10 Questions with ... Jason Spiewak
July 22, 2013
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
- Bluesuedegroove - Piano and Vocals For My Indie Band - 1996 to 2001
- Artemis Records - 2001 to 2003
- Studio E Records - 2003 to 2004
- TVT Records - 2004 to 2005
- Rock Ridge Music - President and Co-Founder - 2004 to 2013
- JLS Artist Management & Noble Steed Music - Founder - 2013 to 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 music as an artist. Fortunately my band mates and I were able to turn my college band into a full-time job after graduation. We put out three original albums, and played 100+ shows a year for five years. Those experiences totally shaped my approach to artist management. There's no better teacher than being on the road!
That was one of the lessons I learned from an early mentor, Daniel Glass. The music business doesn't happen in an office. It happens at the clubs, on the street, at the bar, on the road and over dinner. The nuts and bolts of the engine live in an office but the grease comes from the street.
The guy who gave me my first true shot in the music biz was Michael Krumper. Michael hired me as a marketing assistant at Artemis Records. Michael taught me that you have to be thorough in your approach to marketing a project, and that you need strong partners to make things happen.
I am extremely grateful for Tom Derr. When I quit the band, it was Tom who first opened his door to me and helped me get my footing. Several years later Tom and I partnered to form Rock Ridge Music. I learned so much about the music business from Tom, working side by side to make something out of nothing. I am fortunate to have had these lessons and for the time he and I spent working together.
My first true mentor in business was my Dad, Michael Spiewak. He ran Spiewak Clothing, a family business that was founded in 1904 by my great, great, grandfather Isaac Spiewak. Dad taught me a ton of great stuff about how businesses work, but the most important lesson he taught was to always follow my heart and trust my gut. We lost him in 2007 to leukemia, and his two year battle with cancer inspired my charitable efforts. My clients frequently visit hospitals and help youth groups during days off on the road, and a few of them have participated in overseas missionary trips to Guatemala through an organization I co-founded called the M.I.L.E. (Music Is Love Exchange)
2) How did you segue from being an A&R executive, to artist manager and how would you describe each experience?
Moving from A&R to artist management was something that happened very organically. As an A&R executive, my goal was to shape records to fit the agenda of the label, to create compelling art that would compete in the marketplace. As an artist manager, not much changes except that the label agenda is replaced by the artist's personal agenda. Some of the acts I manage want to win in the traditional label world, and others aren't interested. So, I follow my artist's lead and provide the input that I feel will be helpful in keeping them on their intended path.
3) Honor By August and Tony Lucca are two artists on your roster that are currently gaining traction at Hot AC radio. Please tell us about these acts and some of the milestones and successes they have achieved along the way?
Tony Lucca is signed with Adam Levine (Maroon 5) and his imprint 222 Records. We are very lucky to have the label support of 222. Jordan Feldstein and Jonathan Partch are smart and aggressive, and together I believe we will win. Tony Lucca is a phenomenal vocalist and had his breakthrough moment on "The Voice" during Season Two, striking up a solid relationship with Adam and winning America's support on an epic run to the show's finals where he eventually finished third. Tony's new EP was produced by Eric Rosse (Sara Bareilles, Gavin Degraw, Tori Amos, Matt Hires) and is a logical continuation of his trajectory after the show. Tony tours nationally as a headliner already, and has previously released multiple critically acclaimed independent singer-songwriter albums. Tony will be touring in support of Maroon 5 and Kelly Clarkson in September.
Watch Tony Lucca's new song "Never Gonna Let You Go."
Honor By August is unsigned, so we released their album "Monuments To Progress" on my imprint Noble Steed Music in April. We've been getting a wonderful response to the lead single "Last Chance!" The record is in rotation on Sirius/XM's "The Pulse" channel and we're getting love from our friends at WIAD/Washington DC, WSTW/Wilmington, KWYE/Fresno, WSJO/Atlantic City, and many more. The band will continue to be very active with their promo touring, and they will be touring in support of Tony Lucca in July and August. I signed Honor By August based on their live show, but these guys are a real Rock band and they will be melting faces in clubs across the country for years to come.
Watch Honor By August "Last Chance."
4) Recording artists and their managers are now working closely with music supervisors for television, commercials, and film. Please tell us about some of your experiences in this area?
The sync licensing world has become nearly as competitive as radio, and I find that the only thing that breaks through the clutter is personal relationships. I'm fortunate enough to have made a few friends along the way, and business is always more fun when you're dealing with friends.
Clients have certainly benefitted, with Tony Lucca appearing on NBC's show "Parenthood" to perform his song "Like Love" in 2011, and Brendan James' song "Nothin' But Love" appearing on the movie trailer for 2012's "Hope Springs" with Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep. I'm also proud to have served as a music supervisor myself for an independent film called "Public Interest."
5) Would you ever let your artist sign a "360 deal?"
Absolutely! As long as the deal makes sense and creates an opportunity for my client to grow. 360 deals, in their essence, are meant to protect a label financially against the massive risks tied to spending real dough to break an artist. I don't have any issue with 360 deals unless they're unfairly cross-collateralized, or if the company offering the 360 deal isn't properly staffed to service the areas monetized by the deal.
6) Apple, Amazon, Spotify, and many others have recently introduced streaming and on demand music services which consumers can access on their cell phones. Will these new streaming services replace downloads, radio, and CDs? Or will all of these technologies continue to live side by side?
To me this is a question of browsing vs. ownership. No matter what the medium is, some people are content to browse, and others want to own their music. I believe that for the next three years we can expect a continued blend of physical and digital product in the marketplace, side by side. Distribution channels change so rapidly these days, but the underlying challenges of A&R and marketing remain. The combination of solid relationships and great music will lead certain music to be purchased and browsed.
The benefit of working with Spotify for example is the amount of tangible consumer data you can gather. Generating a million streams on Spotify won't cover dinner in a nice restaurant, but knowing where those million streams came from geographically can help you route a tour properly.
7) Do you track which songs the audience is downloading? What trends have you noticed in your research?
I pay careful attention to the market, try to stay informed. There are several exciting trends in music right now, and the most notable in my mind is how genre lines are continuing to blur. A great song is more and more likely to find success out of its defined genre. Another cool market issue is pricing. Pricing is important in getting a hit song started, it's important to offer a new and breaking track inexpensively to let consumers in early. Once the song gains traction, pricing is less of an issue. Once you're hot, you're hot, and people are willing to pay for what they want.
Record companies, now more than ever, seem to be quite diligent in collecting data. One item that I find particularly useful is social networking chatter. Does an act have the ability to communicate with their audience? What does their audience have to say? It's important to listen. And on the topic of social networking and research, I like polling my clients' fan base, and asking them what they want instead of guessing.
8) What was the most unique marketing campaign you've ever been a part of?
I've been part of quite a few. My former company was hired to execute the online marketing campaign to set up Daughtry's first record. At that point Chris Daughtry was coming off of American Idol and there were quite a few skeptics online, poised and ready to be nay-sayers. At the time we were working a number of credible Rock projects including Zakk Wylde's Black Label Society and Type O Negative. So we emailed a batch of credible Rock music writers with a link to a song that included no artist name or song title, just got blind feedback on the tune. Once the writers replied, we revealed that the artist was Chris Daughtry from American Idol. I'm not going to sit here and attempt to take credit for breaking Daughtry, the incredible promotion team at RCA did that. What we accomplished was to quiet the critics in advance of that radio campaign. I think it was helpful.
At Rock Ridge we also had a great time promoting Psychostick's song "Beer!!" The band made an incredible video for the song, one that we were able to break virally. We then asked fans to generate their own videos for "Beer!!", collected them and hosted them on a sitelet that ended up getting a ton of unique traffic. It was a fun way for people to kill 20 minutes at work, and the track ended up selling very well.
9) Are you finding that today's "baby" bands are getting a fair shot at radio and more importantly, are they being given the airplay they need to break through to the masses and be recognized?
YES! I think it's possible for baby bands to compete at radio, but you have to have a great song, a real budget, and be willing to do the work required to build real relationships. You also need an excellent quarterback like Bob Catania at Right Way. He is doing an excellent job with Honor By August and Tony Lucca. Radio is insanely competitive, brutally so. However, most programmers are completely willing to hear and consider new music. It's the obligation of the artist and label to make a compelling case for the airplay. Right now, Tony Lucca and Honor By August are making that case, and I hope that programmers are being open-minded.
There's still nothing like getting the support of terrestrial radio in breaking a new artist. Individual terrestrial stations have the relationships to help market and promote an artist, break that artist in their market. The web and mobile apps are great, but they lack that local feel. Satellite radio is an incredibly effective mix of both. It offers the ability to break an act nationally because of their reach. We're seeing that right now with Honor By August.
10) What advice would you give people new to the business?
Put the music first. The business was built on songs and the beautiful, intangible connection between the ear and the heart. Never forget that.
Keep an open mind, never stop learning and networking. There are always new people to meet, new concepts to learn, and new ways of doing things.
What do you do in your spare time?
When I'm not running around with my beautiful wife and children, I can usually be found cooking, playing basketball, or attempting to drink my weight in liquor.
What's one thing that would surprise many people to learn about you?
Not sure how surprising this is, but I'm a very active songwriter and session musician. I write at least one song each week and am part of two songwriting groups. Most of my Facebook friends have been subjected to my shitty piano and vocal demos. I love to co-write and am proud to say that I've written or contributed to songs performed by Ernie Halter, Sarah Miles, The Revere, Chris Volz (Flaw) and many others.
In your opinion, what is that special magic that makes a hit record "a hit?"
I wish I knew what exactly what that special magic was so I could be perpetually drunk on a beach somewhere. It's a subjective magic, but my favorite ingredients in that sauce include strong, well-thought-out lyrics, "singable" melodies and something uniquely memorable about the song overall.
What was the first concert you ever attended?
I saw Don Henley rock the Mann Music Center in Philly. Edie Brickell opened. Fuck, she was so gloriously weird. And I was completely floored by Don Henley - the band was air tight and the light show was mesmerizing, all without the benefit of weed.
Who is your favorite artist that you have ever met or worked with?
Impossible to pick a favorite, and I'm very proud of my current roster of artists. Each one of them brings something truly special to the table artistically and I am blessed to be working with each and every one of them.
I had the privilege of working with both Warren Zevon and Jim Dickinson before they died. Warren was a no-bullshit kind of guy, yet he was always very kind to me. Jim was a true mentor for me in the world of record production, and I remain a big fan of his sons, Luther and Cody of the North Mississippi Allstars.
What is the one truth that has held constant throughout your career?
Great music will always find an audience.