How are record labels changing?

How are record labels changing?

This interview was first published in 2010. The issues discussed are still very relevant to the current music industry and its ongoing transformation.

 

Michael Goldstone is one of the most successful A&R executives still in the business.  During his career he has signed artists like Pearl Jam, Rage Against the Machine, Buck Cherry, Regina Spektor and Tegan & Sarah.  After having many senior positions at labels like Epic, DreamWorks and most recently being the president of Sire Michael has started a label called Mom & Pop records with Craig Winkler and the Q-Prime Management team (Metallica, RHCPs, Muse etc).

Music Consultant:

Tell me how Mom and Pop came about and what is it like to run a modern label?  Why did you opt for a new situation given that you were the President of Sire and working side by side with the label’s founder Seymour Stein?

MG:

I think the Sire experience was incredibly empowering and very satisfying. Previously, I had been thinking of starting my own label.  But when you’ve grown up listening to KROQ and Depeche Mode, Echo and the Bunnymen, and The Replacements, and somebody calls you up and says, “Hey, we want you to be the president of Sire Records,” well, I couldn’t resist!

Music Consultant:

How was it working with Seymour Stein?

MG:

We both worked for Tom (Whalley), which allowed us to both thrive and build a relationship. I will forever look back on the experience with Seymour as being one of the most gratifying of my career. Anyone that has worked with Seymour knows how inspiring and amazing he can be. It was one factor that made it extremely difficult for me to leave.  With Sire, which had been so revered, we respected the history of the label. We were able to sign Regina Spektor, Tegan and Sara, and Against Me, building up a diverse roster. I remember at one point we did an Alternative Press ad with eight bands. To be able to do a two-page ad and have all eight bands on there and a) not get any calls from any of them saying, “I can’t believe you put me in an ad with this band or that band,” and b) to have it be diverse was a validation of our ambition.  That year, having three acts at Coachella and three acts at Bamboozle the very next weekend was really satisfying.

Music Consultant:

Why Mom and Pop? What was the catalyst to make you start, and what’s different about your new label?

MG:

For major labels, deals revolving around the delivery of four to five albums, as well as access to 360 rights are important for sustaining that model.  A lot of the artists I was gravitating to were artists that were probably not pre-disposed to wanting to do those kinds of deals. When you’re in a bigger company, 180,000 units is often perceived to be a bit of a disappointment.  In a smaller label, however, 180,000 is a huge accomplishment.  That can make money for both the artist and the label.

I felt like I was sending a lot of artists down the street because we didn’t have the ability to do short-term deals or deals that didn’t have 360 components in them.  It was extremely limiting. I wanted to be in a situation where whatever we were able to build and grow, which would be satisfying and exciting to everyone. It just seemed like the time to try to be in a situation that allowed more flexibility.

I’m having a blast doing this, and we like the ability to interact with RED Distribution and make the decisions.  Not having to go through long, complicated meetings with large numbers of people is a welcome relief. The lack of politics is so incredibly liberating I cannot even tell you. I enjoy having the freedom, deal-wise, and support from Peter [Mensch] and Cliff [Burnstein](the founding partners of Q-Prime).

Music Consultant:

Tell me how the company works. Tell me about what the process is and how the process has changed for you, not only since the landscape has changed, but since you’re at a new label. Is there a philosophy or is it case by case?

MG:

Developing and breaking acts is somewhat subjective.  The benchmarks that define a broken or developing act are different now.  Artists that are able to sustain their careers can do so through selling fewer records and building strong touring.  Lucrative careers can be built through publishing and sync deals.  The rules and criteria of success and breaking bands are changing as we speak.  Remaining flexible is of the utmost importance.

Music Consultant:

What is the process of furthering an artist’s career in this age where artists have so many tools available to them?

MG:

The bones of Mom and Pop come from management DNA. The second you walk into a management company and you’re building out a recorded music division from it, the value and benefit of that management DNA is undeniable.  Sitting with Peter, Cliff and Craig Winkler is great.  I remember with Joshua Radin’s deal, I was thinking to myself, “This is the craziest and most user-friendly proposal I’ve ever done.”  It was interesting because I got most of it right.  Cliff marked off two or three things, completely in the artist’s favor.  With the history of looking at hundreds of record deals, he’s saying, “Okay, this is how we’re going to make it more fair.  This is how we’re going to make it more equitable.” I knew I was with the right people.  He ultimately inspired me when he said, “If we do great work for great artists, over time it will all come back.”  Cliff (and Peter) have allowed and pushed me to make decisions that are completely antithetical to what bigger companies do in certain situations.

Music Consultant:

Is your company staffed, or are you hiring consultants case by case?

MG:

Where appropriate, we can utilize the QPrime staff.  Depending on the artist, there could be an additional three to twelve bodies. Everyone here is jumping in.  There’s a lot of opportunity that creates itself when people are making calls looking for Metallica, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Muse and Silversun Pickups. Our radio is powerful.  Cliff and Peter set up the promotion department ten years ago in order to have their own relationship with radio.  When other people are going in the other direction and getting smaller, they’ve been more aggressive with providing extra support for their artists. Look at Silversun Pickups on Dangerbird Records; they did a great job developing the band.  But Dangerbird would probably be the first to tell you that they would hit a ceiling at a certain number and that number would be far below the 300,000 records that they’d be able to sell at the time without good partnering. So when you’re sitting with bands and you have the infrastructure that can go compete and have the upside, and sell as many records as anyone else – it really helps.  Of course it’s dependent on finding the right acts and the right songs.

Music Consultant:

How has A&R changed?  Are you finding you’re doing more deals based on who has existing movement, or are you doing deals purely out of love with kids just out of art school?

MG:

I think it’s somewhere in between. I would like to say it’s more of a mindset than it is a sales threshold. There’s a band we’re just signing right now that hasn’t put a record out yet, but they’ve done all the right things to move themselves along.  Even though they don’t have a sales base, we’re walking into a situation where there’s a lot of natural inertia. I think what we’re also focused on is finding really strong managers and bands that understand what we’re trying to do, and building on that.  In theory, the artists we sign, and their managers, are becoming part of the label. We’re making all the decisions together and we’re empowering them to build the team.  We find, sometimes, that a team of 10-12 people is far more effective than a team of 75-100, especially when you’re trying to get everyone on the same page. We’ve been working really well with RED, and we have a strong relationship with iTunes.

Musician Consultant:

What are you seeing that artists are doing that’s working? There is so much conversation about rising above the noise now that international distribution is only a couple mouse clicks and $50 away. Talent aside, are you seeing anything that is a reliable delivery source? Is it touring? How are you seeing artists build a business? You’ve clearly identified at Mom and Pop people who have built something. How are they building these things? Has it changed?

MG:

We think we’re dealing with a generation of musicians and managers who are more forward thinking, more resourceful, and willing to be pragmatic.  They are finding alternative ways of exposing music.  We think the ones that are truly committed to building a connection with their audiences are the ones that are building careers.

We think people are figuring out they don’t necessarily need to be flying Top 10 records in order to go build touring bases. We may be speaking specifically to the aesthetic of what we like and what we’re doing. You could be having a totally different conversation with somebody if they wanted to go make a pop record. They do need those drivers and big record companies with promotion and a willingness to go put the energy of 200 people behind it to go sell 150,000 records that first week. In terms of what we are trying to do, it’s a proof of concept. We took an artist off a bigger label that had sold 90,000 records and that wasn’t enough.  Whether it was creative or artistic reasons that they let him go, we were thrilled to get that opportunity, and we’ve done really well with it.  This is an artist that played enough shows, shook enough hands, signed enough CDs and got enough opportunities for himself.  He networked a lot of relationships for himself.  Joshua Radin is someone who works hard.

The 200,000+ units he sold between these two records did not come from having a hit. And now he’s starting to get into bigger rooms and build a career outside of America. I went to England to see him play Shepherd’s Bush Empire off TV syncs and word-of-mouth.  He drew 1300 people, and he didn’t even have a record out. The stories are all different, but the one thing they have in common is the ability to move themselves along.

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Check out Mom & Pop Records.