In Billboard, if you look at the chart rewind from ten years ago, average sales for the Top Ten records that week would be about 15 million copies. Now you look at the average sales at the Top Ten records this week and it’s only about 5 million.
The Pussycat Dolls had huge success and everyone knows who they are. They have four or five Top Ten hits, but they didn’t sell 1 million copies. Ten years ago, 1 million was a failure. These days, it’s a big success.
The other trend is that music is moving toward interactive marketing and there are ways that you can make money without a record company.
Do you look at new avenues for releasing music? Do you think music will all be digital?
Hit songwriter/producer Sean Hosein: Yes, pretty much. We even have a site where we sell our own music. We try to figure out where the industry is heading and stay ahead of the curve. Major labels are hanging on to the old way of doing things and that’s going to hurt them in the long run. They must find ways how to use the Internet to their advantage, but they are slow to jump on the new bandwagon.
Computers are now the center of the entertainment. When I was a kid, we used to listen to records. It was all about the sound. And now, no one cares about the sound if we record it on HD Pro Tools and it will end up being an mp3 coming out of someone’s computer speakers.
If there’s one reason why you’ve succeeded, what would it be?
Hit songwriter/producer Sean Hosein: I would say tenacity. It took us six years from when we started writing to get a deal. We went to LA numerous times and we were broke. We couldn’t afford a cell phone, so we went to Denny’s and put an out of order sign on the payphone and used that for return phone calls for meetings.
We would sit having coffee all day and waiting for the phone to ring. And that’s how we got our first meetings. We knew other good writers who gave up because it’s not easy. You have to be honest with yourself; but, if you’re good, you have to believe in yourself and never give up.
About Banana Toons’s Sean Hosein/Dane DeViller
Sean Hosein and songwriting partner Dane DeViller have composed hits for the likes of superstar artists includingStacie Orrico, 98 Degrees (Invisible Man, a Top Ten Billboard hit, along with two songs on their triple platinum album, 98 Degrees & Rising), The Corrs (their self-titled CD sold ten million albums worldwide, topping the U.K. charts for a record 97 weeks). Also two songs with debut U.S. chart-toppers O-Town, along with Jessica Simpson,LFO, Amy Grant and All 4 One, among others.
Sean and Dane also founded the independent record label Shred Records signing artists Rosette, Thomas Barsoe, Colette Trudeau.
Recent releases include ‘Love it Take It’ with Crystal Kay in Japan, ‘By Heart’ with South African ‘Pop Star’ Anke, ‘How can Sorry Mend A Broken Heart’ with UK Idol Michelle McManus and ‘Delirious’ with Brazilian super groupRouge who are on their way to selling quadruple platinum.
Upcoming releases include, Tata Young (one of the biggest stars in Asia – 4 million albums), and Loverboy (14 million albums). More information is also available at http://www.bananatoons.com/ and http://www.shredrecords.com/.