Interviewed by Doug Minnick

Where did you grow up?

Los Angeles, California.

How did you first get into the music business?

When I was in college, I worked at a record store for a company called Hitville Records. It was a retail chain that doesn't exist anymore. I met Ron Anton at BMI, and he introduced me to Denny Cordell and Don Williams at Shelter Records. My first job was interning for them at the publishing company at Shelter Records.

Is that a fairly common way to get into the music business? To start as an intern?

I don't know if it's a common way, but I think it's a great way if you can afford to do it. It's great to just immerse yourself in the business at an entry level and really get the benefit of day to day experience. It also gives you the opportunity to meet people, and to potentially end up with a paying position.

Interns aren't paid?

They usually work for college credit. They might get a small allowance for gas or something, but no salary. It's about experience, not money.

What was your first success?

My first success was a cover of Tom Petty's "American Girl" which I pitched to Roger McGuinn from the Byrds, and he cut it on a solo album for Columbia Records. That was my first pitch, and it was pretty exciting. He recorded the song and sold a few records in the early stages before Tom Petty really broke.

Did it help draw attention to Petty at that time?

Absolutely! Though I'm sure that he would have done well anyway. That first album was then re-released and was a hit. I don't think Tom Petty needed me, but I think it was a helpful thing. I don't want to go on record as being responsible for breaking Tom Petty (laughter). But it was pretty cool.

Did that propel you on to bigger and better jobs?

Well, I went to work for Motown's publishing company, Jobete Music. There I got the benefit of working with probably the greatest contemporary pop catalogue in the world—the Motown classic catalogue.

My job was to pitch the catalogue to rock acts. I would go around to studios where artists were recording and drop off anthologies. They welcomed me in because they all love that music. So a lot of that stuff got recorded. Around that time there were a lot of English rockers cutting Motown stuff. This was like 1977.

So were you fairly successful doing that?

I was successful doing that. Partially due to my aggressiveness, but I was also working with the greatest music around. It made my job pretty easy.

Where did you go then?

I went to work for United Artists Music. We had a great catalogue of standards there, and our job was to build a contemporary roster. In those days it was mainly songwriters trying to get covers. We got a lot of cuts on groups like Air Supply and Barry Manilow and all those artists at the time who cut a lot of outside material.

You've been at a few other places since then...

I moved to New York and went to CBS Songs and then I ran MCA Music, East Coast. After that I moved back to L.A. in '89 to head up U.S. publishing for BMG.

What's your title now?

Senior Vice President and General Manager.

Okay, tell me about what's going on at BMG now. What are your current big successes?

We have a pretty exciting roster. Our biggest successes right now are Ace of Base—they've sold about ten million records. Cypress Hill is a big act. House of Pain. Beck has sold over a million records.

Tell me about Beck. Wasn't that record made at home on a four-track machine?

I think initially a lot that stuff was done four-track. And then BongLoad Records got involved and produced the rest of the record. He was signed to us by Margaret Mittleman. She found him at a street fair in Silver Lake (California) and worked with him for about a year before he was signed to Geffen Records.

We've done a lot artist development. We signed Cypress Hill the same way. They were signed to our company and we worked with them on developing the demos, much of which became the first record. It helped them get their deal on Ruffhouse (Sony).

What were the state of Cypress Hill's demos when you heard them?

We heard home stuff, originally. Then we funded them to help upgrade their demos.

There have been at least three home demos that have become hits recently—Beck, Cypress Hill, and I believe Lisa Loeb's #1 ("Stay") was basically an eight-track demo.

The Cypress Hill stuff, when Joe Nicolo (the producer) got involved, was upgraded. I think some of the tracks were from the original demos, but it was certainly upgraded.

But as far as what you're hearing, when you're making the decisions to sign people . . .

We heard home demos on Beck. We heard home demos on Cypress Hill. A lot publishers are doing that now. Acting as little A&R enterprises. We were committed to doing that from the beginning and we've been successful doing it. We're still doing it. But at the same time we're getting involved in a lot other aspects of the publishing business.

Such as?

Signing more established acts. Even what you might call the bidding war kind of situations, where you go after something you just love. Such as developing writer/producers. We also have a very aggressive posture in the film area. We've had cuts on an amazing array of soundtracks. Right now we're on "Tales From the 'Hood" and "Friday" which are two of the biggest sound tracks right now. We had songs on "The Crow". We were on "Reality Bites". We have a track on "Batman III". A track on "Apollo 13" that's about to come out. We've really been successful in that area and in getting our music in all the contemporary TV such as Baywatch, Melrose Place, Beverly Hills 90210.

Getting back to the state of demos today. Can a home four-track demo, if everything is basically in tune, get the point across to you?

No question about it. We could even see something live and love it, and there may not be anything on tape that's worthwhile.

What is important is that there be a driven writer or writers. Passionate music with something to say lyrically. A step ahead of the curve. Not copying something else. Which I think Beck is, and Cypress Hill is. I think Margaret's new signing, Mary Lou Lord, is also a step ahead of the curve. I have to give Margaret a lot of credit for having an eye and an ear for that kind of stuff. We also have a band out on the East Coast called Thrush Hermit that we've been developing out of Halifax, and they're about to get a number of offers for major deals.

So this is another band that you've signed before they had a record deal?

They're being signed by Clyde Lieberman in New York based on their independent record, which I think is eight-track stuff.

So more elaborate production doesn't necessarily equal a better chance of getting signed?

Absolutely not.

Where do you get the demos that you listen to and how many do you get?

We get them from contacts in the business. Lawyers, managers, A&R people, ASCAP and BMI. We get tons of them. Unfortunately, we can't respond to unsolicited stuff. Corporately, we have to do that because of the litigation problem—to avoid liability in copyright infringement suits. I find that unfortunate, but that's part of the game when you're in a corporate company.

We get hundreds of tapes. We have a bi-weekly A&R meeting where we go through the best stuff. But pretty much, the way I run the company is that the people sign what they want to sign. We don't need a consensus where everybody has to agree. One person has to get it, and be passionate about it, and want to work on it full-time. Then we sign it.

What are the differences between a publisher's approach to new talent and a record company's approach to new talent?

I think that a publishing company (if we're looking at the artist/writer situation for the moment) can get involved earlier, and can do a lot of the artist development that record companies used to do back in the sixties and seventies. Nowadays, they can't always afford to nurture the artist through a couple of albums waiting to see if the third record will be a hit.

These days, a lot of record companies are looking to sign things that are going to be instant hits. They're less patient, though some companies are better than others. So publishers can fulfill a role as an artist development and A&R source for all the labels. Because of all the pressures of the business now, the labels really can't do it as much as they'd like to.

Because of all the expense involved in signing and promoting new artists?

Expense, yeah, and the expectations. The corporate pressure to have instantaneous success.

Are publishers still interested in staff songwriters these days?

Much less than we used to be. Writer/producers are our core songwriters right now. We have a couple of writers that are pure writers. It's just the nature of the business that the market for the pure cover, though we get them all the time (Joe Cocker, Vanessa Williams, Bette Midler, for example), has dwindled and shrunk. A publisher can't make it on just a staff of songwriters anymore.

A writer needs to have people to plug into. Working with producers, for example. And that's the game, a lot of the time with staff songwriters. You have to get them working with a producer who works with an artist, or collaborating with the artist—situations like that—and all of a sudden, you get covers. Writer/Producers are just naturally in a better position to end up with songs on the record. They're in the studio making the record.

So it's a good idea for new writers to try to hone their production chops as well as their songwriting?

Absolutely! Have a sense of production. Listen to records. Know what's happening, style-wise. Listen to the radio. Production skills are much more important for the non-artist writers, than for writers who perform their own material.

Are there characteristics that are that are shared by successful songwriters?

By pure songwriters? Or by artist/writers?

Well , let's start with songwriters.

I think with songwriters, it's 50% inspiration and 50% perspiration, to paraphrase an old cliché. They've got to have inspired songs, but they also have to be able to work alongside the publisher in terms of making the contacts and, in effect, helping to pitch the songs themselves I think with artist/writers, it's all inspiration, and then, obviously, luck! (laughter).

So very few writers can sit home and write songs and hand them off to the publisher and say: "Go get me a cover."

Forget about it. Ain't gonna happen.

What about the craft of writing songs. Does that remain important through the years and across genres?

Yes. Totally.

Even when it applies to artists/writers? Is the craft of songwriting still important?

I think it is. When you listen to the unplugged Nirvana record and you hear those songs stripped down—acoustic—you realize the quality of the writing. The craft is still important.

What are the most common mistakes made by new writers?

Trying to copy somebody else. Not being innovative. Not being original.

How do you balance the need for being original and innovative with the need to use proven song craft?

That's a very good question, actually. If you're talking about music that's going to appeal across genres, and not just be in its own narrow genre, the craft is probably more important. But if you're a speed metal band, for example, trying to sell only to a speed metal audience it's probably less relevant.

But if you want to be an artist that breaks out and appeals to different markets, then there has to be an element of the craft. You have to have some lyrical hooks, melodic hooks, and good song form.

If you look at most of the rap stuff that has crossed over (onto mainstream charts) it has strong choruses and melodies and hooks. A songwriter who is trying to get material recorded by outside artists really needs to master their songwriting craft.

What would you tell your nephew if he called and said he was thinking about getting into the music business?

I would tell him, by all means, go for it. And I would probably tell him that no matter how creative he is, or A&R oriented he might be, that he should get some business sensibility. Take some courses on business. Find out how businesses run and the pressures involved. I think that would be really smart for anybody that's coming in. To have a good sense of what goes on in a business.

As well as the creative?

Absolutely! I think if you were a business major in college who was a music freak, that would be a great combination.


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