Glassnote's Daniel Glass: Taking Mumford & Sons to the Masses Was 'Torture in the Beginning' (Q&A)
The music-industry veteran's golden touch took centerstage at the 55th annual Grammy Awards when "Babel" won album of the year.
Daniel Glass’ music-business roots go back to the days of disco, when as a disc jockey in New York City, he immersed himself in a burgeoning dance-music scene and saw his first quantifiable “hit” with funk group Gary’s Gang. Not even five years later, Glass, who had transitioned to record-company executive, had a massive smash on his hands with Huey Lewis and the News, whose third album on Chrysalis, Sports, moved more than seven million copies. A string of successes followed -- among them swift sellers by Billy Idol, Wilson Phillips, Sinead O’Connor and Vanilla Ice -- and to this day has rarely stalled.
On Sunday, Glass’ golden touch took centerstage at the 55th annual Grammy Awards, when Mumford & Sons took home album of the year for their 2012 release, Babel. It’s a testament to the team that Glass has assembled and his pedigree in the industry he’s called home for all of his adult life. The label vet, who’s ranked No. 11 on THR’s list of pop’s 35 top hitmakers, revealed a little of the method to his magic in a recent conversation.
The Hollywood Reporter: You’ve had success across multiple formats with both Phoenix and Mumford & Sons. How much of the A&R process are you personally involved with?
Daniel Glass: I'm involved with every step. With Phoenix, they make their records in Paris and all over the world with Philippe Zdar, their producer. I went there in November and had some opinions, but it's their record. I don’t tell them what to do. I may go over sound with them or single order, and if they ask for advice, I'll give it. But the A&R process I enjoy the most is when a band knows what they want to do and they bring their own vision in. Where we do recommend is in mixing and mastering, because the indie community falls short in those areas. We like our records to sound pristine, and you can’t cut corners.
THR: Why is that important now when, these days, many listen to music through a computer speaker or earbuds?
Glass: For the consumer, there is a je ne sais quoi quality about great records – they share a vibe and the sound of excellence. You've got to bring out the best in your music ... It's that fine polish. I think that a lot of indie bands make these records at home or in a garage, they scrape together the dollars and then they wonder why they don't go anywhere. When you listen to them, there's something missing in the sound -- that special quality, that last one percent, which I think mixing and mastering brings to a record. That's what separates great from good. And people don't buy good, they buy great.
THR: Mumford & Sons just won the Grammy for album of the year, but you’ve had success going back to Spandau Ballet’s 1983 hit “True.” To what do you credit your track record?
Glass: I think when we opened the doors here at Glassnote approximately six years ago, we wanted to be in the tradition of a Chrysalis or an Island or an A&M and have a culture unto ourselves. But what I learned at Chrysalis was sign the best live bands, support them, love them, nurture them, pay them. And hope that they make the best records possible. And when they make those records, get them the exposure they deserve. The other element here is we have a lot of patience. We trust and respect media -- meaning radio and press -- and those mediums are really important to us, so we spend a lot of time there.
THR: Do your bands, and by proxy Glassnote, approach songs with radio in mind?
Glass: We don't encourage our artists to make records, per se, but we do cater to radio, love the radio connection, and we have a fantastic radio team. But as a matter of fact, every one of our records that have been successful were torture in the beginning. Imagine taking Mumford & Sons, an alternative rock band with a banjo with the F-word, to radio. We did it, but you wouldn't have wanted to be here for the first 90 days. It wasn't pleasant. Spending 20 weeks pushing a rock band from France -- also not so pleasant, but we believed in Phoenix and there were little signs that showed promise.
THR: You’ve said in the past that “indie is a state of mind.” What do you mean by that?
Glass: I think true independence is [being] a master of destiny -- you don't have to answer to people on what to put out, you don't have a financial boss ruling down on you; it’s freedom. The ability to take risks and stand by the courage of your convictions is a great feeling, and you sink or swim by your decisions and taste. I always said the only reason I want to fail is if the public doesn't like what we put out. But I don't want to fail if we haven't exposed the music or gotten people to the shows or distributed the record in the right places. It’s like with any sport, I want to give them a shot. It’s that simple.