When I first started in the music business, going to school to study the music business, or recording were not common options. Not only were most of the music related majors available at colleges and universities music performance or music theory based, it was really uncommon at the time for aspiring musicians looking to launch a career in the music industry to enroll into a university for formal music production or business training. Most musicians and music entrepreneurs as well, would start their music careers by just playing shows or interning at recording studios and record labels. Some managers and label executives did have a legal background or even a business degree. But, for the most part, studying the music business at specialized schools, or major universities is fairly new. I was one of the fortunate ones to enroll in USC’s heralded Music Industry major. I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Music Industry (Music Business), and have since had a very interesting and fulfilling music career. One of the perks of going to a major university is you usually have a leader in fields such as politics, technology, business, or even a major celebrity come and give a commencement speech to a graduating class. My graduating year, we had Arizona Senator John McCain speak. It was pretty amazing to have a major political figure and former POW of the Vietnam War come and speak to our graduating class. Not the sexiest name, but considering Senator McCain’s 7 years of torture in a Vietnamese POW camp, hearing him speak about life and where us graduates can go after college, was inspiring.
It was announced today that legendary record executive and music producer Jimmy Iovine would be speaking at the 2013 University of Southern California (USC) graduation. Iovine will speak on May 17th to a graduating class of over 13,000 students. Man, don’t I wish I was in that class! Iovine, who is 60 years old, is probably one of the most powerful, influential, and successful record executives today. He is currently the Chairman of Interscope-A&M-Geffen (one of the most successful labels of the last 20 years, with artists ranging from Dr. Dre, Eminem, 50 Cent, Lady Gaga, Madonna, The Rolling Stones [and their catalog], Van Halen, Aerosmith, Guns n’ Roses, Elton John, Sting, Maroon 5, and many more. Interscope-A&M-Geffen also has launched the careers of new sensations such as Kendrick Lamar, Chief Keef, and Carly Rae Jepson).
Iovine, born in Brooklyn, started his career as a teen when he got a job cleaning a local recording studio. He leveraged that to start working as a runner, then he was hired as a staff engineer for the famed Record Plant Studio in New York (Record Plant New York opened in March of 1963, and the first album recorded there was Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Electric Ladyland.’ Legendary albums by Aerosmith, John Lennon, Allman Brothers, Kiss, and Bruce Springsteen were also tracked at the studio. Side note, one of the founders of the Record Plant, Chris Stone, was a professor of mine at USC. The class he taught was ‘The Business and Economics of The Recording Studio’). During Iovine’s stint at the Record Plant, he engineered many recordings by John Lennon. He was hired to be the main engineer on Bruce Springsteen’s seminal ‘Born to Run’ album, and Meat Loaf’s ‘Bat out of Hell.’ Due to ‘Born to Run’s’ massive success, Iovine was in high demand, and he decided to become a Record Producer, landing his first gig in 1977 with a New Jersey band called ‘Flame.’ He had his first taste of success with producing, when he produced Patti Smith’s top 40 song “Because the Night” from her ‘Easter’ album, which Jimmy produced the entirety of. Check out the classic tune here:
Iovine followed it up with successful album after successful album. Over the next few years, he produced three albums for Tom Petty, which launched Petty to international stardom. Jimmy produced 1979’s ‘Damn the Torpedoes,’ 1981’s ‘Hard Promises,’ and 1982’s ‘Long After Dark.’ Check out this Tom Petty gem Jimmy Iovine produced from the album ‘Long After Dark.’
He continued his string of success by producing hit albums by Stevie Nicks, U2, The Pretenders, and Dire Straits.
In 1990, Jimmy Iovine Co-Founded Interscope Records with Ted Fields. Iovine hired an all-star staff of A&R Executives. One of them in particular was Tom Whalley, who had signed rapper 2Pac to his first solo album deal on Interscope Records. Interscope had success right out of the gate, with the first album the label released being ‘Mo Ritmo’ by Hispanic/Bi-Lingual rapper ‘Gerrado.‘ Many music fans of early 90’s dance and hip-hop will remember this one hit wonder’s smash song from 1990, titled “Rico Suave.” Check out the very DATED video here:
Iovine and Fields contracted a lucrative joint venture with Atlantic Records, which at the time was a division of Time Warner. It was for a major distribution deal worth over $30 million dollars. Interscope then decided to invest a few million dollars to distribute the albums of the then unknown ‘Death Row Records.’ Death Row Records was a label formed by Dr. Dre and Suge Knight, and eventually became one of the most successful and notorious labels of all time. They launched the successful careers of artists like Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and made 2Pac a mega star. Iovine told the Public Broadcasting System’s “Frontline” show regarding his former partnership with the notorious Death Row Records, “for the time during the late 1980s and early 1990s, outside of one or two rock bands, hip-hop was the most potent message and the most true message that was being delivered in this country.” In its heyday, Death Row Records was virtually unstoppable. With their partnership with Interscope, Death Row sold nearly 50 million albums worldwide, and generated close to $750 million in revenue. Without a doubt, Interscope’s backing was instrumental in Death Row’s success. Robert Greenblatt, president of entertainment for cable TV’s Showtime channel, told Allhiphop.com regarding Iovine’s success in hip-hop that “Jimmy Iovine is the un-disputed czar of hip-hop.”
In 1995, Interscope came under fire and received a tremendous amount of criticism for their affiliation with Death Row Records and gangsta rap. Both Iovine and Fields refused to give in to the demands of their parent company, which wanted Interscope to monitor and control Death Row’s content. Atlantic Records’ and their parent company Time Warner, decided to sell its share of the label back to Iovine and Fields. Dr. Dre was noted at the time as saying to Patrick Goldstein in an article featured in the ‘New York Times’ Magazine, “Unlike any other record executive, Jimmy will say, ‘Go ahead and do it, we’ll deal with the consequences later.'” Jimmy Iovine earned the respect from many artists and labels at the time for being known as an exec who would not ask artists, like those on Death Row Records, to compromise their musical integrity. Insiders said that Iovine knew that doing so would have “gone against the original mission of Interscope Records.” Iovine explained to Alec Foege of the New York Times, “Our charter was to make deals with people that we really respect and give them complete and absolute control over their lives. We felt that if we did that, we would bat really high.”
The original focus of Interscope was primarily urban and hip hop music. But by the mid 1990’s, the label expanded its scope to include rock music. Interscope had signed and launched the careers of artists like Nine Inch Nails, Limp Bizkit, Marilyn Manson, and No Doubt. Iovine eventually reteamed with Dr. Dre, when Dre left Death Row to start a new label called ‘Aftermath Entertainment.’ Iovine was credited for giving Dr. Dre then unknown rapper Eminem’s independent release. He convinced Dr. Dre to team up with the unknown white rapper, telling Dre that an artist like Eminem was what Dre needed to establish the success and credibility of Dre’s new and fledgling label. History shows that this was definitely not a bad choice. Iovine’s gut instinct singlehandedly brought back relevance to Dr. Dre and credibility to Dre’s new label. Dr. Dre and Eminem’s collaboration has led an enormous amount of success. Eminem has since gone on to achieve ten number-one albums on the Billboard top 200, and sell more than 100 million records worldwide, including 42 million tracks and 49.1 million albums in the US alone.
Jimmy Iovine once again teamed up with Dr. Dre to revolutionize the music industry. In 2006 they formed ‘Beats By Dr. Dre Headphones.’ The Beats Company specializes in creating high-performance headphones and premium sound transmission. Beats originally only made high-end headphones, but branched out into car audio, computer speakers, and smartphones. The company has become the industry leader in headphones. They have captured over 40 percent market share of the entire billion-dollar headphones industry. Regarding Beats’ tremendous success, Iovine stated in a recent Rolling Stone Magazine article from March of this year with journalist David Fricke, that “Beats is just us knowing sound and what a good product is.”
In January of this year, it was announced that Iovine will expand the Beats brand into the digital music media market with Daisy. Daisy, a new service slated to launch in late 2013, will go head to head with online streaming and on-demand services like Mog, Spotify, and many more. There is much anticipation for Daisy. Iovine said in a statement at the time, that Daisy will “bring an emotional connection back to the act of music discovery.” For more about Daisy, please refer to my previous blog.
I had the incredible fortune of not only meeting Jimmy Iovine, but presenting him some music I produced. I was working with the son of a legendary music artist for a few years. I had produced a few albums for him, and he was under the impression that if he just “got the right person to hear it, his career would be set.” So, I pulled some strings and put in a call to meet with Jimmy Iovine and his team, in hopes of playing the music personally for him. He had heard a few rough tracks, and was interested in meeting with us and hearing more. When we received the call to come in, I was actually in the hospital suffering from a mild case of kidney failure. Despite the doctor’s (not Dr. Dre) recommendations, I checked myself out of the hospital to run into the studio and polish up our rough mixes so they would be presentable. With little time on my hands, I did the best I could to make the top songs we had sound killer! When we arrived, we were greeted by the usual cast of executive assistants, and were directed to the main conference room. The room had probably the longest table I have ever seen. The room was covered with memorabilia from Iovine’s storied career. Pictures of him with Bono from U2, Dr. Dre, 50 Cent, Eminem, John Lennon (PICTURES LIKE THIS ONE HERE OF HIM AND JOHN LENNON WEARING BROOKLYN SHIRTS), Bruce Springsteen, Muhammad Ali (and a signed pair of his gloves in a glass case), and many other items that would easily intimidate the faint of heart. We waited in the conference room for quite some time. What was probably 20-30 minutes, but felt like 2 hours at the time. We were then greeted by Head of A&R for Interscope, Martin Kierszenbaum. Kierszenbaum is also the head of the Interscope subsidiary label Cherry Tree Records. He is also known for his songwriting and production work with artists like ‘Lady Gaga’, and ‘Sting.’ Kierszenbaum then brought us into his office to wait for Iovine to be ready for us. Kierszebaum’s office was very similarly decorated as the main conference room. Just add in a few mementos from his illustrious career and some memorabilia of his time at University of Michigan. Martin spoke to us for a bit about the project we were working on, and what we had planned for the near future. He asked about shows, fan base, social media, mailing lists, etc. He then excused himself, so he could check on Jimmy Iovine’s time frame. As myself and the artist waited patiently, much to our surprise, hit artist and producer AKON entered the room. AKON, well known for hit songs like “Locked Up”, “Smack That”, and “I Just Wanna Love You.” Check out “I Wanna Love You” ft. Snoop Dogg here:
AKON came in to say hello and asked a few of the same questions that Kierszebaum had asked us. Shortly after, Kierszebaum returned with none other than the man himself, Jimmy Iovine. Dressed in his signature cap and glasses look, Jimmy greeted us very nicely. He sat with us for a bit and listened to part of 3 songs. While listening to the music that was playing, he spoke to the artist I was working with, and very nicely, but directly asked him “so what do you have going on?” He questioned the artist on some very important topics. What was his fanbase like? What is the typical draw for a show? Is there a strong social media presence? Have any blogs written about the music? Has he toured? Does he have a committed band that will play relentlessly with him? Was any money being made? And so on. As the artist I was working with proceeded to tell him that very little if anything had been going on, Jimmy thanked us for coming by and said to contact him when there was more buzz. I remember his words clearly. He said point blank, “let me know when you actually have something happening. The music is great. Really well produced, but I need to see much more.” Jimmy then said he had to go, and that Marshall was waiting for him in his office. Oh by the way, Marshall being Eminem.
I don’t know what I was happier about at the time. Was it meeting Jimmy Iovine, the most prominent and powerful name in the music business (who coincidentally also produced some of the music that I grew up on and inspired me) and playing him the music I labored over for years? Or, was I happier about finally proving my point to the artist I was working with. The point that no matter who you know, who you are related to, or how good your music is, you still need to have a large fanbase, a killer social media presence, and a history of profitability in order to get signed by a label. I am really curious what will Mr. Iovine’s commencement speech at my Alma Mater be like. Do those graduates know how lucky they are to hear him speak to them on such a big day? I know that the conversation Mr. Iovine and I shared, had a major impact on me.