Music Moguls Reunite: 'I Saved My Money. I Didn't Put It Up My Nose' (Video)
Five legendary label chiefs -- from Atlantic, Island, Warner Bros. and Virgin Records -- share the wisdom behind selling hundreds of millions of albums between them.
A version of this story first appeared in the Jan. 31 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
It hasn't been a pretty picture for the record companies the past 15 years. In that time, the U.S. music business has shrunk in half, from revenue of $14.6 billion in 1999 to $7.1 billion in 2012, and that's been reflected in job losses, consolidation of seven music giants into three and a general feeling of malaise that says the industry's glory days are an irretrievable thing of the past. Indeed, the landscape is littered with former executives bemoaning the loss of expense accounts and cocaine- and hooker-fueled days, but not these spry veterans, who have survived this brave new digital world to tell their tales.
Jerry Greenberg, Atlantic Records president (1974-80), MJJ Music president/COO (1993-2000)
Then: Signed ABBA; connected producer Mutt Lange with AC/DC (the result: Highway to Hell); broke Led Zeppelin on U.S. radio with "Whole Lotta Love"; signed Chic, Sister Sledge and The Trammps.
Now: Founder of Ibiza-based label Pacific Electronic Music; spearheading documentary about his career.
Next: Involved with the Polyphony Foundation, a music school in Nazareth where kids from both Israel and Palestine learn together. "I love music and working with artists. I can still tell a hit when I hear it. I want to find the next Lady Gaga and Justin Timberlake."
What He Misses: "Labels signing artists, developing them and waiting for the money to come later. Record companies don't stick with artists as much as they did back then."
Words of Wisdom: "This is as great a time to be a small, independent label as it was in the '60s."
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Mike Bone, Island Records president (1990-91), Mercury co-president (1991), Def American Minster of Truth (1992-94)
Then: While a promotion exec, broke Thin Lizzy in the U.S. with the single, "Wild One."
Now: Graduated Loyola Marymount with an MBA in marketing and a 3.93 GPA; owns homes in Santa Monica and Encino, a condo in Atlanta and a 215-acre Georgia tree farm.
Next: "In five years, my daughter will be a senior in college and my son will be a freshman, so I will start divesting my real estate, and prepare to move to Hawaii with my wife."
What He Misses: Being part of a team and moving the ball down the field, the snap, crackle and pop of the business, the camaraderie of orchestrating the whole ensemble. "My best years were at Bob Krasnow's Elektra in the '80s, a magical time."
Words of Wisdom: "I saved my money. I didn't put it up my nose or get divorced three times. My vices are now my kids."
Joe Smith, Warner Bros. Records president (1970-75), Elektra/Asylum (1975-82), Capitol (1987-93)
Then: Built Warner Bros. with Mo Ostin; signed the Grateful Dead and "changed the industry perception of the record company as the home of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin"; helped break Garth Brooks; wrote Off the Record, a collection of more than 200 artist interviews now archived in the Library of Congress.
Now: Lakers season ticket-holder, avid wine and art collector.
Next: "I hope to continue standing above ground."
What He Misses: That collegial feeling which disappeared when the business got corporate. "You rooted for your competition to have a hit because it meant increased retail traffic for everyone. We were never really competing with each other, we were all trying to make our own way. I also miss going to the NARM [National Association of Recording Merchandisers, since renamed the Music Business Association] convention, where I got to see everybody from around the country, where I emceed several of the award dinners and panels. I really felt at home."
Words of Wisdom: "There was room for everybody then. With today's rules, I couldn't sign the Grateful Dead."
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Phil Quartararo, Virgin Records president/CEO (1992-97), Warner Bros. president (1997-2002), EMI North America executive vp (2005-06)
Then: Part of the Island Records team that broke U2; One of the founding executives of Virgin U.S.; signed Linkin Park and Josh Groban while at Warner Bros.
Now: Managing Arturo Sandoval and Yoshiki at The Collective (the latter with veteran publishing and A&R exec Kaz Utsunomiya); consulting for artist estates and businesses that look to "use music for currency, and are willing to pay for it," including Australian brand-sponsored e-commerce platform Guvera and sync recognition app Shazam. "I have been very fortunate to be able to take my 30-year record company experience and convert it."
Next: "I'm not one to sit around moping and being resentful, waiting for the phone to ring. I'm looking at the first part of my career as the launching pad for the best part, which is right now, because I get to work with artists, brands and music. That experience we had in the major label system is valuable for companies today. There are not a lot of guys around who have run multimillion-dollar companies and are still young enough to have the energy to do something else."
What He Misses: Being able to activate a team of people working every day toward a common goal: to break an artist or a song, to build a career. "That was art; that was beautiful. Today's market is not conducive to record companies as we knew them. They're overwhelmed and under-resourced, which is a bad combination. The major labels of the past had the revenue to support the effort. [Now] there's no money to do anything. And the thing that suffers the most is artist development. If you're a new band, and can't get any traction on your own, the record company won't be able to do it for you."
Words of Wisdom: "The time for new opportunity in the music industry has never been better."
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Jeff Gold, A&M vp marketing/creative services (1981-90), Warner Bros. Records executive vp/GM (1990-98)
Then: Helped break Bryan Adams; won a Grammy for art direction for Suzanne Vega's third album.
Now: Founder of Recordmecca, collecting and selling rare memorabilia; author of 101 Essential Rock Records: The Golden Age of Vinyl; consulting for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Experience Music Project.
Next: "I am going to do this for as long as I enjoy doing it. I wake up every morning and can't wait to see who's emailed me and from where, what I've sold. I engage in this fantastic treasure hunt where I get to meet super-interesting people, buy stuff from them they've had for a long time, research and contextualize it."
What He Misses: The expense account.
Words of Wisdom: "The record business missed the boat on the Internet. It's a real lack of vision. People aren't doing the Steve Jobs leading thing in the record business."