Interviewed by Michael Laskow

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

As soon as I could reach the counter to buy records. I started spending all my money on buying records from the ages five or six to fifteen. Just buying records, collecting records, going to all the stores. Pretty much every genre. And then I got into DJ'ing in clubs, which I basically started doing just so I could afford to buy all the records I wanted to buy.

How did your first entry into the 'record' business come about?

I would spend whole weekends going to all the record stores and buying up every new twelve-inch that was coming out. One day I was at Downtown Records and heard this record that I wanted to buy to play in the club. It turned out to be a just a demo, so a friend and I put a singer from Jersey called Tara Vonte together with a track that was cut on some equipment in my bedroom, and came up with 'Join Hands.' That was the first record to come out on Big Beat (Kallman's Label).

Then what?

I said, "All right. What do I do with this now?" I called everybody I knew. At the time I had just graduated from Brown University. I had spent a year at Brown actually starting up clubs and doing a bunch of videos to promote parties and stuff. And I had three years of experience working for CBS/Sony. So I had enough contacts to try and figure out a direction. In addition, I was working at Billboard, for the chart department. I was working for Michael Ellis. He gave me my first job at Billboard. I was also working for Factory Records.

So, you were working three or four jobs...

I had three or four jobs. Plus I was DJ'ing two or three nights a week.

And each of these jobs, I assume would pay a hundred bucks a week or so?

Yeah.

Put it all together and you had some sort of real income.

Exactly. I had saved up enough money, and decided to use some of it to make this record. And I said, "Well now what do I do? Do I sell it to Sony. Or do I do put it out myself?" I just started asking people I knew for their opinions.

I got an offer from Columbia to do it, but I figured out the economics of it would actually work a lot better if I did it myself. I realized that if I sold 4,000 or 5,000 copies I'd make more money on my own than if I took the royalty of 12% or whatever I was being offered, even with the advance which I think was about $10,000 or $15,000. Plus, if the record started to take off, I could sell it overseas. So I decided to just put it out myself.

I had used $800.00 to make it in the studio. Then I put another thousand in and pressed up a thousand copies. By the time it hit the streets, I had invested about $1,800.

And hit the streets, you did.

Yeah, I took a grocery store shopping cart around Manhattan. Going to Rock & Soul, Downtown, Vinyl Mania, Tower. Some of them selling on consignment. Some of them selling COD. And where I begged for COD, I used that money to press up more. And where I had consignment, I was starving with those records. Praying that they would sell so I could get paid, and pay for the next pressing. And you know, by the end of a couple of months, I had sold three or four thousand copies. Which was pretty good considering it was all regional New York.

I'd like to get back to that laundry list of jobs you mentioned a few minutes ago. I'd bet that more than a couple of our readers would love to know how a college kid got himself hooked up like that.

In college I actually had quite a few jobs. I was working for the radio station at Brown. I got that job because I was a little more savvy than most of the kids at school. Actually it was Patti Galluci, who is now a VP of Programming at MTV who hired me.

But did you see an ad somewhere or did you just find this job through some sort of telepathic miracle?

I knew we had a pretty successful college radio station, and said to myself, "Let me go over there and talk to the music director and see if I can get a job there." Patti hired me and let me program an alternative music show. I would bring in all my latest imports that I bought. Then I went to the urban programmers on BRU and I did a mix show. I did that one on the air. So it was really just a matter of going there and hustling.

How did you get the job working for Sony as a college rep?

I started volunteering at the New Music Seminar. And through the seminar I met tons of people. And I think I just sent my resume around and said I'll work for free. And I got a job working for the summer in the dance department at Columbia Records.

The classic story.

Yeah.

Let's get back to the growth of your label. What was the next step?

I made a couple thousand bucks from my first venture. And I said, "Wow! This is pretty good. I've got a record company here I guess." Just me in my bedroom. I was DJ'ing at the Tunnel one night and I played a record called 'I Said Shut Up'. While it was playing a guy came up to me and said, "You know, man. That's my record." I said, "Oh yeah, well where's your next one." He didn't know exactly how or where he was going to make his next one, so I said, "I have Big Beat." Big label, you know,(laughing) it was me working out of my bedroom, but it was really starting to happen. After a couple of meetings, he came to my bedroom office, and we decided we'd go in and make a record. That turned out to be Craze, 'You All Want This Party Started Right.'

So that was your second release?

Yes, and basically I did the same thing that I did with the first record. We put the group together. I entered into a publishing deal with them and I actually did a management deal with them and I said, "Let me really break this thing out." And I sent it to the radio stations, and before I knew it, this thing was really, really buzzing. I was getting phone calls like crazy because I put my home phone number on the record.

That was a smart move!

All of the sudden, I started selling it to Rock & Soul. And it was selling out in days. Like over the weekend I would bring it in. Saturday it would be gone. And they'd want more. So, to make a long story short, I must have sold 30, 40, 50 thousand copies of that record.

Over what time period?

Maybe six months. I was getting calls from all over Europe; England, Germany, France, Italy, Benelux. Every country was calling wanting to license the record. I knew nothing about licensing. I got hooked up with an attorney named Mark Levinson, and got educated on the legal aspects of the business. And then I started making all these deals with all the labels around the world. They would give me a $5,000.00 advance and I'd use that money to help promote the record in the States.

You were about 23 at the time?

Right, and before I knew it, I had sold about 250,000 units. I made quite a bit of money with this one little twelve-inch that cost me less than a thousand dollars.

That's incredible. That's every kid's dream who wants to get in the record business. You've lived that dream.

Yeah.

Did the major labels start to pursue you at that point?

Well, there was a little bit in between. By the time the majors were calling me, I had realized I could make a lot more money on my own. I used that money to hire a friend from high school who graduated from Harvard. My Dad kicked me out of the house because UPS was trampling in and out of apartment carrying records in and out so much that it was getting ridiculous. I got a one-room office and kept putting records out.

All of the sudden my staff grew and so did my overhead. Big Beat was getting larger, and I needed outside financing to help it grow. I was about to do a deal with Irving Azoff and Giant records, and then I met Doug Morris from Atlantic.

What was it about Doug Morris and Atlantic Records that appealed to you?

Doug was just so impressive to me. A real music guy. He had just an unbelievable honesty and an unbelievable passion for great records. I could tell he really saw that what we were doing with Big Beat, there was some real potential for a great future. He really believed in the music and me. And that sincere confidence, not to mention the legendary status of his position, and what he had accomplished in his career with Big Tree Records were all part of it. There was definitely a bond.

So you're his protege basically.

Yeah.

When I first met you, which I think was in '92, you were Assistant to the President or something?

Yeah, I still retain that title.

Okay, you're President of Big Beat...

...and I'm Vice President of Atlantic, and I'm also Assistant to the Co-Chairman, which is Doug Morris, who is now, no longer the Co-Chairman. He is now the Chairman of the Warner Music Group, U.S. labels.

Is it possible for someone who lives in Ottumwa, Iowa to have the kind of success that you've had?

Absolutely, if there's talent either within that person or with someone that they are in contact with, they can do it. Whether it be as a manager or an agent or a publisher or record label. The whole business is about finding great talent. Either you possess it yourself as an artist, or you possess it yourself as an executive who can find talent. And that talent can come from anywhere in the country.

How does that talent find its way to Craig Kallman or Big Beat or Atlantic? How does that kid from the corn field let you know that he exists?

I think the best thing is to start locally. You've got a local radio station there. You've got local clubs there. You've got local newspapers. And create a story. If there's something magical going on in some small town that people are willing to spend ten dollars of their hard earned money on to buy a single or buy a CD, or a radio station that's getting tons of requests. That news is going to get out. It's going to get out to somebody who's in touch.

I would assume that the advice for an aspiring producer is pretty much the same, except that the producer then has to find the artist and then do that same process.

Absolutely, because it's very hard for a brand new, untested producer to just get on a major new artist, signed to a record label if they don't have some 'show' reel, or a track record to go on. Just like everyone in any business needs to send a resume, a producer's resume is a tape. And if you don't have an impressive tape, no one's going to really take you seriously. And to get an impressive tape, you've got to produce somebody who's impressive.

Are you saying that they can't just do an impressive job on somebody who's nobody? It's got to be an impressive job on somebody with a name.

No. I'm just saying it needs to be someone who's talented. Not to say that if someone brought me a tape of the worst vocalist in the world, but the production was unbelievable, I would hope I could see through that.

Then is the flip side of that true? What if you have a four-track tape with poor production, but you've got a hit song somewhere on those four tracks. How well produced does a songwriter's demo need to be?

I'll take piano vocal demos. If the song is great, I feel like I can hear it. I'm sure there are many others besides me who would say the same thing. Production, to me, is really the least important element in listening to a song demo. But great songs really do shine through, I think.

So would you say it's fair to say that the song is everything and everything else is secondary?

I think in this day and age, with video being as important as it is and with the visuals and the imaging and the marketing and the fierce competition, that there isn't any one element that can be singled out. Although, if I were to start to list from one to ten, the song would definitely be number one. The artist's ability number two, and the rest of the chain would be the ancillary things such as their looks, their personality, their charisma, their uniqueness, their vision, and all those other things that go into making artists special and separating themselves from other artists. But there's no question, without a great song, it doesn't matter how talented you are.

That's great advice. Is there any sage advice you would give to someone who is looking to get into the industry on any level?

I really think that whether you want to be a publicist, writer, producer, a marketing person, whatever, the key is certainly perseverance. I think it's getting a foot in the door. Real talent and real drive and real ambition always shine through. In many instances, you see a lot of very competent people...but that spark of brilliance, that extra amount of energy and ambition and drive and willingness to do whatever it takes, I don't find that often. I think it's more rare than one would imagine. I pride myself on trying to find those really, dedicated and devoted people, who just want to win and make a name for themselves in this business. We've hired many interns and part-timers, and brought them on and they've become full-time employees and have actually become executives.

The long and short of that point is that I think anybody who really has the sincere desire to make this their life's career and has the ambition, and is willing to do anything, is really going to shine through in the end. And if it comes to scrounging and scraping and doing the nuts and bolts of interning in painful, crowded, little music industry jobs, that's okay. It all adds up. And all of a sudden you end up stacking a resume with a lot of interesting things.

A lot of it's about connections. And eventually you're probably going to hit that one connection that can take you to the next level. And the next connection will take you to another level.

Sooner or later, everything ends up falling into place, because if you really have the drive to do it, things start to happen unexpectedly. It seems by chance, but it's really not chance, it's just hard work. It's being at the right place, not at the right time, but being there all the time. To me the whole game is being in the game and staying in the game as long and as hard as possible. And if you've got the talent and you've got the drive, you can't not come out on top.


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