August 23, 2016
Zach Katz currently serves as BMG U.S. President, Repertoire and Marketing, spearheading both music publishing and recordings. Katz and his team are in charge of BMG U.S. rosters including music publishing star writers such as Bruno Mars, will.i.am, John Legend, Pitbull, Frank Ocean and Quincy Jones and recordings artists such as blink-182, Janet Jackson, Alabama, Iron Maiden, Scarface and OK Go. Key publishing signings Katz has overseen include Bebe Rexha, DJ Snake, The Strokes, Greg Wells and Nathaniel Rateliff. While currently based in BMG's Los Angeles office, Katz is also responsible for BMG teams in New York, Los Angeles and Nashville, as well as Rise Records in Portland, OR. He currently serves on the National Music Publishers' Association Board of Directors.
Born in Moscow, Russia, the 45-year-old Katz moved with his family to Hollywood and then the San Fernando Valley when he was seven years old. Back in the homeland, his father was a high-level engineer, and mother, a dentist - both had to start over in America in their 30s. Katz graduated from USC, then received a law degree from Loyola before going to work as a general manager at European label Groove Attack, then working closely with Dr. Dre during his "Detox" period. He went on to partner with hit songwriter/producer, J.R. Rotem, to launch the successful indie label, Beluga Heights, first at Sony (breaking Sean Kingston), then at Warner Bros. (launching Jason Derulo to stardom). Katz then began his career at BMG in 2012 as executive VP/Creative.
With a full plate, the hard-working exec and dedicated father, who puts in "16 hours a day, six-and-a-half days a week," explains he has no hobbies because "all my spare time is spent with my family or they would just run away from me."
So you were born in Moscow and moved to the U.S.?
My parents essentially rebuilt their lives in America. As an only child, seeing what they sacrificed, watching them humbled and reinventing themselves proved an amazing example. I was given two professions to choose from - become a doctor or a lawyer, so I chose the latter. While my mother studied to pass her boards to become a dentist here, my father drove a taxi at one point, before going back into engineering and eventually becoming the owner of several medical laboratories.
What are your earliest musical memories?
Falling in love with Run-D.M.C.'s music as an 11-year-old. I come from an era where I personally loved everything from rock to heavy metal -- Iron Maiden -- to rap records. Back when I was in high school, your musical tastes would dictate where in the cafeteria you sat and with whom. It's obviously so different now. My daughters are 17 and 14, part of the "Playlist Generation" because they essentially listen to songs from every genre and time period. These days, you can be cross-cultural, cross-musical and completely unique in your own tastes and not be judged for it. Which provides a great deal of freedom.
You specialized in entertainment law at school.
I was very lucky to have several different attorneys take me under their wing. I also did an internship at the old BMG. By the time I graduated, I went out on my own with my wife, who is also a lawyer, handling music law, while she did everything else.
When did you start working with Dr. Dre?
About four years into my practice, I moved into managing artists, writers and producers, working closely with the Dr. Dre camp during the making of his infamous "Detox" album. I was very much a part of the Aftermath Entertainment family. I studied him working the board in the studio - tweaking high-hats, producing vocals, telling Snoop or 50 Cent how to say certain lines. I learned from him not to release something unless it was right. That once it's out, you can't take it back. Obviously, he took that to extremes on "Detox;" he was just very self-critical, but it taught me patience and discipline.
With digital distribution, things are released even if they're still works-in-progress.
I'm of the school anything and everything you put out should be your best work. I don't subscribe to the belief, "Well, this is just my mixtape ... Wait until you hear my album." If you put it out, it better be incredible. You better be ready to stand by it.
What was it like working with a mercurial talent like J.R. Rotem?
I became his partner, and worked with him exclusively as his manager. We formed Beluga Heights and signed Sean Kingston, who at the time was a 15-year-old rapper named Franchise living in his mom's car. We went with Sony, and had some success with Sean over there, then moved the label over to Warner Bros., where we discovered Jason Derulo. Towards the end, we hit a ceiling as partners. J.R.'s doing really well now. He just produced 10 songs on the recent Gwen Stefani album. He and I are still family.
Why join BMG after spending most of your career working for yourself?
I saw a company that chose to return to the music business, and not at a time when things were booming, but were in transition. When I sat with them, I realized there was only one rule in this new version of BMG, "We cannot do it the same way as before." There was a true passion from this multimedia family to be in music again, but done in a way that hadn't been done previously. They understood where the old music business had gone wrong and were determined to create something new which really worked for songwriters and artists. That commitment attracted me. Being an entrepreneur, it very much felt like a blank canvas that I was being invited in to help create the future of the music business together.
Digital distribution has made the joining of recordings and publishing under one roof more logical and cost-effective.
The common denominator between publishing and records is how do we, as a partner, bring value? Traditionally, record and publishing companies were considered very different, and we consider that old-school thinking. Why have two separate A&R teams, when we can have one that works together to help writers write their best songs and artists make their best records? From a creative and infrastructure standpoint to a cost standpoint, it makes sense to have them under one roof. We want to bring tangible value to any aspiration a creative person might have. That's our job. We connect those dots ... whether it's a music documentary, a concert film, virtual reality or a written memoir.
That's what BMG brings to the table. If you're going to exist as a company in this digital world, you have to speak to the needs of both the creators and the consumers, what I call the "Access Generation." They don't care about owning, but about reach, knowledge and information. They're more demanding than they've ever been. They don't want to be ripped off. They want to be a partner in the conversation. Transparency, fairness, service and commitment are vital in today's marketplace. Our relationships to the individual artists are key. Creatives need champions; they need partners.
Is streaming a godsend for the music industry or the anti-Christ?
It's a double-edged sword. It's given the creative person and the consumer more options and tools than ever before, and that's great. But of course, it's made for a much more diluted playing field. There's an awful lot of "pretty good" artists out there, but there's never been a worse time to be just "pretty good." Creative people who pour their hearts out to entertain people should be fairly compensated. Without them, there would be no heart and soul to music, no passion. We have to find the correct equilibrium, and that's what we believe here at BMG. One of the reasons I chose to come to BMG is because it was a work in progress, it offered me a chance to be part of a team committed to creating the music company of the future. Nothing is set in stone here. No one is living in the past.
What are the long-range plans for your career?
I want to continue to learn and collaborate with incredible people. I want to continue building BMG into a world-class destination for the best creative and executive minds. To make BMG a leader in forging the future of the music business. Music is more important and present in people's lives than ever before. It is truly the soundtrack to people's lives today. It's up to us to figure out how to monetize it in a way that makes sense for everyone. With all the smart people in this business, I'm confident we'll figure it out.