Paul and Tim Devine

Interviewed by Michael Laskow
part one  |  part two

Where did you grow up?

I'm from the Midwest originally (Chicago and Kansas City), and have lived in New York and New Jersey as well, but I moved to L.A. when I was 12. I've been here ever since.

How did you decide that you wanted to go into the music business?

Like you, Michael, I saw the Beatles on "The Ed Sullivan Show" too. I was eight years old. In addition to being the shot heard round the world for music, that was the moment when I determined that I wanted to have something to do with whatever it was that I saw on TV that night. I may have been too young to understand that it was a business, but I knew that I wanted to be part of it.

Did you have a clue as to what aspect of the business you might want to be involved in at that time?

I knew I was never going to be a performer, so I guess I wanted to be behind the scenes. As I grew up, I became a voracious fan of music. Since I was too young to go to clubs, we used to go see bands at TV tapings like Midnight Special and Don Kirshner's Rock Concert. That's where I first saw bands like Aerosmith, the New York Dolls, Van Morrison, Todd Rundgren, ELO, and Mott the Hoople. From there, I figured out the best way to get my hands on a lot of music was to become a record reviewer. First, I did it for my junior high and high school newspapers, and then I went on to become a freelance journalist, writing for Creem and Rolling Stone, among others. Because I was dealing with all the labels' publicity departments, I eventually got a job at A&M as a college rep. Their college department was located in their publicity bungalow on the Chaplin lot in Hollywood. At that time I was doing everything I could to get a broad background in the music business. Besides being a journalist, I also worked in retail at the Licorice Pizza record store chain. When I got to college—which was at the University of California at Berkeley—I continued as a rep for A&M, as well as a journalist and helping with the concert committee. We'd go to Winterland in San Francisco nearly every weekend to see bands like Fleetwood Mac, the Who, Genesis, Elvis Costello, and even the final shows by the Sex Pistols and the Band's "Last Waltz". It was an amazing time. Eventually, I became the music director at the college station KALX-FM and helped bring bands like Blondie and the Talking Heads to Berkeley.

How did you end up being a product manager at Warner Bros.?

I had a pretty broad background, and at the time, Warner Communications the predecessor to Time Warner was starting a management training program. About 3,000 people had applied for about three jobs, and I kept making the cut. A week before I graduated from Berkeley, I landed one of the three positions as a management trainee at Warner Bros. Records in Burbank. The program was great, insofar as it allowed me to spend a month in each of 12 different departments, beginning with Roberta Peterson in A&R, to working in the promotion and marketing departments, as well as spending a month on the warehouse floor at WEA Distribution. It was a priceless education; one day I'm at the WEA sales convention and the next day I'm in the studio with Captain Beefheart! I got to work with great people. To have the chance to have people like Mo Ostin, Lenny Warnoker, Russ Titelman, Jerry Wexler, Bob Krasnow, Ed Rosenblatt, and Russ Thyret as your instructors was an unbelievable opportunity. From there, I obtained my dream job at the time, which was becoming a product manager for WB.

Can you explain what a product manager does?

A product manager is like an in-house manager for a recording artist. You're involved in everything: from following through with what the A&R department delivers, to educating the company about the artist, devising the overall marketing and imaging plans, and working with every department to coordinate things like advertising, touring, sales, publicity and promotion on behalf of your acts.

So that job would kick in from the point when the label decides to sign an artist?

Yes. It's a very all-encompassing job, and it's a great training ground for moving on in a lot of different directions. I was fortunate at the time to work with a great roster of young and developing artists, many of who have become very large stars from that point forward. I was just out of college, and I was the very first product manager for U2 in America. I also worked with artists like Prince, Devo, Gang of Four, Van Morrison, Bob Marley, Pat Metheny, Laurie Anderson, Steve Winwood and Little Feat. It was a great training ground for people like myself, (Interscope President) Tom Whalley and (Dreamworks President) Steven Baker and others at the time.

That must have been some pretty heady stuff for a 22-year-old, working with artists of that calibre.

Absolutely! I was just out of college, and standing on stage at Pauley Pavilion watching Bob Marley perform, knowing I was his marketing guy in the States. The whole U2 experience from their first day in America was an amazing journey. It was not only a very great learning opportunity, but provided a lot of satisfaction in terms of making a difference in people's careers. I still have relationships with a lot of artists and managers dating back to those days.

So what made you jump ship and go over to the A&R side of the business?

Well, I had been courted for A&R positions even as a marketing guy. I had had discussions with people like Chris Blackwell and Clive Davis at the time, but I didn't want to jump into A&R until I really knew the full spectrum of marketing. My fundamental belief is that you can sign a great band and make a great record, but if nobody hears it, what's the point? So eventually I was ready to make the move because I wanted to get closer to the source of the artistic nucleus, I guess.

Was it at that point that you went to Capitol?

Yeah. Actually, after I left Warner Bros., I managed some bands like the Dream Syndicate, Gang of Four, Thin Lizzy and Ultravox. Then I was head of artist development at MCA Records for a while. But it was the move to Capitol that finally brought me into the A&R world.

You did something that I always thought was amazing - you signed Bonnie Raitt. You pretty much flew in the face of everything that every A&R guy in the world was doing at the time, and had a huge success with her. What did you see in her that everybody else didn't?

Well, I knew that although she wasn't flavor-of-the-month, she was a woman who was steeped in experience, and soul, and the blues, and the great tradition of rock n' roll.

Some labels sign an artist of that caliber just to have that artist on the roster. Were you going for that kind of signing, or did you think she was capable of having a hit record?

Initially my thought was, here is a great artist with a great history, and Bonnie could be making records for the rest of her career and someday end up in the Hall of Fame or the Smithsonian as the great blues rocker of our time. My instincts were that she might not have immediate hits, but that she could maintain an incredible career up until the age of somebody like Aretha Franklin or even a Bessie Smith. The fact that we had such an overwhelming success which was hardly overnight, but a year in the making, for Nick of Time I think was attributed to her making a landmark album, really baring her soul on it, and to the enthusiasm of the various participants including myself, Ron Stone, Danny Goldberg, and the folks at Capitol especially Hale Milgrim and our publicist Judy Kerr. It certainly was not something you would have predicted on paper.

It was something that earned a lot of respect from all sides. It was a good artistic move and a good career move.

I had always wanted to sign acts that would eventually end up in the Hall of Fame, and I guess one way or another, I did.

When you signed her, did she have a pretty complete quiver of material, or were you signing the artist and hoping to hook her up with the right material?

I didn't hear a single new song before signing her. I went on a Saturday night out to a club in an area near Malibu called Trancas. I saw her perform with a small band, and I just saw the reaction of the crowd and knew that there was greatness there. We didn't listen to any demos. She didn't make any demos. She ended up with Don Was as producer because of her experience with a Hal Willner Disney tribute record that A&M had released. Everyone just set about looking for material. It was funny because on the first record, I think I got about 30 songs in to submit to her for consideration, and on the second album, Luck of the Draw, I probably got 600 submissions! But Bonnie knows what writers she likes. She's very inclined towards people like John Hiatt, Larry John McNally, and Jerry Williams. So we looked in that area. Since then, Bonnie has become much more of a songwriter in her own right. Each of the Capitol albums contained more and more of her original compositions as time went on.

With any artist you might sign, what are some of the elements that can make you get excited enough to get on a plane, or excited enough to sign an artist and not wait to see what everybody in the A&R community is going to do?

What I look for when I sign someone is quite a number of things. Some are definable and some are not. The definable ones include having some kind of focused image. A consistency of good quality material is important consistency being the key word. Some kind of seasoning is nice, so that they actually play with some kind of confidence or virtuosity or dexterity. Most importantly, it's an individualized musical message. You also have to feel that an act has a very good chance of making it or else you can't commit the kinds of resources necessary to break a band in today's environment. The intangibles are just things like the power and the passion and whatever star qualities that make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. You know it when you see it.

What percentage of the acts that you sign need more material versus coming to the party with a full arsenal?

I have tended over the years to sign artists that come complete with their own material. If you look at most of my signings over the years whether it's bands like Blind Melon, Mazzy Star, the Afghan Whigs, Concrete Blonde, Train, or individual artists like John Hiatt, Tal Bachman, Lloyd Cole and even Sinead O'Connor who I did a deal with at Columbia, they all are artists, not just performers. I'm not looking for outside songs, per se. If a co-write situation develops, it often comes from the artist themselves. It's hard to force co-writes on self-contained rock bands. If an artist is coming up short on material, I'm not beyond suggesting it and helping to arrange for it. But my first choice is to have the artist deliver the best material that they have to pursue their vision. I find material written by a sole writer to have a more personal impact than a group message. Can you imagine a team writing a song like "No Woman, No Cry"? I can't.

I will add though that we have recently picked up a few acts that are songwriters, not just for themselves, but for other people. One is a group named Annetenna. They're the songwriting team of Anne Previn and Scott Cutler, who were the creative nucleus of Edna Swap and who wrote Natalie Imbruglia's "Torn," as well as writing and producing tracks on the current Sinead O'Connor record. They're well known throughout the songwriting community and are currently finishing their album for us with Tchad Blake who just did the latest Pearl Jam record. We also have a great duo named Evan and Jaron who I put with T-Bone Burnett for their Columbia debut, who love to co-write with people. Their original demo contained a number of solid hit singles when we first heard it. Both acts have big pop hooks, but with a rock leaning sensibility.

How important is it for an artist who writes their own material to stick to fairly traditional song structures?

It depends. Unfortunately, for new bands, it's more about having songs that are of a convenient length for programming on the radio, which is usually about four minutes max. However, can you imagine the classic songs we never would have heard if this were always the case? I mean the Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again", tons of Floyd tracks, "Stairway to Heaven," "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes," "Light My Fire". C'mon, even Zeppelin's "Kashmir" is eight and a half minutes and I'd dare a new band to come up with a song as good as that! Of course the Ramones we're lucky to hit two minutes on a song. So what's it all mean? Write songs with impact. That's all that matters.

When you sign a band, do you often get involved in the choice of producer, or do you tend to find bands that have a producer in mind whose work they admire and you just help facilitate it?

I've done a lot of producer searching over the years and have a pretty good idea of different producers strengths and weaknesses, in terms of their backgrounds. Are they song guys, engineering-based, etc. It's about experience, intuition and a certain degree of trust.

What kind of stuff do you look for in a producer? Are there tangibles that you can look for?

Since the record making process tends to be an expensive one, and so much is riding on each artist's album, I tend to try to work with producers who have a fair amount of experience. I've done records with Bob Rock, Brendan O'Brien, Don Was, T-Bone Burnett, Dave Jerden, Andy Wallace, and whole host of producers, because you generally have one shot to get your record right. At this point in my career, I have relationships with most of the established, and quite a few of the up and coming, rock and pop record producers, as well as some great engineers and even arrangers like Paul Buckmaster and David Campbell, so there is generally a pretty wide list of people to choose from.

What are some of the differences in how a record would be made and marketed for a rock act, like the Offspring, versus a pop act like Britney Spears or the Spice Girls?

Rock acts have to make credible albums that are worth listening to all the way through. This is the basic tenet of the rock idiom. They have to define themselves as much through their records as they do through their live show. A touring base is still very important to the success of a rock band. If you look at some of the bands I work with, whether it's the Offspring or Train or back to Blind Melon, these are bands that paid their dues on the road and may do upwards of 200 shows or more in the life of an album. This is how bands like Korn, Limp Bizkit, Rage Against the Machine, 311, Incubus all became "overnight" successes. Look at Dave Matthews. He was selling out shows in 11 states before he had a record deal! A pop act is more reliant of the impact of a 3-1/2 minute single at radio. Only after a pop act has had airplay success can they usually generate enough interest to go out and tour as a live act.

What are the odds of getting a pop act on the radio with playlists being as tight as they are?

Well, I think the current climate is rather favorable for pop acts. Radio programmers seem to be focused on the ability of single songs to react and deliver an audience. I don't think we've had as big a market for pop music since probably the mid-Sixties. Having said that, each artist has to approach the market in their own way, utilizing the strength of what assets they bring to the table. Every situation is different.

A good number of artists believe that major labels are the evil empire. Make a case for signing with a major as opposed to an independent label.

The first and obvious one is take one look at the charts, and think of all the acts that the public is familiar with. I bet you 98% of them are on major labels either directly or through various affiliations. Sure, occasionally you do have an act like the Offspring on Epitaph or an Ani DiFranco that breaks through, but in the main, most of your biggest acts are on majors. So you have to say to yourself, why is that?

Hmmm . . . I don't know Tim. Why don't you tell us (laughs)?

It's because the major label has the resources to fund a top-notch commercial quality recording and a full staff of people, not just in America, but all around the world, who are daily and diligently pursuing avenues of mass exposure whether it's publicity, or radio promotion, tour opportunities, or sales support. It takes a lot of manpower to be able to get an act above the radar in the crowded modern day record environment. It is an extensive proposition, both in terms of finances and manpower. When a company can deploy 5,000 people around the world on behalf of your record, you probably have a better chance of getting enough exposure to find an audience than you would from someone working out of a garage.


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