10 Questions with ... Sam Kaiser
August 22, 2011
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
- Atlantic Records (Field Promo Rep, Tour Tactical Force Rep, National Director of Field Operations, and finally VP Pop Promotion) - 1976-1986
- MTV Networks VP Music Programming - 1986-1988
- Universal/MCA Records - Senior VP - 1988
- Enigma/Capitol-EMI Records Senior VP - 1988-1991
- MVP Entertainment - Owner/President - 1991-Present
1) What led you to a career in the music business? Who are some of your earliest mentors who gave you a shot in the business?
I started in radio in 1972 (including a stint at the legendary KSHE-95). I joined Atlantic and Elektra Records as a field rep in 1976 (field reps worked for multiple labels in those days).
My career in the music business began when I was given the opportunity to transition from radio to records and granted an interview with Atlantic and Elektra (two powerhouse labels at the time searching for a new shared mid-west rep).
The two regional directors conducting the interview were real characters. And on this particular day they were in what some might characterize as an altered state and were quite...shall we say....volatile and theatrical in their interview questions. This whole crazy and amazing life began with three interview questions (that's right, only three). Each question was screamed at the top of their lungs...I absolutely guarantee you have never experienced a job interview like this.
- "What's your sign?" ("Sagittarius", apparently my answer was satisfactory. I thought that if I said Capricorn or something, one of them was going to punch me)
- "Do you like Disco music?" "Uh... sure!" (Of course, this wasn't entirely accurate because as a mid-west Rocker kid it wasn't really my thing). But, they bought it!
- Final question you MORON! Are... you... a... LIAR? (This set up quite a paradox of sorts as I answered "Yes." This was not true of course because I am not a liar. But on the other hand, if I lied about being a liar...then......hoo boy, do I really want this job?) They looked at each other and said "Ok, you're hired"
2) What do you feel is the most important issue facing record labels in the current business environment?
First and foremost: dealing with the economic realities of configuring their companies. There are a lot of tough decisions and uncertainty going on right now and it's not a fun time for anyone.
On the creative level, improve the connection to music fans and making the right decisions on new artists and songs and a renewed commitment to long-term development of those artists, songwriters and producers. There is a lot of great music with strong potential that is not finding a home at the majors due to the extreme economic pressures in recorded music. Developing music and artists to a profitable model in today's environment is a tough order.
That said, I love the growing diversity in both the Pop and Alternative Rock music areas. But "Active" Rock? Not so much. I say this because I have always loved hard rock. But hard rock music has lately become very stagnant, predictable, uninspiring, and it is in great need of fresh blood and a fresh approach.
Second and equally important, developing new effective music market drivers. Right now, the game still primarily radio to effectively introduce and sell music. And I can just hear the indignant howls of "what about the Internet?" The net is hugely important, but without radio, you're not going to break big to a mass audience. Maybe that will change down the road, but today... right now, you have to get your song on the radio. As such, it is of significant concern that the relationship between music and radio is experiencing increased stress. While I don't envy anyone who has to deal with PPM on a daily basis, a perception does exist that this latest methodology has established yet another platform for what corporate radio managers have desired to do anyway (homogenize every station and treat the majority of new music as the enemy) especially music from independent labels not part of the major music groups. I'm fully aware that this statement will probably irritate some people but the truth is that there are independent records/artists right now that are hits but treated differently because they are not affiliated with a major.
3) What are your thoughts on the current methods of research used by radio today? What do you feel is the most valuable research tool that radio should be paying more attention to?
I don't know that I want to offer specific comment on radio research "tools" because I don't walk in their shoes day to day. I have my own prior experience with research as a programmer - but that was then and anything I could offer now would be perceived as just another music guy pushing his own agenda and pontificating on the business practices and strategy of our front line "buyer," the radio music programmer.
However, I will offer the comment that any creative content driven business that continues the reactive philosophy of shooting directly at a constantly moving target will most assuredly be shooting BEHIND the target. Thus, starting to miss the heart of the target and eventually suffering unacceptable erosion...particularly in the face of new technology and rapidly evolving competition.
Radio is a unique American art form that when done well, is brilliant, challenging AND effective. On the other hand, anyone that treats their target consumer like a static lowest common denominator lump will eventually lose them (and has lost a lot of them already) to other media. And to be fair, the exact same is true for the music industry if it over focuses on pumping out Lady Gaga knockoffs and over-layered Pro-Tooled-To-Death Popeil Pocket Fisherman pop records (yes, it slices, it dices, the singer didn't even show up, we just auto-tuned the vocals from a Speak & Spell, hired a guest rapper and it sounds just like every other record - call now and we'll double your order!").
I still believe in great radio and great music and the mutual success that can be achieved. It's not just taking a "radio product" to multiple platforms, it's taking a great entertainment product to multiple platforms. I love talking to people like Kid Kelly at Sirius who still have that passion and excitement for great radio and great songs and artists. And thank God there are still few others out there like him.
4) What was the craziest promotion you ever did with a radio station?
A lot of them were completely nuts and off the hook. I'm saving the most insane ones for the book I keep threatening to write one of these days. And I'm proud to say that I've been involved with some really fantastic and creative promotions. One of them we did at MTV involved the Beastie Boys kidnapping contest winners in the middle of the night, locking them in a box and taking them to Spring Break (and opening the box on camera, it was nuts). That's fun, but then the best are the ones with some bad behavior involved (and I guarantee you that every veteran music person has one of these).
I had a song that was breaking really, really big at a small number of radio stations and I became frustrated by the difficulty in getting larger scale attention. So, we sent strippers to something like thirty stations simultaneously on one day. Each "exotic dancer" carried a boom box and a copy of the song and performed a "custom routine" when she played the record. We told these "special performers" that the better response we got back... the bigger the tip. It was wild. My phone started lighting up with a combination of concerned GMs and absolutely delighted programmers. Apparently some of the dancers took things a little farther than we had intended. (Whoa)! It was fabulous and... (Surprise)... it was effective!
5) How do you feel about the new royalty rate increases for Internet and terrestrial radio?
This is a no win question because someone will definitely be unhappy with the answer.
But the truth is, name another medium that gets hit and superstar content for free.
Broadcast radio is the only medium that has been granted an exemption from compensating master recording copyright owners. Every other medium utilizing music content is required by law to compensate the copyright owner. The expectation to continue to use free master recording content developed by the investment and hard work of the labels and artists is just blatantly unfair. On the other hand, I do agree that the argument that radio is a powerful marketing and sales tool for the music is a relevant point. But that point is (in my humble opinion) somewhat weakened by broadcast radio's very open policy of becoming more restrictive on new music and artists in today's PPM world. Music development is a tremendous and risky investment and the revenue road is narrowing. You can't have it both ways.
I believe the right answer is somewhere out there in the middle. It is still a symbiotic relationship and music needs to be cognizant of radio's economic health as their primary market driver. And radio does need to work with music. It's difficult to grow and prosper if you are at odds with your primary content provider. This is all a nice ideal of course and probably unrealistic. This will continue to be a huge fight.
6) Do you track which songs the audience is downloading? What trends have you noticed in your research?
Of course I track sales and streaming of my artists. And I appreciate the growing positive trends in the piracy fight. But let's get REALLY serious about stopping music theft, lean heavily on the ISP's and cut the BS and go directly after the pirates. Come down hard and make a hugely visible negative example. Make that Limewire moron's settlement look like a walk in the park compared to what should be the penalties and consequences to be suffered by enabling and promoting the theft of copyrighted property. Whatever money was paid in the Limewire settlement is not near enough. This guy and others like him profited by supporting mass theft of the property of others. Put this CRIMINAL and his peers in jail. The fact that we are even still talking about this is absolutely stunning to me.
Concurrent with that, make paid music consumption easier and more attractive to the music fan than stealing. Oh yeah....and make GREAT music, real artists, make great records.
7) Do you remember the first record that you ever bought?
I started sneaking my older brother's singles. James Brown, The Isley Brothers, Beach Boys, and Roy Orbison. I think the first records I actually paid for were The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. I had to hide the Stones record as my mother had read somewhere that they were dirty Brit perverts coming to the U.S. to have their way with American girls.
8) What was the first concert you ever attended?
The Doors at Kiel Auditorium in St. Louis in November of 1968. Or it might have been Jimi Hendrix a few months before? Those days are kind of hazy, and there were a number of landmark shows in quick succession that also included the Stones and Jefferson Airplane.
9) Do you have a great road story you'd like to share?
Like everyone else that has spent a long time in this business, I have a few, but probably not appropriate for this forum. Later on the down the road maybe, when the names will be changed to protect the guilty. And thank God we survived and got to do all of that before everything got so politically correct. Remind me sometime to tell you the tale of the identical triplets named Faith, Hope and Charity. It's a good one.
10) What is the one truth that has held constant throughout your career?
Suit up and show up, bring your best effort, your word is your bond, be a good listener and teachable. The rest will follow.
1) Who are some of your mentors?
I have been quite fortunate to have wonder associates, friends and mentors and be in close proximity to some of the most amazing people in the business. There are many, many names but a few that stand out that I hold in ultra high esteem include Jerry Greenberg, Doug Morris, Ahmet Ertegun, Vince Faraci, Tunc Erim, Steve Leeds, Judy Libow, Ed Leffler, and John Barbis.
2) What do you do in your spare time?
Some pretty regular stuff. I go to the gym, I read, and I hang with my kids. From February through November it's Baseball. My son and our friends go to a lot of MLB games. I'm a ballpark announcer and music guy for my son's high school baseball team games. (It really unnerves the opposing teams when they get Monty Python songs played at high volume during their pre-game warm-ups). I also serve on the board of Santa Barbara Youth Baseball, and I work kid's baseball games as an umpire. You think we have tough people in our business? You should see some of these kid's parents! Whoa! God help you if your strike zone isn't consistent. Baseball is the only true and worthy metaphor for life. Amen.