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THEDA SANDIFORD – Serving the Cyperfunk Generation

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People may not realize what all goes on behind the scenes to make music reach the masses. This is the spot where you’ll see who’s who in the Industry. The people behind the scenes who makes things happen. This will be the section where we feature professionals whom we think deserve the credit and recognition for their hard work that they contribute to this business we call the RAP INDUSTRY..

Each month we’ll bring to you a new professional along with their background.

THIS MONTH’S FEATURE IS: THEDA SANDIFORD

Born and raised in the beautiful suburban alcove of Harrison, N.Y., a young Sandiford first caught the music bug listening to legendary dj Frankie Crocker on WBLS. “Frankie’s voice was my main connection to the city,” she laughs. “I can remember going to a rally in Washington Square Park, and seeing Crocker ride up on a white horse. It was then that I realized I wanted to be in the entertainment business.”

As a American Studies major with concentrations in black history and music (jazz) at Tufts University in Boston, Sandiford worked diligently running the school’s radio station. “While I was the General Manager at WMFO, I was responsible for sponsoring a 24-hour P-Funk marathon as well as bringing Living Colour and P-Funk to the school to perform.” Later, Sandiford traveled extensively and wrote about her experiences in Africa (Kenya) during the Gulf War. 

After graduation in 1992, Theda was given the opportunity to work at WBLS alongside her radio hero Frankie Crocker. “I was the promotion coordinator and I was also the person designated to buy his cigarettes and beer,” she laughs. Leaving the station in 1993, Sandiford became the first black major programmer at a country station. Nominated for Programmer of the Year Award by the Country Music Association, she remained there for three years.

Leaving radio to move into print media, Theda began working at Billboard magazine in 1995. Known as “the music industry’s bible,” Theda was hired to write the influential column Hot 100 Singles Spotlight and compile the Hot 100 chart every week. “My column was written from the point of view of a trend watcher and how I thought those trends might affect the sale of popular music,” she explains. 

After four years, Theda joined Def Jam Recordings in their sales deparment, but quickly moved into the new media department. “I suppose you can say I introduced Def Jam to the digital revolution,” Theda says. “Although Lyor Cohen and Kevin Liles thought I was crazy, they were brave enough to give me a shot.”

Nicknamed Theda Dotcom by popular rapper Ja Rule, Sandiford developed a reputation for creating groundbreaking work. Critically acclaimed in the pages of Entertainment Weekly for a Foxy Brown comic-book site, Sandiford also earned her kudos from rap legend LL Cool J. “After his “G.O.A.T.” disc debuted at #1, L.L. told the Def Jam staff, ‘That dot.com stuff really works.’” In addition, the Def Jam site won for best label site in the Online Hip-Hop Awards in 2000. “At the time no other label had a hip hop new media specialist. At Def Jam, we were cyber pioneers.” 

While she built Jay-Z, Ludacris and Ashanti’s stellar sites and content, praised by both fans and media, Theda also worked with outside music and entertainment sites to promote the Def Jam artists. “I set up promotions, polls, album previews and personality-driven interviews with sites (i.e. AOL,MTV, Launch, Teen People) to solidfy our brand in teen and college markets. We developed a network of regional sites to support artists on tour.”

Sandiford’s multimedia experience at Def Jam inspired her to expand into the mobile market in 2004. As Brand Director for Def Jam Mobile, she was responsible for branding, licensing and developing original content. “The hip hop audience has always been first to adopt new technology as a means of social expression.” Shortly after launching several applications she moved on.

As an aficionado of both pop culture and modern technology Theda fused her interests in a multimedia marketing and content development to form Theda Dotcom, LLC. Using her combined expertise in computers, marketing, and digital video she creates unique marketing campaigns and branding and content strategies for her clients, which include Rush Communications, Community Connect, Simmons-Lathan Media Group, Asylum Records, Capitol Records, Koch, and Kevin Liles Enterprises.

INTERVIEW:

So you have been doing your thing for a minute.. You are possibly the first New Media person for a hip hop record Label. What pulled you into the Internet? What made you realize the Internet was a must for music? What boundaries were you limited to at that time over at Defjam?

Theda: As far as I know I was the first full-time dedicated hip hop new media specialist at a label, this goes back to 1999. I have always been a gadget girl and seen the internet as a tool to bring people together. Back when I was covering the singles business in my column Hot 100 Singles Spotlight for Billboard, I noticed how P2Ps were beginning to cannibalize single sales and began reporting on the phenomenon. At the time (mid to late 90s) labels were not releasing commercial singles, so in essence by killing the commercial single they encouraged the exodus from retail to online file sharing services. If there is demand, consumers will find a way to get the hits. In the early days online at Def Jam, there was no budget to work with so I had to be very creative to get my campaigns online. Having no money makes you explore synergies and maximize every opportunity. Back then, we were very PR focused and I put the artists to work. LOL

Were Lyor Cohen and Kevin Liles hesitant to run with the Internet thing? How did you convince them that the Internet is the future of music?

Theda:Kev and Lyor were hesitant at first. But I got them started by teaching them the basics on their computer. Real 101, like “this is how you send an attachment, how to organize folders on your desktop.” I don’t recall which Jay-Z video it was.. but we did a preview of the video on AOL and got 500,000+ streams in one week. Even the biggest BDS record at radio was not posting numbers like that. After much evangelizing– people around the office started to take notice.

What’s your whole take on the music business right now ?
Theda: Seriously, I’m glad to be in the internet business rather than the music business nowadays, but I’d never say never about heading back to the music side for the right opportunity.

’06 was a poor year for album sales. Do you think the labels will climb back in terms of sales any time soon?
Theda:I wish I could say otherwise but no. I think the sale of CDs has reached its peek. Digital sales will continue to grow, especially as the adoption rates of tools like iPhone and Zune continue to grow. No one really can predict where it will go, I think the labels should hedge their bets on subscription services and partner with P2P networks.

It might be safe to say that the Labels can’t survive without the Internet. Do you think it will take them adopting new technologies with the Internet, etc to peak again?
Theda: It is safe to say that today no industry can survive without the internet. Change is already happening but mostly on the corporate level, labels are still somewhat old fashioned and are at their core, more focused on radio and video play than the internet. The ringtones business is an excellent example of.

One of your clients is Rush Communications. What’s in store for them? What should we be watching for?
Theda: It’s top secret at the moment but peep my predictions for 07 😉

What is the future for Theda dotcom LLC?
Theda: My goals for 2007 are to grow my consulting business and continue to building technology solutions for brands I am passionate about and to devote more time to my self expression through collage art.

Any big predictions for 2007?
Theda: Look for innovative web 2.0 mashups to grab headlines in 07. 


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