Where did you grow up?
Skokie, Illinois. My parents live in Evanston now.
What was it that helped you make up your mind to go into the music business?
I'm not sure, I just always loved music. In high school, I was the guy who sold tickets to all of the concerts. I worked at this hot dog stand in Evanston, and the guy who owned it was also a ticket scalper and I went through him. I started going to every show that came to town.
Like the guy in "Fast Times At Ridgemont High!"?
Yeah, I was! I wasn't sure if I wanted to go into music. I didn't even know that you could go into music. The closest I came to knowing about the music business was Jam Productions, the big promoter in Chicago. A couple of times I had to go there to pick up some tickets. I was thinking, "I don't even know what they do, but they're in the music business." I liked the energy in their office. I went to school at the University of Illinois for my first year of college. I went there because every single one of my friends, except maybe three, were going there. And my brother was already there. After the first year I came home in the summer. I knew I didn't want to go back. It just wasn't for me. I didn't know what I wanted to do. My mother was the one who knew I was interested in music and suggested I go downtown and check out this school, Columbia College. They had a music business program, and theater, and film, and photography. I went down there and I loved it, so I ended up going there.
How did you end up doing A&R?
I was in another band after that first band, and we actually got a little record deal on a label called Grass Records out of New York. It was a little college, indie rock label that had Brainiac. We loved Brainiac, so we signed with their label. That band was called Nectarine. We kind of started out like Sonic Youth meets Pavement, and by the end, we were more like if Ornette Coleman played guitar for the Velvet Underground (laughs). The popularity just diminished. We actually were doing alright for an indie band. We could play some cities and have like a hundred people show up. And then we got more into improv and jazz and did what we thought was really cool music, but no one else agreed (laughter). So then the label was bought by someone. They went from indie distribution to BMG Distribution as we were going further and further out there. The label didn't fit us anymore. I actually went to New York to talk to them about leaving the label. They had long ago fired the person that had signed us. They said that's fine, we have too many bands anyway. So it was very friendly, and I was still booking a couple of their bands. I said, "What are you guys going to do for an A&R person?" They said, "We're looking." I said, "That's what I want to do." I had put together this Tom Petty tribute record that had Everclear and some other rock bands on it--maybe half the bands on there wound up being signed. Everclear was the only one that was big. They said, "Wow, that Tom Petty record sold more than any of our records. Why don't you work for us?" That became WindUp Records. The first band that we signed was Creed, six weeks after I got there I think.
How did you get your first job in the business?
During my first week at Columbia, I saw a note on the wall that said some record company, IRS Records -- I didn't even know who they were -- were looking for an intern. So I went over there. Phil Costello -- who is the head of promotion at Reprise now -- was the local radio guy for IRS Records. I started interning for him. That's really where I got into the music business.
I know that you've spent a lot of your career as an artist manager, which leads me to my next question; People always ask me, "Do I need a manager?" Should a band in Peoria, that's playing three or four gigs a month and maybe selling a thousand CDs a year out of the back of their car, have a manager?
At that point, I would say probably not. I think when people start approaching them, then it's time. So many bands would call up when I was in management, and they would always tell me that they were ready for a record deal, or that they were ready for management. They were ready to take it to that next level. When you're ready for that next level, you'll know, because the managers will be coming and knocking on your door. Labels will be coming too. No matter where you are, they're going to find you. If you're creating some sort of buzz, some promoter in whatever town you're in is going to talk to somebody who knows somebody. It gets to the record company, and that's how they find out. I think with management, I would wait until it gets to that moment where you're starting to build more of a following, and people are really starting to ask questions, and managers and labels are starting to approach you. When you need somebody to deal with that, then it's time.
I think a lot of people have the impression that if a manager would only take them over, everything would be done for them. All they need to do is find a manager in Peoria, and then they'll get the record deal for them. My reaction to that is be careful who you hire, because if you hire somebody local, they may not have the connections. Is that good advice? And they ultimately may become a hindrance, because now you've got a small-time manger who the record companies won't respect.
Right. And they're probably going to want you to get rid of them. Not because they're not a nice person, but just because they don't have enough contacts, and they don't know the business well enough. I've had that situation before. I managed a band who hired just some guy who never managed bands before. They had to pay double commissions, basically. They signed a contract with him that was horrible.
Usually that guy is a fan of the band who shows up at shows and helps out.
And thinks, "Yeah, I can be in the music business." So he books a couple of shows -- and sometimes he can't even do that.
What should an act look for in a manager before they sign a deal with him?
That's a tough one. It's just like finding a girlfriend, or a best friend, because you're going to be with them every single day. They really do become part of the family. You're going to be dealing with them 24 hours of every single day. You've got to make sure that they are a good person and that they have passion for your music.
I like the girlfriend analogy because it makes me think, how many times have we all had a relationship, and nine months into it, you realize it isn't as great as you thought it was. Are there ever situations where an act can work with a manager with no papers signed, sort of a test drive situation? Will a big management firm do that with a band?
No, they won't. The big companies probably won't do it. However, with the band 10 Speed for instance, I worked with them for four years and never had a contract with them. It seemed to work fine. But then, after talking to different friends who are managers about some of the problems that they've had in the past without contracts, I definitely signed a management contract before I started shopping the deal.
That's a tough situation for an act, because if one of the ten big management companies approaches you, three others probably will in short order. How do you know who to go with?
You know what, you don't know. You know who they represent. You find out what connections they have. Are they a good person? Are they passionate about your music? You have go with your gut. Every band that I've managed, except for maybe one, had several different managers throughout their career.
What can that band in Peoria do to get themselves ready for a deal if they don't have real management working for them?
I think it's all about playing out -- and not just in Peoria, but go to Chicago. Go to St. Louis. Start doing a little local tour. Build a big enough following in Peoria, make a little money, get a van, and start touring around and creating a buzz. Promote yourself. Just get out there. I used to go out there every night with 10 Speed and put posters up with some sort of glue slop, just to get them up all over the place. Believe in yourself and work hard.
A lot of artists would respond to that by saying, "Hey man, I'm an artist. I'm in a band. I'm a songwriter. I don't know about business." What would your response to that be?
I think that they have to start caring about business. You can't be an artist who just sits in the house and thinks it's going to happen. You've got to make it happen. Either designate someone in your band that is going to care of that stuff, or you just have to go and do it yourself.
Where can they learn about it? How do you learn to be a manager?
You know what, it's so hard. I don't know. I don't even know how I learned it. I just knew I wanted to be in the music business at one point, and I just started calling people and poking around. You just sort of figure it out as you go. I never once walked into IRS or A&M when I was interning and asked what to do. No one said, "Hey can you do this? Why don't you do this? Why don't you do that?" I just started doing things. Even now it's hard for me, I can't even have an intern, because they'll just sit there watching me do what I need to do. I can't tell them what to do. I think you either know how to do it or you don't. You've got to have that fire.
Is songwriting still important, or is the A&R community still focused on beauty and youth?
No, it's all songwriting I think. For me, it's all about the song.
If songs are still vital to the success of an artist, why do labels always look for artists who have their own hits? In the old days, the A&R person's job was to find an act, find the songs, find the producer, bring it all together, and poof! -- a hit record. It seems like the A&R community has gotten away from that. Now the act has to have the look, the songs, the following, the whole package. Why?
I don't know. You're right though. There are plenty of bands out there that have the look, and they play well, but they just don't have that hit song. I guess you could put them together with good writers, and they will come up with a song--there are some people who still do that. There's a band right now that I'm going to do some demos with, and I'm putting them together with somebody to co-write. They're close, their songs are pretty good, and they're a great band. They all look good. They just don't have that something in their songwriting that I think is a hit. Maybe somebody with a different style of songwriting, when you put them together, can come up with that hit. I don't know how much it still exists where an A&R person will go and find a song and say, "That's a great song. You should do this song." But they definitely put bands together with other songwriters. A lot of the bands don't want somebody to come in and just write a song for them, but they wouldn't mind co-writing.
Maverick seems like a label that really doesn't chase the flavor of the month and has succeeded most often by taking chances. Is that a company mandate that started with Madonna and has been passed down through Guy Oseary?
I've only been here for a couple of months, so I don't know for sure. But I think that Guy has always been about, once again, great songs. I don't think he cares about what's happening right now. I think he just cares if they have great songs. Maybe it just so happened that it seemed like they were taking chances. I know a lot of people passed on Alanis Morissette. He obviously just heard some great songs and saw talent in her voice that other people may have missed, and he just went for it.
What kind of music do you personally like?
I'm all about rock music. Again, I know it sounds like I keep saying it over and over again, but I just like great songs. It could be anything really from heavy metal to something a lot lighter, as long as they have a great song.
What criteria gets you excited about a band, beyond the songs?
I definitely want to go see them and make sure they can play. A lot of bands may have a couple of great songs that they were able to put down on tape, but they just can't perform in a live situation. Obviously that becomes an issue if you send a record out to radio and it does really well. So I definitely want to see that they have a great live show as well--they can play, they look good, they care about themselves and really want to be an entertainer.
Will Maverick look at that entire spectrum and they will sign anything as long as they have great material, a great look, etc.?
If we think that's the case, yeah.
Is artist development dead, or can you still do it at a boutique label like this even though you've got a corporate parent?
I think you can do it anywhere. I think it comes down to the company being really passionate about that band and knowing that it may take a couple of years to break the band. Unfortunately, a lot depends on radio nowadays. Everyone just goes to radio, and if it's not reacting, then they don't want to spend the time or money on it. If there is someone at the company that really believes in the band and is not going to care about the radio success and still push forward, then it can happen. It's definitely harder at the bigger companies because they just want that hit right away. But there are a few cases today that still do artist development.
I would think that having the management background that you have makes you better suited for artist development.
Most of the stuff that we picked up as management clients we developed for at least a year before we were ready to shop them. A lot of bands that we picked up may have thought that they're ready to have a deal, but we could tell if they needed work in one area or another. If they didn't have the songs, then we would tell them always to keep writing. I never wanted to put a time limit on it. I didn't know if it would be six months before it was time to go for a deal, or a year. Who knows what it's going to be. It may be two months from now. It may be two years from now, but we'll wait until it's ready. There's no rush.
As broadcasting on the Internet and subscription services that provide consumers with an all-you-can-eat menu for a fixed price begin to take hold, do you think labels will be willing to go after more "niche-y" types of stuff because radio won't be the only way to promote an act? Does this kind of stuff get talked about at labels?
No. For me, I still think it has to do with having a song that you can get on the radio. I don't think that they are looking at any niche music that they can promote other ways on the Internet or touring. I haven't seen anybody who is doing anything different. The only one I think is Rick Rubin at American Records who may take a few more risks, more arty music.
Do you go online and just randomly surf for acts, or do you use it more for a research tool? If someone says, "Have you heard of this band?" and then you use it to track them down?
Both. Sometimes I'm sitting around and I'll just surf, looking for things. Once in a while I'll find something interesting. I haven't found one thing that I was freaking out over though, unless a friend of mine calls me and says, "Hey I saw this band. They're out of St. Louis. Check them out, they have a website."
Where do you get most of the things you do listen to from?
Mostly for me, it has always been just through friends. I have a couple of friends in New York, some in Florida. I just call people. I met a lot of people being on the road for Walt Disney Records, going into all of the record stores and retail stores for them. And then when I worked for DNA, I met people by calling all of the retail stores all over the place. I met a lot of people who love music. They would always tell me about great local bands, and I have always just kept in touch with them. Every single band that I worked with in management came from a friend saying, "Hey you should check out this band." You never know. I check out everything when someone says, "You should check out this band.
How would you respond to someone who says, "TAXI never forwards my material, yet I'm on 13 local radio stations' playlists?"
Maybe they don't have good songs. I get so many packages and people calling that say, yeah we're on this radio station and that radio station. And they keep calling and say, "I can't believe you don't want to come see us." I don't care about anything--I don't care if you're going to be on "Saturday Night Live!" I hate when bands send me all of their press. Just send me the music. I just want to hear the songs. If I don't like it, someone else may like it, but I just care about myself. If I love the songs, that's the first thing for me.
Do you see any trends in the music business?
I do see a trend of more straight ahead rock bands with good songs, like Three Doors Down, Matchbox Twenty, Fuel, Filter--no gimmicks. Just good rock bands with good songs. I think the rap rock obviously is going away. I'm sure there will be something that will pop up. People will always want good songs. Lifehouse, for instance, is a good rock band with great songs.
Any other general advice?
Bands just have to always believe in themselves, and keep writing and keep playing. Don't worry about other bands in town who are getting some attention, or more attention. I think just believe in what you're doing.