What got you in to music?
I was born in 1955, so when I was about nine years old, the Beatles
came to our shores. I sensed something very special in my life. My father
was in a band when I was very, very young and my mom and grandmother
were both singers at various points in their lives. So music was part
of my family history.
on in my life I started reading trade magazines like Record World and
Billboard. I went to the local department store and purchased 45s on
a weekly basis. I fell in love with b-sides and started keeping track
of my own personal "Top 40." I pretended I was a deejay and sat in my
room and intro-ed and outro-ed records.
How did you get your first gig?
When I was fifteen, I wrote a fan letter to Todd Rundgren. Todd had
been in a band I loved called Nazz. Then he went solo and put out an
album called Runt. I had bought the Runt album, and on the label copy
it said that there were six songs on side A and four songs on side B.
But my record had seven songs on side A and five on side B. So I wrote
a letter to Todd asking what these two extra songs were. About two weeks
later, I received a package in the mail with a correct copy of the album
and a letter from an executive at the record company. The letter explained
how the copy I had was a rejected master that had been accidentally
pressed and that it was a collectors item and I should put it away.
Enclosed was also a copy of the album the way it was intended to be.
The label was Ampex Records, and the person who wrote the letter was
Paul Fishkin. Paul was a promotion person for the label in addition
to being Todd's roommate.
So I took the
subway into Manhattan and went in search of Paul Fishkin, who happened
to be on the road that day. But there were some people at the record
company who said "hello" to me and talked to me for a couple of minutes.
Then I asked if they ever needed any help because I would really love
to just hang out there and do something. That day there was a stack
of envelopes, and a stack of corrugated cardboard, and a stack of albums
in the office. They said, "Well, you can pack these albums." Then I
came back the next day and typed up the labels for them. By the third
day, one of the people that worked there said in essence, "Kid you never
shut up. Here is a list of radio stations. We want you to call them
and ask them if they've received the new Todd Rundgren single and what
they think of it." So I didn't necessarily know what it was I was doing,
but I did it anyway. My third day into hanging out at Ampex Records,
I became a promotion man.
Didn't the radio stations find it funny that a kid who had barely
reached puberty was calling them?
Well, let's not talk about at what age I reached puberty! [laughs] The
fact is, my age didn't really enter into it. I was basically calling
saying, "Hi this is Marc from Ampex, and I wonder if you got the new
Todd Rundgren record." It only came into play when I was seventeen and
Director of Promotion for the label. I wasn't old enough to go to a
bar or rent a car. Eventually, Ampex Records folded, and Bearsvillewhich
was part of Ampexwent to Warner Bros. I went with them. I graduated
high school in 1972, and enrolled in New York University. About five
days into it, I realized that every time I had a 45 minute break from
class, I was running to a pay phone and calling radio stations in Fargo,
North Dakota, asking if they had added my records. I came to a fork
in the road. People always ask a child, "What do you want to be when
you grow up?" The fact was, I was doing it. I knew I wanted to be in
the record business, and I was in the record business. I was devoting
fifty percent of my time to being a student at NYU and the other fifty
percent being the national promotion director at Bearsville Records.
I made the decision to drop out of school and join Bearsville full time.
Give me the short version of the rest of your career path. I want
to move on to the hard stuff (laughs).
In terms of a timeline, I worked for Bearsville through the middle of
1975, when I was offered a job to move out West and work for Casablanca
Records right when we broke KISS and Donna Summer. After Casablanca
Records, I went to work for Playboy who had a record company. They had
a subsidiary called Beserkley Records. Beserkley was on the forefront
of "New Wave." Because of that, Seymour Stein became interested in me.
I was Vice President of Promotion and West Coast Operations for Sire
right at the time we were breaking the Ramones and the Talking Heads.
I left Sire and had my own independent company for a little while. I
worked for RCA and IRS for a little while. I was involved in the first
Go Go's record. In 1983, after living in Los Angeles for about eight
years, I really had a desire to move back to New York City. Doug Morris
(now CEO of Universal Music Group - he's a big deal. -Ed.) took a shot
and gave me a job at Atco Records. I moved back to New York in October
of 1983 and worked for Atco. I was subsequently promoted and worked
for Atlantic and did pop radio promotion all the way up to, I would
say, sometime in the beginning of 1989. That's when I got my first A&R
How did you make the transition from promo weasel to A&R weasel?
I was on vacation in Toronto, and I went into a record store and bought
a few local import records. That night, I was at a dance club and a
record came on that I honestly believed that five seconds into it there
was like a metabolic change in my physical being. My heart started pounding.
I went up to the deejay booth and I yelled up there, "What is this record?"
He yelled something back down to me. I didn't understand him, and I
asked him to write it down. He wrote on a piece of paper: Kon Kan "I
Beg Your Pardon." It turned out that it had been one of the records
I had bought in the record store earlier in the day without knowing
what it was. But it also turned out that the deejay at the club was
actually the producer and the artist of said record. We became friends,
and the next day I went back to the record store and I bought all seven
copies that were in the store. I came back to New York and gave a copy
to the head of A&R at the time, and I gave a copy to Doug Morris. The
other five copies I mailed out to five different U.S. radio stations.
Two radio stations in Houston both added the record. Within two weeks,
it was Top 10. We signed the record. I was a promotion person at the
time, but because I had signed a hit record like that, they basically
put me in charge of dance music A&R.
You left the record industry and shifted gears, working for Alesis
for a couple of years. How did that come about?
After a lengthy stay with Atlantic, we agreed to disagree and I set
out on my own doing management for a couple of years. I learned a simple
mathematical equation, that 20% of nothing is nothing, and was forced
to reconsider job opportunities. A very dear friend of mine for many
years, Russell Palmer had made the transition from the record business
to heading up this burgeoning equipment company (Alesis) that virtually
every musician knows about. He offered me a job selling the product
line into Canada. Ten months later I was moved to Los Angeles to head
up the company's promotional efforts. Promoting the ADAT was no different
than promoting a hit record. I was not a gear head, but I sure learned
a lot while I was there. Two years into it, I received a call from Doug
Morris to come "home." I went to work at Universal as it was being formed.
What you do now is very different from what most other A&R people
do. Can you explain it?
Essentially, I do research for the company. I'm blessed with twenty
six years worth of experience in the business that has involved extensive
radio promotion and a very solid knowledge of sales and of marketing.
What I do for Universal is scour local markets at both radio and retail
for research-oriented bandsbands that have pressed up their own CD,
pressed up a cassette, sell their records at shows, sell them on consignment
in record stores, put them out through small distribution avenues and
that may be looking to graduate to the major leagues. I'm looking for
things that are basicallyin baseball termsin the minor league farm
system looking to be promoted to the majors. I don't mean to sound cold
about it, but in my job, my ears don't really matterit's my eyes and
was a leader in that area at Atlantic when he found All 4 One in Southern
California, when he found Collective Soul down in Florida, and of course,
the biggest example was the Hootie and the Blowfish story. There are
probably multiple versions of the Hootie story, but the facts as I know
them to beas told to me by Doug himselfwere that A&R had essentially
passed on Hootie and the Blowfish, dismissing them really as just a
bar band. But a research assistant who basically does the job that my
assistant and I do here, kept coming up with this band named Hootie
and the Blowfish that was selling 50 to 100 pieces in virtually every
store in the Carolinas. When the retail sheets were brought to Doug
Morris, and Doug said "What is this band Hootie and the Blowfish?" A&R
said, "Oh it's a bar band, and we passed on them." Doug essentially
said, "Well get someone to un-pass right away because this is the real
When a Hootie
record in the Carolinas was out performing other records that were national
hits at the time, it becomes a no-brainer. When we picked up Sister
Hazel out of Gainesville, Florida, their album was selling as big as
the Wallflowers album was selling in that market at the time. That means
that there are people buying that record that don't even know that a
member of the band might be their next door neighbor. They are buying
it because they heard it on the radio and they like the record. We're
three quarters of a millions albums sold on Sister Hazel. The first
track "All For You," was Top 10 at three different formats of radio.
That was because it was a hit. If it was a hit in Gainesville, it could
be a hit anywhere else.
How hard is it to get something from an unsigned, unknown artist
on a major radio station?
It's very, very difficult, but there are stations within a market that
will run specialty shows or local music programming. When I was a kid
I wanted to be a disc jockey before I wanted to be in the record business.
But I grew up in New York City and I knew that I couldn't just walk
into WABC and snag the all night job. Later on I became a promotion
person and began calling radio stations all over the United States where
in the course of my phone calls, I found many sixteen and seventeen
and eighteen year old kids that did end up being the all night jock
at a local station when they worked in small markets like Montana and
Mississippi. Just as there is always a way for someone to get into a
door at radio and in the record business, if you're an artist there
is always an alternative method to get your music heard. By playing
live, developing a fan base, by having that fan base call the radio
stations asking to play the record, by bringing the record up to the
radio station and explaining what your fan base is and how you're trying
to create some national awareness, you can take it to the next level.
It's not going to be easy and radio stations have "x" amount of hours
in the day and "x" amount of slots on their playlist, but if it's a
special record it's going to break through. It has happened time and
It would have to be a really special record because as you mentioned,
there are only so many slots on any given radio station, and all the
majors and all of the strong indies are competing for those slots which
in any given week may only be one or two or three slots available, but
yet hundreds of singles are being pitched at the program directors.
But there could be as I said before a local new music show, or a specialty
show, or a radio station could start to get requests for a record that
they don't have because there is a local fan base. There are ways to
get airplay. And there could be college radio in the market that has
a broader based playlist. It's not always going to be easy to compete
at the Top 40 level with the Celine Dions of the world, but depending
on the format, there are ways to get your record on the air. I don't
want to mislead the public and make them believe that anyone can get
a record on, it's got to be a very special record.
Is it feasible that a band who knows about you or somebody like you
at one of the other labels and was savvy enough to put a SoundScan barcode
on their product and have sold 3,000 CDs but haven't been contacted
by an A&R person like yourself, could fax you the information and attract
your attention that way?
Oh I would be interested, sure. I would immediately call retailers and
find out what the deal was.
There are some A&R people who dismiss research and say that it takes
the creative process out of A&R. Do you think that there is the possibility
that labels will come to rely more and more on research and less and
less on the normal A&R process?
Probably not, but more and more record companies are doing research.
We see that in the number of calls that are being made to the retailers.
A few years ago it was really just Atlantic and us. Now there are plenty
of other labels who have people calling retail stores looking for records.
What would you change about the music industry?
I think there is a tremendous amount of waste in our business. I think
there is a tremendous amount of waste in the world. But I see an awful
lot of money being spent on ancillary things that get charged back to
the artist. The artist has a slimmer chance of recouping. Perhaps I'm
being a little bit old and antiquated, but I still believe you put a
record on the radio and if it's magic, someone walks into a store and
wants to buy it. You could also say you put a video on television, and
if someone sees it they go into a store and want to buy it. My point
is that there are still a lot of artists that we spend far too much
money on and cut our profits down. When we know something is a huge
hit, it's okay to spend money to advertise it and market it, but when
we see that something is not a huge hit, we really need to cut our losses.
If we still have a belief in the act, have them go into the studio,
make another record and try again. But to continue to throw good money
after bad only puts us in financial jeopardy. We can't exist as companies
continuing to lose money on non-hit records. It's very easy for Universal
to sell three million Chumbawamba and three million Erykah Badu records
and look like we're a very successful company. In many ways we are a
very successful record company. But we have to be very careful that
our marketing costs on the records that aren't three million sellers
are kept in check so that we can continue to pay salaries and have creative
people working here.
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