This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: John Loeffler, executive VP, Marketing & Repertoire in New York, BMG.
John Loeffler’s name isn’t as known as his music, but he’s a figure that should be included in the Mount Rushmore of music creators.
For over two decades, Loeffler brilliantly guided Rave Music, producing music for commercials, television (including NBC, Country Music Television and HBO), film and other media while producing music for innumerable top-level ad campaigns including “Gotta Be Dominos!,” “I Love Eggs,” and advertising for Coca-Cola, Avon, Jiff Peanut Butter, Windex, American Airlines, Red Lobster, Ford, Lowenbrau, Revlon, Avon, Mitsubishi, and Kool-Aid.
Loeffler’s career hit its full stride in creating the theme music and scores for the popular animated television series Pokémon, as well as the numerous CDs, films and videos associated with the show.
In 2011, with the support of BMG Music Publishing, Loeffler launched the talent incubator Fieldhouse Music, a multi-level music production platform seeking to discover and market new talent through licensing their music in films, TV, and commercials.
This led to Loeffler serving as BMG’s executive director of global development, developing partnerships with music and media companies beyond traditional music platforms. He went on to forge relationships for BMG with the likes of Roger Waters, Kenny Loggins, Bad Company, and Earth Wind & Fire.
Germany-based conglomerate Bertelsmann had strategically exited the record business in 2008, and the music publishing business in 2006 and 2007, only to return in 2009 with a new vision with BMG, which currently has 19 offices across 12 core music markets, and represents over three million songs, and recordings, and thousands of artists and songwriters.
Last year, BMG split its American repertoire organization into three distinct units based in Los Angeles, Nashville, and New York; effectively granting each the same status as countries such as the UK and Germany, reporting directly to BMG’s worldwide CEO Hartwig Masuch.
Loeffler was tapped to be BMG’s executive VP, Marketing & Repertoire in New York.
The company cited its recent growth, which has seen revenue double in three years, as the reason for the move.
At the time, Masuch explained, “The US represents more than 50% of BMG’s business. To give you a sense of scale, if it was a country, our Los Angeles operation would be our biggest territory some way ahead of the UK, Nashville would be our third biggest territory just ahead of Germany and New York would be sixth biggest, just behind France.”
According to a just released annual report from Bertelsmann, BMG’s revenues increased 10.1% to $674 million in 2019.
A full half of BMG’s annual revenues, $337 million, were generated last year in the U.S. with the UK its 2nd most profitable territory at $111 million. A further $52 million came from Germany, $38 million from France, and $73 million in other European territories. Finally, $60 million was generated in countries outside of the U.S., UK and Europe.
The record label and publisher’s operating EBITDA (Earnings before Interest, Tax, Depreciation and Amortization) was $155 million in the year, representing a profit margin of 23%.
Hit recordings by Kylie Minogue, Blanco Brown, Keith Richards, Jason Aldean, Dido, the Cranberries, Kontra K and Seeed helped drive growth in BMG’s recordings business.
BMG recently announced the launch of a new recording label, Renew Records, to focus on Americana music. The launch comes just three months after the announcement of Modern Recordings, a BMG label dedicated to new classical, jazz, and electronic music.
These two new labels are part of BMG’s roster of US-based labels which includes Nashville’s Broken Bow Records, Stoney Creek Records and Wheelhouse Records, New York pop label S-Curve Records and Los Angeles’ rock label Rise Records, and hip-hop label RBC Records, operating alongside the core BMG label.
Under Loeffler’s leadership, signings to BMG New York now include: John Fogerty, the Allman Betts Band, Marc Cohn and Blind Boys of Alabama, Perry Farrell, Jesse Colin Young, Stephen Bishop, Huey Lewis and the News, Rufus Wainwright, James Taylor, Bush, Akon, Cheap Trick, Roger Waters, Keith Richards, David Crosby, Mike Love and The Beach Boys, Dionne Warwick, Fantasia, Desmond Child, and the O’Jays, Also added are newcomers Anna Shoemaker, Rachael Bawn, Sophie Auster, January Jane, Esme Patterson, and Nouri.
As of Thursday morning (March 19th), there were more than 9,400 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States, and more than 150 Americans had died from it. The Dow Jones Industrial Average continues to experience volatility. How are you in the midst of this mayhem?
On Friday (March 13th), they (BMG) said, “Go home, and try to work virtually. We had just set up this new Microsoft Teams thing (a unified communication and collaboration platform) so you can see everybody on the (computer) screen. Everybody took home what they needed for the weekend. Then over the weekend they said, “We are going to close the office for at least two or three weeks.” So I had to drive back to New York from (our rural residence in) East Hampton. We didn’t bring all our clothes out, and there’s medicines we had to have. I thought I was coming for the weekend. and my wife thought she was coming out for five days.
The thing is that nobody sees an end in sight. Even with the disruption of 9/11, most Americans knew their lives would return shortly afterward. With the COVID-19 outbreak we just don’t know. Furthermore, despite President Trump’s reassurances, the Dow Jones Industrial Average keeps dropping as the markets hear about military intervention; closed borders; and talk of a recession. Markets fell more than 30% in a matter of days.
That’s what scares me. That’s what really scares me. I lived through September 11th and (living in New York) I saw the end. That’s why everybody went to restaurants. Everybody was out trying to show everybody else that they were positive of the future of New York, and America; and that we could do this (heal as a nation). We don’t know what to do right now. I’m scared. I have to admit I’m scared. I’m watching my pension account, and my savings paper shrink to a level that’s really scary. But everybody has their own complications.
You had some consequential releases scheduled for upcoming months. What’s happening with them now?
The big three we are working on right now are all being pushed back. We are now discussing what that pushback looks like. So it’s Rufus Wainwright with “Unfollow The Rules.” It’s Toots and the Maytals’ “Got To Be Tough”) which is on Trojan Jamaica BMG (In partnership with Zak Starkey and Sharna “Sshh” Liguz) which is an album that we are all excited about. This guy is amazing. And the third one (“The Kingdom”) by Bush. They had this hit (“Bullet Holes,” the theme) for the John Wick film last summer. We kept saying, “We are not sure that this album is ready yet.” And sure enough, they kept writing more stuff, and they came up with some really great songs. We have the song, “Flowers On A Grave,” which we think could be a really great single. It was scheduled to come out, maybe in the beginning of the summer for touring and everything. That was part of our Spring/Early Summer (release schedule). Rufus in April. Toots was supposed to be May for the first single; and Bush’s single was supposed to be May as well, to get ready for the summer tour.
You sound like a film studio executive holding off a major release from the global market. Like holding back the James Bond film “No Time to Die” until November; switching the latest “Fast and the Furious” film, “F9,” to April 2021; and Disney pulling the live-action version of “Mulan” until further notice.
I was just about to say that to you. You are reminding me now with the James Bond thing. But If you have something that you really believe in, the last thing you want to do after spending so much time setting it up, is to just push it out.
This hold somewhat applies to projects and tours by all of the artists on your roster including Anna Shoemaker with her new 6-song EP “Everything Is Embarrassing,” which is a follow-up to her remarkable 2018 indie-pop debut, “East Side.”
One thing we are trying to do is that we are trying to make lemonade out of lemons. What we are going to do is we are trying to create platforms for all of the artists to start, maybe, weekly doing a song from their homes, from their studio. Or from some unusual environment; or, maybe, an interview or something with someone from our office, just to keep content coming out during this period.
“Unfollow The Rules” is Rufus Wainwright’s 9th album of original material and his first since 2012. He’s one of the greatest talents of our time, but he hasn’t been handled well with his recordings.
He’s being handled well now I’ll tell you. First of all, I’ve never seen such an outpouring of admiration from our company. Originally, a lawyer in L.A. called me and told me he was available. I knew that he was known for sometimes doing these esoteric records that didn’t resonate too much (with the public) at times. Then I mentioned his name to a few people whom I respect, and they all said, “He’s a really good artist.”
So you flew out to L.A.?
Yes, I went to his producer’s house, Mitchell Froom who is so talented. Rufus wasn’t there. Mitchell played me 8 or 10 tracks that he was working on; that were in progress, and I thought, “This is the most accessible music I’ve heard Rufus do in a long time.” I didn’t pull out my checkbook, but I said, “I’m interested.” Over three months of going back-and-forth, and hearing some finished stuff—we weren’t rushing— and as the album came together, I kept saying, “I think this is it.” I went to everybody in the company, and I said, “There’s something special here. It’d be good for BMG to have an artist like this who is a real artist. He’s not just trying to be a pop artist. He’s singular. There’s nobody else like him.” We gave the album a long set-up time. We started promoting it in September (2019), and the record wasn’t officially coming out until April. Record companies don’t do that. But that’s how much time we needed to get this thing right. I don’t know what is going to happen with sales, but we’ve had so much attention. All of the magazines, Billboard, Rolling Stone, Q, the Wall Street Journal, and from TV shows.
What’s currently happening with Rufus now?
We are doing a video (of “Hatred”) with him right now which looks like a Fellini film. He’s shooting in L.A. He’s a workhorse. He’s willing to do almost anything that we ask him to do. We had him doing a concert with an orchestra for two days in Berlin (in the legendary TRAFO club) before the album would come out as part of the Berlin Live program which BMG partners on. But they now don’t want to go to Berlin Live program which BMG partners on, but they now don’t want to go to Berlin. It’s been postponed, probably to July. We will probably also do a homegrown type concert from his studio/home later this Spring. And he just announced a Rolling Stone “30 Days /30 songs” #TogetheratHome from home from his catalog.
And the release of “Unfollow The Rules?”
Now we are thinking we aren’t going to release it in April because after spending 6 months, and a lot of energy getting it just right. The album is gorgeous, and we can’t afford to just push it out with a chance it might not catch on.
You released the James Taylor album “American Standard” on Feb. 28th, and his management is now examining his 28-date US tour with Jackson Browne that was to kick off on May 15th at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans and would run through early July.
(Jackson Browne, 71, has since revealed to Rolling Stone that he recently tested positive for the coronavirus, and he has self-quarantined.)
Ah, he’s one of my favorite artists. He’s a great artist. We also have Allman-Betts kicking ass right now, and we now have to look at that. Devon Allman burst his appendix last summer. He had to take three months off. They were then doing like four days a week kicking ass, and now this. We have a new album for them (the follow-up to their 2019 debut, “Down to the River”) that will come out in the Fall. But the plan was to do a third single which we were going to precede with about right now, but that was supposed to be in support of the tour this summer.
Rapper and entrepreneur Akon recently announced plans to build crypto-powered cities in every major African city. He has released a White Paper describing the project as a cryptocurrency “designed for entrepreneurs in the rising economies of Africa and beyond,” with a mission statement to “unlock the potential of the world’s largest growing workforce” using blockchain technology. And you signed him.
Akon is my other big love. He hasn’t made records for awhile. He came in with too much material and, as I’ve gotten to be friends with him, we have started to focus down on what this campaign is going to look like. But he did this thing recently with Akon City in Senegal. We also just signed a young (Kurdish) girl Nouri who is from Syria (born in a Syrian refugee camp following the bombing of her family’s home in Kurdistan). She did this big international Coke campaign, right? We are talking about doing two more singles with her after this Coke campaign. The Middle East is where it’s at right now. There, and Africa.
Huey Lewis and the News scored their highest debut chart position in 25 years with the release of their album “Weather” last month. They hadn’t had a new LP since 2010.
Yeah, I am so proud of this. Not only is Huey a fantastic guy, but also in the middle of recording the album he had this crisis with his hearing. It’s one of my first signings at BMG, and I’m going, “Oh my God. This is just typical. One of the first artists that I sign, and the guy comes back from New Orleans, and he’s got a hearing issue, and he can’t finish the album. Ohhhhhh.”
Hartwig Masuch, worldwide CEO of BMG, has said BMG is positioning itself as “the fourth major,” with an ability to break acts worldwide. Is BMG still seeking also to be an integrated rights company as it had been trying to be after BMG was launched in 2009?
We would like to be a fully functioning music company, and I think the part that excites everybody right now is the record label division, the record services because then you can be involved in other aspects. Often, you become their (artist/songwriters’) administrator publisher at the same time. Often that (label signing) leads to something else. But we do want to be in the record business. I must have 20 releases coming out by the end of the year.
The majority of your signings to the BMG NY roster to date have been legacy artists. What’s the thinking behind the legacy direction?
Well, okay, we are still doing that. I very much love that because….the thinking is that no one else is doing it.
It is also balanced off with Anna Shoemaker, and Nouri and also with Sophie Auster who released her “Next Time” album in April 2019. The lead single, “Mexico” is featured in John Turturro’s film “The Jesus Rolls,” a spin-off to the 1998 cult film “The Big Lebowski” by the Coen brothers.
Exactly. Likely what you don’t see in front of you is probably 8 or 10 other emerging artists of different kinds of musical styles that I am equally passionate about because that is what the foundation of what FieldHouse (Music) was all about, finding young artists and giving them an opportunity.
In 2011, you founded Fieldhouse, the multi-purpose music platform dedicated to discovering and supporting emerging artists after BMG bought Cherry Lane Music Publishing.
Yes, I started doing Fieldhouse with BMG as a platform for young artists. I started doing monthly events, and I started signing artists with no real obligation on their part. Just for us, maybe, to get some licensing opportunities for them as a way to kind of expose them. We began sponsoring monthly events at the Iridium Music Club on Broadway featuring new and talented artists. Several of them were eventually signed to BMG including Rachael Bawn, Sophie Auster, and January Jane. We also recently signed Anna Shoemaker and Esme Patterson. All new, but extremely talented writers and performers. We are always looking to balance the legacy artists with young and upcoming talent.
As time went on, things obviously changed, and your attention shifted away from such grassroots activities in order to further concentrate on overseeing the activities of your legacy signings.
I’m bringing back some form of that (grassroots activity) because I really feel that there has never been a better opportunity to build a platform, to share young talent with the world, but also with our sync department with licensing opportunities. I am getting more and more calls from brands saying, “Can you give us 10 new tracks of unknown artists? ” Now I don’t have 10 unknown artists signed to BMG because each one of the artists would be too expensive. But I have been hearing such good music that I’ve appointed every member of the A&R team, in our creative group here, to look for new promising artists. Once a week we listen to music that they’ve heard, and if we really like something we will say, “We are going to reach out to the artist.” Not exclusive, “Let us promote you in the ways that we can, and if an opportunity comes up, and if there are some opportunities we will figure out a way to share it. But we don’t want to hold you back. Keep doing what you are doing. We think that you are doing something really special. We are going to start doing events again. Maybe every month have four or five acts play a club in Brooklyn or something like that. They need support.
So signing legacy and promising emerging artists is a successful A&R strategy today?
We are just trying to balance our portfolio between established artists who will probably will never blow up, but it) (sales will be) kind of slow and steady, and if they are still performing, and are still at the top of the game, we can also do a combination of maybe releasing some of their catalog and a new album at the same time. We ended up doing that with John Fogarty, and with Huey Lewis. It’s a double Huey Lewis and the News CD. We licensed some of his greatest hits on one side, and we have his new stuff on the second CD.
With an emerging artist are you necessarily looking at introducing them with a series of singles rather than an EP or an LP? What’s great about the streaming services, and YouTube, is that a music fan can skim through a lot of tracks quickly and discover great new music. In many ways, particularly with the various playlists, this mirrors listening to the transistor radio decades ago under your pillow at night. It’s the same thing.
Well, you are spot on with that question too. It became clear about 6 or 9 months ago that it makes no sense to sign emerging artists to a traditional record deal. The way that we have always thought of it with an album, and one or two singles because: A) They are spending a heck of amount of time in the studio doing an album, when B) We could be doing digital singles, and see if it’s working. If we put one track out, and it starts to resonate, then we start getting data back right away. Is it streaming well? Is the video working well on YouTube? Then, maybe, do a second single. Then, “Hey, why don’t we do an EP?” The concept of 10 or 11 songs for an album, especially for a new artist, I’m not so in favor of right now. It’s much better they do 4 or 5 songs, and that 3rd song is the one that everybody is liking the most. and that might influence you on the next four songs.
The irony of complaints about the streaming services not paying adequately today is that until albums of pop artists became popular they weren’t paid significantly for their recordings. Not in the ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s, or early ‘70s. Songwriting and recording royalties were razor-thin for decades. So many artists sold entire copyrights to their respective labels for about $250 per song, and assigned not only their publishing share, but all of their writer’s share. By the ’60s, songwriters could keep their songwriter’s share, splitting the royalties equally with the publisher. However, the mechanical royalty rate for recordings sold was only two cents per unit sold.
Exactly. I kind of look at this as a circle, and I swear to God—one of the reasons that I am sort of an enthusiast about the music business today is that I feel like it is the same music business that I grew up with when I was 10 or 11 years old. We are going back to digital singles.
Many labels have begun analyzing the massive flows of information coming into their offices on a daily basis in order to develop dedicated marketing strategies; to see where the challenges are in order to make playlists better. Seeing a track which has a skip rate of 60% then it might not be good to have that track at the #1 position in their playlist. It’s important to understand that specific tracks might not work at the streaming services. Are you drilling down deep for that data now too?
We are. Everybody is always complaining about data, and the music business; that they don’t go together. That you should be making decisions purely by instinct. Well, I’m sorry but data now works to our benefit. Now we really have the chance to find out where a track is resonating, and who it is working with. What is the demographic? Is the song really working?
You are 68, and I’m 72. We are both of a generation where the career expectancy of a popular music artist was under five years, and their time in the spotlight certainly would be over by their mid-20s. It was an era of the hit, the flip and a follow-up hit parceled onto an album. I’ve used to have well-known artists and songwriters tell me that they’d be unable to write or record compelling music past 40. I don’t hear that as much today.
Definitely. So we don’t want to leave our commitment and devotion to legacy and it’s partially because a lot of these artists are now in their 70s who are still writing. John Fogarty (74) is writing every day—these people are committed to making music. They are like surgeons. They don’t feel like they are at the end of their game. They feel they are as good or better than ever.
We’ve watched artists like Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, James Taylor, Garth Brooks, Willie Nelson, and Van Morrison continue to make vital music for their fans with so many avenues like streaming, films, TV syncs, and touring open to them still. And David Crosby, at 78, is still on top of his game too despite so many personal and professional setbacks.
And making some beautiful music. I will give you a little insight which is interesting. So definitely ageism is part of the traditional music business, and everybody is worrying about it because the traditional music business was really defined by the pop business, and trying to get on pop radio, and creating big stars. Maybe, you have a different insight, but I think that with the advent of streaming, and as streaming becomes even more popular, people can discover their niché favorites. It could be bluegrass guitar. It could be a great jazz trio or New Orleans’ soul music. Whatever.
Streaming has taken down the entire restrictive, systematic music industry ecosystem.
It has taken it out, and that takes the ageism out. Say 5% like a certain niché of music. You know what? They don’t really give a shit if you are 65 years old or if you are 25 years old and beautiful like maybe, a traditional pop label would be worried about. They want great music. They are going to be listening to it in the car. They are going to be listening to it at home. They are going to follow that path and find out who the influences of that artist are, and they are going to that guy. There are all of these different verticals of passion and music. The last thing that they are thinking about is what the guy looks like or how old he is. I don’t have meetings about that kind of thing anymore. We don’t talk about age anymore when I look at artists. Even young artists. If they are young, and they are really good looking, and they are doing some really cool music, that’s awesome. I love supporting young new artists. But if some guy comes to me and he’s 50, and he’s the best rock guitar player I’ve ever heard in my life, I’m not going to say “no” (to signing him). We are just going to have a different strategy.
Paul Anka told me a story of being backstage in the early 1960s with Bobby Darin discussing what lay ahead with their careers. The only route then for young pop stars was the nightclub circuit or Las Vegas. Darin was the first to successfully do that. Then Paul Anka followed him as did others
Boy, he’s a smart guy. And you could make a living doing that (nightclubs), and you ended up in Vegas if you were lucky.
One of the pivotal deals BMG has made under Thomas Scherer (BMG EVP, Repertoire & Marketing, Los Angeles), and Hartwig, was the recent pact for George Harrison’s Dark Horse Records, now led by his son Dhani Harrison and manager David Zonshine. The deal includes releases from the catalogs of Dark Horse Records, Harrison’s Indian label imprint HariSongs, and Joe Strummer’s solo output, including his work alongside the Mescaleros.
(Available on digital platforms beginning on Jan. 24th were the first slate of releases including: “Chants of India” by Ravi Shankar; the live album “Ravi Shankar & Ali Akbar Khan In Concert 1972”; Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros’ albums “Rock Art and The X-Ray Style,” “Global A Go-Go,” “Streetcore”; and the Attitudes’ “Ain’t Love Enough: The Best of the Attitudes.”
Upcoming releases will include compilations, live albums, and box sets featuring rare and unreleased recordings from the Dark Horse catalog, many available digitally for the first time; and the Tom Petty estate charity single “For Real – For Tom” featuring Jakob Dylan, Dhani Harrison, Amos Lee, Lukas Nelson, Micah Nelson, and Willie Nelson.)
If you want a jewel example of what BMG is doing, this is it.
It’s pretty exciting. That was signed out of Los Angeles and it was initiated by Thomas and Hartwig. They spent a lot of time working and gaining the trust of Dhani Harrison, and his mother Olivia so that they would feel that they are in good hands. Dhani is a great musician. We also have Ringo (Starr) and we have his son Zak Starkey.
I’ll tell you the story the late Hal David told me when he was 90. When he became president of ASCAP in 1980, the first call that he made was to Irving Berlin. He was always the #1 songwriter at ASCAP. Berlin returned the call, and said, “Why do you want to be president for? You are such a good songwriter.” I’m going to ask you somewhat the same question, Why would you want to be executive VP, New York at BMG given your successful jingle, TV and film music career?
Well, that’s a legitimate question. There are many forces behind my decision some of which were just literally based on my budding friendship and respect for Hartwig Masuch. I will give you a 10-second overview of how I ever got involved with the record company.
You came to BMG through the music publishing side with your company Rave Music?
Right. I wasn’t even fully involved in the publishing. I had a deal with Cherry Lane Music Publishing. What Cherry Lane would do is they would go to NBC or they’d go to NASCAR, and they brought in some major clients, and they’d say, “Look, we’ve got this guy, and he’s got a team of guys working for him. We have a small studio now in our offices, and they will work for very little money upfront if you give them the whole campaign or whole TV series” or something like that. Of course, the deal would then be that I could be the writer or we would be the writers when we were in our team, and Cherry Lane would be our publisher or co-publisher on those projects.
So I’m at Cherry Lane. I have my studio. They are representing me for work. They are my publisher, but it is a very casual relationship. One day (in 2010) I come to work and Laurent Hubert and Don Malter come walking in. I knew both of them a little bit, and I say, “What are you doing here?” They say, “Well BMG just bought Cherry Lane, and we are now the new BMG US management team.” I went, “Does that mean I have to leave my studio?“ And they said, “Just hang out for awhile. Just kind of chill. Too much stuff has happened.” BMG had like 5 or 6 employees. and they said, “We will figure something out”. That was the beginning.
(In 2010, Germany-based BMG Rights Management had sealed a deal to acquire Cherry Lane Music Publishing, for a reported price of $85 million-$100 million. With a catalog of 150,000 songs, Cherry Lane– celebrating its 50th year–was the biggest acquisition by the 18-month-old BMG Rights Management and gave the company a major presence in the U.S. As of 2019, BMG no longer lists Cherry Lane as a subsidiary or a company brand. Its website has been merged into BMG’s “new music company” website.
Bertelsmann had strategically exited the record business in 2008, and the music publishing business in 2006 and 2007, only to return with a new vision. After the re-launch of the new-styled BMG in 2009, it re-established its U.S. operation via a number of signings, catalog acquisitions, and company purchases
Yes, BMG went on this tear buying other publishing companies and other catalogs. They were definitely not into being in the traditional record business at this point.
(Among BMG’s prominent deals were purchasing the rights to the catalogs of X-Ray Dog Music, the Verse Music Catalog, Infectious Music in the U.S. plus the catalog specialist, Union Square Music, Crosstown Songs, Cherry Lane Music Publishing, Stage Three Music, Evergreen Copyrights, Chrysalis, Bug, Virgin, Mute, Sanctuary, Talpa Music and others. Later on, BMG acquired the recording and publishing assets of New York pop label S-Curve Records, Los Angeles-based Vagrant Records, and Portland, Oregon’s Rise Records, and acquired the estate catalogs of Hal David, and Buddy Holly.)
The strategy was for BMG to be a high-level global integrated music rights company representing music publishing and recording rights off the same state-of-the-art platform as well as other ancillary rights.
Exactly. And they just left me alone. Then, since I was friends with everybody in the office, they would come to me and ask my advice. Or if there was a project would I help with music. “Sure.” And occasionally Hartwig Masuch would come from Germany and I got to know him a little bit. One day there was a couple of music events in the city, I think Billy Joel was playing at one of them, and Roger Waters at another, and they invited me to go along with them. I knew them, but I didn’t know them socially. While they knew that I was in the music business, I never got into what I did because I was the poor cousin of what they do. Just doing music for commercials and films. I didn’t overly talk about that. I was just humbled by being in their presence.
But as time went, I was told that BMG might not want to be in the traditional kind of topline or frontline record business; that they would be interested in signing legacy artists. Hartwig said to me, “Do you know anybody?” Through my connections I said, “Well, I am friends with Roger Waters, but I have no idea (about signing an artist), and I am kind of uncomfortable representing the business because I have never done that before. I still consider myself a musician. I can make the introduction, but that is pretty much it.” Six or nine months later that was one of our first big signings, and we became Roger’s publisher.
You and Roger were recently onstage together and while taking questions at an event shortly after a screening of “Roger Waters: Us + Them,” a film released last year that follows his “Us + Them” music tour in Europe from 2017 to 2018, Roger launched into an attack of President Donald Trump, calling him “a mass destroyer” and “a tyrant.” An uncomfortable moment as a moderator?
I wouldn’t do it, but he was doing it. I wasn’t really a moderator. I was much more a lion tamer. I was just sitting there. There was nothing to moderate. I was talking about how impressed I was with the film, and things like that. He went on talking about his own politics. It really wasn’t my position to say anything, except to make sure that the show didn’t run too long. Look, it’s Roger. That’s part of the passion of who he is, and why he is investing millions of dollars in his shows. No other rock star comes close to spending the amount of money that he does to get his message across. I’m still a believer and, like when we were kids, bands would get up onstage at Woodstock and call out politicians over the Vietnam war.
In January 2019 you were tapped to be executive director of global development for BMG, and you soon brought in Kenny Loggins, Bad Company, and Earth Wind & Fire.
So then after Roger’s signing, Hartwig had asked, “Can you do this some more?” Still not an employee at this point. More being a consultant. “Can you do this some more?” I said, “God knows if I can or not, but let’s see.” And it turns out that I could. I think that the connection was that when they (artists) were talking to me, they were talking to another composer or musician; and if we are talking about the struggle on a new record or what they were planning on doing next, it is just something pretty natural for us to talk about because it is something that I did all of the time on what I was always working on.
So that just kind of snowballed until I was spending so much time working on BMG business than my own business. And I became closer and closer to the management of BMG. One day I said, “Listen, guys, I have to do this full time. I am doing it full time, but I’m being paid part-time. We have to figure this out.” Hartwig said, “I am thinking of restructuring the way the U.S. is set up. I think it should reflect a little bit more the way that it is in Europe where each region has its own repertoire division. We have Alistair Norbury (president at BMG UK) who is in London, and we have Fred Casimir (as the EVP of Global Label Services) in Germany. What do you think about New York being a standalone repertoire group or label group?” I said, “Are you kidding? I think that it is a great idea. I think that New York City is such a hotbed and such a creative place.
Of course, Thomas Scherer will make the exact argument for Los Angeles; as will Jon Loba, executive VP, BBR Music Group for Nashville.
Exactly. And I have been living here in New York for my whole professional career. It is just untapped (as a music market). It has been very hard to sign an artist here because I tried a couple of times, and sent music to my friends in the BMG office in L.A., and out of sight, out of mind.
(Other BMG local managers include: Dominique Casimir (Continental Europe), Albert Slendebroek (Benelux), Sylvain Gazaignes (France), Pablo Rodríguez (Spain), Dino Stewart (Italy), Heath Johns (Australia), Kenney Shiu (Hong Kong), and Jasmina Zammit (Brazil).
Where are you from?
I’m from Carlisle, Pennsylvania, outside Lancaster.
You graduated cum laude from Williams College, a private liberal arts college in Williamstown, Massachusetts with a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science, with minors in social psychology and studio art. Political science, social psychology, and studio art? A weird combo.
I like political science but they didn’t have a music department that was even slightly contemporary or hip. It was classical music which I wasn’t interested in. I was in a band, and I’d perform my songs around classes. I used to sit at a piano on campus and sing songs after lunch. I took one music appreciation course, and it was the most deadly thing I’ve ever taken in my life. I just thought, “I have to learn by experience.”
Your goal was to move to New York to work as a musician and songwriter?
I drove to New York two weeks after graduating from this Ivy League kind of environment. This is in 1974. With $200. I needed some reality. I had only been to New York once in my life. I had a fantasy about New York. My father said, “I assume you want to go to law school or medical school?” I said, “No not really. I want to be a songwriter.” My parents are educated. They said, “Wait a minute, you want to go to New York from Williams College for which we made all these sacrifices for you to go to one of the best colleges in New England, and you are going to be a songwriter?” I said, “I’ve gotta try it, mom. I’ll come home in a couple of years if it doesn’t work. But I’ve got to try it.” They just thought I was too stubborn to go home.
Your father is a doctor; your mother, born in Sicily, is a school teacher, and a former English major. Your father is a second-generation American from German/Irish and Swedish parents. You have two siblings that followed a success path set out by your parents’ immigrant mentality.
(Younger brother Jay has been chairman of the Neuro-Oncology Department at Harvard Medical School for over 20 years; and sister, Jan Bergen, is the president /CEO of the Lancaster General Health System in Central Pennsylvania.)
As you can see, choosing music was very unorthodox within my family. But it never was a choice. I had to do it. My mother is an immigrant, first-generation. “We want you to be making money. We want you to show up” and blah blah blah. And I am like, “I understand, and I am ambitious as hell, and I certainly want to do well mom, but I’d be the worst lawyer in the world.” Being a doctor wasn’t even on the radar for me. I never thought twice about it (doing something other than music). I just thought, “I’m going to go to New York, and try and figure it out. I had a bunch of great mentors over the course of 20 or 30 years.
New York was like a war zone in the mid-‘70s, an ugly urban center.
Ugly and dangerous. You couldn’t walk across Central Park without getting mugged. If you were walking down the street, you had to look around to make sure that somebody wasn’t walking across the street looking at you because you didn’t know what that meant.
Had you earlier played in coffee houses and clubs?
Well, yes but I’m not a great musician.
You’re one of those people who can’t play music live at a top level so you decide to go into another part of the entertainment business, writing and producing jingles.
It didn’t happen overnight. When I came to New York, I wanted to be a rock star like everybody else. It was not pretty for a couple of years. It really was not pretty. I was a waiter and while completely starving to death, I fell into with a couple of production companies that were doing jingles. Friends would say, “Hey, why don’t you make $2,000? It will give you a chance to write this jingle for peanut butter” or something.” I’d say, “Thank you.” Then I would be in the studio, and it just kind of built until I was doing music all of the time for a couple of big production companies during the heyday of jingles, working with some of the best, and with some of the most famous in the field.
Eventually, you worked for a Tin Pan Alley-styled music production company in a scene centered on the Brill Building and by such reigning writing teams as Bacharach-David, Barry-Greenwich, Goffin-King, Leiber-Stoller, Mann-Weil as well as Bert Berns, Doc Pomus, and Jerry Ragovoy.
I worked as a composer and producer for Sherman and Kahan, a New York commercial production house, run by Garry Sherman (Bert Berns’ favorite orchestrator and arranger), and Al Kahan, and working with Billy Davis who was the music director at McCann-Erickson, producing all of their Coke campaigns, as well as Tab, Fresca, and hundreds more.
Billy Davis was incredibly connected.
He taught the world to sing, and he also had a connection to Motown. I was just lucky hanging around him, being a flunky. I slowly began to realize how accomplished he was over the years we worked together. He never presented himself as being so accomplished.
(While at McCann-Erickson, Davis’ primary client was the Coca-Cola Company, for which he produced the famous 1971 jingle “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony).” He also produced such jingles as “It’s the Real Thing”, “Things Go Better With Coke” and “Country Sunshine” for Coca-Cola, and “If You’ve Got the Time” for Miller Beer. The Coca-Cola advertisement “Hey Kid, Catch!,” starring Mean Joe Green, included the song “Have a Coke and Smile” produced by Davis who also coaxed both Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles to sing Coca-Cola jingles.
Davis was also a formidable hit songwriter, co-writing “Lonely Teardrops” and “Reet Petite” with Berry Gordy Jr. for Jackie Wilson, and “You Got What It Takes” a 1959 single by Marv Johnson. With Gordy’s sister Gwen. Davis co-founded Anna Records, the distributor of the newly-formed Tamla label. After Davis moved to Chess Records in Chicago, he wrote and produced for Etta James, the Dells, Billy Stewart, Little Milton, Fontella Bass, and Jackie Wilson. He co-wrote Wilson’s “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher.”)
You were part of the songwriting factories of 1650 (The Brill Building) and nearby 1619 Broadway where songwriters were writing music for artists and commercials. Previously, West 28th Street had been Tin Pan Alley in an earlier era when ragtime, vaudeville, and advances in mass printing came together to create the first generation of music entrepreneurs.
That was the Tin Pan Alley of that time. The Brill Building was the Tin Pan Alley of our time.
There was always the demand, “Write something, write something.”
So I’m the studio and I’m in this office at 1619 Broadway, and it was the end of that (Brill Building ERA), a little office with a standup piano. Every day I would come into the office, and I had this really aggressive boss who’d say, “We need a song. We need a song. We need something.” So and so “is looking for a song.” It was always artists the end of their careers. Like for Steve Lawrence. At the same time Dionne Warwick, and Nancy Wilson and other artists of the day would be walking the halls still looking for new songs to record. “Gotta write a song.” So I’d sit there, and I’d pound out little songs, and if they don’t hear a melody in the chorus (the response was) “Nah. I don’t think it’s quite that,” I’d say, “I’ll try something else.” That was such good training for jingles and everything else. That became such good training for jingles and everything else. I feel so grateful that there was a moment, even though it was at the very end, that I can say, “I was in one of those rooms on Broadway, writing songs on assignment.”
Like me, you came into the music industry as a young maverick in the closing days of the “ring-a-ding era” at the intersection of middle-of-the-road Hit Parade, Top 40 pop, rhythm and blues, and rock and roll.
Yeah. I never called it “ring-a-ding.” That’s cute.
Our generation were solid fans of rock and roll and R&B, but Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Johnny Mathis, Doris Day, Rosemary Clooney, and Perry Como were also popular.
Yeah, I am so proud of this. Not only is Huey a fantastic guy but, also in the middle of recording the album, he had this crisis with his hearing.
And today there’s Michael Bublé.
What a beautiful voice. What a great performer.
I was greatly influenced by my relationship with the great CBS executive and producer John Hammond Sr. who furthered the careers of Benny Goodman, Charlie Christian, Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Teddy Wilson, Aretha Franklin, George Benson, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen, and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
An iconic executive and a forward thinker. And being able to discover Bob Dylan and all of those other people because he just heard good music. It’s weird how there are very few people in the music business that can hear a song, and go, “That’s a good song,” or “that sucks.” Or, “The verse sounds good, and the chorus really needs…you are hovering on the same three chords guys. Try something else.” Not that I am telling somebody how to do it, but just pointing out so they go, “You are right. I just kinda got to the chorus and ran out of ideas.” And I say, “Well come back. You’ve got a week. Go home and think about it.” We are still crafting songs.
How sharp are your ears?
I think I’m really good. I must say. Within 15 seconds, I’ll tell you whether something is good or not. Fifteen seconds. Maybe it’s because I’ve had to make that decision hundreds of times when I was cranking out three or four give tracks a week, and going through 20 demos. I don’t know, but I can tell immediately. Immediately.
Writing mistakes include not writing with others.
Stupidest thing. Insecurity is what holds people back from doing collaborations. I also know two artists right now who are famous that are having writer’s block. I’m like, “Are you kidding? This is so simple. Write a bad song. Don’t write a good song; write a bad song. Just get something out. Then you can go on to the next bad song until you get a good song.”
You served as a music director for Grey Advertising for over 20 years (1979-2000).
That was so great. I never thought it would have been, but there were two people there that were wonderful. The creative director, and an executive vice president Steve Novick and the music director Michael Cohen who was this brilliant classical composer with perfect pitch. It was like growing up musically for me because when I wrote a song, what he would do is what I kind of do now with writers—“John you can’t go back to the same chords four times. You can sing louder, but it doesn’t make it better. You really have to think where this tune is going.”
The biggest single mistake songwriters make is lazily making the chorus louder.
Right. You are cheating. And in commercials interestingly every two bars matters. You don’t have that many bars. You’ve got to look at the notes. You’ve got to see what you are writing. See what the shape is. And how do you weave in melodies? By the time you get 30 seconds even, you’ve heard bits of that chorus or that hook three times. How do you do that? A lot of those compositional rules I learned from those guys. In hindsight, what a great gift that was for me.
You were never at Grey Advertising full-time?
No. They made a deal for me and permitted me to have Rave Music. Permitted me to have my own studios. It was all transparent. When I first got the job they knew that I had this aspiration and a musical life outside doing music for commercials. So they made a very special deal with me that I could continue to do my thing as long as it didn’t conflict, and as long as I took care of my business. The truth is they got the benefit of my having access to a whole music community that I was actively a part of. Bringing in Michael Bolton or Cyndi Lauper or Luther Vandross to sing on commercials because I was working with them on other stuff.
That jingle background is the cornerstone of your career today. In a relationship business, you have three decades of history with many artists.
So I signed Marc Cohn 9 months ago, and we have a really beautiful simple album “Work To Do” with the Blind Boys of Alabama. He used to sing (jingles) for me.
As did Michael Bolton Joe Cocker, Crystal Gayle, the Four Tops, Conway Twitty, Patty Austin, and Hall & Oates.
Michael Bolton came in to do jingles when he was famous. He used to come in with his sunglasses on, and his girlfriend sitting in a station wagon out front. He only had 10 minutes before he had to get back to the car. His first album he recorded at the studio that I had on 45th Street.
The ‘70s was the golden age of New York studios with the likes of Media Sound, The Record Plant, Associated, Generation, and Village Recorders
Those studios were so great, and they always bought everybody lunch because they knew advertisers liked food.
Also, cool in the ‘70s in New York was hanging out the original Colony Record store on 52nd Street and Broadway.
In the early part of my career, I would be sent to Colony twice a week to come back with 10 albums that should sound like “blah blah blah.”
Advertising account executives always want popular chart hits but don’t want to pay the high licensing fees so they’d order up sound-alike replicas.
I always felt that it was easier to write something. At Grey, if they needed that there were a couple of guys that did what I did; at least two when I was there. They’d say, “We need something that sounds like this.” Find a needle drop or something and not have somebody write it. I’d say, “Go with so and so because I’m more interested in just writing something. If you want something with that spirit, I’m happy to come at it with another angle.” The thing that turned me on was writing the song and hearing it on TV a week later. A total turnaround.
So you operated Rave Music all through those years?
That was my production company, and it existed in various forms for more than 20 years. I would get hired to write music for a TV campaign or for television shows.
(Rave Music created the theme music and score for the popular animated television series Pokémon, as well as the numerous CDs, films and videos associated with the show. The company also produced the soundtrack for “Dale,” a 2007 documentary on racing legend Dale Earnhardt for Country Music Television, and the 2007 HBO documentary, “Montana Meth.”)
You worked closely over the years with others who also have mixed backgrounds crafting or recording pop songs, and jingles like David Wolfert, who has worked on an endless list of recordings and TV productions.
Yeah. I had a couple of guys that I worked with who were just the most wonderful collaborators. There’s David Wolfert and Ralph Schuckett. When he was 17, he was playing piano for Elvis and Carole King. I did “Kate & Allie” with him and a lot of the big TV shows I did in my 30s. He was just brilliant. Like David in his own way.
The ‘70s cartoon series “Josie and the Pussycats,” The Banana Splits” and “The Archie Show” all had such a strong emphasis on pop songs. Among those composers also then making leaps into television and film composing were Danny Elfman (Oingo Boingo), Mark Snow (the New York Rock & Roll Ensemble), and the former members of Devo, Mark Mothersbaugh, and Gerry Casale.
My 35-year-old daughter Robin became quite excited when I told her I was interviewing someone connected with the Pokémon music franchise. Your name is on virtually all of those songs, either as composer, performer, producer or a combination thereof.
That’s weird. That’s her childhood. The songs that are like that for me are “The Dick Van Dyke” theme. I’m like .“My God, you did ‘The Dick Van Dyke’ show theme?
I think that was Earle Hagen who also wrote themes for “The Danny Thomas Show,” “Gomer Pyle USMC,” “I Spy,” and “The Mod Squad.” He is best remembered for co-writing, and whistling the theme to “The Andy Griffith Show,” and for co-writing (with Dick Rogers) the iconic instrumental “Harlem Nocturne.”
In 1985 Steve Gottlieb’s TVT Records (Television Tunes) launched with the 8-volume series “Television’s Greatest Hits” containing recordings of TV theme songs through the years. Each volume contained 65 theme songs including the theme of “Bewitched” co-written by Brill Building songwriters Howard Greenfield and Jack Keller who co-wrote “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool, and “My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own” for Connie Francis, and “When Somebody Loves You” for Frank Sinatra. Howard Greenfield also co-wrote with Neil Sedaka “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do,” “Calendar Girl,” and “Where the Boys Are.”
“Bewitched,” right. I was addicted to those little tunes. And those little tunes affected me because they were glued to my head.
By 1998, you as CEO of Rave Music, and its head writer and producer John Siegler had worked with licensing firm 4Kids Entertainment and its head of production Norman Grossfeld several times. When 4Kids was tasked with coming up with a 60-second jingle for a new Japanese show called Pokémon he called you. The Pokémon franchise, already wildly successful in Japan, was then prepared for an American introduction, starting with the translation and editing of the Pokémon show and its characters into English.
At one point, a decision was made to put out an album of original music, and Rave Music made it happen. It might surprise people to know Britney Spears, Donna Summer, Christina Aguilera, and the B-52s appeared on Pokémon recordings.
We did a couple series of records. We did two records for Atlantic that did try and reach out and get stars to perform on theme.
First, there was the first “Pokémon 2.B.A. Master” released by Koch Records. Of the 12 songs, you had composing credits on 11 and sang background on a number of them. You were the lead voice on “You Can Do It (If You Really Try),” the closer.
The second, issued through Atlantic, was Pokémon: The First Movie” (1999) and features Christine Aguilera, Brittany Spears, Vitamin C, Emma Bunton, and NSYNC. Music for the second movie soundtrack album “Pokémon the Movie 2000,” the second Pokémon movie, “The Power of One,” included the B-52’s, Donna Summer, the B-52s, O-Town, Alysha, O-Town, and others.
I kept doing stuff with Koch but “Pokémon 2.B.A. Master” was just us and I had 6 other co-writers, and we just cranked it out in two or three weeks. That thing sold 3 ½ million copies worldwide.
One of the reasons Norman turned to you was because he was interested in advertising-styled melodic hook songs that people would sing along with.
The thing was that we were writing good songs. We weren’t writing down to children. We were writing good songs. We didn’t make it overly aggressive. We’d take a character trait of one of the characters in the show and write a song about it whether it was a ballad or a pop song. I never wrote down once to children. I just said, “I’m going to write a song that I’m going to like.” Then they have to play it a lot. Then you need a network that plays the shit out of the show, and pounds it into their heads until one day the kid goes, “I LOVE THAT SONG.” Like a commercial.
You were helped by the fact that the Pokémon characters didn’t open their mouths so you had a lot of leeway where to place lyrics.
Well, you are onto something. When 4Kids and Norman, being the creative director, came back from Japan with the show, they had a couple of things they asked for. They said, “First of all would you like to try and write some music? We want to try and sell this show. It’s big in Japan.” I said, “Yes, and I don’t care (about upfront fees). We were all making money and I had a studio. I wasn’t asking for money to do it. I said, “Yes, let’s do it and see what we can come up with.” I happen to be a songwriter. Norman knew that and that I had a bunch of young songwriters working with me. So we said, “Why not just underscore stuff? Let’s find places to put songs into it. It’s fun to write songs. Let’s do that.” And it changed because most cartoon shows either never have a budget—we weren’t asking for money—there is either no budget for it; or they don’t have anybody to write good songs. So we just wrote songs and started sticking them in the shows.
But the beauty to your point is that A) anime is flat. It is so flat that it’s dead on the screen. The only way that it can come alive is with sound. Then when we did a couple of movies for them—and this was in a 10 year period when people actually spent money on orchestras, and we’d have a 40 or 50 piece orchestra–I’d do two hours worth of music and that music would be playing in the back . if the show was 22 minutes a half-hour then there was 20 minutes worth of music going on because it’s so flat.
Was what you were doing work-for-hire? Normally, when you work on a work-for-hire basis, you give up your copyright and publishing rights. The TV studio or production company usually retains copyright and the publishing?
Well, it was work-fore-hire, except as a composer. I retained my writer’s share, and Pokémon USA and Cherry Lane–I’ve got them for co-publishing for at least 10 years–was the co-publisher. That was quite fine for me selling my writers’ share after 10 years to EMI for a significant penny. It was very rewarding. There was a period when the show was in 72 countries running 5 and 6 times a week. It was fantastic. People ask, “How did you get your country house? By doing this or that?” Well, it was Pokémon but not the way that you think it was. The beauty was that it was in all those different counties
(While the Pokémon songwriters received writing credits, the publishers included companies like Jigglypuff Music, owned by 4Kids, Pikachu Music, owned by Pokémon USA — itself controlled by Nintendo — and Cherry Lane Music Publishing, which published the sheet music.)
How demanding was providing Pokémon music for over 655 shows? At one point you wrote between 40 and 50 songs over 18 months.
In fairness, I had tons of collaborators. I had a team of writers working with me. It was like an architect’s firm. We had four rooms and four different songs. And by the way, the model was based on Tin Pan Alley. How much different was it from I learned in my 20s? I had four guys, all friends of mine, respected composers. I gave them rooms, and we had so much work. Everybody was writing songs. I would stick my head in one office and work for an hour on a song and then I’d go to another office and work on a song. Then we’d go to the studio and sing and play it. It was so much fun just cranking out that music. We did three or four series at one point.
And you were co-writing music for “Kate & Allie”; and co-writing the main theme for “Another World” which, recorded by Crystal Gayle and Gary Morris, reached #4 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart. You also wrote all the music for the 1988 Olympics in Atlanta. Also music for many recognizable campaigns, including Domino’s Pizza – “Gotta Be Dominos!,” and “I Love Eggs,”, and other campaigns for Avon, Windex, American Airlines, Jif Peanut Butter, Red Lobster and Ford.
All of the above. Whoever needed music. There were probably 15 people in New York at the time doing that.
You were also involved with the very popular “Kidz Bop” franchise (15 albums), which have sold millions of copies over the last 10 years.
I forgot about that. That was a hump. I started on “Kidz Bop 3” and went all of the way to “Kidz Bop 18” or something like that.
What the hell went wrong with Paradise Music & Entertainment which was incorporated in 1996 with you (as CEO and chairman) and Jon Small (as executive VP and board member) who had founded Picture Vision in 1984, and Hall & Oates’ manager Brian Doyle who ran Horizon Entertainment and Management Group?
Ah, horrible. Basically, I write it off to my innocence. I had this idea at the heyday of every that we were doing…
Merging the individual companies, and pooling everybody together into a vertically-integrated entertainment company?
Yep, and everybody just cranking out stuff, and we’d have so much fun. I met Brian Doyle, manager of Hall & Oates, who had also managed Mariah Carey, John Mellencamp; and Jon Small who had a budding video production company. Garth Brooks was one of his big clients. I said, “Why don’t we put the three of us together as a nucleus of an entertainment company, and let’s try and raise money.”
Right. This is definitely a dark period of my life. So we were able to find a third level investment group which said they could put up $5 million but they wanted to go public with shares and everything.
On January 22, 1997, Paradise made an initial public offering of stock, priced at $6 a share, raising some $6 million, a third of which was intended for acquisitions.
That was the kiss of death because what happened was that within 6 months all these creditors came out—and I didn’t really have a person in the company that could protect me through all of this. At this point, I am pretty much still an innocent musician. Relatively smart, but still pretty innocent.
For fiscal 1997, Paradise racked up almost $1 million in debts, in large part as the result of becoming a public company, and funding the start-up of the Push label. There was also Label M for jazz, Indigedisc for African music, and MVP Records for jazz. The next year, the losses continued to mount, approaching $3 million.
Within weeks. They said, “Let’s start a label. You need a label to make money.” So we released the Hall & Oates album (“Marigold Sky”) and we lost $500,000 in three months. Then we have to bring in someone like Dana Giacchetto, “the money manager of the stars.”
Who lied about his background.
Totally lied about his background.
(In December 1999 The New York Observer revealed that Dana Giacchetto never attended Harvard Business School; rather he took some extension courses at the school. It also learned that he failed the only securities test he took, a Series 2 license to make interstate deals.)
Giacchetto went to jail after being charged with securities violations by federal prosecutors. He was raiding his clients’ accounts to fuel a high-octane lifestyle.
Yes, he went to jail. He was, in effect, running a pyramid scheme, taking the money of new clients to cover the losses of the old clients. In all, he looted accounts of some $10 million.
(In February 2001 Dana Giacchetto received a sentence of 57 months in federal prison. He was released within two years, In 2016, his body was found in his Manhattan apartment following a weekend of hard partying climaxing with a scuffle with security guards outside a lower Manhattan nightclub.)
So like many others, you have a real sordid music industry story to tell.
Horrible, horrible, horrible. It took me 5 years to dig out because there was litigation about who owned what with the music that I was writing. I basically had to buy it back from my company that was going under. The lawyers brought in someone from ABC Entertainment to be the new CEO. They said, “You go back to just running your stuff.” My little area was thriving, and everybody else was going down the toilet. It was so bad that within 2 ½ years the company got sold to some media company that never did anything with it. I was gone by then, and I had to fight to get my rights back.
Are you still writing music?
Not much, honestly. I’m building a studio in our basement here, however, so I can go into the studio and do some stuff. We are currently building a great production room/ control room for mixing and listening. With plans to build a second production room within the next 5 months. I am a big believer in having a place for writers and producers to both play and change their music on site. Nothing is more frustrating than trying to advise some songwriter about a song over the phone. I want them to sit down with me in a studio and even if it’s just guitar and voice, just do it.
How much do you figure that your 1982 Alfa Records’ album is worth?
(Laughter) That is scary. Did you know Bob Fead?
Of course. I know Bob Fead from when he was senior VP at A&M Records. In 1980, as president/COO, he launched Japan-based Alfa Records in the U.S. with a roster including the Corbin-Hannner Band, Casiopeia, Yukio Takahashi, Lulu, the Monroes, and Andrew Rollins. The label lasted two years.
Oh my God, he’s still one of my best friends.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-80. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record.
He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is a co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide,” and a Lifetime Member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
He is the recipient of the 2013 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, recognizing individuals who have made an impact on the Canadian music industry.