Payola, branding, new technologies, and the secrets to producing were the hot topics during day two of the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Conference and Awards in Atlanta. The day also highlighted new musi

Payola, branding, new technologies, and the secrets to producing were the hot topics during day two of the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Conference and Awards in Atlanta.

The day also highlighted new music with performances by Rhymefest, Smitty, Compozitionz, DuVal, Justyn Matthew, Michelle Renee, and Pookie and Lucci.

No Copycats

Developing a brand entails one crucial step: don’t copycat. Determine the unique value your artist or product brings to the table and build from there. That was the consensus during the Branding Power panel.

Citing 50 Cent as an example of a unique brand, panelist Munson Steed noted, “A brand today is an infection---one you want to catch or that someone else does. People want to be with 50 Cent right now because he has the hottest cold.”

However, Munson, who is CEO/publisher of Steed Media
Group/Rolling Out Urban Style Weekly, cautioned against playing follow the leader. “Copycatting is undermining and bastardizing value in the urban community.”

Hiriam Hicks, CEO of artist development firm Artist Factory, noted that building a brand DNA requires commitment, passion, a viable business plan and effective execution of that plan. After that, it becomes a matter of seeking out the right opportunities without overexploiting the brand.

“Overexploiting your brand is one of the worst things you can do,” said Solomon Smallwood, a manager with Madison Smallwood Financial, whose clients include Usher.

“Because of the investment strategy we developed for Usher, we were able to turn down a lot of deals that didn’t maintain his brand integrity,” added Smallwood. “Branding opportunities can look good but they may not be financially sound. Define your identity and model, then look at opportunities that fit. Have a discipline.”

Where Music and Technology Meet

"Right now, the technology is growing faster than the business can," said Lagardere Active North America VP of A&R Jonathan Dworkin.

The Digital Dialogues panel, moderated by Groovenation/Soul Lounge founder Terry Bello, featured industry experts Dworkin, EMI Music Group/ AJ Media Group royalties/digital specialist Andrea Jacobs, Urban World Wireless CEO Mike Johns and Motorola senior product manager of media solutions LaSean Smith.

Motorola's Smith discussed the company's development of iRadio, commercial-free Internet radio channels via a customer’s mobile phone. According to Smith, the technology will be available later this year and will offer artists, both major-label and independent--the opportunity to place their music in the hands of millions.

Jacobs and Johns both stressed that artists and managers need to pay particular attention to their contracts and how their music is distributed by the labels.

Producers Expose Secrets

It was standing room only during the ASCAP Super Producers Workshop.

Hitmakers Johnta Austin, Warryn Campbell and Bryan Michael Cox detailed some of the keys aspiring producers need to become successful in the music business.

"Chemistry with an artist is big" says Cox, who has helped pen chart toppers for Jagged Edge. "I lived with Usher for two weeks before we put together U Got It Bad. You have to let it come organically."

Attendees were surprised to learn that working with today's top recording artists is not always the quickest route to fame. "Working on a hit record with Destiny's Child or Beyonce is good, but create your own Destiny's Child or Beyonce," Timbaland said. “Jazzy Pha has Ciara. Now everyone knows him.”

To the producers in the audience, famous and not-so famous, Timbaland advised, “Be true to yourself and the art."

How can new artists get their music to radio?

"I require your music to be mixed and mastered,” advised Tosha Love, APD/MD at R&B/hip-hop WVEE (V-103) Atlanta. Over 350 CDs cross her desk on a weekly basis, in hopes of getting airplay. “I don’t want to have to clean up a lot,” she said.

The “Between the Sheets” panel, moderated by Arbitron's director of urban media services Julian Davis, also included Kevin Black, Interscope’s national urban field director; Atri Catterjie, VP of marketing and business development at Mercora; Lisa Ivery, PD of The City on XM Satellite Radio; Tosha Love, APD/MD at R&B/hip-hop WVEE (V-103) Atlanta; Reggie Rouse, WVEE's PD and Lamonda Williams, director of urban programming with Music

Rouse, speaking to the aspiring hitmakers in the audience advised, “Be yourself and have your own unique sound. We don’t need another Jay-Z. Look for your own niche.”

Payola elicited various responses from the panelists, especially in light of the recent Sony BMG settlement with New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer. All panelists agreed that if a product is actually good, then the ‘pay for play’ method is completely unnecessary.

Billboard's partner DiscLive provided instant CDs of all the panels to attendees.

* Read Wednesday's conference report by clicking here.