July 19, 2016
Music business veteran Jeff Jampol -- who had gone through rehab in 1989 after battling a crippling heroin addiction, and continues to devote a good portion of his time to the missions of recovery and treatment -- began consulting good friend Danny Sugerman on managing The Doors in the late '90s. The 57-year-old eventually partnered with Sugerman in 2002, and took over the band's affairs when Danny passed away from lung cancer in 2005. Sixteen years ago, Jampol launched his Jampol Artist Management, Inc. (JAM, Inc.), which now represents The Doors, Ramones, Jefferson Airplane, and the estates of Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, Muddy Waters, Rick James and Kurt Cobain, while consulting the Henry Mancini, Peter Tosh and Michael Jackson estates in areas of social media, marketing and fan communication.
More recently, he has formed a company to create traveling museum exhibits, like the ones for Ramones at the Queens Museum of Art and soon, the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, and an upcoming tour featuring Kurt Cobain's artwork. With a multimillion dollar commitment from private equity firm Shamrock Capital Advisors, who just launched a $250 million fund earmarked for entertainment-related intellectual property, Jampol is now out to wholly acquire other estates, as he explains how the recent spate of rock star mortalities has placed a focus on his enterprise
The business of managing musicians' estates didn't really exist when you first started.
No one thought rock 'n' roll would last. It was supposed to be a passing fad. Who knew it would ever get old enough to produce estates? This is a completely different business than working with living artists. Current performers' income comes, 90-95%, from touring and tour merchandise sales. Records have always been made to support the live shows; not the other way around. Even when labels had plenty of money to market and promote those releases. Look at it this way: An artist owns, say, 15-20% of the royalties on an album, minus the money recouped by the record company. On tour, they make the lion's share of the profits, less what's paid to the promoter. A hit song on pop radio offers the equivalent of free advertising for the live shows and tour merch sales.
Every great artist manager is proficient at three things - radio, touring and merchandise. Back when I was an artist manager, I managed several hit artists, but never had a hit tour. So, I forced myself to study and become an expert in everything else -- how music publishing worked, then international - as well as licensing, film and TV placement, book publishing, marketing and promotion. And while I didn't realize it at the time, all of that was invaluable in what I do now.
And that's exactly what you do with these estates by articulating their cultural legacy and creating a narrative above and beyond the music itself.
Think about the vision of '50s America during Eisenhower. It's a black-and-white world, with dad in his fedora, driving the family Studebaker to church. Then consider a Jackson Pollack drip painting in that context. Understand that cultural explosion, and carry it forward for the likes of Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, Ramones, Jefferson Airplane and Kurt Cobain.
If you think it's about the music, you've already failed. It's like believing the magic of James Dean was his acting. Or that Marilyn Monroe's was that she was hot and blonde. It's all about the alchemy ... The same thing that connected an 11-year-old to Jim Morrison in 1967 is what connects them today. That magnetic attraction. It may be induced by the music, but once you're there, it's the magic that takes over. You can't understand or appreciate art without understanding and appreciating context, and its place in history.
One of your tasks is to make that legacy relevant to a younger audience, to tap into a new fan base for these classic acts.
There are two distinct marketing bases that we serve. The first are the existing fans, who already are out there, are loyal and are the main purveyors of the baton-passing. The problem is, they're a relatively small audience who is shrinking through attrition and death, offer the least disposable income and already own the records and T-shirts. The younger audience is who we're after - and not just their ears, but their eyes, hearts, minds and souls. When you capture those kids at, say 12 years old, at the onset of their Freudian adolescent ego state, just before puberty, that's when they're literally beginning to define their own identity. That's when they brand themselves; they carefully curate what they wear to be perceived in a certain way by their peers. By the time they finish high school, they've made artistic and aesthetic decisions that will become the foundation and backbone of every artistic and aesthetic decision they'll make for the rest of their lives. That's when I want to expose my clients' art and brand to them in a way that's authentic and credible. I want that to be a color on their palette.
In pop culture legacy management, the idea is to figure out the magic or alchemy of each artist, and carve these credible bridges to new fans by exposing them to that. I don't have to spin, edit or whitewash it; I just have to get it out there. And let them decide whether they're into it. I use various different media to do that - Broadway shows, regional theater, books, museum exhibits, documentaries, retail apparel ... in addition to music.
These last six months have put the focus on a generation coming to grips with its own mortality.
My job is about way more than money or a career. These guys were my heroes. I was a short. non-athletic, Jewish weirdo who saw David Bowie at the Santa Monica Civic in 1972, and had a catharsis that changed my life. When he sang, in "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide," that "you're not alone," I was immediately part of a community. I cried for three days when he died. I couldn't believe how it affected me. Our memories are always perfect and beautiful. Before I go, my aim is to give back to this business more than I took. I've tried to create something that helped bring this art, these messages, that connection, to future generations. Individuals may come and go, but the art, the legacy, the passion, lives on. It's not about celebrating death, but lives. Ideas don't die when their creators do, just like civil rights, freedom and equality didn't end after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Your first clients were The Doors.
I met Danny through mutual friends, and we became very close. We shared a passion for rock 'n' roll, and had both emerged from the darkest times. When he became ill, he turned to me in the middle of these contentious lawsuits between the various members, I dropped my then-current artist roster, and partnered with him full-time. It was amazing. I was all of a sudden the co-manager of The Doors. Danny helped me get my post-graduate degree in rock 'n' roll. He was my college professor. And my post-doctorate advisor was Ray Manzarek. It may have looked easy, but it wasn't. I didn't have a clue that I didn't have a clue. It was like a baptism by fire. Any decision would be opposed by at least two of the opposing lawsuit members. I had to prove I was Switzerland. And it helped that I didn't come encumbered with any of the past baggage of bonded brothers. Even with all that internecine squabbling, the legacy remained intact. Now, we're a united front and it's awesome.
On the other hand, there's the Zappa estate, where Frank's sons, Ahmet and Dweezil, are battling it out in public.
That estate appears to be going down a path which is not conducive to the long-term health of the legacy. It's nothing I haven't seen before; I understand it. They need to come together.
You've talked about getting involved with a band's legacy even when they're still alive and active.
Absolutely. I'm interested in putting together an owner's manual for bands and artists. I already know the first few hundred questions their heirs will be asked to which they'll have no answers. One of the first considerations is, how does the band stand in terms of having their music in commercials? Well, if they're okay with commercials, would they do an NRA spot, or a campaign ad for Sarah Palin? These are the questions I deal with every day. I may be known as the Dead Rock Star Guy, but an artist doesn't have to be deceased for us to manage them, even if one manager in the New York Times called what I do "necro-management." I've found, if you serve the art, the message and the legacy, then the money will follow.
My definition of a truly branded artist is one whose legacy, work and words will be relevant and resonant 30 years after their prime. For me, the last two have been Tupac Shakur and Kurt Cobain. Over the previous 25 years, the two who I believe have gotten closest are Radiohead and Lady Gaga. My friend Andy Gould had a great quote at my UCLA class, "The definition of credibility is producing great art, time after time, over time."
Have you thrown your hat into the ring to work with David Bowie's estate?
I don't believe in crassness or being hoary. Obviously, I'm very interested in him, but I haven't spoken to his people yet ... I mean, c'mon, the man just passed. When they start to focus on the legacy and the future, I'd love to be there and be a part of those conversations. I believe I understand the Bowie catalog and ethos as well as anybody on the planet.
This is an approach that can be utilized in any number of estates, including literary, artistic, even political.
The only difference between Robert Rauschenberg, Jim Morrison, Jack Kerouac or Richard Neutra is their chosen medium. The essential thing is carrying forward their art and their message. As long as you understand the context and the art. If you're going to represent Neutra, you have to understand architecture, society and politics. Same with Ellsworth Kelly, Cy Twombly or Keith Haring. All of whom I'm passionate about. The one area I won't get involved in is sports, because I don't know enough about it. If I can't be the best in the world at doing it, I won't. I would do this for free. It's about going to the roots of these legacies and re-creating them from the beginning. We've already seen it happen. There's a road map of what works and what doesn't.