10 Questions with ... Josh Nicotra
March 26, 2012
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
I was headed to California to wait tables, become a resident and then go to business or law school for entertainment at UCLA or Berkeley. Instead, I got roped into a job working for my uncle for three years, slinging cigars and classic cars ... I realized I couldn't keep doing that if I wanted a career in music, quit my job, took a temp gig as a coordinator at Universal in the "New Media" department. I was promoted to a full-time gig in New Media, then got a gig there as Dir./Marketing. I was working as a product manager on Donavon Frankenreiter, G. Love and Jack Johnson records when Brushfire renegotiated their deal from an imprint to a stand-alone label. They asked me to move to LA in 2005 and I've been here ever since.
1. What got you interested in the record business?
I met Lou Reed when I was two or three years old when I was visiting my mother's office at Arista, she was the VP/A&R Admin. She left the business when I was five, but whenever music was playing in a room, I'd tune everything else out. I became more and more obsessed with it with every passing year. Eventually, I wrote music reviews for my college paper, worked on the concert committee, but when I graduated, my uncle had a temp job for me that turned into a three-year gig. Eventually I realized I had to make the jump to music immediately if I ever wanted a career in it. My mother told me not to do it, that I was too nice for the music business. I didn't listen and started as a part-time temp in the "new media" department at Universal Motown in 1999. I worked my way up from there.
2. What was your favorite station to listen to when you were a kid?
When I got control of my own radio dial, I listened to WPLR/New Haven. It started me down the path of listening to all of the great classic rock acts, and my listening branched out from there. The last time I was home to visit my mother, the playlist seemed to have stayed pretty similar. Get The Led Out!
3. What may surprise people the most about Brushfire Records?
Only four people work at the label and only two of us surf. Also, all of our contracts are profit/split deals with all of our artists, not royalty deals, so we are really working as a team on these records.
4. Tell us about the eco-friendly studios under the Brushfire umbrella.
The solar-powered Plastic Plant was built during the renovation of the Brushfire offices. We can make records in the back, and put them out in front. There is solar on the roof, recycled blue jean material in the walls for insulation, low VOC paints on the walls, natural oil stains on the wood floors and low-volume toilets in the bathrooms. Robert Carranza is the in-house engineer and producer, though occasionally other folks come in to work (most recently Mario Caldato on Zee Avi's Ghostbird album.
5. Tell us about Jack Johnson's live album coming out soon.
In 2004, Jack and his wife Kim started the Kokua Festival as a fundraiser for their Kokua Hawaii Foundation, which provides environmental educational programs and grants for Hawaii's school kids. The Festival was held again in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2010. There have been some amazing guest artists over the years, many of whom grace the tracklisting of the new live record. Eddie Vedder, Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds, Jackson Browne, Willie Nelson, Ben Harper, Taj Mahal, Damian Marley, Ziggy Marley, G. Love, Ozomatli and more. The proceeds from this album are also being donated to the foundation.
6. Jack's musical style seems to set a tone for the type of artists you sign. Is that too narrow-minded an observation?
Our goal is to put out records that don't sound the same, but sound like they would all make sense sitting next to one another on the shelf in someone's record collection.
7. What is the toughest part of your job?
Unfortunately, given the volume of music that is being released each year, even great records sometimes don't get the attention they deserve. It is hard when you see someone's heart and soul poured into a project, and it still does not get its fair due.
8. Biggest change that you'd like to see in the business?
There's no holding onto the past, but I'd love for people to pay for the music they consume. Hopefully with the advent of services like Spotify, Rhapsody, Rdio, MOG and the like, it will make more sense to pay $10 a month for access to music than to steal it. I see us progressing to a continuum where casual listeners sample on these services, and fans collect physical releases of their favorite artists.
9. What has been your biggest career highlight?
Since I started working at Brushfire there have been a lot of great moments, but the most memorable ones seem to be standing side stage during Jack Johnson's sets at Bonnaroo, Hyde Park in London, The Hollywood Bowl, etc. There's nothing quite like seeing a massive sold-out crowd singing along to songs you helped release.
10. Fill in the blank: I can't make it through the day without ...
...the Gmail server. Apparently at one point, I got more e-mail per day than the rest of the people on our @brushfirerecords.com domain combined. I'm still in first place by a large margin.
Last non-industry job:
Dir./Marketing at Cigar Savor Enterprises; cCopywriter for the New York Auto Salon and Classic Car Auction at the Waldorf Astoria (this was back in 1999, and my uncle owned both businesses).
First record ever purchased:
First Vinyl - Jimi Hendrix, Are You Experienced. First CD - Robert Plant, Now and Zen
Pink Floyd at Giants Stadium on the Momentary Lapse of Reason tour (via the WPLR Rock Bus). I was 13, and somehow my mom decided it was okay for me to go from New Haven to the Meadowlands by myself on the bus.
Favorite band of all-time:
Led Zeppelin. Hard rock and lilting acoustic ballads in one band. There are at least 10 close runners-up for this question.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time away from work?
I still go to a lot of concerts and shows on my own time/dime, but in terms of non-music-related pursuits, I've probably spent the most time and money on my wine collection ... I occasionally have a core group of friends over and open a bunch of bottles that have hit their prime drinking window.