Betsy Anthony-Brodey

Interviewed by Doug Minnick

Where are you from?

I'm from Los Angeles. I grew up in Palos Verdes, California, not far from here. I went away to Berkeley for college and then came back to L.A. to work in the music business.

What was your first job in the business?

My first job was working as an assistant at Epic Records, initially for Frank Rand in the A&R Department. That was just a summer job. I went back to college and graduated, and then Larry Hamby, who worked for Frank, asked me to come back and work for him. So I kind of started as an assistant for Frank, and then came back as Larry's assistant. That was at the end of 1983.

In 1986, I came here. It was called MCA Music at the time, and it's now Universal Music Publishing. I've been here ever since.

What are some of the achievements here that you're most proud of?

I'll mention a couple. Working with a band called the Sugarcubes. I love them. They're a band that just musically knocked me over. I just had to be involved. I felt that strongly about it.

More recently, I worked with a writer named Muggs. He was a member of a band called 7A3 and then went on to be in Cypress Hill. He's a very talented writer-producer. He was involved with a lot of things in addition to Cypress Hill. He wrote and produced for other artists—Ice Cube, etc.

The Dust Brothers, again more recently. We became involved with them starting with the Beck Odelay record. They're currently working on their own record, which I'm really excited about. Really recently—along with Dana Kasha-Murray who works with us here—we signed two writers, Tony Battaglia and Shaun Fisher, that we identified through what they had already done on the Mandy Moore record. They already had the cuts.

Do you focus mostly on signing artists as opposed to songwriters?

I don't want to say "mostly." For me personally, I would say yes, that is where my attention is. However, in the case of someone like Tony Battaglia, I do look for opportunities—we're not signing a Mandy Moore, but it is a record that we believe is going to do well. We try to identify if there are any unsigned writers on a record. That's where I'll look for writers. I'm not really looking for a new young writer that I'm going to develop. If something great came across my desk, I'm not saying I wouldn't do it, but I think that I've got a lot on my plate, and I know that it would require a lot of time and attention to develop a new writer. I would have to just be so passionate to take that on.

What do you mean when you say "develop"?

"Develop" in the sense of . . . If you're pitching a song—it can be the most amazing song in the world—but sometimes before you can even get it in the door, they say, "Oh we want Diane Warren, or Desmond Child," or whoever the flavor of the month is. When you tell them you've got this amazing song, they say, "Who's the writer?" You say, "Joe Blow, you don't know him. He's new. He's great." . . . There are certain people I can get to who, just based on my relationship with them, will listen to their songs, but I find that's where the development comes in. Development, not necessarily of their writing skills, but all the other stuff—creating relationships, getting people to take the time to meet with and collaborate with them, and just take a shot with them. So yes, I tend to focus on bands.

How about as a company? Is the market for outside songs such that you're more interested in signing staff writers again?

We do have staff writers. We've got some amazing writers. I would say that the pure writer who doesn't have the hyphenate "writer-producer," "writer-artist" are few and far between. We do have some people who are pure lyricists, and they're writing songs that are getting cut. But as a company, there are times when I feel like our focus has been more on the bands and trying to get ten songs on a record, as opposed to looking for writers that only have bits and pieces. We are always looking for new opportunities to bring in new writer-producer teams. I would have to say that as a pure writer, again, to get in the door right now, it's probably more likely if you're coming in with some cuts, as opposed to building them.

Is future coverability of a writer's material a factor in your decision whether or not to pursue a them—how their songs will live in the catalog—or are you mostly concerned with how their own record is going to sell?

I would have to say that for myself, and I believe most of us, our main concern is how their record is going to do. I think there are a lot of artists for whom there is probably not a strong likelihood that their songs will be covered, unless they become so big down the line. Let's say a band that comes out in 2000, ten years from now, kids who were growing up and loved that band might cover one of their songs. That's not what our reason is, though. We have to believe that they're going to sell a lot of records, and that's where our money is going to be made. We also hope that there are some film and TV opportunities. Coverability is not really a major factor.

Do you ever consider artists without major label deals? Do you develop and shop new artists at all?

We do, and we want to do more of that. Absolutely. We have an amazing studio here. We've got the resources. We've got the tools. Ideally, what we'd like to do is identify some of those bands. We can't take on too many at once, because it's very time consuming, and you want to be able to really give those bands that attention so that you can take them to their fruition. We haven't really done that lately. Probably part of the reason is that we were going through the merger (between MCA Music and Polygram Music Publishing ñ ed.). Now we're on the other side of it. It's great, and we're bigger and stronger, and we've got an amazing catalog. We've got our staff in place. We can focus a little bit more now.

Were there situations like that that paid off in the past?

Well, Alanis Morissette, clearly. That would be the big obvious one. She was a songwriter. She did have a record deal when we first signed her in Canada. She was more like a Debbie Gibson-type pop dance artist. She made a couple of records for MCA, and then she came to L.A. to write. We put her together with different writers—Glen Ballard being one of them—and that was just the most amazing, organic relationship. Out of that came Jagged Little Pill. It was just so spontaneous. I remember Glen sending me "You Oughtta Know" and just being floored. I had no idea that that's what would come from that. Obviously, the rest is history. That I see as something that we were involved in on a development level, but not in the same way I was just talking about. Finding a band early, young, bringing them into the studio, developing the demos, doing showcases, getting them signed. We haven't done that in a while.

But there was a shopping situation with Alanis that took a while, right?

Yes, and we did shop it, and a lot of people said no. Then I believe her attorney gave the tape to Guy Oseary. It was just a small group of us in the studio at Glen's house. It was Glen and Alanis. She was just going to perform live for Freddy (DeMann—ex-Maverick Records co-owner and Madonna manager ñed.), and me and John Alexander who had signed her to MCA. Freddy saw her and said, "Done. Where do we sign?" That's it. He was convinced.

What attributes are important to you when you're looking at an artist? What is it that gets you excited?

Their passion. And with that comes their believability—really believing what they have to say. I generally like some kind of edge, some kind of danger. It can be in music that doesn't necessarily sound edgy. They just have something deeper going on. Not playing it too safe. Maybe it's just in their lyrical approach—the lyric is a little bit edgy or says something that is a little more challenging.

Depending on the type of band, their live performance is critical. It's sort of a lifestyle thing. They can just go on the road and tour and tour and win over their audience. The lead singer or front person has to be a star. If you look at No Doubt, they're an amazing band, but Gwen is undeniably a star. She is such an entertainer. My feeling is that even if you didn't love the songs going into the show, you're going to come out of there a fan. You're going to come out of there converted. I think that's an amazing quality to try to find. Sometimes you can feel that it's going to grow.

How do you find out about new writers or new artists?

There are the obvious business relationships I have, as far as the attorneys and managers. I've developed relationships with them over the years. A lot of people send me stuff, who aren't the managers and attorneys, that I feel have done right by me over the years and sent me great stuff. I think it's hard for a new band or new songwriters who don't necessarily have those relationships with a manager or an attorney to sometimes get in the door.

ASCAP and BMI turn me on to stuff, and I think that's a great opportunity for writers and artists. I'm not a real Internet person. I don't go into those sites and just scope around for new material. I don't have time for that. I don't think that's the best way for me to spend my time. If someone sends me something that way, I'll listen to it. But I don't just go searching that way. I'd much rather stick a CD in my CD player. There is too much on the Internet that's not very good. Anybody who ever wrote anything can go in there. There is no discretion.

I love to go see bands live. I don't go out every night like I used to, but I'll go see great bands. Word of mouth is another way. If bands around town are starting to build a buzz, or in another city, you kind of hear about it. Certainly my A&R friends are another source. There are times as a publisher when you have the luxury of waiting to see what's going to happen. I don't necessarily have to be onto it first, like a label might, to get it. We want to sign bands that are already signed to a major label. We want to sign bands who are going to have a shot. Therefore, I can watch what's happening. I can pay attention and then go in and survey territories and decide whether I want to get involved.

Do you pay attention to things like who the manger is, who the attorney is, who the team is?

Absolutely. I think the whole team is important. The label and the A&R person too. The manager, the attorney, the booking agent. It's all important. If it's an amazing band, and they have a manager who no one knows because it's some guy they've worked with for years and this is the first band he's managed, I'll still look at it if I love the music. I do think there are some cases where the team enhances the picture. There are maybe circumstances where elements of the team also might be a negative, depending on the genre or situation.

How much creative input do you have with writers and artists?

I would say it totally depends on the writer-artist and my relationship with them. There are some writers, for instance No Doubt—who I work with, who we inherited when we bought Interscope—and I've met them, but I don't know them very well and have absolutely no creative input. They do their thing, and we love it. Everyone here is a fan. Then I'll have another band that maybe I've been working with a long time, so they do want to come in and get my feedback. They do want to hear what I think should be the first single. They do want to hear, of these 15 songs, which 12 should be recorded. Sort of that process. Or maybe even down to feedback on a song specifically. And again, with the writers it's the same thing. We have a lot of writers who are just kind of self-contained and doing their own thing. They're plugging into projects. They're doing things direct to a project, so there is no room for creative input. By the time they've done it, it has already been accepted on the project. I would always love to be involved. If they want input, they've got it.

Do your writers consistently write their best material all the time? Or does every writer have ups and downs?

I think every writer has some great songs and some not so great songs.

Do they always know which ones they are?

No. I don't think so. I think they can get really close to something and always love the last thing they did. Then I think once they get a little time away from it, they can see it. We try to give them that kind of feedback too, in terms of realistically what we think we can do with the songs. Do we think we can get these covered? Sometimes it's not even that it's not a great song, it's just not what the market wants. When you're pitching songs, you're limited to who needs songs, and who is out there, and what is happening on radio, and how it sounds. There are so many factors. You can have a great song that might not get cut now, but five years from now it might. Maybe they'll re-demo it to keep it fresh.

Let's say you had a nephew who was starting a band, and he came to you for advice. What would you tell him to pay attention to?

First I would tell him or her first of all to really follow their own instincts. Don't be a follower. I think everybody blends from somebody else. There is so much good music that came before us, it's hard not to be influenced by that. So I would say listen to your influences, but also listen to your own instincts. If you're being influenced, make it fresh, make it your own. Don't be too derivative. And just write, write, write. Explore writing with a lot of different people because you never know when that magic is going to happen, when that collaboration is going to bring something out of you that you didn't even know was there.

If it's a situation where it's a band, and they haven't played, play live. Get into a garage, whatever you can do. Learn your instruments. Learn how to play with other people. Learn that dynamic. Try to get out there and play in front of people and build your ability to perform well. See if you've got what it takes to be a star, or a great front person if that's the role they're playing. If they're not, if they're the guitar player in the band, make sure the person who is the front person is a star or don't bother. Move on. Don't settle for something less than what you think is great.

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