Three Attributes to Look For In A Performing Arts Company

Over my lifetime obsession with Artist Management and Arts Administrative jobs I have read hundreds of articles, dozens of books, and looked into the lives of successful artist management teams with a microscope. Trying to learn the ins and outs of what makes these people successful is mind boggling sometimes. In LA everyone likes to put on a front. It is hard to decipher who is truly competent and who has a team of people that truly makes them and their company’s successful. During the last 10 years in the work force I have learned that there are three things I need in an art management job to be happy – teamwork among co-workers, well developed organizational structure, and great leadership.

Having co-workers you can depend on in the work place is vital to events going off without a hitch. If there is distrust in the workplace you have a tendency to try and do everything yourself which in most cases is not humanly possible without working seven days a week. So how do you trust the people you work with quickly when just stepping into a job? Get to know them outside of work and get personal. Don’t just talk about work. If meeting up outside of work gives you hives try connecting with individuals in the office one on one. You would be surprised how many people will open up when you include them in a project you are working on or asking for their advice.

Jonathan Dickins (Adele’s Manager) said, “If you have a short term focus, you are going to get short term results.” Having a lack of organizational structure is detrimental. I have worked in both structured and unstructured companies. Many that are unstructured manage all events, tours, and marketing within the event year, while structured companies manage all event aspects in a three to five year timeframe. Having that time allows for branding development, strategic marketing, and event expansion. How can a company grow if all you are ever worried about is getting through that year? The answer is it is impossible.

Finally, and the most important, strong leadership. Jimmy Iovine is one of the biggest names in the music business side of the industry. In a past Billboard magazine Iovine said, “Be careful not to breathe your own exhaust.” I think this statement encompasses why great leaders are great. Be careful not to look at everything you say as gospel. Know that you can be wrong. And understand that to bring the company up, you have to bring your team up first. The importance of how you approach your employees can be what makes you stand out as a great leader or horrible boss. If you are supportive and encouraging with a mix of level-headed toughness it is going to make everyone work just as hard as you do because there is a line of respect. In Aretha Franklin’s words, “All I’m asking is for a little respect, just a little bit.”

Book Review: Sing To Me L.A. Reid

la-reid-sing-to-me-book-2016-billboard-1000Being employed in the entertainment industry, “Sing To Me” by L.A. Reid was eye opening.  It serves as a story of vision full of failure, success, friendship, and words of wisdom that can guide you through the turmoil of being apart of the performing art world.  The last line in the book said, “I always wanted to be surrounded by the people who were cutting-edge, people who were making what I call aspirational music, people who really didn’t care to be regular.  They didn’t want to fit in.  They always wanted to stand out.”

L.A. Reid created something from nothing.  He realized his talents as a producer and a music business professional through his love of the drums.  His focus and articulation in a passion that developed as a child and nurtured by his family turned him into some who truly cared about the art of music and the artists he helped bring to the top such as Usher, Meghan Trainer, TLC, Toni Baxton, and Rihanna.  I feel connected to him in some weird way.  Granted we grew up in different households and families, but something about his path and journey makes me feel that there is hope for anyone who has a dream and is willing to work hard to achieve it.  Music business man Dick Griffy once said to Reid, “Yoh can make more money by accident in Los Angeles than you can on purpose in Cincinnati.”  People have a tendency to stay with what is familiar.  What is safe.  Never leaving their hometown.  Always contained in a bubble.  Reid forced himself to constantly break out of that bubble from moving to Los Angeles to Atlanta to New York.  Pushing the boundaries everyday with music and moving to new cities to expand his horizons.

Fear can be a weakness, but it can also be a driving force to succeed.  When something bad happens it can paralyze you.  It can stop you in your tracks to the point where all you want to do is lay in bed and shut out the world.  When Reid’s friend Shakir suffered a tragic death via suicide Reid said, “I had to find the strength to do what I love.  I had to pick myself up and get back to work…I knew the road ahead would be much tougher and more complex than anything I’d encounter before.”  Finding the strength to move on and not constantly harp on what you could have done differently.  Thoughts of what you could have done to change it can be a difficult emotion to fight, but in the end, it’s about letting go of the pain and the anger.

We are all looking to make a difference in this world.  To make our actions something of consequence.  L.A. Reid continues to produce and support artists – “to make music that is important, to move people for a higher power.”  His biography is just the beginning of his story and it is far from over.  If you are looking to learn the inner workings of the industry this book isn’t for you, but if you are interested in learning one man’s journey to music business, discovering talent, and finding his way; don’t be afraid to take a peak.

To purchase the book through Amazon – Click Here!

“That’s Just The Way It Is” – Straight Out of Compton

In the song Been There, Done That, Dr. Dre raps, “If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything.”  This song came out in 1996 after he parted ways with Surge Knight at Death Row Records, and the aftermath was all that was left from N.W.A and the first ride as a solo artist and producer.  I think this song stands for everything that happened.  This line expresses the importance of truth and vision, and that is what separates you from the masses.  All the members of N.W.A had parted ways back in 1991 where cheap shots at one another in their music filled the air ways.  Boys that grew up in Compton fell apart when money became the focus of their arguments.  When you grow up in an environment where money has always been the for front of an argument who keeps you grounded?  I think the million dollar question is how does a brotherhood of boys that grew up in Compton together, go from having each other’s backs to slinging insults?

I have been hearing the phrase “That’s just how it is” a lot, and with every fiber of my being, I hate that phrase.  N.W.A never accepted the status quo.  Easy-E, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, MC Ren, DJ Yella, and Arabian Prince pushed boundaries with their music. F*** the Police gave people a voice who didn’t have one, who were getting abused for being a different race, and brought to the for front of society the abuse of power that was being thrown around in the depths of the hood.  It was never meant to start a riot or dangerous activity.  It was meant to inspire and drive people to do the right thing if authority was taking advantage of you.  So, why do we in the 21st century still feel that accepting what is considered the rule as what is?

In every part of my career and drive to be in the entertainment industry, I have never accepted people telling me “You are never going to change that,” “That’s just how it is,” or “That’s how it works around here.” Ice Cube and Dr. Dre fought against the unfair pay and contracts they were given as apart of Ruthless Records and N.W.A; and when they hit their breaking point, they stepped away from the group and did their own music, their way. I wonder what would have become of N.W.A had the blow out not happened.  What would they have created had Easy-E not died in 1995?  What if Jerry Heller actually cared about the men in the group and not just the money?  N.W.A were striving to be well-known artists in Compton, but they became a generation of men that turned the music industry on its head into a voice to be heard.  They put rap music into popularity and wrote lyrics that wasn’t coated with a string of lies and fantasy, but more of a sense of reality they dealt with everyday.

In the end, N.W.A was family.  Even when they were fighting they ultimately forgave each other for everything, because in the end, all they were doing was being honest and expressing themselves.  The beauty behind the madness was always the music, and honesty was what they chased.  I think they said it best:

“When I start expressing myself, Yella slam it
Cause if I stay funky like this, I’m doing damage
Or I’mma be too hyped and need a straight jacket
I got knowledge and other suckers lack it”
-Express Yourself (N.W.A)

Artists – The Debacle of Respect

Apple is one of the most innovative companies in the world.  Constantly creating the next new thing that everyone has to have.  So, when the announcement of Apple Music was to be launched I was a little surprised that they were so late in the game of streaming, which has undoubtedly continued to grow.  The thought of paying $10 a month to a streaming service and having unlimited access to thousands of songs is appealing, but in my opinion streaming is more of a discovery service than an actual income stream for artists.  The more I look at streaming, I use it to listen to new music to see if I like it.  If I like, I buy it.  So, should music artist really look at it as a revenue stream, or an audience building tool?

An article by Billboard Magazine discussed how in the first three months of its free streaming trial it would not pay artists for their music that was streamed (this is no longer the case).  The business aspect of this was ‘I’m not making money so why should I give you money?’  Needless to say, it created a big upheaval in the music world and Taylor Swift took it upon herself to be the voice of the artists.  She made a statement on her Tumblr – “This is not about me.  This about the new artist or band that has just released their first single and will not be paid for their success.  This is about the young songwriter who just got his or her first cut and thought royalties would get them out of debt.  This is about the producer who works tirelessly to innovate and create, but will not get paid for a quarter of a years worth of plays on his or her songs.”  Do you think this was all unselfish?  I think everyone, including the superstars in the industry had a right to be mad, but I still stand by my point that it shouldn’t be apart of the revenue budget, more like bonus income.  My question is was this whole thing a publicity stunt by Apple?  A company that is worth billions of dollars worried about paying artists for three months without a source of income from ONE revenue stream when they have numerous other ways to bring in money?

We all look at artists and think that it is a glamour field of money, fortune, and fame, but in reality it is a life struggle that these people had the courage to pursue a career that they loved rather than a career that makes bank.  Artists like Justin Timberlake and Taylor Swift are a small percentage that hit it big in the industry.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that in 2014 musicians/ singers made a median range of $23.50 per hour.  Now add in the cost of studio rentals, producers, songwriters, record labels, executives, managers, manufacturing, equipment, and touring and that is not a whole lot of money.  Every revenue stream counts for any artists.

The one thing that frustrates me about this whole debacle and pretty much any artist issue is that musicians are not the only artists out their trying to survive.  Dancers are in just as much struggle as the musician.  They have similar expenses such as studio rentals, tour costs, costumes, shoes, music licensing, management and development teams.  Also, there is only a select group in the public that has a passion for dance, and there isn’t as many revenue streams that can be tapped like the music industry.  Unlike the music industry where there is streaming, buying albums and individual songs.  Many dancers have to rely on a company for income (salary/ stipend for rehearsals and performances), or an agent getting them a temporary job on film, TV, a music tour, or Broadway.  There is also a ticking time bomb when you can no longer perform because your body just can’t.  Many dancers are involved in other revenue avenues like company contract work, select seasons on Broadway, sponsorship opportunities, teaching, and book writing on their endeavors in the industry.  Just like the music industry, there are dancers that are superstars and have made millions of dollars like Derek Hough or Mikhail Baryshnikov, but it took them years to get there.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the median salary a dancer makes is $13.41/ hour or if you are a choreographer $21.28/ hour.   That is less than a musician/ singer.  Many dancers and choreographers are not on an annual salary because they work based on a contract and are only paid for certain aspects of their job such as rehearsals or performances.   Granted, many orchestra musicians are in the same predicament.  The amount of free projects that dancers get involved in is based on trying to network and meet new artists that could potentially hirer them. Isn’t that the same in the music industry?  You send out samples of your music to try and draw an audience, gather a fan base, and gain feedback from people you respect and admire.  I have personally lost count on how many free projects I have done like choreographing a piece for a fundraising event or driving three hours for a rehearsal for weeks on end and then performing it once or twice at a few festivals.  None of these opportunities I got paid.  Some were friends of mine, while others were endeavors that I fully supported like at risk youth and the arts.  Granted I had other sources of income like teaching ballet and working on the administrative side of the arts industry.

I think we all have to ask ourselves some hard questions – why are we creating art?  Why are we creating music?  Why do you dance or choreograph?  Would I feel this way if this was a hobby and not my livelihood?  I think that the general public looks at art as it is owed to them.  I see it constantly working on the administrative side of the business.  Your taxes dollars do not pay the nonprofit employee’s salary, nor does your tax dollars pay to take care of the art work or support the programming that happens in a dance company or art institution.  People have this thought process that the arts are a right not a privilege.  We are privileged that artists feel strongly about their work that they want to share it with us.  I look at artists as superheroes.  They are brave.  Laying everything they have out in the open for the public to be loved and criticized at the same time.  Apple took a risk.  Was it wrong – yes.  Should we respect artists for their work – absolutely.  The next time you hear someone on the subway stop and listen.  If you enjoy it use your Tumblr or Twitter and promote it.  Don’t steal work that belongs to others.  I think if artists want the industry to respect the art and the artist, it needs to start with the public respecting the art first.

“All I’m askin is for just a little respect…”

Martin Kierszenbaum – The Genius Behind Cheerytree Records

cherrytreerecords“A mom and pop shop in a department store.” That is the way Feist describes Cherrytree Records. Ten years ago, Martin Kierszenbaum started Cherrytree under the Interscope-Geffen-A&M umbrella at Universal Music Group, but it was a long road getting there. His love of music began as a child. Since his mother was a piano player he began lessons at eight years old and at ten he started to learn music theory and began songwriting. From there he started bands in high school and college where he was not only writing songs, but producing and mixing their work as well as being the manager of the band that dealt with the club promotors. This allowed him to hone his skills as a negotiator at a young age as well as meet people in the industry at a personal level. Kiersenbaum is one of the few music executives I have discovered so far that has finished school.  He went to University of Michigan for his bachelors degree and University of Southern California for his Masters in Communications Management (Songwriter Universe, Dale Kawashima).

During graduate school was where his music executive climb began.  He got an internship at Wing/ Polygram Records where he eventually got a job in the mailroom.  In 1989 he was hired as a publicist in the International department at Warner Brothers Records. He spoke Spanish because he grew up in Argentina which was the tipping point that got him the job. At Warner Brothers Records he worked with artists like Madonna, Jane’s Addiction, Devo, B-52s, Prince, and Rod Stewart.  He eventually moved to A&M Records where he was a publicist that work with Sting, Sheryl Crow, and Bryan Adams. In 1998 A&M was bought out my Universal Music Group and Interscope-Geffen-A&M was born. Kierszenbaum was kept on as Head of International under Jimmy Iovine. At this level he was able to work with artists like Eminem, Vanessa Carlton, and the Black Eyed Peas.

Kierszenbaum is the best of both worlds. “His advice and mentoring come from being a musician and not purely from a business standpoint” (LATimes, Melinda Newman). Jimmy Iovine recognized this and Kiersenbaum began doing A&R work for Interscope while managing his international publicist responsibilities. His first signing was an Italian Opera singer, Alessandro Safina. Safina didn’t do well in the U.S. partly because the PBS special that was create for the artist’s coming out was released around when the September 11th attack happened. It goes to show that it is all about timing. On a positive note Safina sold 250,000 copies in Sweden so Interscope looked at as a success.

In 2005, Cherrytree Records was born. Kierszenbaum signed artists such as Lady Gaga, Far East Movement, LMFAO, Roybn, Ellie Goulding, and Tokio Hotel. In the LA Times he stated “I don’t sign things of the moment, I sign things of the moment to come.” He has a gift of signing artists that are ahead of the curve, but still can connect to the mainstream.” Let’s take Lady Gaga as an example. She was a young kid who decided to drop out of college for a music career, but she had a vision for her music. She wanted to create an identity and a brand like Prince. She was the future and Kierszenbaum knew that because he was able to connect with her on a personal level. With his publicity, musicianship, and international background he was able assist in co-writing four songs on her album (The Fame), do a 40-part series introducing Gaga to the world, as well as break her to number 1 in the Swedish market before she became big in the U.S.

I think Jimmy Iovine said it best, “His musical background gives him a feel for the records the artists want to make, and his international mindset gives him the advantage in breaking them on a worldwide level” (Hollywood Reporter, Ashley Lee). Kierszenbaum is constantly on the look out for artists who have a point of view, a distinctive voice, and an extraordinary repertoire. In 2013 he signed a band from Vancouver Canada named Marianas Trench. Led by Josh Ramsey (co-writer of Call Me Maybe), he has great musicianship, a way with words, and heart in the last three albums the band has created. I look forward to the plans that Cherrytree has for Marianas Trench and if it is anything like Gaga everybody better be on the lookout for the fireworks.

Click here for a playlist of the artists that have been and are on Cherrytree Records.