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|1995-05-27||||Paul Verna - Billboard Magazine v.107 n.21|
|Rock Producers Find Berths at Major Labels
NEW YORK -- Long the mainstay of the pop, R&B, and country worlds, producer-label affiliations are crossing over into the alternative rock arena, as five major record companies sign producers with proven track records in the genre.
In the past few months, Epic has hired Michael Beinhorn, whose credits include Soul Asylum's "Grave Dancers Union" and Soundgarden's "Superunknown"; Atlantic has employed Dave Jerden, who produced seminal albums by Jane's Addiction, Alice In Chains, and Anthrax; and RCA has retained Brian Malouf, a seasoned producer/mixing engineer who has worked with a broad range of artists, from Pearl Jam to Everclear. All three serve combined production/A&R positions at their respective labels, providing a link between the company and an untapped talent pool.
In addition, veteran Daniel Lanois and relative newcomer Brad Wood have signed consultancy deals with Capitol, and MCA has pacted with Boston-based production company/studio Fort Apache, whose stable of producers has yielded hits by such modern rock stalwarts as Radiohead, Hole, and Juliana Hatfield.
These arrangements differ substantially from one another, and the producers vary in age and experience -- from Lanois, who rose to prominence in the mid-'80s via his work with U2 and Peter Gabriel, to Wood, who got his first break two years ago when he produced Liz Phair's acclaimed debut album. The common thread is that the deals unite production talent with major labels, offering producers the stability of long-term employment, record companies the opportunity to get on the ground floor of breaking talent, and artists access to studio professionals who are equally familiar with the technical aspects of record making and the inner workings of labels.
Conceptually, the alternative rock deals are similar to the ones that exist in pop, R&B, and country. Historically, some of the most successful partnerings of producers and labels have been George Martin (EMI), Lenny Waronker and Russ Titelman (Warner Bros.), David Foster (Atlantic), Walter Afanasieff (Sony Music), L.A. Reid & Babyface (Arista), Quincy Jones (Warner Bros.), Prince (Warner Bros.), Jimmy Bowen (Liberty), and Tony Brown (MCA Nashville).
But the dynamics of the alternative rock world differ from those of the more established genres. For one, record budgets for modern rock albums can range from as low as $10,000 to well into six figures, whereas top-flight pop, R&B, and country albums are consistently in the upper end of that range.
Also, because of the homegrown nature of alternative rock, small studios are often hotbeds of talent, nurturing the careers of producers, musicians, managers, and even label entrepreneurs. Consequently, labels are affiliating with the studios where these hot producers operate. For example, Fort Apache and Wood's Chicago facility received funding from MCA and Capitol, respectively.
As long as they provide some measure of independence -- which these agreements do, to varying degrees -- label deals give producers the best of all worlds: financial stability and a direct line to a label that is likely to be receptive to their creative ideas.
But if the producer and label fail to see eye to eye, the deal can easily sour. "The reason some of these deals didn't work in the past was we just let the producers go away and then they'd come back and just hand us something," says an A&R executive at a major label. "It's looked at as something from the outside."
The fear of being the outsider was one of the factors that convinced Beinhorn to sign with Epic. "What appealed to me was the fact that I would be in a situation where they wouldn't get the hired gun to make everything better," he says. "The situation is more of a collaboration between the record company, myself, and the artists.
"For an amount of time in my life I'm on a retainer that can give me income. That's nothing to scoff at. I asked myself, do I take this and work with a company whose roster I respect and the people at the company I respect? It made a lot of sense for me to make that move."
Since joining Epic, Beinhorn has produced an Ozzy Osbourne album, due for release this summer, and begun work on an upcoming Social Distortion project.
"They keep me under a bit of a rein, but I can do outside things," Beinhorn says of his exclusive arrangement with Epic. "I was not looking forward to having to fight to do outside stuff, but I've been so busy working on Ozzy's record that it's not a relevant consideration right now. The things I've said no to wouldn't have worked out whether I was with Epic or not."
Other producers polled by Billboard also say they are enjoying their new partnerships. "Now I feel that I have an outlet -- a firsthand in, if you will -- for an act that I really want to make a record with," says Malouf.
"That, for me, was the primary goal I had. Now when I fall in love with an act, I come straight to [RCA senior VP of A&R] Dave Novik instead of trying to go to all the other people, one at a time, that I was going to before. It gives me an opportunity to take something from beginning to end as an A&R person."
Like their counterparts in the more "mainstream" genres, some of these alternative rock producers -- especially Jerden, Beinhorn, and Malouf -- are contracted to deliver a certain number of records to their companies and have some leeway for doing outside projects.
By contrast, Wood, Lanois, and the Fort Apache producers -- Paul Q. Kolderie, Sean Slade, Gary Smith, Tim O'Heir, and Lou Giordano -- have nonexclusive contracts with their label affiliates, allowing the producers free rein to work on projects for other labels, as long as they do not take demos outside the company.
Fort Apache's Smith, who oversees the company's artist management business (with such clients as Hatfield, Belly, and Polara), says, "The majors are becoming aware that talent sources need to be more far-flung than in the old days. You can find talent all over the place, so the farther the net is cast the greater the chances of success. They're going to independent entrepreneurs, effectively scouts, and using expertise developed out of house to form the basis of their search."
Producer manager Sandy Roberton -- whose roster includes rising stars like Wood and Fort Apache's O'Heir, as well as veterans Don Smith, Danny Kortchmar, and Don German -- says labels are trying to associate themselves with "younger, hipper producers" in the hope that they will deliver the next generation of alternative rock hitmakers.
Because the sound of such hip, successful acts as Veruca Salt, Off-spring, and Green Day is achievable for relatively modest budgets compared to pop albums, the labels' ultimate hope is that they will see a large return from a small investment, according to Fort Apache's Slade.
"We're trying to work at a cheaper level," he says, noting that it would not be unusual for "a label to literally spend the amount of money they spent on our deal to sign one act. They have a corporate ideal of what they think a record project should be, and often that means taking a lot of time or going to a real expensive studio. That's just not applicable sometimes."
His frequent studio partner, Kolderie, adds, "We like to work fast. That's why you'll notice that we do a lot of records. We don't take six months to do them."
Roberton observes that recording budgets "have gone way down. I've had to re-educate some of my most successful producers that the [advance] fees they used to get three or four years ago don't exist anymore."
Beyond the potential savings, having a hot producer or stab]e of producers on retainer offers the label a wealth of opportunities. Novik, who hired Malouf as RCA's staff producer/A&R in New York and employs Ron Fair in a similar position on the West Coast, says, "I've been doing A&R for a long time, but record-making in the production sense is not one of my strengths. I understand most of it, but there are certain things that a producer will be able to cut to the chase to much quicker than otherwise."
In his A&R role at RCA, Malouf has signed alternative rock acts the Verve Pipe and 1,000 Mona Lisas, the latter of which he will mix tracks with. In the studio, Malouf has mixed an album by newcomer Ke, a Novik signing to RCA, and mixed Everclear's new album for Capitol.
MCA executive VP of A&R Ron Oberman says his rationale for signing the Fort Apache deal was twofold: "One, Fort Apache, the studio, has been a magnet for young, burgeoning alternative talent. I don't think there's another studio that has the track record of dealing with young bands as early on, bands that go on to be successful. And two, not only are they a magnet, but the five producers who make up Fort Apache are each in their own right great producers."
The first album on the Fort Apache/MCA label was a self-titled work by Cold Water Flat, produced by Slade and released earlier this year. The next two projects on the schedule are albums by Minneapolis alternative rock band Hovercraft and New York unit Speedball Baby.
At Capitol, the Lanois and Wood "consultancy" deals appear to be less structured than the arrangements RCA, Atlantic, and Epic have cut with their producers, but the potential benefits are no less far-reaching.
"I'm attracted to the records Brad Wood makes as a young record maker, and Daniel I've known forever and think he's one of the top record producers in the world," says Capitol president and CEO Gary Gersh, a former A&R maven at Geffen. "I have a lot of respect for their ability to make records and develop
Gersh adds that he "had no designs to do either one of these deals before I came to Capitol. If the staff or I found people we were like-minded with, we would do it any number of ways with different people. We're just trying to be in the business of qualitatively building a roster."
Wood's arrangement with Capitol, like the MCA/fort Apache deal, involves not just A&R and production, but the producer's studio as well. Wood -- who recorded hit albums by Liz Phair and Veruca Salt in his Chicago facility -- received funding from Capitol to upgrade the studio.
In his time at Capitol, Wood has produced an album by alternative rock act Menthol for the label, and worked on projects for Geffen (Loud Lucy) and Sub Pop, according to Roberton. Gersh says Lanois is involved in a couple of projects for Capitol, but he declines to describe them.
At Atlantic, senior VP Janet Billig says of the Jerden appointment, "What's special about Dave is we trust him implicitly in the studio with a band, and the bands trust him implicitly. He's serious as cancer about rock."
Since signing with Atlantic -- a deal that allows him to work for the other WEA labels as well -- Jerden has produced an album by Elektra Records act Orange 9mm and is working on an upcoming project for Atlantic's TAG imprint by alternative group Rust. In addition, Jerden mixed a few tracks for the Atlantic Led Zeppelin tribute album Encomium," brought the act Slamhound to the label, and is working with a female singer named Poe, according to Billig.
Jerden's presence also gives Atlantic the security of having an all-around Mr. Fix-It, in case any of the label's projects goes awry. "We look at Dave as somebody whom we send around if we've got problems with bands," says Atlantic West Coast A&R representative Kevin Williamson. "Dave can tell us what's going on and maybe even help another producer solve the problem."
Beyond the benefits to the labels and producers involved, the recent deals reflect on the maturity of the alternative rock market. Roberton says, "I've had to part ways with dear friends and good clients because I couldn't get A&R people to listen to them because they came from an alternative background. But the thrust now is to find up-and-coming alternative rock talent. It's a very strong trend for labels to be getting into this area, because the alternative scene is becoming mainstream."
Andy Paley, staff producer at Elektra Records, adds, "It's hard to define anything as alternative anymore, but the big labels are interested in having people work for them who are tuned into what's going on with the underground, because the underground inevitably rises up. The more people you have who are in touch with that, the more successful you're going to be."
For some producers, the ultimate reward of working, for a record company might be to run a label.
"Look at Jimmy Iovine who was an engineer and then a producer and then started his own label," says Paley. "I could see a lot of producers wanting to do that, and producers already working for labels have an advantage. You see the inner workings of a record company."
Full Text: COPYRIGHT 1995 BPI Communications