10 Questions with ... Sam Kaiser
June 2, 2014
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
- Atlantic Records (culminating in VP Pop Promotion) 1976-1986
- MTV Networks VP Music Programming 1986-1988,
- Senior VP at Uni/MCA Records 1988
- Senior VP Enigma/Capitol-EMI Records 1988-1990,
- MVP Entertainment - Owner/President - 1991-Present
1) Having previously worked with MTV how has the importance of the music video changed in recent years?
Video continues to be very important to the development of an artist and song, especially now that everyone is walking around with a TV in their pocket with instant access to anything and everything. It is so different from back in the day when MTV was the primary source for music videos. But a key difference between today's immediate personal access to video and songs is the environment. Now it's basically library access, which is ok - but also is very dry and different from the terrific theater and culture originally created on MTV and music radio over the years. It is way more than just music and/or images. I believe it is very important to note that people like Bob Pittman, Judy McGrath, Tom Freston, Les Garland, John Sykes, Doug Herzog, Lee Masters and others worked very hard to elevate MTV to a unique and special one-of-a-kind culture and environment. I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to work in that environment and I learned that artists and songs benefit greatly when exhibited in an interesting, unpredictable and creative universe.
2) Is a slick video production really necessary these days? Or can a low budget video suffice?
It's the same as making a record. You can spend a fortune recording and mixing with all the toys, bells and whistles, but if the songs are not there, then slick and big means nothing. It's the same with video. It doesn't have to be Cecil B. De Mille budget and scope. Creative and entertaining concepts shot with a talented Director, DP and LD does not necessarily have to break the bank. Just about anyone can access a Pro-Tools HD rig and/or high end Digital Video. But if the song is not great, and the performer is not compelling and the video entertaining, then all you have is well dressed stiff.
3) What suggestions would you give to the songwriters and performers to navigate the music and radio business of today?
There are plenty of pundits who love to pontificate on "navigating" the music and radio biz. I don't know that I could contribute anything to the volumes of advice already out with the exception of "Have an immense work ethic and practice common sense in all things."
For writers and artists, focus on what YOU can control. Work obsessively and unconditionally at your craft. Being good is not good enough, you have to be GREAT. Look around you for creative inspiration. You are in the middle of the greatest socio-economic, geo-political upheaval and technological revolution in modern history. The human condition has never been more vital and relevant for reflection in artistic expression. Identify it, reflect it, whether linear or abstract, it doesn't matter. Elevate and inspire others with your communication and expression through your music.
4) How will streaming on demand services like Spotify, Deezer, Rdio, (and now Apple/Beats) change consumer's behavior when and if they finally catch on?
Whether we as an industry like it or not, streaming is here and will continue to grow as a primary medium for media delivery. Speaking personally as a consumer, I've begun to embrace television streaming significantly with not only Netflix, but Amazon Prime, Hulu and other services. In fact, I'm about to cut my cable television provider loose due to their high fees and "bundling" of channels I do not want or use. And there are many who feel the same way.
On-demand streaming music is convenient, but I still enjoy listening to radio whether it is streaming on a mobile app, or Sirius XM. It's going to get real interesting as streaming access now broadens into automobiles on a large scale.
As regards the economic outlook for the industry as music consumption heads increasing towards streaming, it will continue to be more than a little uncomfortable as noted by many artists, songwriters and publishers as they look at very light streaming royalty checks. But 83% of U.S. households have pay television service, so if media content subscriptions that include music can achieve growth towards that level of penetration or even actually exceed it due to the number of mobile devices, then perhaps it's a whole new ballgame.
5) What is the biggest change that you'd like to see happen in the business?
An increasing return to "Old School" professionalism and courtesy in all areas of our respective businesses.
6) As you look back over your career ... any regrets? Missed opportunities?
No regrets. I'm very grateful to the wonderful friends I have been blessed with, those that supported me unconditionally through thick and thin over the years. That is the greatest gift. That and not worrying about missed opportunities or what might have been. It's all about the journey and it's still one heck of a great ride.
7) Who are some of your mentors?
I have been quite fortunate to 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 include Jerry Greenberg, Doug Morris, Ahmet Ertegun, Vince Faraci, Ed Leffler, John Barbis, Tunc Erim, Dickie Kline, Steve Leeds and Judy Libow.
8) What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I wanted to be a DJ. I did it and I was fortunate to work for two great rock stations in St. Louis prior to transitioning to Atlantic Records... who at the time, were the New York Yankees of Rock N' Roll. And I quickly figured out "This is what I REALLY want to do...and I don't necessarily have to grow up. HA!"
9) What do you do in your spare time?
I umpire youth baseball and serve as an advisor to the league and also work with various community service programs in Santa Barbara.
10) What's the best piece of advice anyone's ever given you? The worst?
Best piece of advice: Actually several learned from my fabulous associates at Atlantic Records. Ninety percent of life is suitin' up and showin' up. Shoot straight, be humble, always spread the credit to your team and partners. Make a mistake, be accountable, make amends to the best of your ability and try not to repeat that mistake.
One my favorite quotes is from Ahmet Ertegun's commencement address to the Berklee College Of Music in 1991:
"For those of you who succeed, whether sooner or later, please remember that the greatest attribute of a winner is humility. You all must have great pride in whatever it is you may achieve. But you also must never lose sight of where you came from. You must retain a humble outlook toward the world around you as you face the new challenges that await you."
Worst piece of advice (from my family years ago, God bless 'em): "When you get this Rock N' Roll stuff out of your system, we can get you a job with UPS."