Interviewed by Michael Laskow

Where did you grow up?

In New Jersey.

Was the music business something that you aspired to when you were younger?

Well, no, not exactly. Not as a profession.

What was your first job in the music industry?

I get a little embarrassed. I don't know if I should ever tell that story. My first job in the music business was Assistant to the Head of Marketing for CBS (Records) International.

How did you get that job?

I was working for CBS Television. I wanted to work in television because my father did. So I got a job at CBS Television. A friend of mine had a friend that worked in the record division, and we used to go down and visit her. So I might as well tell the story.

Okay. (laughter)

At that time, women could only wear pantsuits to work at CBS TV. At CBS Records they wore jeans. They were always playing music. There were posters on the walls...people with long hair. And upstairs, there were only CBS approved prints on the wall. You could hear a pin drop. I thought "This is a fun place!"

One day I went down to visit this girl myself and it was her last day on the job. She said no one wanted to work for her boss, this was a crazy job. And she said, "I think you should go to talk to her." She pushed me in there. The woman's phone never stopped ringing. I had to go back four times that day. I wasn't even looking for a job. And she hired me. So that's how I got into records.

That's great. Who ever said persistence pays, was right. How did you make the transition from CBS Records International division to the International division of their publishing company?

After four years of working for CBS Records, the man who ran the international division of the publishing company said to me, "publishing is a good place for girls." He knew I was getting very antsy where I was. He wanted to expand his department, and he needed an assistant, and would I like to come and try out publishing. And I didn't even know what publishing was. I thought, "Well, I've had enough of this so I'll try it." I went in there about two weeks later...he promised to teach me everything there was to know about publishing, and then he left the company.

Oh God!

And so did his creative guy. So, the man who he had just hired to be the head of finance, then became the head of CBS International Publishing. I became the creative person. I didn't even know what the word copyright meant. (laughter) So we were stuck there. Two people who didn't know anything about publishing. With a pile of letters, and complaints, and contracts in a cardboard box. We just sat down and started reading every single one, and calling every person back. Just by using our heads, we learned publishing. I think within a few months, I made my first publishing deal.

After that, when Mike Stewart came in, CBS Publishing really took a turn. It become a separate division. We started acquiring catalogues like United Artists and Jobete. It become a very serious money-making division. At that point, I became the Vice President of Creative of CBS Publishing International. When that was sold to Charles Koppelman and Martin Bandier (SBK), I went along with the package.

That's great!

I was International Creative Head of SBK Publishing.

When that became part of EMI, they said, "How would you like to work for a record company?" And I said," Sure. What will I do?" They said "A&R." I became Vice President of A&R.

Well, that's pretty much the whole interview. Thanks Nancy. (laughter)

Nice talking to you.

That's a great story.

I did make a lot of very big publishing deals along the way, so they knew that I had an ear for a hit.

So it wasn't just a matter of being in the right place at the right time, but having the goods to back it up, as well.

Absolutely.

Who were some of the people that you signed the publishing deals?

I think my first really big deal was Toto. I signed Dan Hartman, very early on. Desmond Child. Miami Sound Machine before their first English album came out, and through knowing them, I eventually signed Jon Secada. Technotronic...you know what? My brain's gone. I signed a lot of big things.

Drink another cup of coffee. (Laughter) Is there more risk signing someone to a record deal than there is signing them to a publishing deal?

I know that there are at least a million dollars at stake, so the responsibility is a little greater.

Could you explain to our readers how that million dollars is at stake. What the breakdown of the expenditures would be in that first year on a new artist or band?

Well, the recording costs can run as much as 25%. The cost of putting the band on the road is very high, especially if they are doing an international tour. There are also marketing costs, and of course, the price of making videos today is getting ridiculous.

A hundred thousand per video maybe?

Yeah. That's a really inflated part of this business. I've seen videos that were done for a fraction of that cost that are just as good. I just signed a new band called Moist, from Vancouver, that there is a very big buzz on right now. This is one of those that, since Jon Secada, I've never felt so sure that this is going to happen. There's no way this band cannot happen. They are so talented. They've already gone platinum in Canada. I was played a video that this band made themselves for three-thousand Canadian dollars, which is like twenty three-hundred American dollars. And this video, which has now been on MTV in the last two weeks, is one of the best, most effective videos you will ever see all year. It's fantastic. You don't have to spend a hundred thousand dollars, or a million dollars as some people are these days, making a video to have it be effective. I prefer just to see the essence of the band. And if you have a band who are stars, you don't need to spend that kind of money making a video to get your point across.

You just mentioned the star quality. Is that something that is playing more of a role in people getting deals today than it has in the past? Or is it something that's always been present but just not talked about as much?

I don't know if it's important to everyone, but it's important to me. If I go to see a band or singer, and if I can't take my eyes off of them, then I know that person has star quality. But if it's someone who just stands up there and doesn't move and doesn't have any stage presence, then that's a minus for me.

If you hear a tape and say, "this is pretty good", and you go see them. You find that they have tons of star quality, they have the right look, they have a unique and identifiable voice, but the songs aren't really there. Would you still consider signing that artist or band?

Absolutely. I have another perfect example for that. My other new project that is also just being released is a band called Bloodline. Have you heard of them yet?

Yeah, that's Miles Davis' son...

Yeah, Erin Davis and Berry Oakley, Jr., Robbie Krieger's son Waylon. And 16-year-old guitar wonder Smokin' Joe Bonamassa, and Lou Segreti. I saw them two years ago in Florida, and as I sat there thinking, "this is not my kind of music," I realized that I was like blown away just by the musicianship. They sounded like they've been together for 20 years, but they didn't have a lot of great songs. I had them do a showcase in New York. And somehow, there were at least a half a dozen A&R people from other companies at this show case. As I was walking around the room and talking to them they were all saying, "this is a great band, but they have no songs." But that's where being a publisher makes me think a little differently. If the star element is there, the live performance is there, that's very hard to get. You can't have a hit without a good song, nor can you have a hit with a good song and a bad band.

You mentioned that you found these guys in Florida. What rocks do you turn over when you're looking for groups?

Well, in that case I happened to be in Miami because I was at a Jon Secada video shoot. And the guy who manages Bloodline, who happens to be the son of Frank Sinatra's manager, (laughter) he knew someone in my office and sent me a fax and I thought, "I don't know who he is. I don't know who this band is." But something, I don't know what, just happened to be there. If someone I know, tells me they heard something good, I'll go see them. As far as getting on a plane, I won't do that just because someone I know just says there's a good band. I need to hear a tape. There have been tapes that made me get on the phone immediately and say, "when can I see this band"? And I've gotten on a plane and gone. And signed the band.

That's great! I bet those bands were thrilled. (laughter)

Yeah. That just happened to me recently. I heard a tape and I'm about to get on a plane but I won't say where or for who. (laughter)

That's understandable.

That rarely happens. Let me tell you, it rarely happens. But when it does, it's so exciting. It gives you the hope you need to go on and to keep doing this job.

Have you ever listened to unsolicited tapes and do you still now listen to unsolicited tapes?

Well, as a policy at EMI, they don't accept unsolicited tapes. Because there's so much time spent in the office on the phone, in meetings, on ongoing projects, I find I don't have the time to listen to as many tapes as I might like to. Sometimes it's easier for me just to go out and see the band.

Where do you get most of the tapes that you do listen to,?

The things I do listen to are the things that come from people I know.

If you were an artist who lived in Dog Leg, Oklahoma what steps would you take to get yourself signed?

That's really hard. If you're a really good artist, I would say you should book yourself into every pit-stop and club that you possibly can. And you get yourself a local following. I wouldn't sign any band that doesn't have a strong local following. It's hard enough to sell any known artist these days. You have to have a strong base some place. So, I would build my local following as much as I could. And then, when you become fairly well-known, it usually comes to the attention of somebody. The cream rises to the top, you know. It's a very cliché thing to say, but it does. If you're really, really dedicated and you hang in there, eventually, you're going to come to the attention of someone.

Let me ask you three questions that I frequently get asked by TAXI subscribers who are aspiring writers and artists. Number 1: how much money can a writer make from a hit song?

That depends on what format the song is a hit in.

Okay, let's say you have an across the board hit.

As a writer, I think on a million seller, just on mechanicals, that you would make about a quarter of a million dollars. But if it's a huge hit, you're looking at performance money...

Let's say you write a hit song for Whitney...

...you're looking at least another quarter of a million dollars or more.

So is it safe to say, if you write a hit song for someone of Whitney Houston's caliber, you're going to make at least a half million dollars that year?

At least. I would guess, between a half a million, up to a million. Because if it's a huge hit, and these are rare, you're looking at compilations. You're looking at potential film uses, commercial uses. You know, you can get one to two-hundred thousand dollars if you have a hit song and it's used in a commercial.

The second question. If an artist signs a publishing deal, thereby enlisting the help of a publisher in securing a record deal, what kind of advance will the writer typically see from that?

Well, you can't really put an exact amount on that. Because that depends on a lot of things. It depends on, are you the only publisher that is aware of this band. You might sign them for the cost of doing demos in the publishing company studio. You might put 20 to 30 thousand dollars into developing them, part of it as the demo cost and part of it as a living advance. If it's a local band (LA, NY, Nashville) that a lot of publishers are after, that price is going to be double or triple that because of the demand.

It becomes a bidding war.

Of course, for bands that already have a record deal, their advances are going to be higher.

And the third question. If you were in the artist's shoes, would you have a preference over signing a publishing deal first, then getting a record deal, or signing a record deal, then going for the publishing deal?

If I was an artist, and I knew that I wasn't quite there yet with my material, and I'm somebody that wants to write with some well-known writers, I'm not going to be able to knock on those writers' doors and have them say, "Oh sure, you know, well, uh, I'll squeeze you in tomorrow." But if I'm coming in through a reputable publisher, all the sudden my credibility level has jumped tenfold and I will be set up with writers I could have never gotten on the phone in a million years on my own. If you need help in connection to writers and writer-producers, then there's a reason to do a publishing deal first. To develop that aspect of your artistry.

If I'm a band that is a great band, and no one's paying attention to me, like was the case with the band Moist. They're kicking around Canada and no one's paying attention to them. EMI Publishing saw them and signed them. That was all that there was right then. That gave them the money to go in and record more tracks.

But if I was a band who all the sudden, twenty record companies are chasing after. I know I'm a star. My band is fantastic. I've got hit songs. I would do the record deal first. And then I'd hold out for the publishing deal. Because then there's going to be a bidding war. And publishing deal advances on bands that are hot, are exceeding advances that record companies are paying. The ratio used to be about ten to one, or seven to one, ten years ago. Now, the publishing advances are bigger than the record advances.

If you had it all to do over again, is there anything you'd do differently in your career?

Absolutely not. You know, I'm one of people who always says, "If I knew then what I know now, I'd already be President," but I wouldn't do anything else. I'm exactly where I want to be.

Great. It sounds like you've had a wonderful career so far.

Recently, my parents were moving, and my mother pulled out some of my old report cards. My first grade teacher wrote in the comment section for every marking period, "Nancy wants to play, she doesn't want to learn." (laughter) And I read that and I thought, "That's why I'm doing this." I got the perfect job, right? It's a very serious job and there's a lot at stake, but it's something that I love to do and I feel like I am getting paid to have a good time. I'm a lucky person.


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