10 Questions with ... Jesse Barnett
August 19, 2013
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
I left the advertising business in 1994 and started at A&M Records as the assistant to JB Brenner and Mike Rittberg. I soon began making radio calls and in 1997, moved to New York to co-run the promotion department at Hybrid Recordings. At the end of 1998, I was laid off and Michael Ehrenberg brought me on as a partner at Outsource Music a few months later, introducing me to the world of independent promotion. I left there in 2003 to work with Chris Stacey at Vector Promotion, an indie company which also served as the in-house promo department for Vector Records and Vector Management. In the summer of 2005, I left to go solo and started Right Arm Resource.
1. What got you interested in the record business?
One of the reasons I went to Emerson College in Boston is that I could be on the air as a DJ within weeks of walking onto campus. I was involved in WERS and WECB for four years and walked out with a Radio minor by accident because of it. I initially pursued a career in my actual major and got a job at a big ad agency, but became bored and spent a year-and-a-half sending out over 120 cold resumes and cover letters to radio stations and record labels using a record industry directory in an old issue of Pollstar that was given to me. I had interviewed for two other jobs at A&M before JB took a chance on me.
2. What was your favorite station to listen to when you were a kid?
The first memory I have of listening to the radio was "Car Wash" and "Kung Fu Fighting" on WABC on my red transistor radio when I was a kid in Teaneck, NJ. When we moved to San Francisco, Dr. Don Rose at KFRC became the most recognizable radio voice to me. Eventually, I moved on to KRQR, The Quake and Live 105.
3. What prompted you to set up your own company?
When I started working for Vector in 2003, there were three of us in the independent promotion arm of it. Two years later, one had left and the other had gone fully over to the management side of things. It didn't take long to realize that I was the only person left in that part of the company and still on a salary that didn't represent that. It took a couple of good friends to kick me in the butt to make the move, but it's the best decision I've ever made in my career.
4. Tell us about your website and the weekly newsletter you do.
I started the weekly newsletter while I was with Michael at Outsource as a way to have a piece of paper in front of programmers, which shared the latest stats on my projects with radio. Those that I got a hold of that week would have backup of what I was saying, those that I didn't reach would at least have the information in hand. At first it was done by fax (overnight to 300 people through my computer), then as an attached PDF, then finally just as a link so it didn't clog up e-mail inboxes. I put up a website for the company when I launched in 2005, but the site was basically about the company. I quickly realized that anyone coming to the site would likely already know about me so I changed the purpose of it in 2007 to be artist-centric. Between the newsletter and the website, my goal is to give programmers a place to get up to speed whether we connected on the phone that week or not.
The site now has two music players (the original one in Flash, and a SoundCloud one done in HTML5 to render on mobile devices), the current newsletter (as well as the archives dating back to 2006), and a ton of audio and video content that programmers can check out for the projects that I'm involved with (and grab the code for to share or embed on their own sites).
In the last year, I've also created a Dropbox link for programmers to quickly grab the WAV and high quality mp3 files for all of my projects. The end goal is for programmers to hear the songs, learn about what's going on with them, and get the download for them all without over-thinking the process.
5. In your opinion what was the biggest "missed" record at the format in the past year?
Good Old War's "Amazing Eyes." I still think that one should have been huge.
6. What are some of your biggest challenges as an independent promoter?
The biggest challenge is getting the word about my projects into the psyche of radio programmers between their insanely busy schedules and the massive flow of releases hitting their desks. Less space on the list and less time to hear them or talk about them means making sure there are many avenues to get the message through. Hence the reason for the constantly updated website and newsletter.
Also, in addition to regular radio calls, I specialize in poring over tour dates to work out as many in-studio opportunities as possible, and it's definitely a challenge to deal with the logistics of all of that. It's worth it, though, because so often the connection made with a session can take a developing record from the big consideration stack to the short add list.
7. Things are changing rapidly in our business. Were it up to you, what would you change in our "system" to give your bands a better shot?
I don't know if it's really a change in the system so much as figuring out ways to keep the lines of communication open at all times so the bands have the chance to create and get involved in unique promotional events with stations. KINK does a great thing with the Bing Lounge by giving developing artists a chance to get in front of listener audiences and also give their fans outside of the market a chance to stream the set live. Plus, with the YouTube videos, there's online content created that the artist can share via social media. All this from what, at most stations, would be a simple in-studio session.
8. What do you view as the most important issue facing radio today?
Staffing. Without question. Radio folks are wearing way too many hats, working way too many hours, and getting paid way less than they deserve.
9. What would surprise people most about you?
The fact that, with a baker for a wife, I'm not 300 pounds. (Note: marriage-saving plug here: www.sweetlittlesin.com). The reality is that the cookie jar in our house is almost always empty.
10. If you were to leave the record business today and you could choose any other occupation, what would it be?
I'd probably go back to being a copywriter. The geek in me has always wanted to be a cartographer too.
Last Non-Industry Job:
Copywriter for Mattel Toys/Hot Wheels ("Criss, cross ... criss, cross, crash!"... yeah, that was mine...)
First Record Ever Purchased:
It's tough to remember, because that many years ago, I can't distinguish between what I bought and what I glommed off of my older brother.
Taken to: The Tubes at the Greek Theatre in LA in 1979. By choice: Bill Graham's Day On The Green in in 1982 with Journey, Santana, Toto, Gamma and The Tubes.
Favorite Band Of All-Time:
The Police (which is why I flipped out when I got the job at A&M)
Do you have a favorite charity (charities)?
There are two. First, I co-chair the educational foundation in my town which raises money for technology and grant programs in the public schools. Most recently, we funded $45K for the complete wireless installation in three K-2 schools.
Also, since I turned 40 in 2009, I've used my August 20th birthday as a flagpole date for raising money for kid's charities. The first year, I raised a little over $3,000 for the Jimmy Fund so I could play on the field at Fenway Park. Since then, I've teamed with the Life is Good Playmakers as part of their annual goal of raising $1 million with the Life is Good Festival, a two-day concert held about 20 minutes from my house. The Playmakers train teachers, social workers and child care providers to foster joy and optimism through play in the lives of kids who are living through poverty, natural disasters and other traumatic situations. With this year's campaign, I've helped raise over $11,000 for the Playmakers in four years. Folks can still help out: http://fndr.se/Uddb.