What are the other functions of a major label besides just signing
new talent? How are they necessary to having a hit record?
Basically, our job is to take the vision of an artist and bring it to
the consumer. What that means in reality is you've got to get them on
the radio. If you make a video, you have to make the right video which
captures the right image for the artist. Then you get that video exposed
in some way. You work with creative services so they can visually present
your record to the market place. You come up with sales campaigns, and
retail campaigns, and advertising and the look of the point of purchase
displays and you have to make all of that work for the consumer. It's
not easy. It's not easy on a lot of levels.
What if you do all that and the record lays there like a lox?
If an act doesn't break right away, some record companies will say,
"Well, that's it. See ya." Other labelsand I hope we're one of themsay
maybe this isn't a radio-driven project. Maybe what we should be doing
is to image this group better. Let's tour them and do campaigns in every
city. We can work with the local newspapers, and local independent retailers
and local independent video show. Let's have them perform in clubs.
Let's build their fan base over the next six to nine months before we
go to radio. Then when this record does go on the radio, and you're
getting 22 plays because everybody is really into it, something is going
to happen. That works in building a story. That also works in building
bands, and building futures, and building careers.
We're in a
business right now that is struggling terribly with blockbuster artists.
You've got to have a hit single. You've got to have one that goes to
the top of the charts. You've got to sell a million or you're over.
So what's happening is we've become song-driven. Labels will sign a
band because they have one great song. You need more than that.
Can you give me an example of what that "more" might be?
We signed this great group recently called Bobgoblin (a TAXI bandEd.).
We think they're great. But we're not thinking about a hit single at
the moment. It doesn't matter yet. What matters right now is they have
a look. They have an image. They have style. People are going to see
them and they are going to react to them. And when they do have a great
song on the radio, people are going to buy it because they have a whole
package that works.
Doesn't it take more than great marketing?
The cliche that I alluded to earlier is, hit records aren't made in
marketing meetings. They're made in the studio. For example, I think
Fiona Apple made a great record in the studio, but, Jeff Ayeroff (Co-president
, Sony/Workgroup Records) made a great marketing campaign that broke
her. Alanis Morissette made a great record in the studio. But at another
label, she might have had a different career path. Maybe just a little
bit, but she would have had a different career path.
I really believe
that great record people can make one or two decisions in the career
of an artist that can make the difference between them becoming big,
or becoming very big. The thing that I think MTV and great decisions
can do is accelerate a group. Great artists are always going to break.
I'm not under the belief ever that Bob Dylan, or Bono, or Bruce Springsteen,
or Kurt Cobain, or Eddie Vedder, and on and on and on would have bombed
on meaningful records. I don't believe it. They would happen on any
label because they're great artists. They had something to say, and
people wanted to hear it. All we do is accelerate that.
It's our job
to bring their vision to the marketplace. It's a tough job, because
we don't always agree. We have arguments constantlyartists and record
executives. They could think track #3 should be the single. Oh no, we
think track #1 says it all. We know about marketing. They don't know
about promotion. They know when they are good. That's what makes the
connection. What we don't controland it's the most frustrating part
of the record businessis getting 30 plays on KROQ and 50 plays on
Z100 in New York, and no one will buy the record. You can get three
plays on a radio station and not be able to keep the records in the
stores. Some records are hits, and some aren't. Some make the connection,
and some don't.
Can all the gears turn properly at a record company and still not
produce a hit? Conversely, can any one of the gears not turn and a hit
I would say in the last year, maybe there were ten or twenty artists
who had all of the "gears," all of the hype and sold nothing. So the
answer to that is, all we can do is that. We can't make the consumer
make the connection, but a great song can.
seen it personally in "You Oughtta Know" by Alanis Morissette, "Loser"
by Beck, "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana, and "Alive" by Pearl
Jam. One song, one spin. We "hate" radio because they say they "know"
after one spin. We go, "no way, you can't tell." But you know what?
You can tell, when it's the right one. You never know for sure though.
So some records break big just because they're great...
I'll give you two examples of records that nobody expected ever to break
the way they broke in the last year. It's because they were great. One
was "One Of Us" by Joan Osborne. It didn't matter that it got played
on a 10-watt radio station when nobody was listening. It broke. The
other was the Tracy Chapman single "Gimme One Reason." It absolutely
didn't matter, any of the bullshit. They're hit records. Period. There
is some magic to what we do. We should never lose that magic. That's
why we do it.
Do you think tastes in music are catered to or created by the industry?
I think we clearly try to fill the pipeline and then decide who it's
for with no real knowledge of what it will do. No one can predict the
future. Years ago someone said to Rick Rubin, "How do you know? You
must go out every night. You're always right." He said, "I can tell
what I like." There are those people that know what they like, and what
they like, the public likes. We don't create any demand anywhere else.
We fill the demand.
Is it really possible for an indie group to compete with the big
boys for those precious few slots on radio playlists?
Today? It's a snap. It keeps happening where an independent record that
comes outwhether it's "Firestarter" by Prodigy or whether it's "Loser"
by Beck-and today radio stations are looking for things to separate
themselves from their competition. They are out there looking for hit
records. However, they're not going to be able to sell the same millions
of records as an act on Columbia, because of the infrastructure of how
records are sold. But, if they made the record, it could get in the
hands of one or two or three people like Brian Phillips when he found
Silverchair, or when he found Roxette. Both were on no label in America.
I think the chances are as good as ever, probably better than ever.
But how are these kids in Beaver Lake, Wisconsin going to get to
that program director?
There are a thousand guys that are trying to get that program director
their CDs that year. They're probably going to hire some independent
promotion guy to get to one or two Program Directors.
How are they going to know when they've got the right guy because
there are so many independent radio promoters that will take your money
and not get results?
They may not. If it's great, it will find an audience. It's not going
to find 20 or 40 radio stations on its own. It's going to find two.
But word spreads fast. Then Jimmy Iovine, or Jay Boberg, or Daniel Glass
or Donny Einer is going to hear about it. Hootie and the Blowfish. Goldfinger.
The list is long. Record companies all, so you know, have in-house research
departments. They call all of the local retailers in Beaver Lake, Wisconsin
and say, "What's selling?" Their infrastructure is now based on the
success of the last few to find those records.
Is it a trend or a phase they are going through because of Hootie
and the Blowfish being discovered that way, or do they really believe
that's the right way to find new talent?
It continues to happen, because what used to happen is people would
sit in their houses and make tapes and play them for their friends.
Now, since the advent of the CD, you make a tape in your house, press
a CD, and sell it to your friends. So it can come to the attention of
a guy at a record store or at a local radio station. It was hard to
press up records. It's very easy to make a CD now, and it's cheap. There
is an entire business now of finding these bands. They are already theoretically
proven when labels sign them. I say "theoretically" because our 40-year
history of rock 'n' roll is filled with groups that are breaking quickly,
and not necessarily big in America. That's controversial. There are
people that say if you can be big in Cleveland, you can be big in America.
America's market is now about 30% of the world. So you can be big in
America and still be missing two-thirds of the world.
That's an important issue now because of the Internet. Not only is
it going to allow somebody in Tokyo to buy an American release for $13
versus $25 over there. They are going to find out about an American
group that they won't be playing on the radio there.
It's easier today for the kid and his band to get discoveredprobably
easier than ever beforebecause of Hootie and the Blowfish.
How do you think the Internet is going to change the way major labels
will work in the future?
No one knows. The addendum to that is I can either talk for twenty minutes,
or I can say no one knows. There are so many ways it might work.
Do you think that major labels will be decimated by the Internet,
as some have predicted, or will they simply adapt to the technology,
remain dominant and change the way they work?
We are completely enamored by the Internet. We are, with reason, using
every facet of the Internet we can. We believe it could be part of the
future. I think fortunately we're not looking at it as a panacea for
the ills of our industry, which I think people did when MTV first time
out. But we don't know how it's really going to affect anything. It's
like when people turn on their television. They're not putting on their
televisions to listen to music. They're putting on their television
to watch "Seinfeld" reruns or old movies. When they log onto the Internet,
I don't know if they are looking to download videos or if they're looking
for music. They have a life, and music is a part of it. Unfortunately,
music may become less a part of their lives.
Because of the Internet?
Yes, because there is so much to do besides listening to music. They're
not watching TV anymore. They're not listening to the radio anymore
or CDs. Right now, these kids are on the Internet 20-30 hours a week.
So, it's not the future, it's the present. But, do you think it will
be the delivery system of choice for music buyers in the future?
We don't know exactly where it's all going, but this time, the industry
is completely prepared for it to be part of our business. Everyone said
when CD came out, and then DAT came out, that everybody is going to
bootleg stuff. But it didn't happen to any great degree. People want
ownership. There are people who want copies and there are people who
want ownership of original product. They don't want it because it's
legitimate. They want it because there is a connection to the artist.
Like classic album covers of the '60s. That's why I think 1-800 MusicNow
didn't work. I think that's why downloading music from satellites doesn't
work. That's a connection to corporate America. It's not a connection
to the artists.
What's right with the music industry today?
It's a sophisticated, mature business that isn't naive about the fact
that it changes everyday. We, the senior people in the record industry,
don't know everything anymore. I think that's important. I think we
went through a real period of time in the '80s where we thought we knew
everything and we really didn't know anything. The reality is that those
who have survived, who are in their 40's or 50's or 60's, understand
that we don't know it all. But we can glean from those people around
us how to bring music to the marketplace. We can use their experience
to better take the vision of the young people to a wider audience.
really good at marketing music by our standards. What I mean by that
is, we can sell a million or two million records really well. But, by
the standards of consumer products, we're not even on the radar screen.
When you ship 22 million copies of "Independence Day," or how ever many
"101 Dalmatians," or how many people see a movie, we're (the music business)
not even on the radar screen. But we're getting better at it, and I
think we're recognizing two things: art and commerce. We're recognizing
on the art side that we need to associate ourselves with young entrepreneurs
who are on the cutting edge, who have always been trendsetters in the
industry. And on the commerce side, we're learning better ways to communicate
to the consumer about our product. We're still just getting started.
If you could snap your fingers and change one thing in the music
industry today, is there anything you would change?
I think music isn't perceived as important anymore by a huge generation
of people who consume it. Baby boomers, if you will. They've come to
the conclusion that they don't buy records, but they do love music.
Whether they're still listening to the radio or listening to music at
a friend's house, what we do in taking an artist's life experiences
and putting them together into a song, onto a music video, or into a
live performance, is still magic. I would love to see people remember
that, and then regain the interest and passion they used to have for
What's your favorite part about what you do for a living?
I love working with artists. I love watching them. I've always loved
itfrom the first time I watched it happen, until today. I love it
when a young kid who works in the office says, "I found this great group
and I have an idea..." To watch it grow from that moment and then eventually
see them on stage at the Grammys or at the American Music Awards or
listening to them on the radio... That's still magical to me.
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