10 Questions with ... David C. Linton
March 1, 2016
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
- Educated at two historically black universities, Shaw University, (B.A.), Raleigh, N.C. and North Carolina Central University (M.A), Durham N.C. I worked in academia for a number of years; among my former students are B.J. Murphy and WHUR's Traci Latrelle, Chris Conners (OM, WWDM/Columbia) whom I trained in radio broadcasting/production.
- Former GM/PD at WSHA and GM of WRVS.
- Created WRVS FM, as Special Assistant to the Chancellor for Media Development, at Elizabeth City State University.
- The late Alvin Stowe (OM, Radio One/Charlotte) gave me my first radio job when he started WDUR/Durham. I also spent some time in television at then-ABC affiliate WRAL-TV, Raleigh, NC.
- Brought into the record business by Ernie Singleton and Ray Harris, first as Southwest Regional, then West Coast Regional at Warner Bros., and later promoted to National Dir./R&B Promotions at Reprise Records.
- In 1992, became VP/Promotions at PolyGram Label Group (now Island/Def Jam), then recruited by Jean Riggins and Clive Davis to become VP/ R&B Promotions at Arista Records.
- In 1999, we put Capitol Records back in the Urban business after a seven-year absence as SVP/R&B Promotions & Marketing.
- Most recently, providing various consulting services to independent artists/labels, before accepting the position at CO5 Music (2005-2013).
- Currently I do some consulting of independent artists/labels on my own
- I am also a licensed insurance agent for NTA Life, because I realized how many who work in the industry aren't adequately insured against the things that happen the most, cost the most and last a lifetime.
1) Share with us the difference between working in the corporate music world and dealing with artists and management directly as an Independent?
The biggest difference is you're always chasing the check (LOL). As a self-employed person and most times with clients having their own perception of their careers and music; a lot of times they never really want to hear the truth. If an artist comes to me who I feel is not ready for primetime, I tell them ... and instantly they get mad and cite all of the people who told them they are the next big thing. This oftentimes will cost me a potential client and they opt to go with someone who reinforces their feelings. Then when it doesn't happen, they come back to me but now they are out of funds. Now you get same "ish" inside the corporate ranks, but you're paid handsomely to put up with "ish." However, when the record doesn't happen it's on to the next one; artists outside of the labels sometimes don't get that second or third chance. I tell artists and managers in the studio everyone has a hit, but how will it match against competition? It's like sports, they look good in practice or scrimmages, but when the team steps on the battlefield against real competition, that's when you're really tested to see if you are good as you and your fans think you are.
2) What is the process for a music act to get into this business and make it?
I say the more things change, the more they remain the same. First and foremost, it starts with the music, then the team around the artists and you need radio. I know I will get push back from some but when it boils down to it, even with the most successful independent artists, it came down to the team manager, lawyer and publicists. They also usually got in bed with some major label at some point for additional promotional muscle or distribution and didn't really sell until they got their music on the radio. Now that said, technology has allowed everyone to make a record and distribute it via streaming systems ... YouTube, Spotify, etc. BUT until you get radio airplay, the song will languish. The biggest misconception is all you need is a song and a lot of money. I've seen lots of money go behind the wrong artists or wrong song, I'm sure you've seen "Unsung" on TV One. All of the digital delivery sales systems have made it easier to purchase music, but you still have to know it's out there, so it's good for starting the "The Buzz" so A&R executives can discover you. It still comes down to making music people want to own and doing it on a consistent basis. People have to literally "Buy into" your dream/music. Then to sustain a career, you have to be consistent and develop a true fan base, not one that is only into a particular song, but into the artist! Artist development is somewhat of a lost art form in today's industry; it helps connect the audience with the artist beyond the music. I guess today's artist development is today's reality TV shows, which could be a good argument, but it's only for those who've already reached a certain level of success.
3) You're the Chairman for the Living Legends Foundation, would you explain what the organization does?
Gladly, the Living Legends Foundation Inc. is a registered 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization founded in 1991 by Ray Harris (then SVP/Black Music, Warner Bros Records), Barbara Lewis (VP/Promotions, Black Music Capitol Records), CeCe Evans (OM, Warner Bros Black Music), and the late Jerry Boulding (Editor Urban Network and AllAccess.com and radio consultant). The purpose of the foundation then and now is to honor those men and women who work behind the scenes in the music industry -- namely radio, records and at that time, retail when the independent retailer was the gateway for many of black artists. However, we've now expanded to auxiliary industries like music publishing, TV and certain entrepreneurs who started in radio or records, but created a new medium or way of exposing music. The one misconception about being a "living legend" is you to be "old." On the contrary, a living legend is someone who has made a significant impact on the musical landscape by breaking barriers or blazing a trail for others to follow. Our honorees have been trailblazers such as Tom Joyner, Jon Platt, Doc Wynter, Kelvin Anderson, Kevin Liles, Quincy Jones, Cathy Hughes, L.A. Reid, Mildred Carter, Rushion McDonald, and Clarence Avant, to name a few. We've also honored institutions like KJLH/Los Angeles, which has served the L.A. black community for over 35 years, black-owned-and-operated KPRS/Kansas City serving that city for over 65 years, and Perry Broadcasting, another black-owned broadcasting company with facilities in multiple formats across Oklahoma and Georgia. We feel it's our duty to document the achievements of blacks and women in the music and broadcasting industries.
However, the most important part of what we do is we raise money to assist those in our black music and radio communities who, after their careers are over, find themselves in need of financial assistance. There was a time when 401Ks weren't prevalent and as you know, everyone who works in the music or radio business doesn't get to retire on their own terms, nor do they all get the proverbial "golden parachute." To be honest, very few in the Black/Urban music and radio areas get that luxury. We are similar to MusicCares but focused in a niche market just like record labels and radio stations. One of the unique characteristics of our foundation is that it's all volunteer and no one gets paid. We keep everything transparent via a dedicated Board of Directors and annual tax filings to protect our nonprofit status. Our efforts have kept people from losing their homes, assist with unexpected deaths, medical bills and other life altering circumstances which could have jeopardized everything an individual owned. This is not a foundation with overhead costs. This is not party organization.
We hold one or two annual events a year namely, our Awards Gala and a Golf Tournament. The former started out being held at the Urban Network's annual Power Jam when Jerry Boulding was its head and then when Miller London (one of our board of directors) purchased it. As those avenues closed (annual conventions), we decided to hold it as a standalone event. First in New York City for about 10 years and for the last two years in early October in Los Angeles, which turned out to be two of our biggest events in terms of turnout and fundraising. There is a group, Music Legends and Icons, which holds an annual Legends Picnic. So we decided to move our event to coincide with their event to create "Legends Weekend." We believe in collaborations and strategic partnerships.
Last year, the Los Angeles City Council honored the Living Legends Foundation for our work of not just honoring and helping but educating as well. We didn't just get the standard citation, but our board members and honorees were invited to the Council chambers and I addressed the City Council on behalf of the Foundation. We recently created Career Day Initiatives where our members speak to the youth about careers behind the scenes in the industry. Our members live across the country and encouraged to participate in various school career days whether middle or high schools and, of course, colleges and universities.
4) This is the 25th anniversary for the organization, could you share your thoughts and plans?
Sam, I'm excited about this being the 25th anniversary on a couple of levels. First this is an organization that has remained true to the vision of our founders for 25 years despite the various changes in the industry. Oh by the way, our event this year will be held on Thursday October 6th at the Taglyan Center in Los Angeles. First of all, we have not let circumstances or the downsizing of the industry affect our determination to be "that bridge over troubled waters" for those who work or have worked and love all aspects of music. Over my 30 years in the business, I have seen organizations come and go, but we've made the necessary adjustments to remain viable. When Black Music Divisions were flourishing in the '90s we could depend on those various division heads to ensure their labels supported us. Now of course those positions, as well as those companies, are gone. We still get support from the labels and we love them for it but it comes down to one, two or three checks. So proportionately, the support has gone down. We hope to become a fixed charitable budget item in their annual giving from a corporate level, we make a great write off and it's giving back to those who've given so much.
We also want today's radio and record executives and personalities to know we are here as a resource for information and have a wealth of experience to help them navigate the sometimes choppy waters of doing business in the industry. As a federally registered 501 c 3 Foundation we want those who want to support our efforts to feel free to donate to our cause.
I'm also excited about the establishment of the Living Legends Foundation Scholarship Fund. Our Board of Directors are working on implementing some criteria so we can assist student(s) pursuing a degree in music, broadcasting or one of the allied fields. You know I came from academia before my music industry career, so education is very important to me.
5) Besides you, who are the Foundation officers, Board of Directors, and advisors?
Well, there is this guy by name of Sam Weaver (AllAccess) who is the one of the newest members of our Board of Directors; other members are also a Who's Who from the music Industry. Our officers: Varnell Johnson (marketing/retail consultant), President; Jackie Rhinehart (Organic Soul Marketing) is our VP; Pat Shields (Black Dot Management) is Keeper of Records; Cecelia Evans (Fox Travel) is our CFO; Kendal Minter Esq. (Minter & Associates) Legal Counsel.
Board Members: Miller London (Multi Media Advisor), Barbara Lewis (radio promotions consultant), A.D. Washington (Barak Promotions), Colleen Wilson (marketing consultant), Gwendolyn Quinn (GQ Media), Doc Wynter SVP/Urban Programming, (iHeartMedia), Ken Johnson VP/Urban Programming (Cumulus), Vinny Brown (radio consultant), Sidney Miller (BRE), Marcus Grant (TwentyThree12 Artists), Tony Gray (Gray Communications) and Jon Platt (Chairman Warner-Chappell Publishing).
Our Advisory Board: Shannon Henderson (HOTLINE!), Sharon Heyward (marketing consultant), Tony Winger (marketing consultant), AJ Savage (National Dir./RCA Records,) Brad Davidson (VP Capitol Records), Monica Alexander (publicist), T.C. Thompkins (TC Thompkins Marketing), Skip Dillard PD (WBLS), Kevin Fleming (Urban Buzz), Kathi Moore, VP Atlantic Records), George Daniels (George's Music Room), Allen Johnston (Music Specialists), Kevin Ross (Radiofacts), and Alonzo Robinson (publisher).
All of these men and women have had their pulse on what's hot in music for the last 25 or more years and many are still very active in shaping the careers of some today's top artists. We have programmers, music label executives, publicists, trade editors, publishing, and sales; every aspect of the industry is represented on our two boards.
6) How has the relationship between radio and the music industry changed?
I think the relationship has changed in that people are not as close as they once were, because time doesn't avail itself to really building relationships beyond working relationships. The one thing the numerous conventions used to do, was that they provided a more relaxed atmosphere for the two sides to come together and really build relationships. Most radio programmers are responsible for multiple properties these days, so time which is always at a premium has become less available.
7) What areas do you think urban radio could improve in?
I still believe radio is best when it's localized. Syndication has its benefits and we have some really good syndicated hosts such as Tom Joyner, Steve Harvey, Rickey Smiley, Walt Love, Donnie McClurkin, Doug Banks and Yolonda Adams for their respective formats, BUT nothing beats local personalities and a station that sounds like the city it's in. When I can travel from Atlanta to New York and it all sounds the same, I'm losing the flavor of the city I'm in. I don't want New York to sound like Atlanta or Detroit to sound like D.C. Also more variety in the playlist. I'm not saying this as a promotions person, but one who loves radio. When I know what song is coming up in the rotation after listening for two hours, something is wrong. Personality radio wins every time "Stepford Wives" Radio Sucks" (SWRS) You can use that one.
8) Years ago you predicted early hip-hop would become a niche or format, how do you think it's working so far?
I always believed Hip-Hop was here to stay, and now you have the BOOM and other '90s Hip-Hop formats representing "Old School Hip-Hop" which is funny, but 20 years is a generation. I just wish Hip-Hop artists would expand their repertoire, slinging and banging gets old fast. It has no redeemable value. The reason you see a flourishing of "Blue Eyed" soul is because people in the know understand what builds lasting careers and what creates long standing catalogs that will be sold for years.
9) What are the keys to being successful in the current climate for music promotions people?
Have a Plan B. Seriously, the business has changed and with corporate PDs, soon all you will need are a hand full of promotions people to service radio. The key really is get to know your artists and everyone at the radio station. Today's weekend personality is tomorrow's MD or PD. Artists can either make or break you, get to know your artists and managers, they will either fight for you or shit on you; most times both.
10) Would you share some of your most memorable moments in the radio and music industries?
Most memorable moments just a few: 1) driving around Houston Texas in a smoke-filled car with George Clinton praying the cops don't stop us; 2) visiting Paisley Park and getting a tour by Prince and he letting me sit on the motorcycle from Purple Rain; 3) holding Otis Redding's Grammy for "Sitting On The Dock of the Bay"; 4) Whitney Houston saying about me, "He's a fine....." 5) Accepting my first award at Jack The Rapper named in honor of my mentor Jimmy Bee; 6) flying on the corporate jet with Rick Dobbis and Johnny Barbis to catch a Salt N Pepa and a U2 concert in different cities and back home 7) being responsible with my wife Eleanor for the late Jheryl Busby receiving an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Elizabeth City State University 9) standing on the mound at Yankee Stadium watching U2 with Johnny Barbis and our wives ... 10) being among a few selected executives to spend a week at the PolyGram Business School in Brighton, England ... all pretty damn cool for kid from Brooklyn.