Profile: Steve Greenberg/Who Let the Videos Out?


When Steve Greenberg was an executive at various major record labels, he developed stars such as Hanson and the Jonas Brothers. Now at the helm of an independent label, he has expanded his talent search, taking an ownership stake in several Web startups in an effort to diversify his music business and get an edge in marketing his own artists.

Mr. Greenberg’s label, S-Curve Records, recently launched an online music video by an unknown singer-songwriter named Andy Grammer. The hook: The clip gave viewers a way to steer the action—and a potential incentive for repeat viewings. As the singer ambles along to his bouncy tune “Keep Your Head Up,” viewers choose between on-screen prompts, clicking to send the singer into different goofy scenarios.

This “branching” video technology was developed by a small Israeli firm called Interlude. When founder Yoni Bloch (himself a popular musician in Israel) met Mr. Greenberg through an acquaintance at a tech conference, the music executive proposed a partnership. For an equity stake in Interlude, Mr. Greenberg would help connect the company to potential U.S. media clients, plus provide S-Curve artists as guinea pigs for the technology’s public debut.

After Mr. Greenberg demonstrated the Interlude concept to Old Navy, the company agreed to sponsor Mr. Grammer’s music video—a rare commitment for an untested artist—by putting up about two-thirds of the production budget and providing wardrobe. At the end of the video, viewers can download Old Navy coupons and free songs by Mr. Grammer.

In more than a week, about 80,000 people watched the video, with 45% viewing it more than once, Interlude says. That’s a decent showing, but far from a viral smash. Mr. Greenberg is also working a more traditional strategy, dispatching Mr. Grammer to perform for radio programmers around the country to drum up airplay. “Even if you’re a forward-looking music company, you still have to get your records on the radio and in Wal-Mart in order to succeed,” Mr. Greenberg says.

He’s married to the industry’s establishment in other ways. He and nine S-Curve employees work out of a subletted office in the New York headquarters of Universal Music Group, the world’s largest music company. Mr. Greenberg relies on Universal for U.S. distribution of S-Curve’s music, a deal he struck earlier this year after a similar contract expired with another major, EMI.

Through a career straddling the old-school music industry and the more chaotic landscape of today, Mr. Greenberg has been a savvy marketer. Around 2000, he broke an act called the Baha Men by first going to sports arenas with an anthem that soon became inescapable everywhere, “Who Let the Dogs Out.” (Mr. Greenberg also produced the song; that’s him woofing the ersatz chorus.)


Jason Tang : Andy Grammer performing at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle last month.

His immersion in the online tech world began around 2005. Then president of Columbia Records, he had shaped the Jonas Brothers, who were unknown at the time. He hired a New York startup, eventually called Nabbr, to distribute a three-part Jonas Brothers video via sites where young Web users grabbed digital doo-dads to decorate their MySpace pages, resulting in millions of views. When YouTube was just taking off and Facebook was still exclusive to college students, using a widget (as such embeddable players came to be known) for music video was brand new. “Steve was ahead of the curve at making content shareable, rather than trying to figure out how to get the audience to come to you,” says Nabbr founder Mike More, who left the company last year to launch a new music venture.

After Mr. Greenberg left Columbia in 2006, he joined Nabbr as chairman, helping the company to land funding and connect with music clients. When he re-started S-Curve (originally founded in 2000) he used Nabbr to launch his first signing, We the Kings, a young powerpop band that built an audience with a steady flow of homemade webisodes.

Nabbr, which Mr. Greenberg says has become profitable, is part of an S-Curve portfolio that includes another Israeli startup, Hashtag Art. That company uses the profile photos of Twitter users to build mosaics, such as a portrait of singer Katy Perry, whose Hashtag Art image was featured on the “Today” show.

Mr. Greenberg is now a habitué of geek gatherings such as the social-media-focused 140 Character Conference (founder Jeff Pulver, who pioneered Internet phone service, has a cameo in the “Keep Your Head Up” video). Mr. Greenberg says, “If you can live in that tech world, you have a better feel for it than music guys who are just taking meetings.”


Tags: ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: