Where did you grow up?
I grew up in New York, in the city, and about a half an hour
outside of the city in a place called Rockland County.
What kind of music did you listen to when you were a kid?
Anything my sister was listening to. And that ran from Bowie
to Billy Joel to T-Rex, Springsteen, and Elvis Costello.
Anything that was a standout?
Probably the Billy Joel, Springsteen, Elton Johnthat stuff.
That's what I cut my teeth on. She exposed me to a lot of
pretty eclectic music. She was always taking me to the city
to see shows. But the standouts were probably those three.
What was your first job in the music business, and what
did you do to support yourself until you landed it?
While I was in music school, I swept floors and pulled weeds
and sort of worked at the front desk in the music school.
Then I left there, started delivering pizza, taught swimming,
worked at Trader Joe's market for a long time, and sold toilets
for a while. Then I asked my Grandparents if I could use the
money they had saved for me to go to school with to buy some
gear. I got a scholarship to school, so I didn't take the
money for that. I bought some gear, bought a computer and
a keyboard and a couple of samplers and started writing and
producing music at home and eventually; my very first job
in the business was as a programmer for a couple of acts on
Warner Brothers. That led to my deciding to get into the studio
in the studio led me to work on some of my own material which
got me a development deal at Capitol. It didn't turn in to
an artist deal, but it did help me land a job at Capitol/EMI
designing software. Very lucrative, not very rewarding. I
transferred into sales, and eventually got a job in A&R because
Kim Buie (former Capitol VP of A&R), who I still consider
a close friend and mentor, hired me as a scout. I brought
a band to Capitol which lead to Gary Gersh (former Capitol
President) offering me a full-time A&R job.
A long road to hoe. Why did you leave Capitol to join Hollywood
Records' A&R department?
I would have to say Rob Cavallo, who is the vice-president
and head of the A&R department was most instrumental in my
decision. I probably would have gone to work for Rob if he
was at Sears. He has a huge presence as a really musical person.
And he has not only proved himself in the studio, he proved
himself as an A&R executive and a record executive signing
the Goo Goo Dolls, signing Green Day, and producing those
records. He's got a huge spirit and a huge wealth of knowledge
and information, and he wants to share that with me and help
me, and bring me along as he was brought along in the business.
So it's a great opportunity.
big factor is that Rob's father, Bob Cavallo, is the President
of Hollywood. He's been highly successful for a long, long
time. That didn't happen by accident. In the short time he's
been here, he's already done a lot to turn this label around.
I'd like to be able to learn from him as well.
Hollywood is owned by Disney. Have you met Mickey Mouse
Ummm, I'm not allowed to talk about that (laughs).
Does this label look for different kinds of talent than
what Capitol might have looked for, or is it pretty much the
It's basically the same, both labels are looking for great
artists. Both labels are looking for franchise artists, catalogue
artists, artists that will be around for the long term. Here
at Hollywood, they have a very long plan in mind for their
success, and that was part of the attraction here as well.
It's very stable and well thought out.
What is it that attracts you to a band or an artist?
First and foremost, are the songs. Great and timeless songs
are a rare thing.
Let's talk about songs for a minute being that you're a
writer and producer. How important is it for an aspiring artist
or songwriter to write songs in 'form' versus writing material
that's just a run-on sentence with a meandering melody? Do
you find value in commercial song structure?
I definitely find value in commercial structure, yes but before
that I find value in artists doing what artists are moved
to do. As an artist, you have no choice but to do what you
do. If you create it one day and you choose to modify it so
that it's in a "commercial" style, great, as long as it pleases
you, fantastic. If you're an artist and one day you decide
to create a song that's based on an ancient haiku, great if
it pleases you. If it's something that was created to strictly
get a deal or strictly in the hopes of selling records, and
the authenticity doesn't feel like it's there, that'll be
obvious to me, as a writer and as a former performer myself.
So if the artist does haiku, would you recommend that they
learn how to do haiku in a commercial form as long as they're
comfortable with that?
Yeah, obviously if you want to be a bank teller and write
songs to sort of soothe your soul, that's great, because you
can do whatever you want. But if you want to do music and
earn a living by doing it you have to be committed to poverty
for a while or you have to be very adept at taking what it
is that you have created and fashioning it in such a way that
When you hear a demo that you fall in love with, what happens
I usually pick up the phone. More often than not, it's on
the first listen that something will move me. And I'll pick
up the phone, and call either the artist directly, the manager,
the attorney, whoever sent me the music if I don't have the
artist's number. I like to call the artist, and discuss the
music in depth, and find out what kind of a person they are.
I think a lot of musicians have the impression that they send
in their tape, the A&R person listens to it, picks up the
phone and says, "Okay, you want a record deal, I'll send the
contract over right now', it's obviously a much more involved
scenario than that but the very first step is picking up the
phone and reaching out to that artist, making plans to see
them live. I prefer to sit down with them face-to-face.
Well, let's assume that you go see them live and you see
a lot of potential, and you start to get that feeling that
this is something that you want to sign. Is there more to
it? Is it a process that takes days, weeks, or months?
I've seen deals go down in a day, I've seen deals go down
over the course of six months, it really varies. Working for
a large company like Hollywood, I don't have the autonomy
to say, "I love this, let's do it. I'm personally going to
write you a contract". Obviously, we have to go through our
Business Affairs staff, and we have to go through the other
senior executives in the company.
Once you find an act, how much follow through is necessary
on your part? What are some of the things you would do?
As an A&R person, it's been my goal to be as involved with
every aspect of the label's involvement with the band as possible,
from making the record to delivering the record, to the artwork,
to the marketing plan, to the release schedule, to the radio
plan, to the sales goals, to touring, to publicityeverything.
Obviously we have skilled professionals in each of those departments
who do the work, but it's part of my job to get them excited
about the project and make sure the artist is happy with the
process. As the A&R person, you are the first and loudest
supporter of your band in the record company.
Do you get involved in song selection, and once the record
is made is it conceivable that you might say to the group,
"Okay, you finished the record, but as far as I'm concerned,
it's really not finished. I think we should scrap these three
songs, take six months, write some more and record some more"?
That's definitely conceivable. I haven't had a situation that's
been that cut and dried, but you can select what may appear
to be the twelve best songs ever written before going into
the studio, and once in the studio, the recorded songs may
not be what you were expecting them to be in the first place.
Sometimes they're better, sometimes they're worse. Part of
being an A&R person, is being able to constantly check and
re-check your own expectations of the band and of the songs
that they're performing. But yes, it does happen in this business.
How involved in the business end of things should the band
or artist be?
It varies. There are some artists that are very involved with
the everyday marketing and promotion of their records. Others
just want to be on the road and play and get their checks
and show up at their interviews and so forth and so on. I
think it varies by artist. I think a lot of artists would
like to do that, but they find that the schedule of being
on the road, touring full time, doing interviews and publicity
takes up a lot of time...it's hard. The easiest part of being
an act on a major label is getting the record deal, by far.
And I know a lot of artists and a lot of bands and performers
think "If only I could get a record deal"... that's really
the easy part. The hard part starts once you sign the deal.
Until then it's the hope of getting a deal and the prospect
of getting a deal that keeps you going.
What's the single biggest mistake that artists make once
Not listening to their A&R person (laughs)!
What's the scope of Hollywood Records? I know it's owned
by Disney and I know its pretty much autonomous. But is there
any crossover or interaction between the motion picture side
or the animation side?
There's a ton of it. There's a lot of synergy here.
When Buena Vista Pictures or Touchstone makes a movie and
they hire a music supervisor, and the music supervisor picks
six tracks that are from current hit artists and they put
it in there, do they then come to you to round out the soundtrack?
Soundtracks aren't always necessarily the same as what's in
the movie. Might they come to Hollywood and say okay, we know
that the soundtrack is coming out on your label, do you guys
have any suggestions of other artists you'd like to include?
Definitely. We have probably one of the best soundtrack people
in the business working here, his name is Mitchell Lieb. And
in addition to being a very, very busy man, he's really astute
at finding the right artist to fill a slot. And the A&R department
here at Hollywood is also involved in giving Mitchell ideas
and bands to consider. It might be a situation where there
will be four superstars on a soundtrack and then they will
want to fill the remaining slots with some developing artists.
Will they ever fill the slots with a completely unsigned
unknown artist or does it have to be someone who has to be
already on a label?
Well, I think that's already happened with Lisa Loeb, I think
for 'Reality Bites.' I don't know what the history is here
at Hollywood, but that does happen occasionally. There are
so many independent films around the country using independent
music because it's much easier to license and clear than signed
So how do you find new talent?
I listen to as much music as I possibly can. Which right now
is difficult, because I don't have a stereo having just come
to work here two weeks ago.
You have a boom box, what are you complaining about (laughs)?
It's broken. But I really do listen to as much as I can. Unfortunately,
I've found that my musician ethic of listening to every single
piece of music that gets put in the mail to me to be counterproductive.
I can't listen to all the unsolicited material I get. Most
of the things that I get turned onto come from a network of
people that I know throughout the country managers, attorneys,
club owners, promoters, musicians, press people, and people
that I've met in my travels whether I was out on the road
as a musician, or out on the road as an A&R person. I go see
a lot of live music in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New
York. And once a year, I like to get in the car and go to
a part of the country that I'm not that familiar with and
just drive for two or three weeks.
Any advice for people getting in to the business, being
that you've been a songwriter and an artist yourself, and
an A&R person?
I'd say listen to great music. Play a lot. Make music to make
music, don't make music to make money. Because if you want
to be rich, you should be an accountant or a lawyer or a doctor.
Musicians become musicians, we all hope, because they have
no other choice, because that is what drives them... that
need to create. Because if you make music to make music, we
will find you. The A&R community will find you. And lastly,
don't listen to A&R people.(laughs)
I always hear A&R people say "If you're good enough, we'll
find you" and I don't necessarily agree with that, because
I hear stuff come through TAXI that nobody's heard of. A lot
of that music would fall through the tracks.
And you know what, I was just going to bring up TAXI.
Sure you were (laughing).
Seriously. There are a lot talented people there whose opinions
I respect and who I would go to for advice about a project
or about a band. I think TAXI is one of the rare benevolent
organizations available. You're really doing a service that
benefits the A&R community and the artist. That's huge. And
you should list TAXI in my list of resources that I mentioned
What would you like your legacy as an A&R person to be?
I would like my children to hear one of the bands that I've
signed. One, or two, or five. I'd like my kids to hear every
single band that I've signed, and were they to not know that
I signed them, I would like them to say, "Hey Dad, have you
heard this, it's a great record?" And I don't have any kids
yet, but when I do have kids, that's what I want. I want to
sign bands that are timeless. Every A&R person wants to signs
bands that sell records, but I'd like to sign bands that forge
the next wave of art, of music, that break the next barrier.
I'd like to sign the next "Blowin' In The Wind". I want my
children to hear the music that I've signed and be moved by
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