Archive for the ‘Executives’ Category

Last of the record men: Seymour Stein looks back on 50 years of Sire Records

April 24, 2018

By Mikael Wood 4/13/18

Seymour Stein tried to executive produce this article.

“Don’t put it like that,” the cofounder of Sire Records told me in his gruff New York accent on a recent afternoon.

“I’m talking too much. If this appears, I’ll kill you.”

Stein, 74, was sitting in a cushioned chair at his daughter Mandy’s spacious Spanish-style home in the Hollywood Hills. Grandfatherly in looks (if not in language), the veteran record executive — he prefers the term “record man,” for its artistic flavor — had agreed to discuss his long career, in which he’s helped launch artists such as Madonna and Talking Heads, shepherded wayward luminaries like Brian Wilson and served as the inspiration for at least one pop song: “Seymour Stein” by the Scottish indie group Belle and Sebastian, in which the singer blows his chance to impress the powerful tastemaker.

But the frank, unexpectedly intimate conversation came with repeated caveats — suggestions, he might call them — about how the interview should be presented so as to jibe with Stein’s public persona.

It was, of course, that flair for managing an image — for understanding, and controlling, how things look and sound — that made Stein one of the defining record men of our time, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee who established his reputation by consistently selling listeners on the next idea of cool.

The Ramones, Soft Cell, Everything But the Girl, Ice-T — in the case of each of these diverse Sire acts, Stein knew what people wanted before they knew for themselves.

“Seymour goes with his gut,” said Clive Davis, a fellow music macher who’s known (and competed with) Stein since the late 1960s. “And he’s always been right there, sniffing out who’ll be stars in the many years to come.”

Now, after decades of looking ahead, Stein is turning his careful gaze behind him. On April 22, Sire will mark the label’s 50th anniversary with the release of a limited-edition box set featuring classic cuts by Madonna, Depeche Mode and the Smiths; Stein is scheduled to sign copies that afternoon at Amoeba Music in Hollywood as part of the shop’s festivities for Record Store Day.

Mandy Stein, a filmmaker who directed a 2009 movie about the New York punk club CBGB (where Stein first saw Talking Heads), is working on a documentary about her father. And Stein himself has almost completed a memoir due to be published next year.

“I’ve had a great life, and I’m still here — I’m still going,” he said, his arms folded across his barrel chest. “There have been a few strange incidents that happened. Nothing terrible.”
“I’ve had a great life,” Stein says, “and I’m still here — I’m still going.”

Born in Brooklyn, Stein entered the music business as a teenager when he convinced a couple of editors at Billboard to let him work on the magazine’s charts. He reveled in the data, in the way the numbers revealed patterns in popularity. But it wasn’t enough.

“I realized, What am I doing here? Everything is happening outside! Rock and roll was being born,” he said, and Stein wanted in.

Jobs followed with independent labels including King (known for records by James Brown) and Red Bird (the Shangri-Las) before Stein founded Sire in 1967 with Richard Gottehrer, who’d found success a few years before as one of the writers and producers behind the Angels’ No. 1 hit, “My Boyfriend’s Back.”

In its early days Sire licensed records by British and European rock acts for release in America; “Hocus Pocus,” by the Dutch group Focus, took off in 1973. But two years later, Stein caught a Ramones gig and signed the hugely influential New York punk band, which released its self-titled debut on Sire in 1976.

After that came a hot streak in which Stein seemed to predict where music was headed, from punk to new wave to synth-pop to metal. By the late ’80s, flush with cash from having sold Sire to Warner Bros., Stein was in a position to coax a comeback record out of the Beach Boys’ Wilson, who’d receded from music while under the questionable care of therapist Eugene Landy.

“It wasn’t easy, I’ll tell you,” Stein said of making the self-titled “Brian Wilson,” which came out to warm reviews in 1988. “I would have to say that [Landy] was the most evil person that I ever met.” He turned to Mandy, who was filming our talk. “Can I get sued for that?”

“No, he’s dead,” Mandy replied. (Landy died in 2006.)

Asked why he went through with the project given those challenges, Stein scoffed. “This guy’s a genius,” he said, referring to Wilson.

Sure, but even geniuses run out of steam.

“There are some people, less than a handful maybe, that are worth the effort even if you’re going to lose,” Stein said. “And I didn’t think I was going to lose. But even if I had, I think it would’ve been what they say in Jewish — a mitzvah [good deed] — to have done this.”

Pulling off feats like “Brian Wilson” — and continuing to make new stars out of Seal and k.d. lang — transformed Stein into something of a celebrity himself, one capable of creating a stir every time he entered a crowded club.

Deven Ivy, the singer of a young Sire band called Residual Kid, said he thinks of Stein as Mr. Big from “Wayne’s World” — a cigar-chomping cartoon of an industry titan played in that 1992 movie by Michael Jackson’s former manager, the late Frank Dileo.

Stein admits he enjoyed being photographed in glamorous locales with the famous artists on his roster, even if his constant work kept him from seeing his family. (Stein’s ex-wife was the Ramones’ co-manager, Linda Stein, who was murdered in 2007.)

“I did a terrible thing,” he said, describing how he sent a limousine to take Linda home from the hospital after she’d given birth to Mandy instead of driving her himself. Or was it Mandy’s sister? he wondered.

“How would I know?” Mandy asked.

“Your mother would’ve told you,” Stein replied. “She hated me!”

“She didn’t hate you,” Mandy said.

“I know she didn’t,” Stein said, suddenly tender. “And I didn’t hate her.”

At that, Mandy asked her father, “What do you think of being selfish?”

Stein thought for a few seconds. “It’s certainly not a positive, but I don’t think it’s as big a negative as people think,” he said. “I kind of did it for you guys, you know. I mean, I wanted to be successful.

“And look,” he added, gesturing toward the vaulted ceiling of Mandy’s living room. “This is not shabby.”

Today, larger-than-life record men like Stein and Davis have given way to lower-key executives better suited to the industry’s corporate structure.

“The thrilling years are gone,” Stein said. “There are people in the music business that are experts, but not experts in music.” According to Davis, technology is now where the excitement is. Yet Stein appears to care little about the latest evolution in streaming.

“Seymour’s not that worried about how people are going to listen to the music,” said Warner Bros. Records chief Cameron Strang. “He’s lived through many, many different formats and changes in the way music is distributed.” What still drives Stein, said Strang, is the search for great artists and great songs.

Indeed, though Sire is a smaller concern than it used to be, Stein hasn’t stopped signing fresh talent. Last year the label put out Residual Kid’s grungy but tuneful “Salsa” EP, and in March it released “Slowmotionary,” the striking solo debut by Ethan Gruska of L.A.’s Belle Brigade.

And then there’s his book, in which he can tell his story the way he sees fit. Not that he hasn’t had to compromise his vision a little.

Stein’s original title for the memoir was “Shellac in His Veins,” after a phrase King Records’ Syd Nathan once used to describe Stein. (Before vinyl came into use, records were made of shellac.) But for some reason, Stein said, his publisher didn’t go for it.

“We wound up calling it something I’ve come to terms with,” he said, without offering the new title. “These people, it’s a big firm.” He sighed. “I’m smart enough to defer sometimes. But I don’t think what we came up with is much better.

“But don’t print any of that. I don’t want to piss them off. They’ll throw everything in the garbage.”


The Gay Architects of Rock

November 28, 2017

By JIM FARBER 10/17/17

One of the 20th century’s most powerful creations was the rock star: the preening, erotic god of guitar-fired defiance. But those who embodied that character didn’t spring from nowhere. Managers groomed them and shaped them, and in the classic rock era those managers were often gay men.

For decades, the close relationships between the managers and the predominantly straight musicians they advised were not discussed much. Lately, however, they have become a point of pride and celebration.

“The Fifth Beatle,” a recent graphic novel that focuses on the personal life of the Fab Four’s gay manager, Brian Epstein, was a New York Times best seller and is now in development as a six-part mini-series, with the approval of the Beatles’ estate. And the documentary film “Lambert & Stamp” made clear the important role played by Kit Lambert, the gay co-manager of the Who, in shaping the band’s identity.

Another image maker of the classic-rock era, Jann Wenner, the co-founder of Rolling Stone, is the subject of a new biography by Joe Hagan, “Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine,” which stresses the role his sexuality played in his presentations of male rock stars throughout the magazine’s history. (Mr. Wenner did not come out to the press until the mid-1990s).

“Being gay gave me a finer appreciation of the sexuality of the guys up there,” Mr. Wenner says in the book. “I could understand that in a way others didn’t.”

That understanding played out in memorable Rolling Stone images like David Cassidy showing off his naked torso down to his pubic hair, in a Playboy-style centerfold, and Jim Morrison smoldering next to the cover line “He’s Hot, He’s Sexy, He’s Dead.”

Jock McLean, who worked as an assistant to George Harrison 50 years ago, noticed the depth of the relationship between the Beatles and Mr. Epstein one August day not long before the manager’s death. Mr. McLean’s job was to pick up the singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson, a promising new artist in those days, and drive him to a meeting with Mr. Harrison at the house he was renting on Blue Jay Way in the Hollywood Hills, Calif.

There was talk of Mr. Nilsson perhaps joining the Beatles’ nascent company. That’s when things went sour, Mr. McLean said.

“George was talking about how wonderful the whole thing was going to be, trying to convince Harry to join the company,” Mr. McLean recalled. “It was all great until Harry said, ‘The only thing is, I don’t think I could be managed by a gay man.’” (Mr. Epstein’s sexuality was known by many in the industry at the time.)

Incensed, Mr. Harrison gave his assistant a nod.

“In a heartbeat, Harry was out of the house,” Mr. McLean said. “George, like all the Beatles, was extremely supportive of Brian. To them, Brian was the man.” (After Mr. Epstein died, Mr. Nilsson had a rapprochement with the band and worked closely with John Lennon.)

Roger Daltrey, the lead singer of the Who, had a similar respect for Mr. Lambert, who had an upper-class background at a time when those of his tier rarely interacted with working-class ruffians like Mr. Daltrey.

“Kit was the only ‘posh’ guy I ever met who wouldn’t talk down to me,” Mr. Daltrey said in “Lambert & Stamp.” “Kit had this fearless quality.”

At the time, men like Mr. Lambert had to. Up until 1967, being gay was illegal in Britain, and long after that law changed, gay men remained a target of police entrapment, blackmail and beatings. Mr. Epstein was assaulted and was the target of blackmail before he died in 1967 from an accidental overdose of sleeping pills and alcohol.

At the same time, many of these men had great power within their circle. As managers of some of the era’s most potent British rock bands, they stood at the forefront of sounds, sensibilities and styles that would demolish and remake pop culture.

The gay managers of that era were forthright about their sexuality, if only among friends and colleagues. Besides Mr. Epstein and Mr. Lambert, those men included Robert Stigwood (manager of Cream and the Bee Gees), Simon Napier-Bell (the Yardbirds, Marc Bolan), Billy Gaff (Rod Stewart), Ken Pitt (David Bowie), Barry Krost (Cat Stevens) and Larry Parnes (who molded pre-Beatles British rockers, including Tommy Steele and Billy Fury).

Their sexual orientation was mirrored by Americans including Nat Weiss (who oversaw the Beatles’ business interests and later managed James Taylor), Danny Fields (who managed Iggy Pop and the Stooges and, later, the Ramones), as well as music moguls including David Geffen and Clive Davis (who identifies as bisexual).

According to Mr. Napier-Bell, part of the reason British gay men of his era gravitated to the music business was because it was one of the few areas “where you could be out amongst yourselves. It was like a private club,” he said. “It was such a good life. You’d go to Robert Stigwood’s house and it was like a gay pub.”

Jim Fouratt, who has worked in the music industry since the 1960s, believes the men in Mr. Napier-Bell’s circle brought to the emerging rock scene a special understanding of image. “As gay men, we have to remake ourselves in order to survive,” he said. “That matches perfectly with the masquerade of rock ’n’ roll, with the fantasy.”

Martin Aston, the author of “Breaking Down the Walls of Heartache: How Music Came Out,” said the connection between rock’s gay managers and image molding stems from the fact that “gay men at the time would be judged almost entirely on how they looked. It wasn’t like there were lots of nice places to go and have lovely conversations. It was all communicated through cruising.”

As a result, Mr. Aston said, gay men developed a comfort with the art of being seen, “as opposed to straight men, who, before the phenomenon of the ‘metrosexual,’ were threatened by the notion of being looked at, of becoming an object.”

Vivek Tiwary, the author of the “The Fifth Beatle,” argues that Mr. Epstein’s sexual orientation had a strong influence on the Beatles’ public image.

“Brian Epstein’s attraction to all of the Beatles, and in particular to John, allowed him to create an image for the band that was appealing not just to girls, but also to boys,” Mr. Tiwary said. “Brian knew what it was like to be a boy, as well as how to attract them. A straight manager might just think, ‘Here’s a bunch of cute boys that girls will love.’ He might make them so girl-friendly that they seem too weak for guys to get into them.”

One of Mr. Epstein’s pivotal decisions was to change the Beatles’ outfits, from denim and leather to natty suits. Using the best local tailors, he got the band into single-breasted, three-button mohair suits, with narrow lapels and even narrower pants, according to Mark Lewisohn in his book on the band, “Tune In.”

By honing such looks, the managers did more than influence the presentation of musicians. They advanced the image of a new kind of man. As the ’60s progressed, androgyny became central to male display, with long hair, brightly colored clothing, and, in the case of the mods of the mid-’60s, flashy tailored suits.

“The mods loved nothing more than to be seen walking down the street, sharp dressed with sharkskin pants and makeup,” said James Cooper, the director of “Lambert & Stamp.” “These tough guys wore eyeliner.”

Mr. Fouratt thinks that much of the permission for the gender blurring came from the spreading drug culture. “Drugs allowed men and boys to discover their beauty and femininity,” he said. “The foppishness of rock stars is like the peacock, where the male is the beautiful one, not the female. That became the forefront in rock ’n’ roll, encouraged by the gay managers.”

It played out most clearly in a star like Mick Jagger, who adopted a campy and preening persona, affects shared by the Rolling Stones’ first manager, Andrew Loog Oldham.

“Mick was attractive for that preening,” Mr. Oldham said. “Many men might say to their mates, ‘Oh, he’s a poof!’ So they didn’t mind their wives or girlfriends enjoying him.”

Straight rock stars also found that appropriating the sensual awareness of gay men paid off in sexual opportunities. “David Bowie had to force the working-class guys in his band the Spiders from Mars to wear those glam clothes,” Mr. Aston said. “But as soon as they saw the impact it had on women, they were like, ‘Pass me the blush!’”

Still, given the vilification of homosexuality at the time, one might expect the rockers to have some discomfort with the gay men who advised them. In the case of the Who, Mr. Cooper believes the members bonded with Mr. Lambert not in spite of his sexual identity but in some ways because of it. The unlikeliness, and mutual risk, of the connection between Mr. Lambert (an upper-class, privileged gay man) and his partner in management, Chris Stamp (a straight street kid) impressed them deeply.

“The unconditional bond their managers had gave them an aura of invincibility,” Mr. Cooper said. “It also gave them a mystery: Who were these guys? If these guys were capable of bonding, they could be capable of anything.”

Mr. Lambert played that aspect up, stoking the Who’s budding interest in cultural disruption and advising the band’s leader, Pete Townshend. “Kit was telling the press that the Who were a new form of social crime,” Mr. Cooper said. “He told Pete, ‘When you give an interview, leave a wound. Oh, and by the way, smash your instruments.’”

Mr. Napier-Bell sees the entire notion of rock ’n’ roll rebellion as an extension of “gay anger.” “We were against the establishment, the government and the law, which was against us,” he said. “It was an attitude felt by the managers that was expressed through their groups.”

At the same time, many of the gay men came from more refined backgrounds than the rockers, an experience they transferred to their charges. “Brian came from a world of classical music and jazz,” Mr. Tiwary said. “He envisioned that the Beatles would be like the great classical composers and be remembered long after they were gone.”

Mr. Lambert, whose father was a prominent classical composer, pushed Mr. Townshend to write a rock opera, resulting in “Tommy.” “Kit molded me as a composer,” Mr. Townshend said in “Lambert & Stamp.”

If the young rockers benefited from the taste and ambition of their gay advisers, in turn the managers got a sense of connection they otherwise couldn’t achieve. “It’s not like a gay man at the time could marry or enjoy a family,” Mr. Cooper said. “With a band, there’s a sense of an extended family. They could raise and nurture the musicians and put all the complexity of their experience into something of worth.”

At the same time, the gay men involved with the bands found a route to power. “Where else could they get that feeling of being primary?” Mr. Cooper said. “It was a way to have impact and relevance.”

And in an era when gay sexual expression was brutally suppressed, the men were able to express themselves through the most influential sex symbols of the day, creating a kind of erotic ventriloquism.

“Whatever thoughts, feelings and longings they had in themselves could be played out in a band — and in front of an entire arena full of people,” Mr. Cooper said.

In the case of Mr. Epstein, Mr. Tiwary believes the message went beyond sex.

“It’s the great tragedy of the Brian Epstein story that he died lonely, never having a proper boyfriend,” Mr. Tiwary said. “I believe the fact that Brian couldn’t love openly made him dedicate himself to spreading a message of love with the Beatles. Through them, he had the chance to spread that love all over the world.”

The Pioneers of Audio Engineering: Tom Dowd

July 28, 2017

DavidSilverstein 7/27/17

If we had an audio Mt. Rushmore, these are the faces that would be on it. The first engineer in this series is Tom Dowd, the “Father of the Atlantic Sound.”

Who is Tom Dowd?

If you Google “incredibly interesting life”, you’ll see a picture of Tom Dowd.
Okay, maybe not. But you should.

Dowd performed nuclear research for the infamous Manhattan Project during World War II. He also created the first ever 8-channel console with sliding faders in order to record some of the biggest artist of all time: Ray Charles, Allman Brothers, Eric Clapton, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonius Monk, Cream, Rod Stewart, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the list goes on and on… and on… and… on.

As the main recording engineer for the legendary Atlantic Records for 25 years, his technical excellence and ability to think outside the box made him a true pioneer in the field.

He was an engineer during the golden years of music for several genres, working through multiple eras and recording all styles. Somehow, he was able to not only stay relevant through all of them, but remain in high demand at the top of the industry throughout.

To put the gravity of Dowd’s legacy in context, the first hit song he recorded was Eileen Barton’s, “If I Knew You Were Comin’ I’d’ve Baked a Cake”, released in 1950. One of the very last albums he worked on was Joe Bonamassa’s New Day Yesterday, released in 2000. That’s a full 50 years of recording and producing major releases.

Not only did he continue to record for over half a century, but he was at the forefront of the industry in adapting to changing technology. He was there for the change from hand-me-down radio gear and a mono disc cutter, to stereo recording systems, to 24 track tape machines, all the way to digital recording with practically unlimited tracks and digital effects.

Early Life

Thomas John Dowd was born in 1925 in New York City. His mother was a opera singer and his father a stage manager, in charge of theater productions. He played piano and violin from a young age and eventually learned tuba and string bass. Tom excelled at math and science and, after graduating from Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan at 16, got a job working at the Office of Scientific Research and Development at Columbia University.

When he turned 18, he was drafted into the military and sent off to basic training. After that training, he was immediately sent back to Columbia University. His orders read, “United States Army Corp of Engineers: Manhattan District,” which later became known as “the Manhattan Project”.

That’s right: The man responsible for recording “Layla”, “Respect” and “Stand by Me” also helped develop the atomic bomb. During his stint on the Manhattan Project, Dowd operated a “cyclotron” particle accelerator, performed density tests of various elements, and recorded statistics, as part of the “Neutron Beam Spectography” division. He didn’t find out until 1945 that his work during this time was used to develop the bomb that ultimately ended the second World War.

After the war, Dowd finished his service and wanted to complete his degree in nuclear physics at Columbia University, since he was only short a few credits. He asked the school if they would acknowledge his work during the war and give him the credits he needed to graduate. Unfortunately, because his work on the Manhattan Project was top secret, Columbia refused to honor any of it. Now, in order to graduate, Dowd would have to return to Columbia and learn the physics that predated what he used in his time in the military.

Unbeknownst to them, Columbia’s decision changed the course of recorded music forever. Dowd decided to forgo finishing school in favor of a summer job at a demo studio, owned by the Fisher publishing company.

The Atlantic Years

In the late 1940s, Ahmet Ertegun, the head and founder of Atlantic Records, was recording at Apex a recording studio in New York. He had requested to work with the best engineer at the time, who he was told was a “German Professor.”

According to Ertegun, this professor was very strict, and would not let the engineers turn up the bass or drums “too loud”. At the time, bass and drums weren’t often heard prominently on records. This was due in part to mic techniques, but also because of issues cutting bass directly to disc (the needle could physically skip if you recorded low end too hot).

The next time Ertegun showed up to record, the German professor was not available, so in walked a young Tommy Dowd who had been assigned to the session. At the time, Dowd was a young kid who raised a few skeptical eyebrows, but wasn’t afraid of breaking rules that his older, conventional contemporaries would never think of—like using multiple microphones on sources and tracking bass and drums so listeners were actually able to hear them. After that session, Ahmet Ertegun decided he loved Dowd so much that he made sure he recorded just about every Atlantic record.

Dowd was eventually put in charge of building the Atlantic Records studio, which was located on West 56th Street in Manhattan. In the beginning, the studio was an office space during the day and at night, the desks would be pushed against the walls and groups would gather around microphones in the inner office. The outer office would be used as the control room, where Tom would record with a small mixer and tape recorder. Even the stairwell would be utilized as a reverb chamber.

Tom was a big fan of Les Paul, and after listening to Les Paul’s records featuring 5 guitars and 3 vocal overdubs, he couldn’t figure out how Les was doing it. Eventually, Dowd learned the secret: Les had his own 8-track recorder. In 1958, Tom Dowd, convinced Jerry Wexler (a partner and producer at Atlantic) to purchase the second Ampex 8-track tape recorder ever manufactured. This put them technologically ahead of other studios for many years.

To truly understand just how far advanced this was, the Beatles at Abbey Road were still using pairs of 4 track machines nearly a decade later while recording Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.

(There’s a fun reenactment in the 2004 movie, Ray, in which Dowd introduces Ray Charles to 8-track recording in the middle of a session, who then tells the backup singers to leave so he can record all their parts himself.)

Since Atlantic had a new 8-track machine, they also needed to build a console to accommodate these extra 4 tracks. Tom immediately went to work on a new console. He had a longstanding issue with the hand-me-down radio equipment they had been using, and their large rotary knobs. Being a piano player, he liked the idea of having control over multiple channels at once. He sourced some slide wires, and decided to use those instead. This was the first time sliding faders were ever used on a recording console.

Dowd recorded all styles and genres, ranging from artists on Atlantic’s jazz roster, like John Coltrane and Charles Mingus, to pop and rhythm & blues legends like Ray Charles and Dusty Springfield. He eventually went on to record rock bands like Cream, and is credited with shaping the sound of Southern rock, as longtime producer for the Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Later Life

In the late 1960s, Dowd left Atlantic Records to work as a freelance producer and, in 1967, moved to Miami where he worked primarily at Criteria Sound Studios. He made records right up until his death in 2002. Later on, he was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where his daughter, Dana Dowd, accepted his award in his honor.

Tom Dowd was there when Ray Charles was recording “I’ve Got a Woman”, when Ben E. King recorded “Stand by Me,” and when Duane Allman played his famous slide solo at the end of Eric Clapton’s “Layla.”

Think about that for a moment: He was right there, in the studio, arranging microphones and hitting the record button, when all of these songs were put to tape. Dowd spent a life actively involved in creating songs that are completely embedded in the minds of countless millions, and that make up the very fabric of our collective culture and history. We hear these songs on the radio, in movies, on television shows. We sing these songs in the shower.

Tom Dowd was right there when each of these iconic performances took life, and played an active role in those productions turning out quite the way they did. It’s a legacy any of us could aspire to.

How to revolutionise the music business: Rip it up and start again

May 28, 2015

Tim Ingham  5/28/15
Hartwig Masuch believes the music industry’s ‘good old days’ are vastly over-rated.

According to the BMG CEO, the balance of power is gradually swinging from music’s executives to its creative community – and that suits him just fine.

While many see the past 15 years of music’s digital revolution and revenue decline as a disaster, Masuch views it as an opportunity to correct a relationship which has too often disadvantaged the talent.

It’s no coincidence that the turmoil of this structural change has given rise to ambitious players like the ‘new’ BMG.

The firm’s pitch is pretty simple: artist- and writer-friendly deals, a commitment to transparency and fairness and a robust approach to overhead, typified by housing records and publishing under one roof with both running off the same infrastructure.

When BMG started signing new recording artists, it launched a fresh kind of deal based on sensible advances and shared risk, with a generous 70%+ share of revenue being credited to artists.

Masuch says that artists and songwriters now have a never-before-seen opportunity to ink genuinely equitable contracts with their industry partners – without handing over their assets for life.

This may all sound a little like clamouring for revolution.

But to Masuch and Berlin-based BMG’s sensible financial backers at Bertelsmann, it’s simply a matter of economic inevitability.

They believe that the “obsolete business model” of many established music companies is bound to crumble, as artists and writers increasingly demand fairer terms.

You can see the logic: across the music business, megabucks advances are dwindling as royalties sink and long-held copyrights expire. All the while, the overhead of recorded music’s largest players remains frighteningly seismic.

Perhaps something has to give. And if so, BMG is ready to pick up the pieces.

Publishers copyrights

The winds of change aren’t just hitting rights-holders, though: Masuch predicts that a new era of transparency will usher in further scrutiny of collection societies, as well as the industry’s occasionally frosty relationship with global digital players.

BMG’s confidence in its gameplan explains why it has invested quite so many of Bertelsmann’s millions since it launched as an independent in October 2008.

Instead of a slash-and-burn approach to costs, mass redundancies and a land-grab of rights (those famed 360 deals), Bertelsmann concluded that it would be quicker and cheaper to start again from scratch.

So it sold off its ‘old world’ music business to Sony, and got busy.

BMG has since acquired a roll-call of some of publishing’s most notable catalogues including Bug, Cherry Lane, Stage Three, Chrysalis, Primary Wave, Virgin Music and Talpa.

It is now comfortably the fourth biggest music publisher in the world, with designs on superseding the current No.3 before too long.

Meanwhile, in recordings BMG has built a portfolio which includes classic catalogues from Sanctuary, Mute, Dreyfus and Skint/Loaded as well as renowned indies like Infectious, Union Square, Vagrant and most recently, Rise Records.

In Q1 2015, BMG officially became the fifth biggest recorded music company in the UK, behind the three major labels and Ministry Of Sound.

Which all rather begs the question… what’s next?

If today’s dominant labels and publishers are destined to suffer in the new-world music industry what, exactly makes BMG so cut out for success?

MBW grilled Masuch on exactly these points – and what he feels needs to change for the industry to meet its potential in the coming years…

BMGLOGOWhen it comes down to it, what makes BMG different from other large music companies?

I believe it’s our values. We respect writers and artists. We don’t try to get away with something because people don’t have leverage.

We try preemptively to say, ‘We want to be your best and fairest partner’, and then act accordingly.
“If you walk into BMG with a heavyweight lawyer you won’t get a significantly different deal than if you walked in alone.”

That’s an extremely strong cultural difference about BMG.

If you walk into BMG with a heavyweight lawyer you will not get a significantly different deal than if you walked in here alone.

You’ve acquired a huge amount since 2008. Why is BMG investing so much money in the future of music when some still believe it’s a doomed business?

We have a different view of the future of this industry than a lot of analysts and stakeholders.

Back in 2005, Bertelsmann analysed the music business and concluded that the biggest obstacle to an efficient and sustainable industry – one that would benefit from the change to digital – was actually the way the industry ran itself.

Bertelsmann concluded that the old mindset – I call it the ‘Mogul Mindset’ – and its approach to artists would become obsolete; that the business would have to change into a service industry in order to participate in the future growth in usage of music.

Maybe the industry might not monetise all that usage going forward. So what? Other industries have to overcome similar challenges. But motivated customers, loyal clients and attractive digital offerings would create a bright future with quantum leaps in digital revenue.
“Digital companies bailed out a massively old-fashioned music industry that aggressively defended obsolete business models.”

For the first time we have the possibility of truly global distribution, theoretically at zero incremental cost.

Apple, Google, Amazon and others, companies with a combined market capitalisation of more than a thousand billion dollars, are helping to create a global market and thus support the businesses of repertoire owners.

Yes, they might be a bit aggressive on terms sometimes. But they have successfully created an efficient and transparent global reach for music repertoire owners. You can’t get much better than that. And we can work on the right quid-pro-quos if our clients support us.

To be clear: these companies bailed out a massively old-fashioned industry, one which aggressively defended obsolete business models and cynical relationships with their clients, the artists and writers.

So why do we invest so much? There is a great future for music – but the existing industry has to turn to new paradigms in order to be part of it.

But can you ever really challenge the major labels’ market share in recordings?

In short, yes. It’s a question of time and/or investment funds.

We constantly discuss the strategy with Bertelsmann, our shareholder: do we apply more capital and speed up our growth or do we take our time over the next five years to catch up?

It’s well-known that it is the ambition of our shareholder to be among the top-players in any sector it’s involved in.
“Our objective is not market share but quality of service and profitability.”

That said, we do not constantly view ourselves relative to other market participants. Our objective is not market share but quality of service and profitability. They are key to our ability to grow.

We expect a growing movement among artists and writers to question the fairness and acceptability of the terms they have historically been offered by the music industry.

With BMG’s focus on fairness and transparency we believe our position on these points can help us to catch up very fast.

Is there an opportunity in acquisitions alone for you to reach your target size, considering the sheer mass of copyrights that are owned and locked down by the three majors?

The amount which is locked down, as you say it, is in flux. There are significant catalogues that are not owned but represented in a certain region for a certain time.

This includes specifically some of the very important, high value catalogues.

If you look at the iconic US and UK repertoire of the 1960s and 1970s, a lot of it is actually not owned by the companies which currently represent it.but It looks like you’re closest in scale to the majors in the publishing world, where your clients include Steve Mac, Dan Wilson and Bruno Mars.
We have made significant progress, but it is profitability and quality of service rather than market share which matters most to us and our shareholders.

Profitability is very high on my priorities, since it is profitability which triggers funding to get scale.

Scale allows you to build a world-class team and invest in technology – both fundamentally important for supplying a consistent and reliable service level to our clients.

The music industry is traditionally heavily US-centric with respect to investment and team capacity, with the UK some way behind. It’s different for us.
“We’ll be able to grow very fast organically. A timeframe of [BMG becoming a €1bn company in] five to six years is realistic.”

The basic chemistry of our industry is Anglo-American repertoire, but you also have to be very strong in local artist repertoire in other large markets. You cannot ignore the dominance of local repertoire in European territories, for example.

In a borderless digital world there is increasing global interest in artists from those countries. And we want a strong presence in those territories to have knowledgeable, competent teams on the ground to represent our global repertoire.

By the way, historically there was a view that local repertoire’s dominance in Europe was a function of media regulation, specifically radio. That’s totally wrong.

Local repertoire is important because it’s important to consumers – that’s what makes it so massively relevant.

How far is BMG from consolidated yearly sales of €1bn?

As I said, short-term that’s a question of allocation of funds. Theoretically you can move fast with three or four broader strokes, but that requires a lot of capital.

I’ m sure we’ll be able to grow very fast organically, so a timeframe of five to six years is realistic.

In terms of organic growth, are you increasing or decreasing the amount you spend on A&R?

We’re increasing our expenditure on A&R. That’s not a common trend in the industry right now.

We’re very excited about supporting new artists and writers.

A&R is a famously shaky business and BMG are very sensible investors. So why is that the case?

Actually it’s a great business and absolutely necessary to keep this industry attractive and vibrant.

If you invest rationally it’s possible to mitigate risk and help create exciting careers.

One of the aspects that has got a bit lost is managing risk.

When labels were able to develop artists long-term and start with an initial spend between £50,000 and £100,000 the risk profile was more attractive than in a new world of £1m decisions.
“industry A&R has forced itself into a situation where speed and immediate impact have become too important.”

The careers of many major artists were based on a long-term view of their creative relevance. Unfortunately the industry forced itself into a situation in which speed and immediate impact became too important.

These days expectations are often that it has to be a Number One immediately or it doesn’t make sense.

Our view is often different: let’s try to break even on, let’s say, 30-50k album equivalents and develop from there.

In this process you want to be in sync with your artist. This is key for a realistic level of investment and long-term commitment and career planning.

We are allocating substantial funds to that process, refining the approach and deal terms, making it replicable.

This will allow us to work with more and more artists who don’t want to get stuck in unrecoupable open balances on their first release.

KordaHow well are Infectious/Vagrant settling in after your acquisitions of both companies last year?

It has all happened surprisingly quickly. Jon [Cohen] and Korda and their teams became fully integrated literally within weeks – sometimes to their own surprise!

Korda was very open about how sceptical he was initially, but he has now thrown himself into his new role which goes far broader than the Infectious roster.
“You don’t show your love for an artist by how much you spend, but by how responsibly you support a career.”

Vagrant and Infectious are part of a very positive story. And putting it into the context of the discussion: both Korda and Jon can now draw on BMG’s resources, team and funding, but retain their sensible approach to spending, which they refined over the years as independents.

This helps us avoid situations where artists refuse to continue because they are practically broke, ruined by unrecoupable open balances.

You don’t show your love for an artist by how much you spend but how respectfully you design deal terms, and how responsibly you support a career.

You’re a very globally-aware company. What is the future potential for markets with very low per-capita music but very high populations – particularly China, India, Russia?

With China and India, it’s quite obvious when you look at other consumer trends – ownership of cars and handsets, for instance – that the next level of engagement will be media usage and this has the potential to give a tremendous up-swing in total industry numbers.

That said, if we want to participate, the right way to approach markets like China is to learn from the local players.

Why did you choose Alibaba as your partner in China?

Everything aligned. The decision was made by our Chinese team. They developed good relationships with Alibaba. Everything was very appealing, a very strong technology company with a drive to engage in media.

We took our time to meet several players and learn. They explicitly told us that the Chinese music industry would not develop on the pattern of the traditional industry in the US.

One mantra we heard in all our meetings: you need to understand the importance of exclusive relationships with strong partners.

Without exclusivity, no-one is interested to protect the interests of repertoire owners. And that means, no one fights illegal usages like piracy.
“I’m very optimistic about china’s relevance as a music market and its fight against piracy.”

A strong exclusive partner tends to say, ‘I paid for the repertoire, I represent the repertoire’ and suddenly you start to see a lot of movement in copyright protection and enforcement. So I’m very optimistic about China’s relevance as a music-market and its fight against piracy.

And there is one more aspect. Big Chinese companies are listed in the US.

You can’t be exposed to supporting copyright infringement when you know you won’t be sued in Shanghai, but where it gets dangerous and massively expensive, in the courts of North America.

The same arguments will apply to Russia.

The collapse of the Global Repertoire Database seemed like a disaster for the global music publishing business. How much of a pitfall was it for the industry – and do you still have any optimism that kind of database can be created in the future?

I have a different perspective: it has to be created. Otherwise, we will be a highly dysfunctional, ineffective industry.

Everyone must agree this has to happen: you need a comprehensive database to deal with today’s realities.

What evolution of collection societies would you like to see?

The reality is they need to feel some economic heat. Governance is definitely from the past.

These very important industry players effectively charge you what they need in order to cover what they spend.

That’s the wrong way round.
“The collection societies need to feel some economic heat. They charge you what they need in order to cover their spend. That’s the wrong way round.”

What is the right price for that kind of service? We should be looking at proxies from the telecoms industry and how much are they allowed to charge for transactions. We have to get real about it.

Who’s to blame? It’s not the guys who run the collection societies as much as the guys who govern them, to a great extent the politicians.

If they don’t do their job, it’s hard to blame the people at the collection societies.

Whether it’s a global database or other ways of aligning interests, there are so many ways to be much more cost-effective. We need them to be efficient – incredibly efficient – or they’ll become the laughing stock of very efficient technology companies… who will continue to say: ‘This is your problem.’

That said, while it’s true there are obviously governance issues and issues over commission rates, there is a bigger issue with those companies coming to the music industry looking to drive down the value of music.

Spotify3What’s your view on the split of streaming payouts – in some cases 14-1 in favour of the artist/label over the songwriter/publisher. Does that have to change?

It’s got to. It’s based on a very historic concept of delivery models, and it’s very hard to justify why these ratios are locked in.

Historically, I agree that running big warehouses, big manufacturing plants, sales teams etc. had an impact on the profit pool. But this has completely changed.

Realistically when I’m licensing music to a streaming service this is not so different to licensing music for a movie.
“Why in hell should someone who records a copyright get nine times as much money as the guy who wrote it? It makes no sense.”

So let’s look at the sync metrics. A typical sync fee is split 50/50 between label and publishers. And realistically – depending on the contract – the labels should split their half 50/50 with artists.

You’re then into a scenario of 50/50 when it comes to publishing/record company splits and also a 50/50 scenario with record company clients. Which means, suddenly record labels would have to deal with only keeping 25% out of the pot.

That’s a very rational and defendable view. But it will be one of the toughest discussions in the next five years in the music industry: how is the pool divided.

That will scare many companies – not just the majors.

Yes, but you have to agree with the principle: it doesn’t matter what your cost base is to your client; you have to be more efficient.

Why in hell should someone who records a copyright get nine times as much money as the guy who wrote it? It makes no sense.

Let’s say streaming dominates the industry, and that payouts are split 50/50 between labels and publishers – and that, in turn, labels share their royalty 50/50 with artists. Could BMG survive?

Absolutely. It was one of our basic assumptions that in the digital world current ratios won’t and shouldn’t survive.

If it’s not forced by regulation, it will be forced by artists and writers themselves.
“If 50/50 streaming splits are not forced by regulation, it will be forced by artists and writers themselves.”

If you assume Apple is as successful as they want to be with their streaming initiative and Spotify keeps its growth momentum, more and more artists will question the need for traditional deals and traditional structures.

It is up to us in the industry to develop new more efficient ways of working with artists and writers. And that is what BMG is about.

BMG might be built to be sustainable in that environment, but are other companies?

We believe it is cost structure, service levels and the fairness and transparency with which you treat artists which will decide the ability of companies to participate in the future of our industry.

The industry will have to deliver reliable services at a transparent, reasonable cost to their clients, the artists and writers.

It is getting harder and harder for those trying to defend the status quo.

Daniel Ek SpotifyDoes it concern you that there has been aggressive public statements from large players in the market about trying to force on-demand ‘freemium’ streaming tiers – especially Spotify’s – to reduce or close entirely?

It’s a very interesting picture. Clearly we can ask more from Spotify in terms of being able to steer the availability of your repertoire.

As a freemium subscriber, I think you should see more constraints; you should see the beauty of it, but there should be limits.

Maybe you can only listen to Taylor Swift ten times, then you have to [pay] or listen to other repertoire.

As an artist you should be able to say at some point: ‘Actually, I want to be able to slow down my profile on certain songs.’

These are things that are possible from a technology perspective.
“Shut down freemium completely? No way. Daniel Ek single-handedly changed the perspective of the entire music industry.”

Big picture is that it’s better the way it is now than it was before: freemium is there to establish the market. But it would be very wise of Spotify and similar players not to stay regimented in their current model, but actually say: ‘What can we do that you are more convinced this is a good service?’

Bjorn from ABBA spoke to me two weeks ago, a very technology-friendly person, and he said: ‘Why can’t streaming companies be more flexible? Why the hell can’t they pro-rate their customers? Why is someone who pays 9.99 Euros a month just to listen to ABBA in the same basket as my daughter, who streams thousands of songs?’

It’s technically completely possible. The phone companies do it already.

The digital music companies just need to wake up to the fact that they should do everything to please their repertoire sources. A confrontational relationship is no good for anyone.

But as for those who say shut down freemium completely? No way.

Remember that the music industry did not create this market. It was Daniel Ek who created a solution that is bailing out a worldwide business.

He single-handedly changed the perspective of the entire music industry. That is a real achievement.Music Business Worldwide

Scooter Braun: Profile

May 11, 2015

Scooter Braun discovered Justin Bieber on YouTube. Now he also represents Ariana Grande, Psy, Carly Rae Jepsen, and several other pop culture phenomena.

Cal Fussman

I’d love to tell you that there are all these lessons and that a lot of my success was based on things that I learned and how I was able to move forward. But really it’s just being stupid enough to think you can do it.

I was too dumb to think about all the conservative reasons why me achieving the things I wanted to achieve were very close to impossible.

It started in first grade. I went to a party and the clown-magician guy was like, “What’s your name? Scott? Scooter!” and I was like, “Shut up, clown-magician guy, my name is Scott!” And my brother, Adam, saw this, and anything that pissed me off, he loved. I had very big lips growing up, so my brother started to call me Scooter Fish because he decided a scooter fish has big lips. So it was, “Scooter Fish this,” “Scooter Fish that.” And I’d chase him around the house and beat the shit out of him.

My dad was a refugee from Hungary, the child of Holocaust survivors, so it was always very important for him to give back. And my mom lost her father when she was eleven and grew up with very little. So there was always an extra bedroom with someone in it in our home.

One day my dad got a phone call from a buddy of his in Philadelphia, saying, “Two kids, good kids, they’re living in an abandoned tenement in Philadelphia, very bad situation, the guy who brought them over from Africa had the wrong intentions. Could you help them out and put them on your AAU basketball team, maybe find them a prep school?”

The kids were from Mozambique. Really good kids. After a week, one of them, Cornelio, in his broken English, said: “Can we stay?” And my dad said: “A couple more weeks until we figure this out? Yeah, sure.” Cornelio said: “No, forever.”

We had one family meeting, and they were adopted.

People hear this story about your family adopting kids and they think, “Oh my God, it’s so amazing for those kids!” But they don’t realize it was just as amazing for us.

I remember watching Cornelio come home from school for the first day. He was very upset because they kept giving him books in every classroom, putting them in his backpack, and sending him to the next room. He kept trying to communicate, but in Portuguese — his English wasn’t good enough, and he didn’t know how to ask what he wanted to ask. He was upset because where he comes from there aren’t enough books for all kids to take home. You have to keep the books at school. And he thought he was going to get in trouble for bringing the books home. When you hear a story like that, you start to realize how much you take for granted in your everyday life.

Every night before we went to sleep — every night — my dad would walk in the room, and he’d say, “Brauns are different. You’re special.” We’d say: “What does that mean, Dad?” And he’d say: “You’re not better than anybody, but you’re different, and you’re not going to be held to the normal standards that other kids are going to be held to, because if you want to be extraordinary, you’ve got to be held to extraordinary standards.” Every night. After a while, you start to believe that shit.

If you really love someone, you push them.

If it’s achievable, there’s no excuse why you shouldn’t be doing it.

If you’re not going to do it to the best of your ability, then don’t do it at all.

There’s been a lot of studies on children of the Holocaust, descendants of the Holocaust. They look at the world very differently. You grow up with these stories that my grandparents told me. As good as your life is today, you have to plan for the worst tomorrow, constantly. And you also have to try to achieve as much as you can because you don’t know if tomorrow is going to be there. Tomorrow is not promised.

To me, surprising my dad meant impressing him. Even in small ways. I’d get a fast break on the basketball court but pull up for a three-pointer. And you’d hear my dad, who was coaching, go: “SCOTT! NO, NO, NO!!!” And then when the ball went through the net, he’d be: “Okay!”

Ball is life, man. You never heard that?

You can’t have five point guards on the floor. You’ve got to have your roles, and you’re going to have to depend on each other, because no one can win on their own.
Braun playing basketball

What I really love about Phil Jackson is how he got guys like Michael Jordan to listen. This wasn’t the bull-in-the-china-shop approach that I’d known my entire life. He was able to get other great people to listen to him so he could shape them.

You have to speak to very talented and very opinionated people in a way that keeps them in a mindset where they’re not threatened and they’re willing to listen to you and trust you so you can grow with them.

I never had the privilege of being the big kid who walks in the park with the attitude that says: I’m going to pummel you guys. I was the tiny kid. In seventh grade, a girl called me a shrimp and I cried the entire night. What a bitch! But it gave me this sensitivity . . . you just don’t treat people poorly. Because I know what it’s like to be that person.

I was four eleven as a freshman. I grew twelve inches in high school — four inches every year. So at the start I was the short kid who was friends with all the girls but not big enough to date them, right? I had to be a very good listener. It was the only way they would talk to me. And it actually served me when I grew. I had heard them vent to me about all the guys who disrespected the girls and were rude. So I never became that dude.

When you’re that small, you find yourself observing a lot because you’re physically not able to compete. You have to use your mind in a different way.

Understand the little man and show respect. And understand that the little man today might not be the little man tomorrow.

Treat the janitor like the CEO.

I wanted my own story. I wanted not to be Ervin and Susan’s kid. Here I was hearing the story of my grandpa and the Holocaust and what he did to get our family out after the Hungarian Revolution . . . and then hearing about my father, you know, coming from Queens and getting us to Greenwich, Connecticut. I didn’t want to be that first kid to grow up with means. I wanted to do it on my own, the same way my father did it, the same way his father did it. So I wanted to go far away so I could make my own story.

In high school, people called me Scott. Scooter was a name only close, close friends called me. My buddy made me a bet that I couldn’t introduce myself to everyone at Emory as Scooter. Hundred bucks. Orientation starts and they say, “Scott Braun” and I say, “I’m sorry, but my name is Scooter.” When I threw the first party and put Scooter Braun on the flyer, that was it. I was in. I was Scooter to everyone who came, and it became this thing.

No one remembers Scott. But it’s really easy to remember Scooter.

Sometimes having your name shift allows you to feel like you’re getting to recreate your story.

I used to not listen.

I was the kid who always said, “I’m going to do this!” and then six months later, even though I gave it the best effort, it didn’t work out. And someone would say, “Hey, what happened with that?” and I’d be like, “Well it didn’t work out” and they’d be like, “You’re full of shit. You talk so much bullshit, you say you’re going to do this, you say you’re going to do that. . . .” Scott did that. Scooter didn’t talk. Scooter would tell you, “I just did this. It’s over, it’s done.” He learned that lesson. He got to start over.

Sometimes the smartest person for the job is the wrong person for the job because they’re just negative. When you have negative people around you, doesn’t matter how capable or intelligent they are, they will hurt the culture of what you’re doing. What they do is they project their negativity onto you. And you start to look in the mirror and say: Do I even like myself? And you realize it isn’t even you. It’s them. They’re putting that shit on you.

Happiness is understanding it’s about the journey.

Risk is being stupid enough to walk around a corner where you don’t know what’s there.

Courage is doing what’s right in every single moment no matter what it means to you.

Sometimes situations change, and it’s not the right deal for you. But it’s important if you gave someone your word, you stick to your word. Even if it’s not the best deal. Even if you know you would have negotiated it differently because circumstances have changed. Unless the other side is doing something malicious or spiteful, when you give somebody your word, stick to it. That’s real courage.

I don’t look at money as success. I look at it as an avenue to freedom.

When I was about ten years old, a Greenpeace worker knocked on the door to our house in Connecticut. It’s a defining moment of my life. I run over, open the door, and he starts telling me the whole Greenpeace thing. Good salesman. I’m pumped. Let’s save the ocean. Let’s save the whales. Mom! Come here. Greenpeace guy! You’re always saying give back. We should do this. “Scott,” she says, “we give to a lot of charities. We can’t just give money to everyone who shows up at the door.” Mom . . . I begged her, and I think she wrote a seventy-five-dollar check. He was super grateful, and he left. I watch him walk out of our driveway and I’m thinking: Where’s his car? And my mom says he doesn’t have a car. That he’s walking from house to house as part of his mission to show people he supports the environment. It’s part of him showing his devotion and his dedication to the cause. And I thought: Okay, cool, but there’s no train station close to here. There’s no cabs. That’s a long walk. And in that moment he was like a hero. To be that dedicated and that passionate to his cause. In that exact same moment, I realized without my mom writing him that check, he was just a guy walking door to door. That’s when I decided I would never, ever have to rely on a little kid begging his mom to give me a check to make a difference in the world. So I ran for class president. And I wanted to be successful. So when my brother says, Hey, I want to do this charity to build schools for children, I can write him a check. I wanted to be in a place of influence because I never wanted to rely on anybody. The lesson I learned was to skip a step.

My first memory is of my Uncle Will coming to visit me when I was born. Everyone thinks I’m crazy. They say: “That’s impossible. Babies can’t see distance when they’re born.” But I remember my Uncle Will wearing suspenders and I was completely fascinated with those things he was wearing. No one believes me. But Uncle Will says he was wearing suspenders. That’s my story, and I’m sticking with it.

It’s this weird thing that happens. I get a gut check in this way I can’t explain. It kinda feels like, Oh, I know what this is. It’s like something else is telling me.

I saw the video of Justin. It had sixty thousand views. My gut went: That’s the kid you’re looking for. And I knew, as I watched those videos, what to do. I had the whole plan in my head. I knew the next four years. Done.

I compare it to falling in love. I told my wife on the first date I was gonna marry her.

She freaked out. Completely freaked out.

But at the same time, she was freaked out that she wasn’t more freaked out.

Just because you know doesn’t mean they know.

Same thing with Justin and his mother. Found him, give them this idea, sounds crazy, but something in their gut is saying this guy is telling the truth. Then I have to show them it’s real.

At some point you gotta believe in a higher power and some mysterious plan that we don’t understand, that we can’t even fathom, because we’re just too small to fathom. Certain things happen and you just get gut feelings and intuition that simply doesn’t make sense. And you go against every logical thought in your head and it works out because something inside you tells you to do it.

L: Scooter Braun and Ariana Grande. R: Steve Angello, Martin Garrix, and Scooter Braun

This gut feeling is like that with all the artists. Same thing with Ariana Grande. I called her up and I said: Can I meet with you? And they were like, Sure. I went to the house, gave this whole pitch, and they’re like, We believe you. Let’s give it a try. I could just see it. I knew what to do with her. You know, with Martin Garrix, you heard Animals, you just kinda know. “Gangnam Style.” I saw the video, it had under a hundred thousand views. My COO sent it to me as a joke. Ha ha isn’t this funny? You should tweet it. He’s silly. And I said: “FIND THIS GUY.” What do you mean? “This is gonna be the number-one song in the world.” In the office, it’s like a running joke. People always ask me: Is your gut saying anything? Most of the time I’m getting nothing. But if I say to them, “My gut went off,” everybody runs with me.

At the same time, I’m the idiot who will go and give free hugs to people on a sidewalk.

Go with your gut no matter what. Because when you go with the logical thing and you go against your gut and you’re wrong, it haunts you. I knew it. Knew it. When you go with your gut and you’re wrong, you say: Ah, I went with my gut. No problem.

I wasn’t fully prepared for the transformation from young man to young adult, and seeing Justin struggle with that. And that’s where my father came in handy: Being that rock for me; I had to be that rock for him. And we got through that.

Photo by Alfredo Flores
Mistakes are lessons. Cherish your mistakes. Learn from them. And by the way, cherish other people’s mistakes. Learn from them without taking the hit.

When I die, if people say, Man, he was an incredible entrepreneur . . . but my kids are thinking, He was a piece-of-shit dad, then I failed. But if I lost everything, and my kids felt, He lost everything but he was still a good dad to us, then I succeeded.

When you have a kid, this shift takes place. When you’re young, even though you know you’re gonna die, you feel kind of invincible. But all of a sudden you’re holding your kid and you’re like, Okay, this is weird. I’ve worked thirty-three years hard as hell to be the man I am in the world today, and you don’t even know anything about it nor do you care. In fact, you didn’t even fucking exist, and I love you more than anyone I’ve ever met. I don’t even know you, but I love you. And you have this weird moment where you realize that you don’t really know you’re gonna die until you make life. Because the moment you make life and you’re looking at your child, you realize, You never existed. All the things that I’ve done in thirty-three years, all the experiences, all the feelings, all the things I’ve seen, I didn’t even exist to my child. And someday my child will continue to exist, and I won’t.

And when that happens, you realize that you have to do as much as you possibly can while you have time on this earth to make a difference and impact this world and at the same time pass as much of that knowledge that you have to this little person before you die.

When you’re a young kid, you’re like, I wanna be a millionaire! I wanna be a billionaire! And then you realize, making five grand is really fucking hard. And your perspective on making millions to billions of dollars is completely changed. So you start to reevaluate and set new goals. What number is enough for me? I was very lucky to start passing those numbers when I was twenty-seven. At thirty, you start seeking people out that have so much more than you financially. All right, when do I stop being hungry for this? Because I’m confused now. I didn’t get any of the satisfaction when I hit my number. I thought when I hit my number, I’d feel something. And I felt nothing, and that was depressing. My life didn’t change. I just had more in my bank account. What the fuck? That’s when David Geffen told me to read that poem “Ithaka,” which is about the journey. It’s always about the journey. And he said something to me I’ll never forget. He said: “Hundred years from now, no one’s gonna remember me, and sure as hell no one’s gonna remember you.” And I realized, he’s right. No one’s gonna remember me. But they’ll feel my impact, and that’s good enough for me.

A real live Sire: Seymour Stein on half a century in the music business

April 30, 2015  04/21/15
Seymour Stein, a bona fide music industry legend, turns 73 this month. Get him talking about music he loves, though, and he’ll match the passion of any young industry whippersnapper pound for pound.

Stein is still every bit as full as admiration for great bands as he was more than half a century ago, when in 1966 he co-founded Sire Records with his friend Richard Gottier.

Stein – who these days plies his A&R trade within the walls of Warner Music Group – remains a hero to the ‘next generation’ of independent music executives; those now running labels and publishers around the world.

Through Sire, he played a vital role in bringing the likes of Talking Heads, The Ramones, The Cure, Ice-T and Echo & The Bunnymen to mainstream recognition.

And then there was that signing, when Stein fell head over heels for the music and theatricality of Madonna Louise Ciccone – launching the career, in 1982, of a woman who would go on to define music’s pop culture time and time again.

[PIAS]’s Kenny Gates shared a coffee and a chat with Seymour at SXSW to delve deep into the career history of one of independent music’s true godfathers.

I’m sure you’ve told this story hundreds of times, but please do cast your mind back again: you started Sire in 1966?
Yes, late 1966 as a production company. If you go back a few years further, you find the reason we were able to get Sire started: I was 14-years-old, and the first man I ever worked for was Tom Noonan, the charts editor at Billboard magazine.

He had just taken over a position at Columbia Records, running a label called Date. He helped Richard and I get a big advance – in those days it was a big advance, anyway!

Do you remember how much it was for?
Oh, of course. $50,000. It was a lot of money back then. Plus, we got free use of the Columbia studios anywhere in the world and [then] they would pay to sign up the acts. The $50,000 was just operating capital, which we desperately needed.

How did you and Richard meet?
james_brownThat’s important! We met in the Brill building; that was my last job [before Sire] – working for Red Bird Records for George Goldner, another one of my mentors. And in-between, after Billboard and after Red Bird, I worked for King Records.

Syd Nathan at King was my greatest mentor. [King’s roster included] James Brown (pictured), Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, Freddy King and a great country roster.

I know that without being mentored by these and other people – including Ahmet [Ertegun] and Jerry Wexler, even Nesuhi Ertegün – I wouldn’t have had such a successful career. I believe in mentoring very much.

Well you are one of my mentors! I’m amazed by your longevity and your passion.
Thank you – I’m amazed at it too given the life I’ve lived!

How old were you when you started Sire?
I was, let’s see, 22. But Sire wasn’t a label to start with; it took about a year-and-a-half for that to happen. Again, I was very fortunate. We had no office.

Syd Nathan was closing down the King headquarters in New York and rented me this amazing office for $325 a month. The first thing I did was to take the biggest room in the office and rent it out to Julie and Roy Rifkind – Roy was a manager and Julie was a great record man, working for Bang Records.

Bert [Berns, Bang co-founder] did all the producing and Julie did just about everything else.

What was the first artist you signed?
MattieIt was a woman named Mattie Moultrie. She was a black woman from Georgia, and I had always loved that song – That’s How Strong My Love Is. That was the first thing we did with her.

Columbia wanted us, as much as possible, to sign black acts. They stated that. My background with King meant I used to go on the road with James Brown amongst other things, all in my late teens. I never went to college.
“I used to go on the road with james brown in my late teens. I never went to college.”

They also had this guy Dave Kapralik at Sony who brought in Sly & The Family Stone – when they finally ‘got’ it.

The majors lagged behind [the indies] and even within the majors, Columbia lagged behind Decca, Capitol and RCA in terms of getting involved in rock’n’roll, rhythm and blues… Part of the reason they did the deal with us was to play catch-up a little bit.

You say you didn’t go to college. Did your parents support your business career?
They didn’t understand it. My father just scratched his head. But they didn’t interfere, and that was help enough.

My father was an orthodox Jew, so, you know. He didn’t believe rock’n’roll was the devil’s music or anything; in fact, my father loved music.

He told me about his days of checking out vaudeville shows.

And your mother wasn’t scared about the music industry?
No. My mother came from a totally different background.

She’s Jewish as well, but my grandparents were in the Italian food business. So I think my mother was a little more rough and ready!

I loved music ever since I was a boy. My sister is six years older than me, so I heard pop music very early.

So your sister is responsible for getting you into music?
Well, I just listened to the radio with her. She had records. It certainly helped me in life to have a big sister, yes.

Was there a defining moment from your teens when you thought: ‘I’m going to be successful in this business.’
I wanted to be part of the music business since I was nine years old.

I went up to Billboard when I was 13 to do research on the charts. Tom Noonan was very gracious and gave me access. I’d go there every day after school – my parents didn’t like that, but then they met Tom.

Was there a moment where your parents saw that you were successful?
MadonnaThey both lived to see Madonna be No.1 on the charts. They were very proud of me.

You’re twenty years older than I am – I see you at shows, underground gigs, terrible toilet venues. These are places no sane person would want to go!
Well if I survived the toilet at CBGB’s, which didn’t even have a door, I think I can survive any toilet out there.

What gets you up in the morning?
I love to work. I think it keeps me young – at least in spirit and in mind. I mean, what else would I do?

It offers me so much. 15 years ago, when music really started to taper off [through piracy] I was low.
“My parents both lived to see Madonna hit No.1. They were very proud of me.”

I felt everybody, if they want to, should have the experience of being in the business.

And I knew that if there wasn’t a music business, it would be terrible.

How did you stay positive about the business during that period?
I started focusing on India and China, which I still do. 20-25 years from now, I probably won’t be around, but over 80% of the world’s population will be in Asia and Africa. It’s hard to believe.

I remember when Hong Kong was totally a pirate market. Nothing is impossible. There are 1.3bn people in China. And in India, there’s 1.2bn, but it will eventually be bigger than China because there’s no restriction on the number of children they can have.

In each of these countries you have 400m or more middle class people – with millions more joining the ranks every year. [The music business] really better get started in these markets.

You’ve been internationally-minded for a very long time, though.
Great hits can come from anywhere. I put out Australian music in America before anyone – a record, I’m Stranded by The Saints. I felt bad; I heard this record in EMI and they said, ‘Oh, you can have this. American record labels will never put this record out.’

Well, why should they? They rejected The Beatles twice – not once, twice! That’s why those early [Beatles] records came out on a rhythm and blues label, Vee Jay.

And when Vee Jay couldn’t pay royalties, the rights came back to Capitol. And then Capitol rejected them again!

That’s why Swan Records put out Please Please Me [in the US].
“The music business really needs to get started in india and china.”

I told The Saints’ manager that I’d never signed a band until I’d seen them live, and that I’d always wanted to go to Australia. Eight months later, I went out there and signed [The Saints] and another band, Radio Birdman.

Both of those bands have been inducted into the Australian music Hall Of Fame, and I’m very proud of that.

You, of course, know of the success I had in Belgium with Ca Plane Pour Moi [by Plastic Bertrand] and with Telex. In fact my first million-seller was Focus, Hocus Pocus from Holland.

When you signed Madonna, did you think she’d still be making music 30 years later?
I didn’t think about it. What people usually ask me is, Do you think she’d ever be this big? Of course not! I knew she was special.

And you met her through Mark Kamins?
Yes, I’d always befriended Mark. He was a DJ who played all sorts of weird music but somehow made it work – he was playing Faro music, mixing it with African music and making it all work.

I gave him $18,000 and I told him: ‘This should be enough for you, over a period of a year or longer – don’t rush it – to make six demos.’ Madonna was the third demo he brought me. I listened to it and I loved it.
“The ramones never sold what they deserved – but they influenced so much.”

Everyone knows this story: I heard it in the hospital, and I got so excited, I made her come to see me. No, that’s not true – even then you couldn’t make Madonna do anything unless she wanted to!

She came to the hospital and we agreed on a deal right then and there. I asked her to go to her lawyers so we could draw up the papers.

All these bands you signed: Talking Heads, The Pretenders, The Ramones… Discovering The Ramones must have been an incredible moment.
ramones_1290682013Yes, but a regrettable moment in a way. They’re all dead now – the last of them died last year. In addition, they never sold [what they deserved to].

But they influenced so much of the music business. I met with someone from The Grammys recently, and they’re going to do a big spotlight on The Ramones next year.

It breaks my heart they weren’t bigger.But whenever the public learn who I am, the first thing they ask about is The Ramones. So they have ‘made it’, I suppose, it’s just horrible they’re not alive.

To me and many others, you are a friend of the indies, but you work for Warner. You are the most independent major label executive!
Yes. Well, first of all, Warner is a bit different than the other majors. It never started out to be a major label. Warner started out the way the other record labels did – in the motion pictures business.

Columbia Pictures had a label – all of them did. But luckily, they bought Reprise Records, and with it they got a business man who was very smart in Mo Ostin.
“When I was put into the rock & roll hall of fame, I was embarrassed to be inducted before jac holzman.”

Then they bought Atlantic, which was the greatest of all the indie labels. They actually paid their artists – that’s how great they were!

I’m not saying the others didn’t, but Atlantic was the most honest. They started Bang: it stands for Bert, Ahmet, Nesuhi and Jerry. And they bought Elektra Records; with that they got not only a great music man, but a great technical guy who knew about making records – Jac Holzman.

Jac still works for Warner to this day. When I got inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, I was embarrassed that I was inducted before him. Such a great music man, you’d love him. Like me, like you, Jac’s an independent.

It sounds like I’d like him. You still consider yourself an independent executive?
Of course! It’s in my blood! I don’t think like a major label. I’ve never gone after a big artist.

Lou Reed came to me because his lawyer recommended me after he left RCA. I’ve never done any big deals.
“Being an independent is in my blood! I don’t think like a major label.”

I’m embarrassed to tell you what the deal was with Madonna. She’s probably a billionaire now!

I’m very happy for her, and very proud of her.

You said you were embarrassed by the deal: you have to tell me!
$15,000 for three singles and then an option to pick up an album.

That was not the usual kind of deal, but I felt that she would be the queen of the 12” – and she was.
“When I heard madonna’s borderline, I knew there’d be no stopping her.”

And when I heard the fourth single, Borderline, I knew there’d be no stopping her.

I always believed she’d be very big, but not like she became. I couldn’t even think that big!

When you sign an artist, is it the song or the performance that makes a difference?
In almost every case, it’s the song.

Recorded music is about 150 years old. But there’s been a music business for hundreds of years.

Warner/Chappell is 215 years old, and Schott Music in Germany is even older than that.

There’s no such thing as ‘classical music’ at birth. Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and people like that were rock stars!

Because they survived, they became ‘classical’. I’m sure Elvis will be considered ‘classical’ at some point, same with Madonna.

What’s your greatest miss? Which one band do you most regret not signing?
Oh, there are a number of them. But I’ve signed so many, successful and unsuccessful, that I’d rather not dwell on it.

We talked about mentoring before. Is it right you’ve taken Tim and Toby at Transgressive under your wing?
I have. Not as much these days – I still think of them as little babies, but they’re old enough to take other people under their own wings now and I hope that they do.

They’re great guys. I wish them all the best.

Korda Marshall told me about them at first, and he’s fantastic. He’s an all-round music guy, one of the best in the UK. You must know Korda?

I interviewed him last month! We are business supporters of both Transgressive and Infectious. What drew you to helping Tim and Toby in their early years?
I saw a little bit of myself there. I liked them, and they were genuine – they are genuine. They care about their artists.

Would you consider yourself a hopeless romantic?
Well I am hopeless, so at least half of it is true [laughs].

I just love what I do. I don’t have to work, but I don’t know what else I’d do if I didn’t.

If an when the time comes that I’m really not able to do this, and I’m still trying, I hope someone’s good enough to sit me down and say: You know, enough is enough.

But I don’t feel that time has come and I’d like to keep going.

Well if at any time Warner is mad enough not to want you anymore, there’ll be a job for you at [PIAS]! They’re lucky to have you – you inspire trust and make people want to work with Warner.
Thank you. As I said, Warner is very different from the other majors.

There are only three majors now, but even when there was seven or eight of them, Warner was always different.

Is it true you had a complex about being a musician then found out it was better not to be one?
Yes, it’s true. I was at the Windsor Pop & Jazz Festival in 1966 or 1967. Jethro Tull were playing and they were unsigned.

Mike Vernon was a producer then. I said to him: ‘Look, this band are great.’ And he said to me: ‘Oh Seymour. I could never work with a flautist.’

I didn’t know what a flautist was – we called them flute players! I thought he meant he was a deviant or something.
“I didn’t know what a flautist was. I thought he meant a deviant or something.”

So I turned to Gus Sturgeon, who was sitting to the other side of me. He was an engineer who became Elton John’s producer, and I told him: ‘You could be involved in [Jethro Tull] – you could be their engineer.’

He said to me: ‘Seymour, obviously you don’t play a musical instrument… If you did, you’d have heard all the mistakes they made.’

What’s been the highest point and lowest point of your career?
All I can say is, I love the business so much – and I love being part of it so much. It’s been mostly high with a few lows.

I’ll tell you what I’d like to leave behind a little bit; to make it a truly connected world of music, that’s why I’ve spent so much time in Asia.

Would you still recommend someone sets up a label in today’s music business market?
There are good times and there are bad times. There are opportunities during both. Music is not going away.

The music business is older than the film business and certainly older than radio or television.

I don’t know of any form of entertainment, other than live theatre, that’s older than music.

A kid on the street knows more about the technology than I do, so I guess I’m no good in that regard.

But the one thing that’s the constant is that it all begins with a song. Great music, for the most part, will always prevail – sooner or later.

You mentioned before we sat down that you have a book coming?
Well, I have to write it first! It’s true that I’ve got the deal in place. I’ve probably given half of it away in this interview!

From Lorde to Jessie J, the Hits Keep Coming for A & R Superstar Jason Flom

October 2, 2014

Lately, the chief executive of Lava Records has been on a winning streak
By Matthew Kassel 10/01/14

On a recent afternoon in late August, Jason Flom was about to listen to one of tens of thousands of songs that have passed through his ears, with or without consequence, since he joined the music business in the late 1970s. Mr. Flom, now 53 and the head of Lava Records, receives dozens of song links via email every day, about half from “reliable sources,” as he calls them—friends, lawyers, managers, employees—and the rest unsolicited. This one had come in over the transom from a “very brilliant” acquaintance outside the music industry whose taste Mr. Flom respects, so he clicked through to a YouTube video and decided to hear the band out.

The video, impressively done, was a horror movie in miniature, shot in crisp black and white. It featured a kind of post-apocalyptic cityscape with eerie imagery: writhing bodies, lonely streets, creepy faces. The song itself felt frantic and unsettling, with lots of screaming and intense electronic pulsation throughout—Aphex Twin meets Ozzy Osbourne, a generous assessment could conclude. It was the kind of music that might be heard at a vampire rave.

As the song ended, a moment’s pause went by before Mr. Flom, slouched behind his desk in an eighth-floor office in Midtown Manhattan, delivered his verdict. “I think the video is incredible,” he told me, gnawing on an unlit cigar. “But the song is not much of a song—it’s more like a groove.” He dashed off a quick response, explaining that the music wasn’t … commercial enough—it had no melodic hook, no afterglow, didn’t rest in the mind the way a good pop song should—and thanked his friend for passing it along.

It is difficult to say exactly what occurs inside Jason Flom’s modestly sized head when he hears a hit—what alchemical process, which neural receptors alert him to the fact that his ears have landed on something big. “My hope when I turn something on is that it’s going to suck or it’s going to be great,” Mr. Flom said. “Because if it sucks I can delete it, and if it’s great I’ll call you up and say where do I find this guy? But the other ones, they’re close.”
‘My hope when I turn something on is that it’s going to suck or it’s going to be great,’ Mr. Flom said. ‘Because if it sucks I can delete it, and if it’s great I’ll call you up and say where do I find this guy? But the other ones, they’re close.’

The song we had just listened to was indistinct and un-poppy, which made the decision easy. Of course, we’d all like to assume that, in the moment, we could identify a hit pop song, too. How hard is it to figure out that Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” is indelible? But the art of identifying hits does not consist only of discovering good songs. A true record man—women, it’s worth pointing out, are in short supply at the top of the industry—must have the capacity to spot not only a top 100 tune, but the raw talent to sustain a career. “David Geffen calls it an instinct, and I don’t know how else to describe it,” Mr. Flom told me somewhat mindlessly, as though he were reluctant to dwell too much on a good thing. “You either have it or you don’t. Of course, it’s all subjective. Until they’re on the charts, it’s all subjective.”

Lately, Mr. Flom’s instincts have treated him particularly well at Lava. Last year, he signed the young New Zealand prodigy Lorde, now 17, whose debut single, “Royals,” won two Grammys and was perched atop the Billboard Hot 100 for two months. He found her through an email. “Not sure if it’s for you but wanted to pass along,” read the note, which came from a trusted industry source and included a single link to the artist’s Soundcloud page.

Most recently, Jessie J, the English pop star whom Mr. Flom signed in 2011, has surged in the charts thanks to “Bang Bang,” the critically acclaimed, gospel-inflected single featuring Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj. The tune, which has rested firmly in the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 for eight weeks, will be featured on Jessie J’s upcoming album, Sweet Talker, to be released later this month. On July 31, two days after “Bang Bang” came out, it hit No. 1 on iTunes as Mr. Flom was hiking in Aspen, an outing that happened to coincide with his 35th year in the record industry. “I was like, ‘Hmm, I guess I still got it,’ ” he said.

While it is safe to assume that most pop music fans are not interested in record executives and their machinations—the covert scouting that goes into creating, and manipulating, stars—their influence in American culture is practically immeasurable. Pop music, unlike the latest Steven Spielberg film or Donna Tartt novel or David Mamet play, is inescapable. You don’t have to choose it; pop music is there by default, pouring out of speakers at nightclubs, blasting from passing car stereos, purring gently into your psyche at a shopping mall.

While wildly successful, Mr. Flom—a kind of Wizard of Oz of mainstream music—is probably the most undersung hitmaker of the past 30 years. Why is not entirely clear. Maybe his relatively mild lifestyle precludes attention, or it could be that his position at an underdog label brings him an underdog status. Perhaps he does not possess the charisma of a David Geffen or the eccentricity of an Ahmet Ertegün or the mysterious aura of a Clive Davis. Whatever it is, Mr. Flom, who arguably possesses one of the biggest pop culture footprints of the past three decades, deserves a place in that rarefied pantheon.

Throughout his career, which began at Atlantic Records, Mr. Flom has signed and broken a veritable who’s who of top-selling artists and groups including Tori Amos, Stone Temple Pilots, Twisted Sister, Matchbox 20, Jewel, Kid Rock, Sugar Ray, Hootie & the Blowfish and Katy Perry. Mr. Flom specializes not only in acquiring talent, but discovering it, an old-school trait that has been somewhat diminished in the digital age. No longer do talent scouts wander into Greenwich Village cafes to find the next Bob Dylan. The Internet is comprised of 1 million Greenwich Villages. But curators are still a vital asset at a time when any artist, regardless of talent, can throw his or her songs onto iTunes or YouTube or Soundcloud to see what sticks—and good music is drowned out by the din of mediocrity.

“Jason’s definitely in a rare league of people who find artists and make hits,” said Glenn Peoples, a senior editorial analyst at Billboard magazine. “He can attract good talent, he can work with that talent and he can turn it into success.”

Though he downs five shots of espresso every morning —“That’s not an exaggeration,” he said solemnly, “always five”—Mr. Flom, a college drop-out, gives off a slacker’s vibe and seems unusually sedate in an industry where brashness is the norm. He is funny, vulgar, self-deprecating, absent-minded and exudes the kind of anti-establishment nerdiness one might find among the tech entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley.

At his office not long ago, his 2-year-old bulldog, Lulu, sat on a couch in the corner, ripping a foam football to shreds. Mr. Flom wore a pair of thick-rimmed rectangular glasses, a tattered Black Crowes T-shirt and blue jeans. He is obsessed with Instagram and talks about it incessantly, pointing out new jokes he’s made—Mr. Flom has dabbled in stand-up comedy—or funny pictures he’s discovered. An engraved metal nameplate sitting at the front of his desk crudely declares: “Fucker in charge of you fucking fucks.”

The punk rock ethos does not feel disingenuous. Mr. Flom, who was born and raised in New York City, once wanted to be a rock star, and he likes being around them. “I’ve always been focused on signing rock stars,” he said, “as opposed to records or songwriters or singles.” He gave up on becoming a guitarist in his late teens, adhering to a deal he made with his father, the late corporate attorney Joseph H. Flom, who told him he could take one year to make it big as a musician. After failing to do so, the young Mr. Flom enrolled at New York University and got a job at Atlantic Records as a field merchandiser, putting up posters in record stores back when there were lots of them. He made $4 an hour, plus free records.

“I thought it was the best job in the world,” said Mr. Flom, who is a father of two locked in an acrimonious divorce battle over his reported $100 million fortune. We ate a dinner of chicken and salad prepared by a friend who takes care of his dog, at his 67th-floor apartment across the street from the Lava offices near the very un-punk Columbus Circle. (He lives above Puff Daddy, a friend.) We sat in his dining room, which is decorated with photos of him posing with rock stars as well as musical memorabilia, like the guitar autographed by Steven Tyler that reads, “Jason ‘Flom This Way.’” The living room, which overlooks Central Park, is filled with upbeat Pop Art.

During dinner, he had a couple of glasses of wine, which he only started drinking again five years ago. He succumbed to drugs and alcohol in the 1980s and got sober at a Minneapolis rehab, setting off years of abstention from all things mind-altering. “I got tired of Diet Coke,” he told me simply. “That’s a lot of Diet Coke.”
Mr. Flom discovered Lorde through an email. ‘Not sure
if it’s for you but wanted to pass along,’ read the note, which came from a trusted industry source and included
a single link to the artist’s Soundcloud page.

At his first interview at Atlantic for a position in the A&R (artist-and-repertoire) department, Mr. Flom had not yet learned to balance his anti-authoritarian flair with the more polished aspects of corporate culture. Doug Morris, then the president of Atlantic and a mentor to Mr. Flom, was not amused.

“He looked like he was—what’s another word for a bum?” Mr. Morris, now the head of Sony Music Entertainment, told me by phone. “He had dirty clothes on, his hair actually was down to his butt—seriously, I give you my word, maybe a little past his butt—and I said to him, ‘Jason, I really am not a person to criticize anyone’s appearance. That goes against everything I believe, but you look fucking terrible, and I’m a little taken aback.’ ”

Mr. Morris told him he would never make it in music if he didn’t cut his hair. So the next day, Mr. Flom reappeared for the interview in a suit, hair substantially above his butt, and got the job. He hasn’t grown it out since, though he does wear sneakers with his suits on occasion. (He also jokingly complains that Mr. Morris then hired Val Azzoli, who had a mullet, as Atlantic’s chairman.)

Mr. Flom’s first big break in the industry came after signing the New Orleans rock band Zebra, in the early 1980s. Mr. Morris had been reluctant to do so until, driving home to Long Island one night, after listening to a Zebra cassette that Mr. Flom had made for him, he heard the then-unsigned group on WBAB radio. The DJ announced that it was the most requested song in the history of the station, and Mr. Morris realized his young charge might have a more promising pair of ears than he’d suspected.

Mr. Flom quickly proved himself to be something of a prodigy in the industry and rose through the Atlantic ranks, eventually running the A&R division for several years before founding Lava in a partnership with the record company in 1995. Still, the label’s inception was not heralded with the kind of fanfare one might expect of a new corporate endeavor. Mr. Flom had had a successful run, signing such acts as Twisted Sister, Skid Row, Hootie & the Blowfish and Collective Soul, but music was changing, and the higher-ups seemed to think his tastes were outdated.

“They set it up because I was sort of a rock head,” Mr. Flom told me at dinner as he forked slices of jalapeno into his mouth. “I think they thought that music was changing and becoming this indie rock sound and that I didn’t know what I was doing. So they wanted to move me to the side without firing me.”
Mr. Flom plucked Lorde out of relative obscurity in New Zealand. (Photo via Kevin Getty Images)

Mr. Flom plucked Lorde out of relative obscurity in New Zealand. (Photo via Getty Images)

He was given three employees and very few resources. “They thought it was going to fail,” Mr. Flom said bluntly. Instead, Lava sold hundreds of millions of records in eight years, after which Mr. Flom became head of Atlantic. Business was so good, Mr. Flom told me, that a sales clock was placed in Lava’s reception area to count the number of people served, rapidly increasing like the Metronome installation in Union Square.

One of his biggest artists then was Kid Rock, who was not an easy sell, as it happens. He was a virtual unknown when Mr. Flom found him, despite three records. No one but Mr. Flom and a couple other employees took him seriously, though Mr. Flom was convinced he had found a rock star.

For Kid Rock’s first Atlantic showcase at SIR Studios in New York, Mr. Flom made sure that the artist would make a lasting impression on the audience full of skeptical execs. At one point, Joe C., Kid Rock’s late dwarf sidekick, rode into the room on a pony, in a pimp suit, holding a pistol. “It was met with utter disdain and essentially disgust from the Atlantic staff, most of which walked out after,” Kid Rock’s manager, Lee Trink, recalled. “To me, it was the funniest thing ever.” The album, Devil Without a Cause, has sold close to 11 million copies since its release. A signed, framed poster circa 1999 that rests in the bathroom in Mr. Flom’s apartment reads: “Thiers [sic] no way 2 ever thank you enuff… u got all my respect. thanx. Kid Rock.”

Mr. Flom’s track record is not unbroken. Unlike some executives, he has to genuinely like the music to get behind the artist, a position that can lead to occasional regrets. He passed on 3 Doors Down, the early 2000s grunge-lite band known for “Kryptonite” and “Here Without You.” “There was research that showed it was going to be a hit because it played on the radio in this one market, and it was blowing up,” Mr. Flom recalled. “But I went to their show, and I was like, ‘I can’t do this.’ I just didn’t like it, and then it sold millions and millions of copies, and I was like, ‘Well, that was dumb.’ ”

Mr. Flom is relatively unreflective in conversation, partly, one assumes, because that is the way he is, but it may also be because second-guessing is a debilitating activity in his industry. I asked him how many platinum records he thought he’d missed in his career. “Oh, I don’t know,” he told me, somewhat exasperatedly. “I go to therapy so I don’t have to think about that.”

He estimated that he’s batted about .300 so far, which isn’t all that bad, considering Derek Jeter just ended his career with a lifetime batting average of .310—and Mr. Flom isn’t through with his run. “The music business is like baseball,” Mr. Flom said. “No one bats .500, ever.”

Lately, Mr. Flom has been on a winning streak. He became the chief executive officer of Atlantic in 2005 and left shortly after to head up Virgin Records—where he signed Katy Perry—and, after a merger, Capitol Music Group. Lava was put on hiatus, but in 2009, he re-established the label, which is now operated through Republic Records, a division of Universal Music Group, the largest music corporation in the world.
I asked him how many platinum records he thought he’d missed in his career. ‘Oh,
I don’t know,’ he told me, somewhat exasperatedly. ‘I go to therapy so I don’t have to think about that.’

Things at Lava are not unlike how they were before. The label is still an underdog, and Mr. Flom has three employees, none over 30. He hasn’t asked for more manpower, despite his success, claiming that one must be “lean and mean” in a protracted business that, he says, is slowly recovering from the threat of piracy in the early aughts. “Everything about the music business has changed,” Mr. Flom said. “It’s all pretty fucking confusing, but the good news is people still like to buy music.”

Mr. Flom, who is active in a number of philanthropic endeavors, said his proudest achievement was when he had dinner with Bill Clinton, in the last year of his presidency, and successfully petitioned Mr. Clinton to grant clemency to 17 nonviolent drug offenders who were serving sentences that ranged between 15 and 85 years. He still keeps in touch with Mr. Clinton as a result of that dinner. Mr. Flom is a founding member of the Innocence Project, an organization devoted to exonerating the wrongfully convicted through DNA testing. His interest in the cause was piqued in 1992 after reading an article about a kid who was serving 15 years to life for a nonviolent cocaine offense. Mr. Flom, with the help of a lawyer friend, was able to get him out of jail. “It was a pretty transformative experience,” he said.

As far as his music industry achievements are concerned, a good portion of them he chalks up to being in the right place at the right time—the Lorde email, for instance, which he could easily have overlooked, or Doug Morris hearing Zebra on the radio. He discovered Tori Amos when he found a cassette that was sitting on another person’s desk in the Atlantic offices. He picked it up, listened to it, and that was that. He does, however, give credit to his own persistence and, of course, his instincts.

Not all of the artists Mr. Flom has signed on the latest iteration of Lava have produced blockbusters, like Lorde and Jessie J, and because he has so few resources, he has to be very careful about signing weak artists to a roster only 10 acts long. They include the goth-pop band Black Veil Brides, the Norwegian singer Ida Maria, the Swedish outfit Royal Concept and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, whom Mr. Flom described as “the biggest Christmas act in the history of Christmas—since Jesus, anyway.” So far, no major blemishes.

Mr. Flom has found a recent niche discovering and molding young female pop stars, including Ms. Perry, Lorde and Hayley Williams, whom he signed, in 2003, at the age of 14, and who went on to form the pop-rock band Paramore. “I think that’s a coincidence,” Mr. Flom said of the trend. “I never set out to look for a particular thing.”

Russell Simmons, the music and fashion mogul who co-founded the hip-hop label Def Jam, said that for years he had known Mr. Flom as the guy who signed rock bands. “Then suddenly he started making these pop records that my little daughter liked,” Mr. Simmons said. “And I was like, ‘Oh, shit, he makes this other stuff, too.’ ”
Mr. Flom’s latest acquisition is Maty Noyes, a 16-year-old Mississippi native. (Photo by Melissa Dilger)

Mr. Flom’s latest acquisition is Maty Noyes, a 17-year-old singer-songwriter from Mississippi. (Photo by Melissa Dilger)

At his office, Mr. Flom was talking up a few upcoming happenings at Lava, which recently celebrated its “lucky 13th” anniversary—eight years at Atlantic and now five years at Republic—with a party at Tao. Lorde performed to an intimate crowd that included Salman Rushdie, Usher and Eric Schneiderman.

He clicked around on his desktop for a moment and played me an as-yet unreleased song by Ida Maria, which was bouncy, simple and infectious. The chorus went, to a basic four-four rhythm: “Can you make love like a Scandinavian / Can you make love like a Scandinavian / All night long.” It was easy to remember, and I found myself tapping my foot. Mr. Flom was pleased that I liked it and put on another song by the same artist, entitled “I’m Gonna Steal Your Boyfriend.” He said he was thinking about releasing the song to a couple of radio stations to see if it stuck. It was loud and aggressive and catchy and I didn’t like it as much as the one before it, but it had power. I could see why Mr. Flom would want to put it out first.

As for his other artists, Black Veil Brides will release a new album at the end of the month. Mr. Flom has especially high hopes for the group’s lead singer, Andy Biersack, who is rebranding himself as Andy Black for a solo venture. Mr. Flom played me a music video the 23-year-old put out in May.

Mr. Biersack, with many tattoos and piercings, usually dresses like a ghoul. But here he was wearing a black button-down shirt and tie for the video, and his hair was slicked back into a handsome pompadour. He sang “They Don’t Need to Understand,” an anthemic tune about self-determination that one could imagine emanating from a stage at Madison Square Garden.

“I’ve got very big plans for him,” Mr. Flom told me. “I think we can make him into a generational superstar, because he’s got the whole thing. He’s already bigger than the band.”

Rick Krim, formerly of VH1 and now the executive vice president of artist development at Republic, walked in to say hello, and Mr. Flom put the video on again. “It feels like he took the best of 30 Seconds to Mars, Nickelback and The Killers and threw them all together,” Mr. Krim said admiringly.

Mr. Flom said he had recently signed a 17-year-old singer-songwriter named Maty Noyes, a Mississippi native. He is very excited about her talent and her name, and believes strongly that she will be a star. He put on a song by her. It was sultry and seductive and, much like Lorde, did not sound at all like a teenager. “You find these girls who don’t sound their age, or look it,” Mr. Krim joked.

Before I left, I asked Mr. Flom to play the Ida Maria tune from earlier, which was still looping in my head. “That’s interesting that you responded to that,” he said, somewhat mystified. He put it on again, and I walked out with an earworm, courtesy of Jason Flom.

Jac Holzman: From vinyl to apps to what comes next

February 19, 2014

He signed the Doors and counts “chief technologist” among his many titles over a 60-plus year career. Jac Holzman talks to CNET about using tech to revive rock’s past and what is in music’s future.
by Joan E. Solsman 2/09/14

Jac Holzman is legit.

His track record in the music industry stretches back nearly 65 years — that’s the lifespan of about 12 iTunes — to when he founded Elektra Records out of his college dorm room in 1950. He went on to sign acts like the Doors, Carly Simon, and the Stooges, but don’t mistake him as a label exec lost in a bygone era.

As waves of technological change have washed over the music industry, Holzman worked to stay ahead of the break, testing how the conjoined worlds of music and technology could enhance each other. He was served as the chief technologist at Warner Communications (later Time-Warner) and developed Warner Music Group’s e-label, Cordless.

His latest project is an encyclopedic app delving into the history of the Doors, something he built with a small team from scratch over the last 16 months. Having harnessed the popular consumer technology of today to rekindle the fanbase of a band formed half a decade ago, Holzman looks back at the music industry’s response to other technological changes and discusses the changes he’d like to see in the future.

The following is an edited Q&A.

Q: What is in the Doors app?
Holzman: This is the new box set. The idea was to tell the story of a group, whose audience has been growing rapidly — 6 months ago, the Doors’ Facebook friends were 10 million; it’s now up over 15 (million). A lot of this is younger generation. We have assembled the entire Doors story, which you can approach from many different angles. There are over 1,550 pieces, and this is really about an experience. But there are other reasons to do this. Music has become terribly commoditized. We’ve essentially lost the album. In most cases, that’s not a real loss. But there are artists who have been incredible album artists. The album is a matching of context and content, and you’ve got to get them both right for those albums to be magic.

In general, apps are tough, and they’re tough because to do them well costs real money. Sometimes what it would cost to do a standard album, but there’s no way in today’s “music should be free” climate that you can ever recover that. One of the things that encouraged me to do the app, and encouraged Rhino and Warner Music Group to support my little team, was to see what it would lead to. If you don’t start somewhere, you don’t get anywhere.

You mentioned before that the Doors app — now that you’re at the other side of it, 16 months later — has been successful. How have you seen that success?
Holzman: There was a kind of a dynamic flow to these things. While all of the so-called marketing is going on, you’re selling a lot of apps. Two weeks after the marketing is up, you’ve dropped considerably, but you stay steady. It’s not like it ever goes dead, because what you have then is the effect of people turning on other people. When we did the first update, we sold almost as many apps as we did originally. That was really interesting.

But the Doors adding 5 million fans from the end of 2012 until today, is unheard of. And I think that we’re showing that enthusiasm in the streaming services.

The anniversary of the Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show is Sunday. I was curious about your perspective on these iconic groups like the Beatles — the Beatles catalog known for being more inaccessible than other classic groups — on the streaming services. What do they have to gain and have to lose by not being on a streaming service, by having an app or by not having an app?
Holzman: Streaming services are part of the process of ephemeralization that Buckminster Fuller spoke about years ago. If you take a look at what technology has brought us, we used to have to listen to music at home or have it programmed for us on radio, then the iPod came and we could carry it around. Then iTunes made it possible to buy just individual tracks, further ephemeralization. Now you’re in a situation where you can hear whatever, wherever you are at a fixed price per month. That is probably the ultimate aspect of the ephemeralization. Do I think we’re going to stop selling physical product? Not for quite a while. Take a look, physical product is still greater than digital in many countries in the world. No, we’re going to have all of these mixed up.

I think where streaming services have been weak is in introductions to new music. We need more trusted first filters. Interestingly enough, we used to have them, we had them on radio in the form of disc jockeys, in the early days of FM when the disc jockeys were more eclectic. We lack first filters, we lack first filters who we really trust. I think Beats has a real opportunity there to pick up on. Because Beats has structured itself and is proud of itself as a curated type of service. They launched it probably at the right time. It’s a work in progress but Ian and his people are really first rate so I have high hopes for them. Pandora was designed to sort of average out the things that you listen to and come up with things you might like, I must say that has that has never worked for me. They come up with some of the oddest stuff that has no relationship to anything I like. I gave up on Pandora, but I still use Spotify. I will audition a record, or two or three tracks from a record before I purchase it — but I still purchase a number of records.

But the best first filters are friends, people who know your musical taste and talk to you about music. We need more of that circulating.

You’ve talked about how as people pay less but have more access to more music, that’s a win for music.
Holzman: It’s a win for everybody. It depends upon how you look at it. If you look at it from the vantage point of 1999-2000 when Napster was launched, it’s a disaster. If you look at it and say I am a record label, it’s not so hot either. Look at it and say: My role has changed, the role of this company has changed, and we are now a music rights management entity. We will manage our assets, and we will restructure our company so as to do that as efficiently as we can. Take honey. Pour some honey out on a flat surface and it’s a definable glob, but add heat to it, see how it spreads. That’s what’s happening. I don’t know what the numbers are going to be, but need to you spread it wider, you spread it thinner. The scalability and width is the important thing here, how big can you spread it, that’s what counts because the catalog becomes more valuable. How you call people’s attention to the catalog is another matter.

You’ve also talked about opportunities missed during the Napster era, when it was such a fractious time. What other opportunities are the music industry taking of advantage of or missing?
Holzman: It’s not an industry. It’s really not an industry and they’ve been fooling themselves for years. Napster was a wonderful opportunity to build a viable singles market over time because the loading speeds at that time were embryonic. Put aside the business proposition Napster offered the labels, instead of saying no to that, somebody should have said — and I would have I think if I had been working with Warner at that time — there is something in here. Look at what we’ve got, people can trade singles back and forth, we can monetize that modestly, it all goes through a central server so we can account for it. Had a couple of record companies made overtures to it and seen how the service could be worked, that was an opportunity.
The Doors app
I don’t know how much further you can ephemeralize beyond streaming except maybe a yearly implant some place in your body that has all the collected music and is the size of a pinkie nail. I think streaming, you may find different uses for large companies or new companies. I don’t understand, for instance, why a label like Alligator hasn’t picked up on streaming just blues music for the blues fans. The people of Alligator are very smart, I just don’t know, but that would make sense to me, that’s where labels and label name has value today: if they’re particularly good on genre music. I think that that’s probably an opportunity in streaming, but again if the streaming services are going to do this they’re going to have to get the right people there to help them do it. And I think being able to do genre music intelligently probably will bring more people, more quickly to new music than in a general service.

So you would advocate that streaming music services…
Holzman: Tailor themselves for what the audiences are out there. If you’re not a 42 Long, don’t send a jacket that’s 42 Long. You can tailor it, and that doesn’t mean people can’t jump across these things. If I were doing a streaming service, I would tailor the material. I’d have a general thing and then I would have maybe different programs done by very good people on a monthly basis. Now there is some of that beginning to happen, but I would like to see more of it, especially since, for people to come, they find an entry point, I found an entry in folk music, it led to electric blues, it led to world music, it led to rock ‘n’ roll. All of these paths end up leading you to a larger musical feast.

This touches on the ongoing discussion about man versus machine. How valuable is data, raw data, on a large scale about how people are listening to music and where does that value just falls short.
Holzman: They tried to formulize it. There was a company in Scandinavia that tried to formulize it, and they had these charts and graphs and emotional peaks and stuff. “If you build a song this way, it’ll be a hit.” Music that works touches people generally in ways that are unexpected, they hear something and they go wow. The wow factor is wonderful, the sheer joy that you can take a limited number of notes, and you hear songs that you never would have dreamed could have been written before. A piece of music may affect you more rapidly than any other entertainment, or informational form. Music is like a carom shot in pool, you know, where you go banking off the side of the table to hit another ball, that’s how music works. That’s how it works with me anyway. There are those that you hear where you don’t want them to stop, you’re in an emotional bubble with the song, or with that piece of music, and those are incredibly moving experiences. And I think have a great deal to do with what makes us human.

What is music if you look at it in the context of this day and age, of being such a technologically embarked upon process — I mean it’s always been that way, you’ve always needed technology to hear music and to make music, but today it’s more wires and batteries than it has been in the past.
Holzman: That’s just a means to an end. All of the technology is a means to an end. We are the end. And we just have to pay attention. And surrender to it, let it take over, you don’t have to be on top of everything all the time. Music is best when you surrender to it, especially when you find something great. If you find crap, turn it off, but if there is something that intrigues you, give it another listen. Some people come to music from the lyrics, some people come from the melody or the arrangement or how it was recorded, but the more you listen, the more you appreciate, so listen to lots and lots of music, even if you’re only paying half attention. Something will seep into your system that you can use. And sometimes music can get you out of a really bad spot.

But that’s another conversation.

John Branca: Q&A

February 19, 2014

Bud Scoppa 2/18/14

Marty Bandier called John Branca “the #1 publishing lawyer in the country.” 60 Minutes described the work we he’s done for the Michael Jackson Estate as “the most remarkable financial and image resurrection in pop culture history.” Jackson himself hailed his longtime advisor as “the greatest lawyer of our time.” And in the eyes of Berry Gordy, Branca is “the Smoky Robinson of deal making.” When reminded of the effusive praise he’s received, Branca laughs uneasily. “It’s a wonder I have such a small ego,” he quips. The fact that Branca, a partner in the firm of Ziffren Brittenham LLP, reps or has repped 29 members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame puts further demands on his attempts to keep his head from swelling to the size of a basketball.

With all these accolades being heaped on him, and all these all-star clients, you might expect to see Branca sitting among the Hollywood fat cats sitting courtside at Staples Center for Lakers games—he could certainly afford it. But this proud UCLA alumnus prefers to be on the floor at Pauley Pavilion, which he helped renovate, to watch his beloved Bruins ball. Our own Bud Scoppa recently challenged Branca to a game of one on one and was wowed by the attorney’s ability to score from all over the court, including his deft inside moves; what follows is the play by play.

You’ve been involved with the music business since the 1970s, and from a relatively objective vantage point. During that time, how has the economic landscape of the business changed?

It has changed substantially. When I got started, the primary delivery system for music was 33 RPM LP records that retailed for $7.98, $8.98 and $9.98, and touring was a way to help promote the records. With the introduction of CDs, technology actually helped increase dollar volume from record sales. The labels were charging $17.98 and $18.98 for the same albums they previously had charged half that price for. So, for record royalties and record sales for both labels and artists, it was a boom time. I can recall a period in my own practice before prevalent technological piracy where we had multiple artists who were selling over 10 million albums in the U.S. and 20 million worldwide, such as Michael Jackson, Celine Dion, Carlos Santana with Supernatural, The Backstreet Boys, TLC and Usher.

Adele is the one exception, and look, there have been artists recently—Justin Timberlake, Nickelback and Michael Jackson, among our clients, and Katy Perry and Taylor Swift—who still sell a lot of records, but record sales are not what they used to be. Obviously, revenue is now moving into streaming and other delivery systems. The other thing that has changed dramatically is that where tours were once a way to promote records, it’s now the other way around for artists. Records are now an advertising tool to sell concert tickets and merchandise. I laugh, because when I represented Michael and the Jacksons on the Victory Tour, there was outrage at $28 ticket prices. If Michael were to go out today, it would not be surprising to see ticket prices in the $500 to $1000 range, so the revenue potential has expanded dramatically for artists in touring and in merchandising, while it has shrunk with record sales.

So that means the superstar artist is getting more money relative to the label, which has always been dependent on record sales. How does the traditional music business survive in the midst of present-day economic reality and the technological revolution?
It adapts and takes advantage of new opportunities as they present themselves, like streaming. It’s interesting, but every technological change underscores the value of great artists, great catalogs and great songs. Having worked with Michael, the Elvis Presley Estate, The Rolling Stones, Santana, The Bee Gees, The Beach Boys, The Doors and others, the value of those brands and those catalogs never goes away, so it’s just a matter of repositioning.

Given the critical importance of touring as a revenue stream, where do you stand on the labels’ attempts to strike 360 deals?
The issue and the problem with label 360 deals is expertise. Most labels, without significant additional staffing and investment, do not have expertise outside of the record area. They certainly don’t have expertise in touring. They’ve acquired expertise in merchandising by acquiring merchandising companies. They may have the leverage at the beginning of an artist’s career to be involved with touring income, but, by and large, they don’t have the ability to add value and to deliver on those rights.

That’s where Live Nation has a leg up on the labels in terms of the high-end artists.
Yes, both Live Nation and AEG from the artist’s point of view, which is where I sit. I was involved with The Rolling Stones in helping to bring in Michael Cohl, who then pioneered the model of when an act went on tour, they would sell multiple rights to one promoter and, in The Rolling Stones’ case, that involved tour sponsorships, merchandising, advertising, etc. That was the Steel Wheels tour. We did the same with Korn with EMI, with a record label. Then we did that with Nickelback and Shakira in their Live Nation deals. Those deals are not perpetuating. I think 360 deals are now rare, certainly at the top level of the business.

These days, you’re best known as the executor of the Jackson estate. What does that job entail, and what have you accomplished?
I’m co-executor with my good friend and brother, John McClain. We started as co-executors, but the Probate Court appointed us as co-managers, so John and I are the managers of Michael Jackson and the Michael Jackson brand. That encompasses everything from making business decisions on which projects to pursue, and creative decisions on the content of those projects, as well as overseeing the financial arrangements of the Estate. I think John and I are most proud of several things. First, we co-produced the movie This Is It, which has become the largest-grossing documentary and largest-grossing concert film in history. We’re very proud of the Michael Jackson Immortal World Tour, which has grossed approximately $350 million and is now coming back to North America, and it’s certified as one of the biggest grossing tours in history. And now, we’ve got a brand new show in Las Vegas, Michael Jackson ONE at Mandalay Bay, which has been met with critical reviews and incredible box office success. Those are just the projects. What we’re most proud of is the passion that we have for Michael. We both had intimate relationships with Michael, and to be able to both help perpetuate Michael’s legacy and introduce him to a new generation of fans has been perhaps the most exciting part of the job.

You’ve done that, to a large extent, in conjunction with Epic, I assume, or with Sony, as a whole?
Yes, certainly on the record side. I think the key to managing any artist or any brand is picking the right partners. Certainly, in the record area, Sony and Epic have been an outstanding partner, as Sony Pictures was on This is It and Cirque de Soleil is on the two shows. Also, on the Jackson Estate, we’ve been fortunate in being able to work with many great individuals, including Karen Langford, Howard Weitzman, Joel Katz and Dave Dunn, who help to make us look good.

Branca with his two idols, longtime client Michael Jackson and the Wizard ofWestwood, legendary UCLA basketballcoach John Wooden.

How and when did you become involved with Michael Jackson, and how did that relationship evolve?
Michael and I started working together in January of 1980. It was just after the release of Off the Wall and he had just turned 21. Over time, it evolved to the point where, on the Thriller album, I was able to assist him on many projects, including making the “Thriller” video and buying the Beatles catalog, among other things.

In retrospect, it’s mind-boggling that the Beatles’ catalog was even on the block.
Back in the 1960s, The Beatles had participated in a corporate structure to minimize taxes that resulted in them losing control of their copyrights. Over the years, those copyrights were bought and sold and, ultimately, were owned by ATV, which was an English company controlled by an Australian millionaire named Robert Holmes à Court. When he decided to sell the catalog, it was marketed widely, and when I found out it was for sale, Michael and I talked about it We were, at that time, embarking on a campaign to purchase copyrights. We had already bought the Sly and the Family Stone catalog, for example. Michael had me check with both Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono to see if they were bidding and they were not, so we went after it, and we ultimately got it.

Nice one. What did you pay for that?
$47,500,000, and we sold off Bruton Music, a background music library, to Clive Calder for about $6 million, so Michael’s net price was $41,500,000. That was in 1985. We merged it with Sony in 1995, creating Sony/ATV Music, which Michael owns half of. Then, last year, I was fortunate enough to represent and consult Sony and Marty Bandier in the acquisition of EMI Music Publishing, which created the biggest music publishing conglomerate in history.

Was that a complicated set of maneuvers?
It was very complicated. A lot of credit goes to Rob Wiesenthal, as well as Marty Bandier. Rob was one of the financial engineers of that transaction.

In your practice, you wear several different hats. Can you describe the various roles that you play in terms of specific clients and undertakings?
Well, one of the things that I enjoy most is helping to buy and sell assets, and I don’t do this in a traditional sense. We are not traditional lawyers at our law firm, in the sense that if somebody has made a deal and they want somebody to paper it, we’re not the right guys for that. We’re proactive in helping our clients strategize their business and maximize their income opportunities not just in music, but in motion pictures, television and the digital space as well. So I’m often brought in to help engineer the purchase of assets like EMI Music, and the sale of assets like Virgin Music or Elvis Presley Enterprises last year. That’s one of the things I enjoy the most. Over the years, we were involved in the formation and sale of Interscope Records, for example, and we were consultants to Vivendi in the acquisition of Universal Music. Also, we work side by side with the best personal managers, in terms of strategizing a client’s brand and business opportunities, so we’re often brought in as lawyers and co-members of the management team, as we did with Michael and The Rolling Stones, and as my partner David Lande does with Justin Timberlake and Alicia Keys. These are the kinds of things that we enjoy over and above our traditional role as music lawyers.

Can you explain the value of having cross-disciplinary team?
It is critical in this day and age to be able to cross boundaries and assemble a great team. Our firm is known as being preeminent in all areas of entertainment, with such outstanding attorneys as David Lande, Skip Brittenham, Ken Ziffren, Sam Fischer and Matt Johnson, among others. Thus we have been at the forefront of deal making in many areas. We helped form and sell Pixar for Steve Jobs, for example. We helped spin off DreamWorks Animation, also, and we represent DreamWorks. We represent Oprah Winfrey in strategizing her TV business. We represent A-list Academy Award-winning actors and filmmakers, like Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Sandra Bullock and Tyler Perry. We’re involved with Simon Cowell, and we represent American Idol. We’re involved in all areas and all facets of entertainment business.

Wow, you’ve been in the thick of a lot of the most significant moves of the last several decades. That’s remarkable. To a certain extent, that is a marketing gig, right?
Yes. For example, I was hired by the Rodgers & Hammerstein organization a couple years ago to sell Rodgers & Hammerstein. Something like that is especially exciting to me, because I grew up loving musicals like The Sound of Music, so we’re brought in not just to do the paperwork, but actually to help put together the offering materials and the marketing of the company to the financial marketplace, just as we assisted Apollo, Core Media and the Raine Group last year in selling Elvis Presley Enterprises.

Can you explain the Grammy nominating process, which has puzzled a lot of people during the last couple of months? What’s your involvement with that ball of wax?
I do not have direct involvement with the Grammy nominations, but I was the Chairman of MusiCares and the MusiCares fundraising campaign and in that position was able to work closely with Neil Portnow and Ken Ehrlich. And knowing Neil and his whole team, they are very conscientious and to do the very best job. I have noticed a

Jazz Summers: ‘Sales have gone down – but what’s happened to exec salaries?’

February 11, 2014

Tim Ingham Music Week 02/11/14

“Jazz Summers is a fucking lion. If you’re part of his pride he will fight to the death for you.
He can make grown men cry and shit themselves. He is, though, essentially a kind man with a big heart with a deep capacity for love. Just don’t piss him off.”

As you can tell from Gary Lightbody’s succinct description of Jazz Summers, the Big Life Management founder comes with something of a certain… renown. And just think: the Snow Patrol frontman actually cherishes the guy.

Read Summers’ recently-released autobiography cover-to-cover, though and it’s hard to conclude that Lightbody has his manager anything other than bang to rights.

Summers has faced enough hardship for a thousand lives – a concentrated flurry of it when he was unsentimentally packed off by his father into the army in his teens. The regimented, emotion-averse culture of these harsh surroundings had a profound effect on the personality of Summers; at the time, a drifting drummer who’d fallen hard for music. It’s not as crystal cut as the army infusing him with an aggressive spirit; a debatable trait that he’s been accused of by plenty since. But Summers’ experiences certainly left him with scarce tolerance for frippery, nonsense and bullshit. It is perhaps no fluke that he stands out in the music business.

Not much of what people say about Summers is actually true, according to one of his most loyal clients, Boy George. Summers himself acknowledges these wayward assumptions in his galloping memoirs: “I’ve never burned a venue to the ground. I’ve never even hit an A&R man. I locked one in a cupboard once, as punishment for some racism and sexism.”
Other laughable tall tales, he informs Music Week, include the story of an ex-acquaintance of The Verve, who on being told that Summers was
to take over as the band’s manager, comically exclaimed: “Not Jazz Summers! He pours acid on people’s cars!”

However Summers has done it, his achievements have been ridiculously monumental. Since emerging as the manager of Wham! in the 1980s alongside Simon Napier-Bell, his artists have sold over
60 million albums and 72 million singles around the world, including over 100 Top 40 hits.

After setting up Big Life in 1986 with Tim Parry, Summers has played a vital role in the careers of some of Britain’s most celebrated music artists, including The Verve, Lisa Stansfield, Yazz, Soul II Soul, Badly Drawn Boy, Snow Patrol, Klaxons, La Roux and Scissor Sisters. He was rightfully ordained with the Music Week Strat Award in 2007.

Yet Summers has also maintained a healthy cynicism of industry plaudits, with his own foolproof metric of success when it comes to music management: “When nobody knows you, you’re a wanker. When you get your first act away you’re a genius. If you get a second one away you’re probably a crook. Then when you get fired, you’re straight back to being a wanker again.”

Autobiography aside, Summers hasn’t got much cause to linger on the past right now: he’s busy working his latest triumph, London Grammar – the Ministry-signed British act whose debut album is making waves the world over, including Rob Stringer’s office at Columbia in the US.

The titter-worthy value of Summers’ book – itself called simply Big Life – is nicely encapsulated by the anonymous Twitter account @QuoteableJazz, which for the past few months has tossed many of his bluntly idiosyncratic pearls of wisdom into the social networking snake pit. Some Music Week favourites: ‘There wasn’t one woman in the room. It was a pandemonium of penises – testosterone hell’; ‘What kind of man trashes a hotel room post 1975?’; ‘Napier-Bell’s mouth fell open. He looked at me like I’d groped the Queen.’

But enough ruinous sneak peeks. If you want to know about Jazz Summers’ jaw-dropping life – and some pretty universal (and a fair few Universal) lessons he’s learnt along the way – buy his book. You’ll probably end up liking him.

If you want to know what he’s got to say about the modern record business, read on…

Let’s start with what you’ve got going on right now: London Grammar’s debut album, If You Wait, has been a great success story for you and Ministry.

London Grammar has been an interesting exercise for all of us. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve done this: you can still go round with a band like London Grammar, with a voice like Hannah Reid’s, and people don’t get it. I can’t say there was no interest, but Sony passed on it – didn’t like it, wouldn’t see the band. All the Universal companies passed on it; in fact, one of those was interested until they found out Big Life were managing them, which caused a bit of a stir. Atlantic were kind of interested, but then they were like: ‘Well, we’ve got another girl, so we don’t want to do that.’ I didn’t go to EMI with it because they were in flux.

The album was released in the US digitally last year, with the physical LP expected later in 2014. How is the plot going in the States?

We did our first American tour in September, and sold it out. Okay, we’re talking 300-500 seaters where you don’t make any money. But there was no radio, very little press – it’s all down to a big social networking buzz. A guy at Big Life, Colin Roberts, who manages Chloe Howl, also runs a social networking company called Work It Media, and it really has an impact. You used to break acts on the streets, then you did it in the clubs – now it’s done on social media. London Grammar is the first time I’ve gone to America and completely sold out an artist’s first tour since Wham!.

Do you have to adjust your personal ways of dealing with people when you’re in America?

With London Grammar, when we played it to [Columbia US bosses] Ashley Newton and Rob Stringer in New York, there was no data. They just listened to it, then said: ‘Wow, this is amazing, let’s do a deal.’ They are real music people. As for the rest of America, there’s only a few managers in [the UK] who know how it works out there, and I’m one. There’s a way in which you break the US. You’ve got to put the time in, you’ve got to do it right and you’ve got to make the Americans believe their own bullshit.

One of your clients, Boy George, recently released his album through a services deal with Kobalt. How’s that gone for you so far?

I’m very impressed with them, especially internationally. They’re bloody good people. They’re on it and they’re committed. In some ways they’re spending your money because you own [the rights], so it’s a different process. But it’s fresh and it’s an alternative way of doing things. They release it digitally with some physical distribution, and they’ve got people in different territories. Boy George is in Paris just now promoting his record: I tell you, if his record was out on one of the majors, that wouldn’t have happened.

Are there other pros and cons to a services setup? What about their ability to break emerging acts?

I’ve just seen a new band from Ireland, and there’s a buzz around them. The dilemma is, do you go to Kobalt and say: ‘Let’s do this band’? Kobalt will say: ‘Hmm, they’ve got no existing sales base. How do we operate?’ When you go [to a services company], the band own their recordings and they don’t have to give up any live or third-party income. There’s also a very controlled budget – a million pounds isn’t being spent trying to grab market share, or chart positions.

I’ve just done a deal for a jazz artist with a major label that shall remain nameless who said: ‘We want 20% of live.’ I said: ‘Get lost, I’m not going to pay it.’ They said: ‘Fine, we won’t sign it. Where you going to go?’ I said: ‘Actually I can go to Kobalt, and if we’re clever, we can do a deal on this. They don’t ask for live.’ Immediately I got it down to 12.5%. The major record companies really have to look at themselves – and they are doing so.

If you were the boss of a major record company right now, what changes would you make?

You’d have to have a major shift in thought – a new paradigm. Whichever way you look at it, artists have never really been in partnership with the major record companies. Never. There’s some great people in record companies, and people who really care about artists and work hard. But the philosophy of a major record company is to own copyrights and exploit them. The artist royalty is treated as an expense – the same as a salary, or an office building, or a first-class air flight.

How can that attitude ever change?

Daniel Miller [Mute founder] managed to keep one of the biggest bands in the world [Depeche Mode] on his little label for pretty much the whole of their career. You know why? Because he did a 50/50 deal to begin with, then later he changed it to a 60/40 and a 70/30 deal. He was incredibly fair with them, and they had complete control.

So what would your new major record company contract look like?

An artist may well sign away their copyright for a number of years. Not forever. Did you know some of these contracts today cover ‘any other non-recorded income’? So if an act is a bit broke because their record’s not selling and they’ve been offered a part in a TV soap, the label wants some of that money. Besides, current record contracts are not fair on a very basic level. The average royalty for an artist on those contracts is 20%. Years ago, they’d say: ‘There’s 20%, but we also need to take a 25% packaging deduction off that.’ So in other words, they were giving you 15%. Now it’s straight to 15% without any packaging deductions [when releases are digital]. Out of that the artist has to pay the producer, which is three points, so you’re down to 12%. Then abroad, your contract tells you you’re not on 15% – you’re actually on 13%. So in the majority of the world you’re effectively on 10% or 11%.

And then there’s more to pay?

Out of that 10% or 11%, the artist pays for all their recording, plus any advances labels pay them to live on, any tour support, half the video costs… And then you have to pay your manager. But the worst bit is, at the end of it, when you’ve paid for your album 50,000 times over, you still don’t own your recordings. It’s so plainly unfair. And, of course, now there’s a new thing called streaming, where [labels] license your material to a digital company. Under the old contracts, if you licensed something, you’d split it with the artist 50/50. But major labels don’t split streaming with the artist that way. They regard a stream as a sale: so, again, that’s effectively 10% of any tiny streaming fee coming in [after deductions]. So the record companies are taking 40% more out of streaming income than they should, they’re giving the same shitty record contract they’ve always given, and sometimes now they also want more money from everything else. Why’s that? Ask yourself this: record sales have gone down over the years, but what’s happened to executive salaries? You already know the answer.

In the book, you make reference to hearing Kurt Cobain’s voice and the grit of it – how it contrasts to ‘wispy’ bands. You mention The Vaccines…

I wasn’t picking on The Vaccines – they’ve been successful and they’ve got their place. But I saw them at a festival and Magnetic Man came on afterwards. It was, ‘okay’ and then ‘bang!’. The crowd went mad. That’s power. When you see something like that, you understand why electronic music is flying, even if it has taken America 10 years to get into some kind of drug/club culture.

I met Skrillex recently. He’s a bit fearless. He makes these tracks, puts them out, doesn’t worry about whether they’re on a label or not on a label. Then he does 300 gigs a year at £50,000 a night or whatever it is. The guy earns a bloody fortune. I like that fearlessness. George Michael was fearless, in a different way, musically. But just the same, he said: ‘I’m going to do it.’ And then he did it.

The Verve took three albums to really hit their stride, before Urban Hymns made them a household name in 1997. Do you believe a major label can offer you that development time in 2013? Perhaps it’s better to take a smaller money advance – it might buy you more time.

That’s right. I go back to Badly Drawn Boy. There were 14 record companies out there offering him a deal. There was this infamous A&R gathering in Manchester. We came back on the train the next day and the lawyer said: ‘We can go and get a three album firm deal here. We can get a million pound.’ I said: ‘No. That’ll kill him off.’ Three albums firm means you have no options to get out, you’re locked in – three amounts of money on delivery of each album. On a million pound [advance], that would mean the label had effectively got to spend three million quid. Never mind the A&R guy or the head of A&R – the president of the company will be under pressure to deliver on that.

What happened then?

We knew we’d happily do a three album deal, but not a three album firm – and that’s what we did with Beggars. Good music comes out of confidence. Hut and Virgin gave The Verve confidence over three albums, then you get Urban Hymns. They’d have never got there if they didn’t have that space. I don’t think there’s the money in the industry today to support a band of that level. When I took over managing The Verve – which was [just before] Urban Hymns – they were £1.2 million in debt to Virgin. No record company today is going to be £1.2 million in debt and still going [with an act]. They have dropping parties these days.

You accept in your book that you have a reputation for being intimidating. How do you feel about that, and have you ever used it to your advantage?

Well, I’ve never been violent. Oh, actually, I was once. I took a vow of non-violence in the late 1970s. I haven’t been violent for 35 years, and I was never really violent with anyone in the music industry. Except one day, this guy was being a complete arsehole in our folk club – I picked him up and threw him down the stairs. Then a couple of months before that, I bopped someone who worked for Transatlantic Records at the Cambridge Folk Festival. Now, I still don’t take prisoners easily or suffer fools gladly. And if someone really doesn’t see what I see for my artists, I do everything in my power to make them see it. I don’t think I’m the best diplomat in the world, but everyone who’s ever dealt with me knows that I tell you how it is.
I don’t compromise if I believe in something. Why would I? My whole life has been about belief: belief when I was 15 that I could challenge the army and get out after I’d been incarcerated, really, by my dad; belief in Wham! when going to America with Careless Whisper and meeting people who didn’t get it. What am I supposed to do, say, ‘Okay?’ No, I find a way.

You seem pretty calm to me.

Years ago, I was a drunken, drug-taking, screaming loony. Today, I’m much more Zen. Maybe people still remember those times where I’d shout or scream at somebody. Do I use [my reputation] today? People know I’m not a pushover. Maybe I do have the power or charisma you need to be able to say ‘oi!’ to a record label now and again. But more than that, you need up-to-date knowledge. I know everybody I need to know – all the bosses of the record companies. If I need to, I’ll call them. And you’ve always got to do your bit: you can’t just go into their offices and start demanding. So I have a reputation not to be pissed around, but I’m a lot calmer than I was 30 years ago. For the record, I never burned a building down and I never held anyone over a balcony – but I know who did.