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 thingsall 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
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
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 blocka 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 departmentfive 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 Brandybuy
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
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.
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
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
Yes, all the time. I remember that last movie that the music really impressed
me, the score music in particularwas 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 floorthat'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 thatto 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 storiesDave Matthews Band,
Hootie and the Blowfish, Blues Travelerthese 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 dayjust watch M2 for an hour and
you'll see a bunch of them.
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 radioit 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
Yeah, and in a year and a halfit's all over. I just think that record
companies are doing themselves a disservicethey'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 thatWAS.
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
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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