10 Questions with ... Kurt Steffek
August 5, 2014
1.What made you want to get into the music business? Were there any early mentors?
I got the music business bug working in college radio. I had originally planned to transfer college after two years, but loved the station I was at so much, it kept me there for the full four years. I have lots of great early mentors who I learned many different lessons from. At MTV, there was Patti Galluzzi, Tom Hunter and Andy Schuon. When I moved to the label side, there was first Jim Guerinot at Time Bomb, then Phil Costello and Bob Divney at Reprise. Guerinot taught me to treat people the way you want to be treated and to call everybody back. From Costello, I learned how to see the bigger picture in promotion. Divney taught me it wasn't just about getting the add; it was about what you did with it once you got a record on.
2. I know you originally started off in college radio but quickly moved to the label side. Can you give us a rundown of the record labels and positions you've held over the years?
I started as an intern out of college working for Andy Kipnes at AAM promotion who also had Link Records. He offered me a gig there full-time but the money was just barely enough to pay my commuting costs. I turned it down, kept working for free, which fortunately led me to a job at MTV. My first "real" label gig was working for Guerinot at Time Bomb, where I ran the NY office and did East Coast promotion. From there I went to Reprise where I was Sr. Director/Modern Rock and Rock doing national promotion out of the East Coast office. Then it was to Razor and Tie where I worked my way up to SVP/Promotion.
3. You also worked at MTV for a dozen years. What years were you there and what positions did you hold?
I started at MTV in early '87 as the assistant music scheduler and worked my way up with five to six promotions over the years to VP/Music Programming and Talent & Artist relations and lasted until '98. It was a great time to be there in the programming department because we really could be the tail wagging the dog when it came to our music decisions with respect to the rest of the music industry. I programmed a big chunk of the music, but one of the things a lot of people remember me most for was a show called 120 Minutes, which I programmed for 10 years.
4. Congratulations on 10 years running the promotion department at Razor & Tie. Can you give us some of your proudest achievements the last decade with this label?
There have been a bunch that I'm really proud of. Watching All That Remains develop from being a really heavy scene band to becoming one of the most consistent bands at Active Rock over the last three albums has been very rewarding. Being able to bring back P.O.D. to the top of the Rock charts after a long hiatus was a challenge that brought me a lot of professional pride. Those guys really worked hard at being a great partner with radio. The chart success we've had with The Pretty Reckless so far has floored me. Being able to look at the year to date chart at Active Rock and seeing it at # 1 for the year blows me away. It's something I didn't ever expect to see an indie label ever pull off when I got here 10 years ago. The barriers have come down.
5. Let's talk about the success of The Pretty Reckless. This has been one of the biggest breakthrough artists at the Rock format. To what do you attribute their success at the format?
First and foremost, we had a single that genuinely reacted out of the box. This format is in dire need of some new stars. The star power that Taylor already had achieved certainly helped but the band made a great album and they have worked really hard while on the road to help promote it. They 100% get what radio has done for their career in the U.S. and want to be there for radio too.
6. What are some of your other big priority projects at the label right now?
Besides trying to cross TPR to Modern Rock and Top 40, Starset has been a great labor of love at Active Rock. I'm really enjoying help build that up from the foundation Land Shark helped laid for them as an unsigned band. We have a new Nonpoint single that impacts on August 12th that I genuinely think is the best song that they have done for radio. I've got Yellowcard getting ready to go at Alternative and The Hold Steady is launching a new track at AAA.
7. What else does the label have coming down the pipeline in the future?
All That Remains is finishing up in the studio now with a record coming in the next few weeks. It's hard to believe the 4th quarter is just around the corner. We just picked up Finch. We signed a brand new band called Sons of Texas who wrote some great songs for Active Rock. We have a great follow-up coming from Starset and more from The Pretty Reckless.
8. As a promotion person, what are the most important tools/resources you use to stay on top of the Rock formats' growth and constant daily changes?
Communication is # 1. Talking with and seeing stations helps me do a good job of keeping me plugged in to the current state. Paying attention to what the younger co-workers are into helps a lot too. They are finding music in different ways than just radio.
9. Let's talk about the Rock format as a whole. What's your take on the state of Rock radio today?
It needs help. Not having records getting shared with other formats is the single biggest problem in my mind facing Rock radio today. Rock radio needs help making these artists and songs bigger. The Pretty Reckless is the first "rock" record that has started crossing to Top 40 since Shinedown. That's crazy to me if we want these bands to sell more than a couple hundred thousand records. I also think Rock moves off most of their best songs too quickly. Look how long the Alternative stations hold on to their hits.
10. What is the best live show you have seen this year on yours or another label and why?
The best live show of mine is a toss-up between The Pretty Reckless at Rock On The Range -- the crowd for that was mind blowing, or it could have been an event we did with KBPI that had All That Remains, The Pretty Reckless and Starset all on the same bill. They blew out 3,000 tickets in just over a day. The best live set I saw that was not mine was Nothing More at a festival in Ft. Myers. That was a great live show and they are doing something pretty unique. I'm happy to see Steve Kline is getting that band to work at Rock radio.
What do you like to do for fun and relaxation when you're not in your "work" mode?
Boating, cooking, cycling and believe it or not, woodworking. I built my desk at work, dining table etc. ... we all need a creative outlet.
You're stuck on a deserted island and you only have five CDs with you. What are they?
- Bob Marley & The Wailers - Legend
- The Refreshments - Fizzy Fuzzy Big and Buzzy
- Dr. Dre - The Chronic
- Green Day - Dookie
- Johnny Cash - The Sun Years