Industry Highlight: An Interview with Lebanon's Let's Play Records.

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Industry Highlight: An Interview with co-founder of Lebanese branding house and record label, Let's Play Records.

Let’s Play Records is a production, artist development, and brand management community in Beirut, Lebanon, founded by Raed El-Khazen and Yasmine Daher. With long-term artistic visions and powerful branding expertise, coupled with novelty in sound production and an innovative marketing approach, L.P.R. is a new type of musical community, with the aptitude to propel talent into the regional and global music scene.

Its growing team is comprised of Raed, producer and head of A&R, Yasmine who is the label's Managing Director, Lana Daher who is the Visual Director and myself as head of PR and Booking. We also work with a network of local and international, skilled freelancers that have greatly contributed to achieving our visions and goals, thus far. Current artists represented by Let’s Play Records are Hello Psychaleppo, Tanjaret Daghet and Sima and Eileen Khatchadourian.

Sitting down with Raed over coffee at a local bistro, we got to talking about how Let's Play Records came into existence, the professional music scene in and around Lebanon and how he got into the music scene in the first place. Here is what he had to say...

Industry Highlight: An Interview with Lebanon's Let's Play Records.

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Photo Credit: Sawrini

Give Magnetic Magazine readers a brief background of who you are and what you do…how you got into the music industry?

My name is Raed El-Khazen and I am a producer, composer and guitar player. When I left Beirut in 1996, I never thought I would end up back here, mainly due to the fact that I felt my career had reached a dead end – the music scene wasn’t going to pick up, I thought. Throughout the many years I spent in the US, a feeling of despair came over me because I had left my home country, and found myself in a challenging environment. The understanding of my talent, it's implementations artistically and in the practical forms of living, shifted and developed to make me realize what the problem was, but most importantly gave me the ability to realize a better vision of myself and the way I would like to lead my life without compromising what was dearest to me.

During the last 5 years I have had the privilege to produce and be involved with some of the freshest sounds coming out of the Middle East, the first of which was Mashrou3 Leila (I produced their first album); score two award winning movies, played with some of our finest musicians and artists which gave me a deeper look into the market of the Arab world… all this finally led to conceptualizing a community of contemporary artists that function along certain guide lines and look towards a common vision of growth and prosperity. This is how Lets Play Records came to life. It is an entity to bridge the gap between idea and implementation in order to ensure sustainability.

Can you elaborate on the music scene in Lebanon and more specifically the EDM scene in Lebanon?

When I checked out some of the people on the scene I mainly found DJs or people who mess around with remixes. I didn’t really find producers of this kind of music doing their own stuff and it sounding original. There are some people dabbling in it but it sounds like any club mix nothing special… or they take some oriental thing and put it as a gimmick but for me with Hello Psychaleppo, for example, what I really found interesting is that in the concept of the making of the track he is going back to the roots of Arabic music. How lines are written how melodies are written and how they interchange and all of it is based on an old sample and its super electronic and super modern. There are three words in the process of becoming an artist: imitate, emulate and create and I think most of the people here are stuck in imitate and emulate. Creativity tends to be lacking in the mix.

Mashrou Leila was great because I came and I listened to something I felt wow these guys are taking from all over the place and are becoming something... they are great. Moreover, Tanjaret Daghet’s distorted guitars and the rhythms with Arabic vocals and Arabic melodies… I don’t find a lot of artists like that here.

How did you and your partner,Yasmine Daher, come to establish LPR?

Yasmine and I met when I moved back to Lebanon from a personal encounter. I had been here for 4 years by that time and I had reached conclusions about what my options were, either go back to NY and resume my life as a musician or take my work as a producer and as an artist to the next level. It meant taking these products and developing them into something sustainable. It is basically a small town mentally here and you have a couple of local heroes, its very easy to reach fame and feel that you are someone important and feel that you have achieved fame but in reality its not like that.

What is distinctive about Lets Play Records among its competitors...how do you set yourselves apart from everyone else?

I just finished writing a proposal and part of what I had to do is check out all the competition and what has happened in the last ten years in the music industry. If they have failed, why, and why would I succeed? And I really believe what we are bringing to the table is unique. Everyone has a recording studio and everyone can be a good mix engineer but it’s the approach to the music and the product that we are doing differently. We aren’t interested in quantity we are looking for quality… we are looking for very specific things, and once we find them we deal with them in a very specific manner. The picking process is difficult and meticulous.

You meet a lot of interesting musicians but it doesn’t mean you can work with all of them and that doesn’t mean that they can develop. Maybe their heads wont allow them, maybe their characters wont allow them, maybe they don’t want to…some people are just happy being comfortable.

So it’s about finding the right person. We aren’t a hip-hop label, and we aren’t a label about style… we are a label about approach this is why we are more of a branding house than a record label. Let’s Play Records is currently working with this guy and he approached us, even though he had some offers from the big record labels in the region, because he knows that they do not do anything… they don’t move forward. At first glance it seems very glamorous but they are doing nothing for their artists. We have had 7 major talent shows in the past ten years that have not produced one sustainable pop star. These talent shows have viewership of 350 million people and I argue with people from TV because they always throw these numbers… these are TV viewers and not music listeners. They are home watching TV but I am interested to see if they are hanging posters of the stars on their walls, how many concerts have they attended for that particular artist. This is the sustainability of the artist. I worked in X Factor three years ago and they are still trying to launch the guy that won three years ago. The problem is, is that they are trying with already existing formulas and models that have been long since milked by a generation of singers such as Haifa Wehbe, Nancy Ajram, Elissa and Wael Kfoury...
We need something new, we need a different approach.

How do you see Let's Play Records evolve in the near future?

I think the more you show people that success is achievable and sustainable and that there is a different life to be made out of being an artist in the Arab world, the more people will start working along the same lines. That would create competition, competition creates growth and growth makes opportunities. This is how we see ourselves moving forward and how the music scene will more forward. We come to the table with a new concept, we are super honest and dedicated to the artists and to the integrity of the music while at the same time we create a viable business model that in turn will create opportunity for growth. There is a lack of that real healthy competition and I love competition. I have to fuel myself constantly.

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