Interviewed by Michael Laskow

Where did you grow up?

Santa Monica, California.

Have you been here your whole life?

That's right.

Wow, rare—a native! Do you remember who was the first band or artist that made you fall in love with music?

I'd have to say it was the Who. I was a drummer at the time, and I heard Keith Moon.

What was your first job in the music business and how did you get it?

I started as a buyer for the Wherehouse record chain, and that was just from working my way up during the Christmas season at a Wherehouse record store in Westwood.

How old were you when you got the job?

Eighteen.

How did that lead to you ultimately getting into A&R? What was your job progression?

More than the retail end of it, the most important thing was that I was an active musician. Doing studio work led to a job at the American Federation of Musicians operating a referral service. I worked for the Musicians Union for about five years running a referral service and working as their "rock" guy. At the same time, I was working at Universal Studios as a drummer—mainly a drummer that you would hear and see in TV shows. If there is a high school dance, and you see a band in the background playing a silly song, that was usually me. To this day, I still have my friends call me and say, "Turn on USA Channel, you're playing in the band!" One of those jobs turned out to be a collaboration with an artist that was signed to Warner Bros., and he arranged for me to have an interview to be an intern at Warner Bros. A&R. That ultimately was a six month process, but it resulted in an internship with Roberta Peterson in Warner Bros. A&R.

Did the internship eventually progress into some form of real job?

It was fortunate in that it was paid internship, though it was tough because there wasn't a lot of money to be made. You really have to sacrifice. Fortunately, I was still working as a drummer in nightclubs and doing various other strange jobs. I remember I was working for UCLA doing medical experiments. They would pay you $75 to give you a cold or $50 to monitor your sleep. So with all of these things combined, I was able to live on this internship, until I was able to more or less prove to the company that I was an asset to them. Anyone who is interested in A&R can kind of look at the situation at a record company A&R department and try to figure out where can they use the most assistance. At the time, there were some areas, like hard rock, that were just becoming a major factor in the A&R business. Not a lot of the staff at Warner Bros. had the time and energy to go and stay in clubs every night and see a lot of these bands. That became my advantage in ultimately turning an intern position into a full time job. It was discovering where the company needed the most help and proving myself that way.

How long were you at Warner Bros. working with Roberta?

I was there for six years.

That's kind of a long track record in this biz. Where did you go after Warners?

There was a shake-up at Time/Warner and a lot of the executives moved to Dreamworks and Geffen. While I waited for Roberta Peterson to create a position at Geffen, I worked at a smaller, somewhat independent record label called Victory Records. That was a great opportunity because it allowed me to learn what the other departments of a record company do. When you're at a small label, you're involved with every aspect, and then you suddenly say okay, here's how promotion works. Here's how the retail and marketing end of it works. So you get a great education.

How does being at a large label differ from being at a smaller or indie label? What are the strengths and weaknesses that you might find at each?

If you're an A&R person and you want to work at a large label, sometimes you have to be willing to sacrifice the ability to do an immediate personal signing. You have to understand that you want to line up the support of your company at a larger label, so as the band moves through the process [of making and promoting an album], the executives will support the band. So at a major label, it helps to have the key people at the company supportive of the band from the very beginning. But that might take time in the signing process. At an independent label, if we saw a band on Thursday night, and decided to sign them, we made a call on Friday morning. That is a great opportunity, but you just don't have all of the benefits of the major label's marketing abilities.

What makes the major label marketing abilities so great? Is it deep pockets? Does it vary from major to major depending on the team of people they have in the departments? What elements of their marketing make it so desirable?

One advantage to a major label is that it is set up so the product is available pretty much everywhere. That was one of the downfalls of the smaller labels. If you are a recording artist out on tour, and people can't buy your music throughout the Midwest or the South, it's a very frustrating problem for a band. If it's a major label, they've pretty much got the entire United States covered as far as the ability to get the product out there. If a major label kicks into a band that starts to happen, the abilities are tremendous for them to truly break a band at all levels. They have regional representatives all over the United States. They also have the ability to market the band internationally. A lot of independents would have to go in and do licensing for each country. So for a band, if a major label is behind them, it's really the best opportunity to really break.

Why do you think so many A&R people concentrate their efforts on finding bands? You always hear A&R people talking about bands, when it's pretty clear that the Pop and Adult Contemporary artists—the Celine Dions of the world—sell a boatload of records. Why don't you see a lot of the current A&R people looking for the next Celine Dion or Whitney Houston?

I think that we say we're looking for "bands" as a somewhat generic term. That could easily be replaced by saying we're looking for "artists." I think that it's not so much that we're not looking for talented singer/songwriters, because that is an important part of our business. I think that we're looking for singer/songwriters that have a hard work ethic and have devoted themselves entirely to their music. We don't find that as much with some of the people that are settled down with families and other careers in their lives, that have become singer/songwriters more or less as a hobby. As an A&R person, regardless of what type of music or what type of artist it is, you want somebody that is going to dedicate their life to touring, that is able to start their career in the music business on very little money and a lot of sacrificing. The problem with a lot of Adult Contemporary artists is they love their craft, but they are not willing to devote their life to working at it at this point. So they are more or less interested in thinking maybe somebody will pick up one of the songs that they write on the weekend, or that type of thing. And you also don't really see too many "baby Whitney Houstons" out on tour because there really aren't places for them to play. A band can go out on the road and play 100-seater clubs pretty much endlessly if they work it well.

There seem to be a lot of "lemmings" in the A&R field. So many A&R people want to sign what other A&R people are after. Why is that?

In the case of Columbia, I think that it's not that we as a staff want to sign things that other A&R people are interested in, it comes down to the bottom line that you have to ask yourself as an A&R person: I'm going to be committed to this project for years to come, and if I'm not in love with the music, it's not going to be fair to the artist. So regardless of how many other people are pursuing something, we can't honestly jump into a project and say we would want to be involved in it if we're not passionate about the music. I think rather than saying we try and sign everything that other A&R people are interested in, it's that we need to be aware of it. As an A&R person, part of your responsibility is to stay up on other signings and be competitive. When somebody from our New York office contacts me at Columbia, they expect me to know about the acts that are being signed locally to make sure our company is staying competitive.

Look at the same question generically. Take yourself out of your Columbia gig for a minute. So many times, we'll play something for an A&R person, and they say, "This is great! Who else is interested?" That's the first question out of their mouth sometimes. Is there a safety-in-numbers thing going on?

If a band is what we might refer to in the industry as a "buzz" band, sometimes that can help the band's career, or it can hurt their career. In the beginning it is easier for a buzz band, not just to get a record deal, but everything else that we hope for as an A&R person may come easier. The band will have an easier time getting a manager. They will have a much easier time getting an agent, a good attorney, possible touring opportunities. If people are talking about the band, if the industry is talking about the band, that will open up a lot of doors other than just the record deal. So there is sometimes an advantage for a band being a "buzz" band. There are also situations where too much exposure causes unreal expectations of the band that can ultimately be damaging to their career in the long run because they are expected to have a gold record the first time out.

What attracts you to a band or an artist?

In the A&R community, we all would love to discover a true artist that is changing the direction of music. In a perfect world, that's what we're all looking to find—the next Prince, or Police, or Nirvana. It's just that we're also realistic as well. It's pretty much the same with most A&R people in that we're looking for great material, an artist that is dedicated to their craft, and we look for a signature sound, something that is going to be a way of identifying that artist no matter what type of music they are performing. We look for an artist that is going to be marketable on MTV and videos, an artist that is going to be competitive in this day of emphasis on radio. I look for artists that are strong musicians. A compatibility and willingness to work well with an A&R person is also important. Those are some of the qualities I look for.

If you were in a band that lived in the Hinterlands, what might you do to get yourself discovered?

I would take advantage of a lot of the regional music festivals throughout the country. I would try and build a following through local radio that could possibly expand into the other regional areas. There have been many instances where local radio stations have given one of their local acts airplay, and the response was so great that the staff at that radio station calls another radio station and says, "We're getting great phones here. Why don't you try it?" It has been that ability to hopscotch and develop a regional outbreak that gets the attention of record companies across the United States. It is also an advantage if the band has the ability to learn how to market themselves through the Internet that doesn't limit them just to that regional area there. A number of acts are getting results from strong Internet attention that has turned into record company attention.

Not from the Columbia perspective, but what do you think the street-level vibe from the A&R community is about what's happening with music on the Internet? Is it hopeful? Is it fearful? Is it curious? Is there any vibe?

A&R people always want to stay competitive. They will pursue any opportunity that allows them to discover new music. The disappointment in the A&R community has been that the acts that are getting a lot of attention on the Internet are fairly formula artists that haven't really come across with anything that sounds really new, different or trailblazing to me. It's a situation like radio at this point where I'm hearing somewhat generic music that sounds real listenable, but I haven't heard anything that really sounds like it's a new emerging artist that is going to change the direction of music.

Do you actually go to a site like MP3.com and just start listening to stuff, or do you primarily use the Internet as a tool, like when you hear about a band in Peoria, you go find the band on the Internet to learn more about them?

It's all of those things. It's impossible for an A&R person to have the time to spend just randomly sampling acts from the incredible number of sites that offer samples of music. It's just like the A&R work in the other world. If you get a lead on an artist that is doing well on the Internet, then you might seek them out through MP3.com or another site and sample their music. But I don't think at this point that most of the A&R community are just randomly sampling the acts on the Internet. There are far too many, and it's too time consuming. It would almost be like just having thousands of demos and randomly listening to the demos. It would be a great project if you had the time to do it, but it's just not practical at this point. A&R people pursue the Internet acts like they pursue other artists. They act on information, and then they do their research.

You're somewhat legendary—maybe singularly legendary—in the business as the guy who helps artists put together their bands for touring.

Probably the most well known, and the first one that I did outside of a record company, is Alanis Morissette.

Tell me how you got to be that guy and how that process works.

I started getting involved in building bands and in musician referral as I was doing it for our artists at Warner Bros. as part of my A&R responsibilities. After I left Warner Bros., Alanis and her manager, Scott Welch, approached me and said, "Have you ever thought about doing this independently outside of a record company?" It was actually Scott Welch and Alanis that created this opportunity. The first project I did was the touring band for Alanis Morissette. That was an opportunity that resulted in a lot of other people in the industry saying, "Hey what a great band. How did you put your band together?" Then by word of mouth in the music industry, it spread. I've never advertised my services, but this kind of work has spread from artist to artist and manager within record companies to a point that I can be selective and get involved only with recording artists. It helps me because it's all related to A&R. The musicians that I get to know by working in this referral business end up being in a lot of the acts that we pursue as signings. It's really an advantage for me to be able to go up to a band that we may be interested in as a record company and already have a personal relationship with the musicians in the band. They have had a chance to get to know me. It's also an amazing source of information about new bands, bands that are leaving their record labels or getting dropped, or incredible musicians that are now forming a band. It allows me an opportunity to get great information that I can ultimately use as an A&R person.

Is there any chance of a kid from Des Moines, Iowa ever ending up in Alanis' touring band, or any major artist's touring band, or do they really have to be L.A.-based so they're on your radar?

My abilities are limited if I still want to be an effective A&R person. I can't operate my musician referral consulting business full time, so I have to trust that I get my referrals from other musicians in Los Angeles, or seeing artists as they showcase in L.A. clubs, or just word of mouth from other A&R people. I just don't have the ability to operate this on a national level. You'd be amazed at the amount of amazing musicians I can find just locally. I haven't really needed to go outside of Los Angeles to fill a job up to this point. There are so many strong musicians here. I've never had to look outside of this circle, except when I did a Keenan Ivory Wayans show where we auditioned 1,000 girl musicians across the United States.

If your kid sister wanted to be rock star, what piece of advice would you give her?

I would emphasize working on the abilities in all areas of music—being a strong songwriter, performer, having a great image, learning about the music business and not just spending too much time in one area. Many artists don't see themselves as a total package. They may have strong songwriting abilities, but don't have an engaging live show. Or they might be a good writer, but have never spent the adequate amount of time to be an impressive vocalist. You have to see yourself as an artist and work at all the areas, so that when you get the opportunities, you can be successful as a complete package.


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