Interview by Cathy Genovese

Where did you grow up?

I grew up right here in Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley. I went to school at Taft High School. I'm a native; never lived anywhere else.

How did you get started in the music business?

I was a musician. I played drums in a band [when] I was 13 years old. I did that until I was in my mid-twenties. While I was attending college, my band got signed to MCA Records by Michael Goldstone. The band was called Broken Homes. I saw what he did and I remember at the time thinking, "That's a cool job. That would be a lot of fun and would be something I could do." So I filed that in the back of my mind and kept playing in bands. When I finished college, the idea of getting a real job came about, so I stayed in the band and got a job at Geffen Records in the mailroom, thanks to a friend of mine. So basically I started there. I worked in the mailroom for a couple of years, stayed in bands, and got the band I was in at the time, The Freewheelers, a deal at Geffen. Then I told our A&R guy, Gary Gersh, that I wanted to do A&R and also play in the band. So I was actually able to do A&R and play in the band for a while, but then the band asked me to make a decision between my two girlfriends. I ended up choosing the business side and stuck with that.

I worked at Geffen in A&R for a year and a half. I was basically Gary Gersh's talent scout. I was just learning what Gary did, scouting bands and bringing stuff to his attention.

How long have you been at Warner Bros.?

For close to three years. I came in as Vice President and was promoted to Sr. Vice President at the end of last year.

So where did you work in between Geffen and Warner Bros.?

I worked at Capitol Records for six years. Then from Capitol Records, I went over to Gary Gersh's company that he started with John Silva called the Digital Entertainment Network, which was very short-lived. That lasted six months, then it mutated into Grand Royal, which was Mike D and the Beastie Boys' company. So we just kind of merged the two and started Grand Royal again. We were distributed by Virgin Records. That lasted another couple years, and I signed At the Drive-In there. Then, as the company was winding down, I moved over to Warner Bros.

What gets your attention about an act or a song? What's going to get you on a plane?

I think what gets my attention the most is first, a unique sound, something that stands out from the crowd, that's left of center, but I still feel can reach a big audience. What I look at in a band is that they've been able to develop a live following—which is the case of a lot of rock bands—in their hometown, and a regional area where they can draw, say, 500 people in Chicago and they can also sell some tickets and merchandise in surrounding areas. That's always a good sign; if I hear that that's going on, that will really perk up my ears.

When we get requests from A&R people, one of the main factors is that the band has a following, that they already have a fan base, that they're selling CDs. Is this a signing trend, or do you think that this is going to be something to stay? How important is that? Or can you find a band that isn't playing much that still has hits?

Yeah. That happens. If I hear a record and it's got [a completely] unique approach to it and there are undeniable songs, then that will push me into at least going to check them out and see them play. But nine times out of ten, I tend to sign things that already have something going on. The best example in the last year or so was Hot Hot Heat, who had already built something up on their own: they'd sold 10,000 EPs, they were on Subpop doing well and they had a touring fan base. When I saw them in L.A., they were already drawing 300-400 people. I just think that none of us have a crystal ball and it takes a little bit of the guesswork out of it when you see 200 kids going crazy for a band. It makes you feel like they are working hard to try to do it on their own, not relying on a record company, and it gives a major label something to launch off of, which I think is very important.

We can sell records from ground zero (too), which is what we did with another band I signed called The Used, where they did not have any fan base. That was an example of great songs. I saw them play in a rehearsal room and they were fantastic. You could see the energy they had and the great performance ability. That was coming from great songwriting, from the demos I heard.

Is it essential that you see a band live before you sign them?

For me it is, yes.

What if it's a rap act or a pop singer?

At least in a showcase environment. Even in my office if it's a pop singer and they can sing to the track, or if it's a singer/songwriter and they don't have a band together, they can play for me acoustically. I've signed things like that before, right out of the office.

Do you have a specific genre that you work with?

I think everything across rock, pop, punk are my specialties. I do have a definite taste for certain rap acts, but I haven't signed anything yet here. I do work with a group, The Transplants, and one of the kids in that band is a rapper, so I'm working with him.

Where do you generally get your new music and how much listening do you do? Do you still go to clubs?

I still go to clubs. I travel a lot, sometimes 10 days a month. I tend to get a lot of things I hear from lawyers and managers that I know. A lot of the stuff that I get that I really like comes from the artists I work with. They'll tell me about a band and I'll go check it out. They usually have pretty good instincts.

How many bands does the average A&R person sign a year?

I think it varies so much, depending on the year, depending on the amount of work I'm doing making records. You know, if you're making a lot of records, you're not as actively signing. I used to sign one or two a year when I was at Capitol. Some people are making three or four deals a year. It just changes every year.

What type of music do you personally listen to? What's in your car stereo right now?

Right now, it's all the demos of the bands that I'm working with. In my daily listening I've got the Hot Hot Heat record in process, I've got The Used making a record; My Chemical Romance just finished their album. So I'm listening to a lot of the stuff I work with already, listening to the record and making suggestions on mixes or song tweaks. But as far as new music goes, there's a brand-new band that I just signed with one of my cohorts here, Rachel Howard, called Idiot Pilot. That music is very electronically based, but it combines very ethereal, Radiohead-like elements to it, so it crosses both those worlds—electronic, dance-leaning instrumentation.

Any other signings you want to talk about?

I just signed a new group that's on an independent label called Avenged Sevenfold. I'm doing that together with Andy Olyphant. We're going to put out the record next year, but we're really excited. They're doing very well and are a good example of something that's really been built up on the underground [level]. They're on Hopeless Records right now, and we're hoping to market that record a little bit with Hopeless. The record will sell over 100,000 records on an independent label, which is great for us.

The Distillers is another one of mine that I'm excited about. They've been on the road touring a lot, grinding it out. We look forward to making another album with them soon.

One of the kids from Glassjaw, just made a record that will be coming out later in the summer. He did it with Dan the Automator, who made the Gorillaz record. It's a departure stylistically from Glassjaw. It's kind of a dance-y, poppy, rock-leaning record. I'm keeping busy.

How big of a role does radio play in your decision to sign an artist?

I would say one percent. The main reason being is that when you sign an artist, who knows what radio is going to be playing by the time that artist gets released? My job is to go and find great artists and help them make great records and then let us dictate our place at radio, rather than radio telling us it fits or doesn't. I think if you sign a band that really doesn't fit radio at the time and then you are able to build an audience for it, then radio eventually will say, "You know what? This has an audience," and start playing it. The best example of it recently is System of a Down. Too hard at first; it didn't fit. Then they saw that the band could sell close to a million records without radio—or without a lot of radio—so radio came around hard-core the second time around.

So you wouldn't go and confer with the promotion department before you sign somebody?

No, I do not solicit radio promotion department opinions on things that I'm signing. I play it for them and I want them to be excited. A lot of the time I'll play it for them and they'll come to meetings when we're trying to sign the band to tell them how they feel about a record and give them their honest opinion about it. But it does not sway my opinion [as] to whether we should sign them or not. It's all based on my gut and if I feel there's an audience that can be reached with this music.

In that sense, then, say with the success of Norah Jones, do you think that there's any plan for major labels to start catering to older demographics? There's such a focus on age, it seems.

I think that the adult demographic has become extremely valuable over the last couple of years. A lot of the reason is because the adults that are buying those records don't steal music off the Internet, quite frankly. So fans of whoever it is—Fleetwood Mac, Eric Clapton, Norah Jones—adults tend to not steal music, so they will purchase it. So they've become an extremely important demographic in selling records these days.

Having said that then, when you're making an album, are you thinking more singles-oriented and less album-oriented? Are you thinking only of the hit?

I'm always more conscious that there's at least two or three things that are going to have some success at radio. When you're making a record—or releasing a finished record that you've just picked up—I think it's something that I'm evaluating during that time if I personally feel that it's something I can work at radio, even if it doesn't necessarily fit what's currently the in-vogue sound at radio. If I feel it can change radio, or bend it to actually get played on radio, then I will pay attention to that. It's more the fact that it's a hit song rather than does it fit current radio. Every so often there will be a kind of record where I feel like even if we don't get radio we can reach an audience through a lot of touring and marketing around touring.

On that note, is there any certain geographical area right now that you think is breeding a scene, you know, like in times past with Athens, Minneapolis and Seattle?

Um...I can't give away my secrets. No, I don't want to tell you. I do think that, but I prefer not to give that up in an interview.

As well as members wanting to be successful artists, we get inquiries from business students who want to be in A&R. I just want to know what you think is the best part about being in A&R and what's the worst? What are the advantages? What are the disadvantages?

The best thing about being in A&R for me is that I'm doing something that I love, working very closely with the artists that I sign, helping them make their records, helping them find producers, being close to the creative process and watching the artist actually make their album. Also, taking a record from a band that has very little or no fan base and watching that grow, and helping to be a part of cheerleading that through a company and actually watching people get excited about a record in the same way that I have been excited about the record for a long time. That's what I'm really good at, and that's what I love to do—to educate and excite people at my company and watch them get hooked in the same way that I am. That's what keeps me going; it gets me really excited.

There really isn't anything I don't like about it. I truly love what I do. I think it's a great career opportunity if you love music, and I think it should be done by people who love music, and it isn't always. I have a deep passion for music and for record making. I feel very lucky and fortunate that I get to do this because I know that not everybody gets to do it that wants to. I think it's a wonderful job, and if you're a music lover, if you're a musician that wants to get on the business side, you get to see it from the other side. I'm a musician coming in, and I feel like I get to see it from the business side and can hopefully use my persistence and my talents to help artists grow their careers.

What do you think the future holds, then, in the business of A&R within the industry as it changes?

Obviously, the whole business is consolidating and getting smaller. I think A&R people are going to be used more in a sense of signing talent and making records, but also helping to oversee the marketing of the records. I think the whole industry is shrinking, so there's going to be shrinking in the amount of A&R people also, and I think the cream will rise to the top, and those people will have more responsibility.

I think more independent labels are going to emerge from out of this because there will be fewer A&R people at the majors. I think there's great opportunity right now for people who are very enterprising and are real go-getters to go start their own companies. It's a good time to be starting an independent label. The whole fact that our business has been in trouble over the last few years, I think that business models are going to emerge more and more where companies are going to be involved with artists on a more partnership basis, and helping them build their touring base, as well as their merchandise sales, as well as record sales. I think if you're a smart person and you have a lot of will and are willing to do a lot of hard work, it's a good time to start a record company for people who are frustrated and can't get into A&R.

What is the most common mistake that you see unsigned bands making? If your 18-year-old nephew were to come to you and ask for advice, what sort of advice would you give him?

I think the most common mistake is that sometimes just the deal gets important to them, just getting signed, and getting signed truly is just getting your foot in the door. Once you're signed, your real work begins. So, rather than focusing on just getting signed, focus on truly writing great songs—the single most important thing of all of it—and then getting your live show down, which comes with time. I think that's less important than the writing process. The biggest mistake is thinking more about the deal and less about writing the right songs. You don't have to think about the deal. We'll find you guys—that's absolutely our jobs. We have scouts out there. When you start making some noise or you make some great recordings, we'll find out about it, I promise. There are plenty of A&R people out there now. Just go write good stuff.

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