Interviewed by Doug Minnick

At what age did you realize that you wanted to be in the music business?

Well, I can't pinpoint exactly what age I realized it, but I've been doing, kind of the same pursuits since I was 16. I mean I had done numerous tapes of bands, trying to get them signed, and produce demos for a lot of people. But, basically my first foray into the industry was through the publishing area. I was a in-house demo producer for United Artists Music.

Here in L.A.?

Yes. We had a little eight-track studio. It was a Tascam eight-track. It was like the first generation of that stuff. We had absolutely no outboard gear. When the mid-level pro gear started to come out, they wouldn't approve the purchase of any. So basically we used guitar pedals and things like that to achieve any kind of effects. And we flew things in off of a quarter-inch machine, and used the quarter inch machines if we needed slaps and delays.

I worked there for a year and a half, and we had something like 40 covers off of songs that we had demoed. It was a very successful thing, and basically I worked with all the writers. Some of them I played on. Some of them I produced. Some of them I arranged. All of them I engineered. I did about a hundred and fifty songs in a year and a half. We would just, basically, run this room all day long, all the time.

Did you grow up here in L.A.?

Yeah, I'm from Los Angeles.

How, how did you get that gig at UA?

I was kind of a crappy songwriter. I had been knocking on doors. I think, the publishing and songwriting end, is still one of the most open areas of the business because there are young people who listen to songs and listen to tapes and basically are all looking for something, not knowing what it is they're looking for. And I was able to constantly get meetings with entry level publishing people. I met a guy who ultimately went over to UA, and I struck up a relationship with him. I guess the quality of my work was high enough to be able to sustain me as someone who could present themselves as a producer of publishing demos.

The songwriting thing went nowhere. Finally, at one point, after paying a lot of dues and banging on doors, I got a staff writing position at Casablanca Music. About a month after I made that deal, the company went out of business and my songs went into the big black hole.

Not an unfamiliar story. Happens all the time.

I continued to do demos for United Artists Music. About that point in time I wrote a piece for Music Connection (magazine) in Los Angeles about the anatomy of a publishing demo...having done so many successful ones. And, uh, I got an offer to be an A&R guy.

It was that easy (laughter)?

Not really, I knew this guy at RCA Records because he was one of the people that I had always hounded. I had a small relationship with him, so I interviewed him for the article I was writing, and he said, "What are you doing?" He asked me to make a tape of five songs that I liked. Which I did. And that was that!

That's a dream that a lot of readers of this magazine would like to have come true.

At that point I was a broke musician. My marriage fell apart. I was evicted from my apartment. My car broke down. My phone got disconnected. I was completely flat on my ass with nothing. But I was very persistent and I made a study of where the record people hang out. What clubs are they at. What restaurants do they go to. I virtually kind of infiltrated in just by sheer balls. And later I was able to invent myself as an A&R person, which was in 1980.

So largely it was networking and having the skills that you developed working in a not very glamorous job that provided with the atmosphere to develop your chops?

The thing that really was the skill that I could trade on was recording engineering.

So you could probably still walk back into a studio...

I recorded 'Baby, I Love Your Way', by Big Mountain, which went to number one here, and went to six in the Hot 100. It's number one in seven countries right now. It's my first gold single.

I still record my own stuff when I don't have a huge time pressure on me. I have a very basic approach. I'm very anti-technology, I find that all those values that I learned back in the beginning are still extremely viable and important today. Engineering is an incredibly important part of my knowledge. When I'm making a record, I'm not guessing. And fortunately, I was musically trained in high school and I had private training because at one time, I had aspired to be a film composer. Between that and engineering, I had a well rounded background.

Has there ever been a record, that when you were halfway through the first day of recording that you said, "This is going to be a hit!"

Uh, the funny thing is that the ones when I said that, weren't hits, and the ones where I said, "I don't know what the hell this is", were. So I kind of like the process to be kind of frankenstinian, in a way where you're cutting a lot of parts together. And then hitting it with the juice and charging it and it turns into a monster. I don't really have a premonition about the songs, about the records I'm making at the time. I mean with 'Baby, I Love Your Way', enough people came down to the room where we were cutting it and kept saying, "This is a number one record." So, you know, I kind of got off on that energy. But basically, to me, the most absolutely critical production move that you are going to make is, "What is the song?" That is the most important thing. Everything else is secondary to me.

You're currently Senior Vice President of A&R at RCA on the West Coast, and a staff producer. Can you describe the range of responsibilities that entails?

I'm very active in the sound track area. I did the sound track to 'Pretty Woman', which sold seven million copies. I did 'Reality Bites', which currently has two songs in the Top Ten. Big Mountain which, as I told you I produced, and Lisa Loeb, which I A&R'd and put together. That went to number five this week. I'm very active in the film area, but that was by default. I had always considered myself a guy who signs bands and makes records. Whether I produced them or A&R'd them. And fell into the sound track thing, you know, when I did 'Pretty Woman.'

I spend a lot of time on the phone. One of the advantages of being an in-house producer is that I oversee all of the areas of delivering the record and how they're handled in the various departments. Promotion, advertising, publicity, marketing, distribution. I maintain very close relationships with everybody in the chain, so that I can watch over my records. Independent producers have very little input or even ability to get knowledge of what is going on.

I don't produce records and do the office thing at the same time. Typically, I'll produce maybe half a dozen songs per year. I'm a real song guy. I like to do singles. I'll do like a five-week stint in the studio and kind of let the office slide. And then I'll return to the office for three months or so, and follow through on the records I just did. I just produced Brenda Russell and Aleta Adams...their first duet together.

Is that for 'Corina Corina' with Whoopi Goldberg?

Yes.

How many acts do you sign in a year?

A lot of the other guys on our staff sign far more. I am a brick by brick, slow-mo, kind of guy when I'm putting these records together, so I tend to just concentrate on a few. Part of the reason why I operate the way I do is because five of my most formative years were spent at Chrysalis Records, when we had Pat Benatar, Huey Lewis, Go West, and Billy Idol. Everything we had was going Platinum and Multi-Platinum. And the philosophy of the company was, "Okay, you guys are going to sign one thing this year. So you had better make it great."

Since every artist is kind of like a NASA space launch. People's hopes and dreams are too wrapped in it, and I want to make hit records. I'm the kind of record executive that's not interested really in propelling the art form or exposing incredible talent for the love of the muse. I want to make hit records. I'm not ashamed or embarrassed to say it. I want to make records that reach people and sell millions of copies. Not coffee table records. Not musically important records that only five people have heard.

If I had to choose between a great new band that's, you know, the next answer to the Sex Pistols meets Nirvana, meets Counting Crows, meets whatever, or the next Bee Gees . ..or Ace of Base or Michael Jackson. I would go for the pop thing. I love pop music. I love chord changes. I love melodies. I love singing. I love natural God-given talent. And things that are more of an attitude or a shape or a vibe or a credible statement, are things that I'm not necessarily that terribly attracted to.

Some people might call that selling out. Others would call it good business. Is there a different set of elements that gets you excited about signing a group as an A&R person, than there is if you're considering working with them as a producer? Or is it the same set of elements?

No. They're totally different. Totally different. Because the cardinal rule for me is, never produce anything you're A&R'ing.

Interesting.

John Kalodner (Geffen A&R) told me this years ago. He said, "I don't believe in fast producers." I said, "Why?" And he said, "Because everything you produce, you love. And you're completely screwed because you give up all your objectivity." As an A&R guy, I need to be able to sit back and ask myself hard questions like, is this the right song? Is it right tempo? Is it the right key? Is it the right spin? Is it a hit? What is this? Is it an art piece? Is this a Carnegie Hall standing ovation tune? As a producer, once you get in the trenches with an act, you don't have that objectivity.

What if a group got a tape to you or even a finished CD that they had done on their own on an eight-track and it sounded great. Would you ever sign a project like that?

Yeah. I mean, the first, the first Go West record, which was a groundbreaking, really important album, and was double-platinum in England, was recorded in Gary Stevenson's (their producer) bedroom. I heard the demos and I said, "That's the record."

I love stories like that.

Yeah. When it ain't broke, don't fix it. So I often use demos and upgrade them. In fact, on the Lisa Loeb record, we flew them to L.A., took their demos on ADAT, transferred it to 24-track, overdubbed several percussion parts, tracked up the guitars, had her re-sing a few licks, and that's how that record was made. But we kept the demo as the skeleton. And just changed a few of the parts.

Now that home studios have become so good, is that a plus or a minus?

I think, in a way, it makes it harder, because it creates a glut of seemingly professional sounding material and artists...and like the guy at home with the four ADAT machines, you know, trying to cut hits...I think it's just, it's very, very glutted. Personally, I'm not confused by a good sounding kick drum. I still think it comes down to God-given talent, uniqueness and singer and song. As far as the millions of people who read the magazine, who are out there trying to do it, I wouldn't discourage them for one second, because there's probably another Prince and another George Martin and another Beatles and another Aretha and whatever, out there among the readers. But the questions is, which ones are they? And how do we find them?

People who know people get in there faster. If you don't know anybody and you're mailing in a tape, it's very, very difficult to find your way. Does the cream rise to the top? Yeah, eventually. But you hope it doesn't take 25 years. By the time it does, you're old. The best way for cream to rise to the top nowadays, particularly if people are doing independent home recordings that sound convincing, is to get them on the air in their local markets. Play as many gigs as possible. Try and create as much of a buzz as possible. If that's not likely then, hooking up with a producer, an attorney, an agent, a manager, an engineer. Somebody who's in the loop somewhere within the record industry.

Do you feel that songwriter demos need to be fully produced 24-track demos?

It's the same question that I asked in that interview that got me my first A&R job. No. For me, depending, if it's a song that you're going to want to get cut by Chaka Kahn or Mary J. Blige, or All 4 One, no. If it's a band, then it has to be a band. But, you know, I'd rather hear the melody and, and a convincing lyric and a beautiful song done simply than some kind of quasi attempt to make a punchy sounding record that doesn't succeed.

Once your label decides that it's interested in an artist or a band, how long might it take for that deal to materialize?

It takes about a year from the time I hear the tape and go, "Wow!", to the time we're releasing single and have a campaign and a poster, and a lunch box, and a pencil box.

So it might take six months for the deal to get signed?

No, if it takes longer than four weeks, I go nuclear.

Really! From the time you hear the group and love them...

Well, from the time I say I want to sign until we enter into negotiations. If it takes longer than a month, it probably ain't going to happen.

If you had one chance to impart incredible pearl wisdom to aspiring artists worldwide, what would you tell them?

When you walk into a situation, where you are trying to get a record contract, and do your thing, be 100% true to yourself and what you want to do. You have to arrive at the scene fully developed in your concept. If you're going to be Lenny Kravitz, or Jimmy Hendrix, or whatever. Those people show up and they are who they are. It's not something that is added to the mix after the recognition of their musical talent. Be honest and be true to yourself and not try make yourself a product. Maintain your vision and let the record company take that vision and let it become a product naturally without you trying to synthesize that too early.


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