The Record Label Executive PART II

The Record Label Executive PART II

“To sign an act and to get an act going is a huge financial commitment because of all the different facets you have to cover.” Dan McCarrol, president of Capitol and Virgin Records

For The Record. Part II.

This interview is the second part of a two part series. If you are just joining us now, read Part I here.

Got it. That connects the dots of the story I was missing. Do you miss working in the publishing side of it?

I do, but I am still really tight with all of the people I worked with. I still work closely with them and it’s a much a different game. It’s a much higher stakes poker table. There’s a difference in the publishing world vs. the record world.

That’s what I want to ask. For all of us who don’t know what the difference is, I can’t think of anybody better to explain this. What’s the difference in publishing and the label side? In a fan’s mind they’re all sort of one thing.

At the publishing company, when you sign a writer your job is to get them on as many records as you can that are the right records for them. One of my clients was David Hodges from Evanescence. I knew that David was not the right guy to work on a Slayer record but I certainly knew he was the right guy to write with Chris Daughtry. I had a very small roster at the publishing company. I worked with Death Cab for Cutie, for instance, where my main goal was working with film and TV people to get the appropriate sync licenses and opportunities for their music. It’s almost like you protect the copyright of the artist. I would go see all the different A&R people and all the presidents of the labels and go meet with everybody and see what record they were looking for songs for. I knew the go to people. It was a very tight knit community. You got to know your writers and you protected their copyrights and tried to help them make the most of their songwriting and their talents. You also helped exploit their copyrights as writers.

But it’s a different game for a songwriter than it is for a band. Most of the time bands are self-sufficient. They don’t want to write for other people but oddly enough, people from labels would come to me and say “Oh my God, we are huge fans of Death Cab for Cutie. Would Ben Gibbard write for us?” All those kinds of things are what takes place in the publishing world.

So let me ask you a silly question. What takes place on the label side of it?

In the label side of it, I’m the one going to the managers and the publishers. For instance, Kanye West features on Katy Perry’s song “ E.T.” and it was our role to broker the deal. Kanye is signed to EMI Music Publishing; so I have to go to Kanye’s manager, I have go to the publisher. We broker the deal and go work all that stuff out. So I am just on the other side of the table now, which is quite interesting.

So if I put it in the simplest terms, the publishing side is the content – the nuts and bolts. And the label side is the packaging – the presentation of the content. Am I missing it or is does that feel right?

I think the publishing side is right. It’s the copyright; it’s the content. But a record company is certainly about more than the presentation. I think the label side is like going out one night to catch a beer at the bar and we see a band and we think it’s unbelievable and I say, “We should sign this band!” It’s just a different process than at the publishing company.

So the label is finding the music that we are going to be listening to next year, five years from now?

Right. It’s as if you called me up and said “Hey Dan it was great to interview you, I know this sounds kind of weird but my cousin is an unbelievable singer, you should hear these songs.” Music can come from anyplace. My sister is a schoolteacher in upstate New York and one of the teachers there has a kid in band – it became a huge bidding war and was like a crazy thing. You never know where it’s going to come from if that makes any sense.

Yes, that makes a lot of sense.

We are involved in the making of the record, the photos, the videos; we have to put up tour support, we have to put up the all the money to market the records. The publishing companies don’t do that. That’s the inherent difference. To sign an act and to get an act going is a huge financial commitment because of all the different facets you have to cover. If you pay x amount of dollars to sign the deal, but then you have to make the record and then if you want an A list producer — that’s a big pile of money. Then if you want to put them on the road for a year and a half — that’s expensive to move everybody around. Then you have to do packaging and then you have to marketing and promotion. That can be a lot of dough. And that’s what the record company takes the hit on. The publishing company doesn’t take the hit on that.

I like hearing it spelled out from A to B to C to D. That’s sort of how my mind works and I really appreciate you walking me through the full steps. You really clarified a lot of questions. Since you straddled both worlds and since your expertise comes from the publishing side of it, what have you been most proud of since you took over in late 2010? Personally I thought that pulling Alex Luke over from Apple was a pretty big deal.

I met Alex and thought he was a brilliant guy and when I got the job, there were two people I went after. Michael Howe who had worked at Downtown —who I thought was an incredible A&R guy — and Alex. I liked the way Alex thought because he didn’t think like a jaded A&R guy who just wanted a job for health insurance.

I have to say that I am proud of a lot of the records and the teamwork we have been able to have at EMI. We have some really great new artists. I had dinner with Amos Lee last night and he’s making his record for EMI and that’s a pretty intense thing. I said to him that just getting to make one record these days is difficult for a lot of artists. There’s been a lot of change.

I met Christine Burke from Logitech UE, who I’m a huge fan of, the other day at the Beach Boys party at the Capitol Tower Studio A. Being in that room with The Beach Boys was one of my proudest moments –  as was A&Ring that record.

From what I heard from Christine, I can completely understand that. She said almost everybody there was moved to tears during the presentation. 

I am a kid from upstate New York who ended up playing drums and doing well in that. I have this job and I am a Beach Boys fanatic and I get to be in the studio with Brian and this band and get to go to this whole thing. The record ended up coming in at number 3 on the Billboard Top 100 chart – that’s the first time that’s ever happened for The Beach Boys.

Congratulations Dan, that success is well earned and well deserved. So my last question—since we’ve been talking about music. Let’s get to the real nuts and bolts about it. What do you think it is about music that connects people? What’s the hook, the pull? Why do spend our lives in pursuit of it?

To me it’s like a drug. It hits an emotional nerve in people that makes you connect and feel like someone knows exactly how you feel. To know that you are not alone. I think that music is a truly amazing tool for that.

Dan I can’t think of a better way to end. Thank you so much for your expertise, your insights. 

Your company has been amazing to us. I am the hugest fan and advocate for you guys.

Actually, I do have one last question that I’m personally interested in. I am curious how you find new artists to listen to. Do you use any of the new music discovery platforms or just old-fashioned word of mouth? 

I love that there is wi-fi on the plane now because I just sit and go through YouTube and listen. I like to sniff around and just find different people. You can find some interesting voices. I feel that there are so many avenues to find music now that I scratch my head when people say that music is dead. Look at the Adele record. It struck a chord with 20 million people. Like Norah Jones did. I am so turned on by listening to different kinds of people. I like listening to and surfing the web. I think that’s one of the things that kids have an advantage of too these days. Record companies now pay people to scour the Internet for stuff that’s popping. I go to people sometimes and say, “Wow – you have an amazing voice – do you have any original songs or do you just do covers?” Of course, I have a different email address and I don’t say what I do. So many people are using it now as a platform. Things go viral and it’s crazy. Alex Luke came up with a brilliant idea that we are going to try to implement in the next year that I think will really help us a lot as well. That’s one of the reasons why I brought him in as well. He’s got such a different brain than any one else.

Yes, he’s coming in from a different background. It makes perfect sense. As soon as I saw that press release I knew you had a plan – you have to be blind to miss what it was saying between the lines. 

Yeah. To me it was saying the f**ing music business of twenty years ago is dead guys. I am sending a forward thinking guy in here.

And with that, Thank you Dan! It was truly a pleasure!

This interview was originally published at: FOR THE RECORD. PART II. | Ultimate Ears

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Mike Dias is a Sales Director for Logitech. He specializes in consumer electronics & pro audio with an expertise in headphones & portable audio. He has over 15 years of experience selling custom handcrafted in-ear monitors.

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