When it comes to releasing quality soulful dance music, Baltimore’s DJ Spen is top of his game. Having celebrated his label’s 10th Anniversary last year DMCWorld checks in to find out the nuts and bolts of his successful Quantize Recordings label.
When did you launch and what was your first single?
We launched at the end of January 2012 with N’Dinga Gaba and Marc Evans ‘Until You’.
N'Dinga Gaba & Dj Spen feat Marc Evans - Until You (Original Mix)
What’s the meaning behind the name Quantize?
When working with music programs, the quantize function allows you to keep certain things that might be all over the place in some kind of order. In the beginning, Quantize handled only one aspect of the industry, which was creating the music. Today, we handle all aspects of the industry, ranging from administration to recording to understanding fully what publishing is, songwriting, beat production and artist development. We have been blessed to be able to do that and we dedicated this label to God from the first day and we have kept God in it and we have nothing but success, it’s been rough sometimes, but we have had nothing but success.
Where are you based?
Baltimore Maryland, USA
How did the label come about?
Previously we had Code Red and my ex-partner and I did not see eye to eye on quite a few things, so we outgrew each other. Within Code Red he was doing a lot of the administration side of it, handling contracts and signing the artists. Thommy Davis and myself are more focused on the record making side of the business. So coming to Quantize forced us to have to do a little bit of every single solitary thing when it comes to developing a record, artist and producers, etc.
What is your core musical style and ethos behind the label?
We have a couple of different labels which serve a couple of different purposes. Quantize is more about songs and artist development, where as Unquantize is a little bit more of that and underground focus. So I would say in a weird way Unquantize is a little bit more experimental, and now we have a label called Qu3, which is basically the kind of bigger more aggressive house sound. Our musical style is definitely soulful, but realistically Quantize is about artist development so those songs maybe soulful maybe underground they maybe more big room but usually anything that is on Quantize is going to be about a song.
Who does what at the label?
I am CEO and Founder of the label, then you have Kelly Spencer (Vice President), Thommy Davies (CO founder, A&R of Unquantize ), and Micfreak (head of Que, A&R and associate producer).
Which artists are featured on the label?
The label features so many artists including Tasha La Rae, Aaron K Gray, Rona Ray, Sheila Ford, The Muthafunkas, also myself, Thommy and MicFreak, to name just a few, the Quantize family is big! We have also had records from big name artists including Jocelyn Brown, Joy Cardwell, Alcia Myers, Barbara Tucker, Crystal Waters and Robin S. The ‘who’s who’ of house singers have been on Quantize and we have been very blessed to have had them.
Who else would you love to sign?
I would love to have someone like Beyonce or Lizzo on the label. I would think it would be absolutely phenomenal to work with someone of that calibre, even someone like Bruno Mars to create an authentic house track.
What have been your most successful releases to date?
We have made so many records over the years and have had so many successful hits, so it’s tough to pinpoint, but I would say that the below would be the top.
Tasha La Rae – I Wish I Didn’t Miss You
Tasha LaRae & DJ Spen - Wish I Didn't Miss You
Michele Chiavarini – Let Me See You (Clap Your Hands)
Michele Chiavarini - Let Me See You (Clap Your Hands)
DJ Spen, Soulfuledge – Goin’ Home To See My Saviour (Kerri Chandler Remix)
Goin' Home (To See My Savior) (The Kerri Chandler Remix) - DJ Spen, Soulfuledge
Crystal Waters & DJ Spen – Party People (DJ Spen & MicFreak Remix)
Party People (DJ Spen & Micfreak Vocal Mix) - Crystal Waters, DJ Spen, micFreak
What’s your A&R process?
We have an A&R meeting that we do every 2 weeks where the label heads all sit down and discuss the demos we have had over a period of time, and we usually put those through a voting process and we vote yay or nay, that’s how it has been going lately. Prior to that when it was just Thommy and myself signing what we loved and basically that was it.
What’s the best about running a record label?
The best part of running a record label for me has been taking somebody’s intellectual work and turning it onto something that is palatable for our audience and watching them prosper. It was wonderful working with an artist like Tahsa La Rae, who was an R&B artist and touring with Arrested Development. Introducing her to the dance community and watching her grow to become one of the most successful dance artists was really fulfilling. We are pleased to have had the opportunity to work with her.
And what difficulties as a label have you had to overcome?
In order to run a record label effectively, you have to explain certain things to artists, particularly new artists who don’t understand the business. It is their expectation that their record will do well, and we expect every record to do well, but not every record is destined to do so. In some cases, records perform better than others, in others they fail, and I find that disappointing because we all want the best for each artist. We do our best to help them. But not all artists are created equal, and not all songs are created equal, so at the end of the day, it is up to the consumer. As you might think, a record you spend a lot of time on will do well, it’s hard sometimes, but I’ve started to see, well, from the very beginning, I see records that you don’t spend as much time on as those that you kinda throw up against the wall and then people will say, “This is awesome”.
What’s your current release?
Cleveland P. Jones, DJ Spen ‘Pearls’ Quantize
Pearls - Cleveland P. Jones, DJ Spen
Ron Caroll ‘The Ron Disco’ Unquantize
Martina Budde ‘Together’ Que
Together (Original Mix)
Do you host label events or plan to?
We are probably going to do another Quintessential Soul festival this year in Baltimore city, it’s a small developing thing. And we also host some Unquantize night club nights like we just did one at the Owl Room in Washington DC. We did a really big party last year for our 10th Anniversary at the Ministry of Sound, London which was memorable in a lot of ways. So we are getting into events slowly but surely.
Where would you like to see the label in 5 years?
I would like to see the label further expand into the main stream right now, for what we do we are pretty much at the top of the game, but I would like to see Quantize and our artists grow to a point that we are accepted more in mainstream Pop Music.
What pearls of wisdom would you offer to those considering setting up their own label?
Be open minded to listen more so than anything else to your artist and everything around you make sure you listen and always, always try to put your best foot forward in the terms of listening and follow your heart and I think you will be ok but also make sure you are ready to learn from your mistakes is the biggest thing because you will fail the question is how you bounce back from your failures. That will define who you are especially in the music business.
What’s coming up on the label that you can tell us about?
Lots of exciting releases in the pipeline, including a Tasha La Rae album, an Aaron K Gray album, a John Morales album, a Crystal Waters album hopefully, some Robin S singles, and I am working with Steel Vibe on some new productions. In addition, there will be more from Thommy Davies and Greg Lewis with some underground Afro stuff. MicFreak is also working on the Qu3 label, so we’ve actually got a lot going on all the time.