Interviewed by Michael Laskow

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in the Sugarbush Valley area of Vermont, which is home to the Mad River Glen and Sugarbush ski areas. Also home to lots of music.

Did you ever play an instrument, or were you ever in a band?

When I was in high school, I was in choirs and madrigal groups and dallied with playing guitar, playing piano, playing bass, but I never had that deep devotion to practicing my ass off, which is what it takes. I was always more interested in buying records and listening to music than actually playing it. But I had plenty of friends who were in bands and I helped them out, usually doing the PA and that kind of stuff.

What was your first job in the music business?

I worked at a record store called Pure Pop which is a little underground record store, which is to this day my favorite record store on the planet. They carried lots of underground college bands and local stuff; they had a giant section for local bands, which is really unheard of, and they really, really support the local music scene. That's where I plugged into the sort of eclectic types of artists and musicians I'm now familiar with, which really helped to round out the palette of my tastes.

So how did you end up in L.A.?

Daniel Lanois and his band rolled through town. I was lucky enough to meet them and they encouraged me to check out L.A. So a girlfriend and I packed up our stuff, pointed out West, and just left.

Is that when you landed your internship at A&M?

Yeah. When I got to L.A., I had done enough research into the various jobs in the business and how record companies work, and I knew that A & R was where I wanted to be. I kept knocking on doors until one opened up, and a woman named Kristine Campbell hired me as an intern. I worked hard, learned the ropes, and eventually got permission to do some scouting. Larry Hamby (former VP of A&R at A&M, now VP of A&R at Windham Hill -ed.) was very cool about introducing me to people, and making sure that I was included in things that would teach me how A&R worked. He trusted me enough that he let me handle a lot of the day-to-day details with some of the artists that were signed to the label. I got a lot of on-the-job experience, and was able to handle it well enough that Larry continued to throw stuff at me that would help me learn the process. I'm very thankful for his support. He's been a great mentor.

Tell me about signing the band 10 Speed.

I know a manager named Michael Goldberg who managed the band. He turned me on to them. As soon as I heard them, I knew Jeff Suhy (another A&R person at A&M) would like them. I gave him a tape, he took it home, and fell in love with them. He gave me credit for bringing them in (which doesn't always happen -ed.), and kept me in the loop during the whole project. I learned a lot from that experience.

How has your life changed coming over to Windham Hill? How does the mission vary from what A & M's mission is and how has that been for you making that transition?

Well musically, it's been no problem. I grew up listening to Windham Hill music. My Mom was a huge fan, and in college, I discovered Michael Hedges and some of the other Windham Hill artists, so I really had an understanding of the label and what they're all about. The mission at A & M was ŽBring in the Hits', you know, let's bring in bands and get them on the radio and sell a million records, and coming over here my particular responsibility has nothing to do with that. For the longest time Windham Hill was a medium size label that had a lot of recognition from the success of George Winston, Michael Hedges and guys like that, but the typical radio, retail, and touring triangle wasn't part of the picture. So the mission for me is to continue to develop the trademark that people have come to recognize at Windham Hill with the quiet reflective acoustic instrumental music. New formats like New Adult Contemporary and Urban Adult Contemporary are developing, so we're starting the radio game and retail game and the touring game now, but I'm not dealing with that stuff. Larry Hamby and Patrick Clifford are really handling that side of things—all of the samplers are my responsibility and a number of the New Age artists are under my care so, really my mission is to continue to develop the brand name. It's one of the few brand names in the music business that still means anything.

So how do you find new artists for Windham Hill? I'll bet you don't spend a lot of time on Sunset Strip looking in clubs.

A lot of stuff is word-of-mouth, a lot of stuff comes to us through other artists that we are working with or have worked with in the past. There's actually quite a bit of Windham Hill-type stuff happening out there, it's just happening on small, local levels. The first time Will Ackerman saw Michael Hedges, he was sitting on a stool in some bar playing his guitar, and there are bound to be people like him doing that now. It's just a matter of tapping into where it's going on.

But how do you find that stuff? It's not like, with the regular A & R community and regular bands where everybody in the business kind of knows which rocks to turn over. You almost stand alone as the guy who's got to go out and find some different rocks. Where do you start?

A lot of it for me is going to groovy little book stores to see what I can find. A lot of these artists put out their own records, so I try to find those independent records and maybe catch a lead on something in that way, or when I travel, just checking in with people to find out what's going on in a particular area. A lot of the producers that we work with are also players and they play with musicians who are often worth listening to. There's no particular method, you have to know what to follow up on and what not to follow up on.

What are you looking for in a new artist?

When I think about the roster, I think about what we already have, and with Liz Story, Jim Brickman and George Winston all making records at a pretty constant pace, we're not looking for solo piano players, but we've got space for new things. I'm just looking for artists that are more in line with the old Windham Hill. Artists that are truly unique in their musical vision. Like Michael Hedges, when that guy was first putting out records, it was completely unique. I'm looking for people who are pushing the envelope and taking chances and not paying attention to commercial factors. If it's really unique, and really strong and that vision is there, and it's fully realized or in the process of being fully realized, that's what I'm into.

What's your demographic? I'm guessing baby boomers.

Yes, absolutely. It's like 30 to 50. It's pretty wide open, and I think that the majority of the people that are buying our records are in that baby boomer demographic. We're not marketing to young people.

Private Music and High Street are under Windham Hill's umbrella. What's their mission?

Well Private was not a part of Windham Hill until very recently. It kind of got folded into what we are doing here, and so we picked up Etta James, Taj Mahal, and Yanni. I think we're just going to continue to work with the artists that are on the label, and I don't know if we are going to be signing anything new to Private.

So it was basically a move to absorb their catalog because that catalog would sell well to your demographic?

Absolutely, we've got Yanni's catalog, who has three records in top 25-chart positions.

And people laugh!

We're not laughing. He brings in a lot of revenue for the company.

I'm sure he does.

But I suppose if something comes along that fits within the scope of Private Music and what it has done and what it's doing now, we'd go for it. But again, it's got to be something that appeals to that baby-boomer demographic. Something that musically and philosophically's gotta sort of blend in with what else is going on here. As far as High Street is concerned... it's really set up to be kind of a AAA and blues label, and with records by Jules Shear, Patty Larkin and Janis Ian. Lots of singer songwriter types and more in the Americana direction. Unfortunately the way the market is at the moment, that music is really having a hard time right now. Again, as far as new signings are concerned, it's more about artists that have already established themselves, and they have already had a career like Janis Ian; somebody who's got a lot of name recognition, they've been around the block—a more mature seasoned artist.

It must be frustrating to know that the market is out there for these artists, but it's hard to reach because baby-boomers don't go to record stores like they did when they were younger. How can you reach them?

We have a strategic marketing department—five or six people, and that's all they do. They look for those opportunities. Windham Hill has really been able to tap into the lifestyle of our demographic. We know what they read, we know what kind of cars they drive, we know how they spend their money and how they spend their time. So we try to find as many opportunities with that knowledge as we can. Point of purchase stuff, like putting our records in front of people in unusual places works. We also sell them through our catalog and we've tapped in to other lifestyle companies and do lots of cross promotional and marketing kinds of things.

Can you sell 50,000 or 100,000 units that way?

You know it. They do it.

Great, and with no tour support.

No tour support, no radio. A lot of the exposure we get is from the press we get. They're out there just working that name-brand recognition and doing things like cross-promotions with companies like Korbel Brandy—buy a bottle of brandy and get a CD. Sometimes companies like General Motors will buy 200,000 copies of a record and give them out to their employees.

Do you see any new trends or directions on the horizon for contemporary instrumental product?

The only trend is that it's got more of an opportunity at radio than ever before with AC and NAC radio. But as far as new trends, I think a lot of people want a show, they want more than just a band or an artist up there playing, they want more for their money. That's why River Dance and projects like that are huge. It's music, dance, and theater. Young kids can go stand in a rock club and just stand there and watch some band bang it out, and they're okay with that, but a 45-year old is not interested in doing that. They want to go to see a show and be entertained. and they want to be moved and they want to be visually stimulated.

John Tesh and Yanni have become masters of that.

Absolutely.

It's half show and half music.

Yeah, I think the trend needs to be more about live performance and about putting a really solid show on for people, because that's what motivates people to buy records.

How does a person in Peoria who has an elaborate home studio and may be the next Yanni or John Tesh get his music to the industry?

That's a tough one, he can't go out and tour nationally, but he could tour regionally if he can take his music and put it in a venue.

Like a Borders store?

Like Borders or any coffee shop, book store, open mic, that kind of thing, where ever there's an opportunity for that kind of music.

What if it's fairly electronic and the set-up is bigger than what you could reproduce in a Borders, sitting on a little stage with an acoustic guitar and flute player?

My recommendation would be to try and record as much of that music as they can and try to get a manager or a lawyer to help them get a record deal.

It's hard enough to get a lawyer when you're a pop/rock act let alone a person doing solo acoustic piano stuff from the 16th century with a jazz twist. What can they really do to get heard?

That's a tough one, because we don't accept unsolicited material and if you can't take your music and put it in a venue and get it out in front of people, you're going to have a hard time.

Do you ever hear a piece in a movie or a TV show and try to track down the artist?

Yes, all the time. I remember that last movie that the music really impressed me, the score music in particular—was ŽThe Horse Whisperer'. I don't know, there was just something about that music that was just engaging, and after the movie I went to a record store and like tried to find the CD. I flipped it over, and it turns out that that guy who did the score is already a recording artist and signed, but yeah, I do that all the time, constantly. Like just the other day, I was meeting with a guy who is a Chinese composer/instrumentalist who does a lot of music for film and most recently, the music for ŽBabylon 5' and I was watching that show, just flipping around, and I heard this music and tracked him down.

If you could snap your fingers and affect some change in the record industry in general, what would that be?

I would bring artist development back. It's so unfortunate that bands get signed, make a record, they get that one shot at radio and if it falls on the floor—that's it. The band's out and all hard work and dreams are put on hold or shattered and gone. Too many record labels are relying on hits first time out and are not taking the time to develop their artists. Unfortunately, it costs money to do that—to put a band in the studio and make a record and if doesn't succeed, it'd be good to put that band out on the road so they can find their live show and be better players and write some more material, but I don't know, the best stories in the industry are always those artist development stories—Dave Matthews Band, Hootie and the Blowfish, Blues Traveler—these are bands that were out there paying their dues and given time to develop and given time to get out there and reach people, they succeed. MTV is killing music, because it's all image driven, how many hooks can you pack into three minutes, not to mention sex. There are so many artists who are worthy of video airplay that never see the light of day—just watch M2 for an hour and you'll see a bunch of them.

This industry was built on artist development. Just think of how many bands were out there and had seven records and the first three or four didn't quite make it, but the next one did. I know guys who have been signed, made a record, and had a shot at getting on the radio—it didn't happen, they got dropped and the band broke up; and it's a tragedy.

Twelve years of your life working toward that and boom, it's over in a flash.

Yeah, and in a year and a half—it's all over. I just think that record companies are doing themselves a disservice—they're not going to have any back catalog, they're not going to have any longevity with their artists. A & M Records was a great label for that—WAS.

Until when, two years ago?

Yeah, they really stuck by their bands and there was a element of love for their bands, and even though they may be failing at radio and retail, we believe in them and we're going to try this again and we're going to find a new way to make it happen next time and they stuck by their bands. Then they were bought by Polygram, and all of a sudden they can't play that game anymore, so bands are just getting dropped.

What would you like to accomplish in this industry before you retire from it?

I would love to have my own label, where I can do my own thing and try to grow it like Windham Hill. Let it be grass roots, let it be word of mouth, let it be like friends handing out CDs to other friends, let it be selling records out of the trunk. Those are always my favorite stories. Guys who have a vision and make it happen. Like Herb Albert and Jerry Moss (A&M's founder's -ed.), two guys coming together and doing something that they really believed in and turning it into something wildly successful.


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