February 9, 2016
Born in Connecticut, Cerrito attended Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven, where he got a degree in Economics, and played guitar on the hard rock band Lizzy Borden's 1989 Metal Blade album, Master of Disguise, credited as Ronnie Jude. His first job was at Billboard magazine, working at their online Information Network, collecting pre-SoundScan, pre-BDS national airplay and retail data before seguing to promotion at Enigma and Metal Blade, then joining Epic Records for a decade-long stint doing Rock Promotion, sandwiched around a five-year post as VP Marketing. Ron was also Head of Rock Promotion at Interscope, SVP Alternative and Rock Promotion at Columbia, SVP Promotion at Warner Bros. and President of Prospect Park before joining former Columbia colleague Charlie Walk at Republic Records as SVP/Promotion for Rock Formats. In January, the now L.A.-based Cerrito was named GM at Kobalt Label Services, essentially filling the seat left by Diarmuid Quinn, for a roster that includes Good Charlotte, Massive Attack and Nick Cave, with physical distribution through Miami-based Alliance. Proving it's all in the family, Ron's wife Debbie is a VP/Partnerships for iHeartRadio, and together, they have an 11-year-old daughter.
This new position feels like a culmination of your career, the perfect opportunity to put all your experience into use.
I started as an artist, and coming into the business side, almost from the very beginning, I always had the instinct to try to take as many positions - and learn everything I could - with the thought that someday, I could take on larger roles. This position allows me to use that skill set.
What kind of musician were you?
I studied jazz improv and classical guitar, but I was a rock guitar player. I was in a couple of punk and metal bands. That was my calling in life at that time. When I enrolled in college, I was still very much playing in groups. The decision was whether to enroll in Berklee School of Music or try something else. I had been reading music since the age of 10, so going to school for that didn't make any sense unless I wanted to be a teacher. So I went to business school, and got a degree in economics. I reached that difficult realization that I was not someone who was going to change the world with his music. I had opportunities on the record industry side, and decided the next best thing was being able to help other artists change the culture with their music. And that's what drives me.
And your own creative background helps you relate to the artists you work with?
There's definitely a shorthand that happens when musicians talk, even if it's just knowing the minutiae of the equipment being used.
Your first major label job was at Epic Records.
Polly Anthony and Harvey Leeds hired me. Seguing from promotion to VP Marketing in the mid-'90s was a great moment. I was able to apply the things I learned earning my degree in Economics, how to run a business financially, the retail and distribution side. We were blessed with amazing A&R vision, from people like Michael Goldstone, as well as the leadership of Dave Glew and Richard Griffiths, working with and building long-term relationships with brilliant managers like Marcus Russell, Alec McKinley and John Watson. It was an amazing time in music.
What was it like moving through the different cultures at labels like Interscope, Columbia and Warner Bros.?
That's one of the aspects of my journey I'm thankful for. I've really had a chance to work with the best in the business and learn from everybody. Epic was about originality, not signing cookie-cutter, sound-alike artists - Sade, Pearl Jam, Korn, Rage Against the Machine. When I was at Interscope, Jimmy Iovine and Tom Whalley were two people who complemented one another really well, combined with Brenda Romano, a legendary promotion person and consummate record executive.
You've been on both coasts. Any preference?
I'm definitely a platinum customer at United Van Lines. L.A. is the second-best place in the U.S. to live next to New York. It took me awhile to appreciate the virtues of L.A., but I really enjoy living here. Once you've got New York in your blood, though, it doesn't leave.
In between Warner Bros. and Prospect Park, you started your own company, Alarm Music Group, in 2011.
I realized that artists, by design, were increasingly controlling their own decision-making, career choices and planning. I wanted to be at a place that was flexible, where I could partner with artists on whatever their needs were - whether management, releasing their own music, etc.
Sort of a precursor to the rise of places like Kobalt's stand-alone label services division.
I looked at the revenue streams and tried to figure out what direction to go in - touring, merchandising, publishing, branding. That was my plan - to take an artist's vision to the world. I worked with a young rap-rock act, 7Lions, and partnered with RedOne's label, 2101 Records. Another great client, Megan Nicole, had 2.6 million YouTube subscribers, a "good girl" image and 250 million online streams. We began to build her branding opportunities and put her on the road. She just did a digital movie on Relativity Pictures that was released earlier this year. We're still in close contact.
What was it like working with Jeff Kwatinetz at Prospect Park?
Amazing. I needed to grow what I was doing and be part of a bigger team. I also worked with his clients - Smashing Pumpkins, Backstreet Boys, Five Finger Death Punch, Korn, Jane's Addiction. And then he came to me and said I should be running the label, which was very successful. It was exciting, and it proved that artists could have their own self-releases outside the traditional system.
And then Charlie Walk, whom you'd worked with at Columbia, brought you to Republic Records.
Yes, Charlie, Stu Bergen and Will Botwin brought me back to Columbia to rebuild their Rock promotion department in 2003. We took the label at Alternative from #15 to #1 in one year. It was being in the right place at the right time, but it was great artists and great records that allowed it to happen. Charlie is one of a kind, an amazing person to watch work. Always looking forward. When he went back to Republic, it gave me a great opportunity to rejoin as SVP/Promotion of Rock Formats, to work with Monte and Avery Lipman and to reunite with Michele Anthony, whom I'd worked for over the years. I was so lucky to be at a major label with a maverick entrepreneurial spirit. That was what attracted me. The genius of their business model is its simplicity. Let's sign and market music that people like, in the way they want to consume it.
The Kobalt job is the same one Diarmuid Quinn had?
When I was shopping distribution deals at Prospect Park, I had conversations with [Kobalt Music Group Pres.] Richard Sanders, who is one of the industry's best and brightest. We talked about doing things together at some point and maybe working together with Diarmuid, whom I knew from our days at Warner Bros. I was also inspired by Dale Connone's model of an independent promotion team at in2une Music, which was another place I considered going to after Republic. They just had a #1 pop record with Major Lazer, and now we've forged an alliance to work with them at Kobalt.
Management and publishing companies are now taking on the roles that used to be performed by the major labels.
There were a few things about Kobalt that kept ringing in my ears. It's a company built on technology and transparency. They had the foresight to build a platform that could track the micro-transactions which make up our business ... find more of them and pay more quickly. It's amazing how that vision - implemented by [Founder/CEO] Willard [Ahdritz] and Richard [Sanders] - has turned out to be prophetic. The entire music industry is moving from a sales-based business to a usage-based one. And Kobalt excels in tracking, collecting and paying.
Do you miss anything about the old record business? Has anything been lost?
I don't think it's been lost. It's being transformed. The relationships I've enjoyed with artists have changed in the post-Napster era. The major labels have had to face the economic realities while continuing to evolve. The partnerships with artists in developing their career still exists. Look at Charlie Walk and Wendy Goldstein with Ariana Grande. I like to think of what we do at Kobalt Label Services as Record Label 2.0. For the right artist and management team, we are the perfect alternative choice. We provide investment, expertise and global distribution to support their art in a true transparent partnership. Willard and Richard's vision is to be flexible and nimble enough to provide solutions for artists to take their art to the world.
Are you a believer that the digital model can sustain the music business?
There is absolutely no question in my mind that the business is going to flourish and grow in the new digital age. We see it in everything we do. Look at the expansion of the publishing company and the course of growth at Kobalt Label Services. It is really exciting to be part of an organization that is evolving and transforming through innovation. Our goals here are not only to have transparency and the best technology, but to provide the excellence when it comes to marketing, promotion and branding; that's our partnership with artists.