10 Questions with ... Michael Ehrenberg
November 4, 2013
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Over 20 years (ugh) at labels, including Capitol/Enigma/BMG/Windham Hill/High ST/Capricorn and my own company, OUTSOURCE MUSIC, which I started in 1996.
1. What got you interested in the record business?
My father used to bring home records by the Turtles, the Beatles and Elton John, so music became like a language and influenced my every move. It also became an obsession. I would beg to stop at the supermarket to purchase some song I had just heard on the radio. The concept of an album, multiple hit songs on two sides of vinyl made me realize there was something to this music thing. Music was like eating, a necessity.
When I went to the Claremont colleges I worked at the radio station. Record reps would call and I had no effin' idea what they did. though I loved talking with them and learning new music. They would turn me on to KROQ and other stations which helped me pick songs to play on my show. After graduating, I worked at a satellite media company, selling and booking celebrity media tours for TV broadcast. My ABC affiliate in Cleveland, WEWS, had an entertainment host who sounded like Lorenzo Music (Carlton the doorman and Garfield). He introduced me to J.B. Brenner, who gave me the Yellow Pages of Rock. I worked for free in Publicity and in the Top 40 and AC promo department at Enigma and Capitol before getting a shot at promotion.
2. What was your favorite station to listen to when you were a kid?
Hands down, KEXL, in my hometown of San Antonio, TX. It was one of the most progressive stations in the country I ever knew of, even to this day. I also used to listen to WLS on cold nights 1,200 miles away, on top of a hill overlooking downtown S.A.
3. Where do you get your greatest pleasure in doing record promotion?
Somewhere between hearing a great new song or artist and connecting it with people I know every week, via phone, e-mail or a weekly newsletter blog to expose the music to them. Also, and this is a big one, creating and maintaining relationships with all kinds of great people in business, and this goes hand in hand with record promotion.
4. Other than promoting music to radio, what other services does Outsource offer its clients?
I offer tour promotion and work with artists to hit the iTunes, Google and Yahoo circuit, since I live in one of the major tech centers in the country. I also put out a newsletter to promote my artists, the radio community and the markets in which they exist. Think the 3 Perfect Days in the United Airlines In Flight mag. I just launched a site both as a blog and soon as an app platform. The concept is simple: to connect foreigners who travel to the U.S. looking for a music component as part of their travel experience, via live concerts, indie venues and festivals. That is just the beginning. I have exciting plans for this site and how it can connect music fans to the music they love in America.
5. What are some of your biggest challenges as an independent promoter?
Getting the music messages to as many people every week, whether by phone, e-mail, newsletter, or pick your other technology. Also, working on your own can be difficult when you are an extrovert, so I connect best being around other people. Everyone is busy, so when I work multiple projects for a label, and can be more a team member, I tend to personally thrive more. ....
6. What do you view as the most important issue facing radio today?
All the challenges we hear about, including PPM, the bifurcation of digital and so many choices like Pandora, Songza, Spotify and so forth; however I prefer to see the glass half-full. Radio is still viable, and the Triple A format has more than a handful of examples as proof that great music and a local angle is an essential component.
I think of the Triple A format, in its various forms, as the last bastion of "opportunity" for creative radio, and a large part of the audience searches for the unpredictable. Look at how TV has stepped into a new frontier, with Netflix, AMC and HBO. Shows like "Breaking Bad," "Homeland" and many others are garnering a big audience. Isn't that the same thing happening here? Taking chances, coming from a place of passion, pleasure, power and good intention.
7. Every promotion person has a record close to their heart that for one reason or another never broke through -- "The One That Got Away." What is your "One That Got Away," and what did you learn from that experience?
There are several and working backwards, I think of Regina Spektor's Fidelity, several Hobex songs,. and Sister 7's The Only Thing That's Real. I also remember a song called "Drive" by Joe 90 on a teeny little indie label. I later heard it on several commercials and in a very compelling scene in Alan Ball's "Six Feet Under" series. Great songs don't always get the radio airplay deserved, but someone, somehow, some way can get that song exposure somewhere. Also, it's up to an artist to continue to make great music and show up in the world.
8. 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?
Lots to say on this one but I will pick one idea. To complete in the marketplace as it shifts, management, labels, coaches and advisors who want to succeed might want to get back to the philosophy of long term and big picture.
By the big picture, I mean where six or eight records might be the basis for an artist to break. That takes patience! How many records did it take until Bonnie Raitt hit it big? Look at The National breaking through with sales and sold-out shows. We have some awesome leaders like Daniel Glass, Michael McDonald and a slew of great labels and execs. We need more of those and more artist development ... and for the artist to be co-actively involved in their careers. Reading the book "Unthink" by Eric Wahl underscored my intuition on this subject.
9. What would surprise people most about you?
I am obsessed with recycling, I am a certified leadership development/life coach, and love to help people move towards their deepest desires in life. Also, I read the Wall Street Journal every day, and love to be in places where English is not spoken. Geek alert: I love geography and maps.
10. If you were to leave the record business today and you could choose any other occupation, what would it be?
Does anyone ever REALLY leave the business?
Last non-industry job:
Simultaneous/consecutive Spanish interpreter; I still do it on weekends
First record ever purchased:
Cat Stevens, Tea For The Tillerman and the 45 of "Lola" by the Kinks at Record Town in North Star Mall. We ate burgers at The Night Hawk afterwards.
Doobie Brothers with my parents, and a joint being passed made its way to my mom. She passed, but I saw my Dad taking a hit.
Favorite band of all-time:
A beautiful rainbow and swirls of one long playlist!!
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time away from work?
Being with my partner, cooking an awesome meal, being in Santa Fe and being grateful for all I have in my life!