Industry Spotlight: Bob Divney
We were pleased as punch to catch up with Bob Divney about his 30 years in the biz and all things The Artist Cooperative. Talk about a nice guys finish first pitch. Bob reflected on his road traveled and the road ahead for the veritable Mount Rushmore collective of promo vets. As Managing Partner at The Artist Cooperative, Divney is at the helm of Marketing & National Modern, Active & AAA Promotion. With a masthead boasting titles such as VP of Promotion for Warner Bros Records, and VP of Promotion for The Firm, and a roster of Green Day, Depeche Mode, The B-52’s, Audioslave, and Barenaked Ladies (to barely scratch the surface), Divney is clearly a man of experience and gracious in his appreciation for the career he’s had. We spoke off the bat about the synergy that exists working with old friends and colleagues.
“We (Andrew Govatsos and I) started at Reprise around ‘86, ‘87 maybe. I was at Reprise Records for about 17 years and then left to go work for management company The Firm, and helped start CO5, which is still going strong today, with Todd and Tracey. Mid-2000’s I had an new opportunity and I left promotion altogether for a Marketing and Distribution gig with Adrenaline which had distribution through ADA, and allowed me to learn how out physically put out records, understand and execute contracts, manage distribution timelines, and co-op advertising, all the things I never had the opportunity to learn doing promotion.”
Following that, Divney spent a couple of years doing freelance marketing and worked with The Doobie Brothers’ for their World Gone Crazy release, as well as a few independent labels. It was around then that Warner and Reprise merged their promo staffs, and Bob needed some extra team members for a current project. And thus, 6 months later, The Artist Cooperative was born. “Basically, a lot of us are former Warner-Reprise promotions reps, Andrew Govatsos in Boston, Shanna Fischer joined us from Wind-up and is based in NY from New York, Amit Kumar, Atlanta, who was at Reprise after I was there, Tom Cunningham, who I worked together with at Reprise in Philadelphia; Bob Hathaway from the Warner side is in Chicago. Kathie Romero, who was also at Reprise after I was there, is in Dallas. Rich Garcia, who I worked with at Reprise, is our Denver partner and Nancy Klugman, from Warner Bros is on the West coast. Last year we also started a second promotion arm called MARS MUSIC RADIO SERVICES which is run Lynn McDonnell and Lisa Cristiano and Glen Firstenberg from Universal and Apple also joined to run Sales & Marketing Services.”
Divney had been at Warner until 2002. When he moved on from WEA, artist management was the intended path. “I left Warner’s in 2002 ‘cause I thought I wanted to be a manager and realized that was not something I wanted to do, and fell back into promotion and then learned more. When you’re at a major label and you’re tasked with doing promotion, that’s really all you know and all you’re allowed to know. I think every opportunity I’ve had since then has brought in my skillset, my ability to not just organize but understand it from the management perspective, and artists’ perspective. We’re essentially doing the same job as at Reprise but we now answer to clients, independent labels.” Those clients include Nettwerk Records, Kobalt, BMG Rights, alongside major label work and independent artists.
Divney reflected on the nuances of the work now vs. back in the day, pre-Artist Cooperative. “We’re in a position where we built up this company from nothing and we are invested in our own success. We are all partners in this company and win or lose we do it together. With the constant changes in the radio & retail landscape, Glen Firstenberg joined a few years ago to help us work with the DSPs and Streaming Platforms to round out complete promotion and marketing services. Our bet is with the constant consolidation within the industry and the constant downward pressure of physical and digital sales the logical conclusion is that more and more companies will look for savings wherever they can find them and out-sourcing this work will continue to gain traction. Our collective years of experience help our clients be competitive at a fraction of the costs and allows them to re-purpose those savings into other areas.”
And compete they do. The Artist Cooperative has been proud to be a part of projects that include, Passenger, Andrew McMahon, Family of the Year, The Goo Goo Dolls, Andy Grammer, Boy and Bear, among others. It’s that thrill that keeps any true music person in the game, decade after decade. “When you’re able to be an extension of our partner labels or independent artists and work as their own private promotion staff, it gives you some investment in the projects over the long term. We not only enjoy it because it’s our business, we enjoy it because we’ve actually been able to break records.“
“Working with our label partners over longer time lines allows you to develop stronger relationships and a shorthand, that leads to greater efficiencies. We provide daily updates on all our current projects for our label partner, we have weekly conference calls and offer our clients complete access to the team. While the nuts and bolts of the promotion work is what we have been doing for years the engagement with the artist and labels we serve is different in that we are more in tune to our client’s needs. They are part of the process and included in the updates and on our conference calls. Our partners can see firsthand the difficulties and help with the heavy lift in breaking by direct participation.”
To this observer, the success feels inevitable – from a Boston kid, an Emerson student working at Strawberries, the progression seems a natural. Divney’s built the skills to build the business, surrounding himself with like-minded talent and building a partnership along the way.
“Working for yourself can be an eat what you kill environment and because you are so close to all aspect of the business you learn to adapt and make changes as you go. The Artist Cooperative works as a major label promotion team and over time, it became evident that to better serve the needs of our clients we needed a way to develop projects on a micro level and that’s when Mars Music Services was born.”
We discuss the nature of sales overall. “It can be a hard job if you have a hard time with rejection, records take a long time to develop and while you are selling a song you are also selling yourself and your credibility and experience when you are advocating for music on behalf of the artist. The excitement in breaking in developing a project has not gone away after 30 years.”
And then there’s former Reprise “artist,” Morrissey. “We all worked Morrissey together at Reprise as a solo artist and he’s back with his biggest song in well over a decade and breaking at Triple-A Radio and it reminds me that everything in our business in connected from past to present. And yes, KROQ adding the record is still huge!”
And Morrissey’s not the only old friend. “We got to work Barenaked Ladies briefly, which is a record I took a lot of pride in breaking at Reprise. Reprise had the City of Angels record which was a number one record for the Goo Goo Dolls at alternative and we’re working with them again. We have a long-term vested interest in the success of these projects. We are grateful for the opportunity to continue to work with these amazing artists”
Not a bad day’s work.
On a day we all awoke to the shock and sadness of what was unfolding in Vegas, trying to wrap our brains and hearts around an unthinkable sense of loss, another kick in the gut followed: we had lost Tom Petty.
Warner Bros. Records CEO Cameron Strang issued the following statement:
“Tom’s sudden passing is a stunning loss to everyone at Warner Bros. Records. Our thoughts and prayers are with Tom, his family, the Heartbreakers, and his millions of fans across the globe who loved him and his music.
An artist and songwriter of incredible power and unmistakable character, his music will forever be part of America’s cultural heritage.
Thank you, Tom, for being a man of deep soul, grace and humility.
Peace and love,
Tom’s portrait now graces the offices of Warner’s LA base, an outdoor mural for all to see, stopping and reflecting as they go about their days.
“It’s shocking, crushing news,” Bob Dylan said in a statement. “I thought the world of Tom. He was a great performer, full of the light, a friend, and I’ll never forget him.” Longtime collaborator and friend Jeff Lynne said, “Tom Petty was the coolest guy I ever knew.”
Producer Rick Rubin told Rolling Stone he wasn’t a Tom Petty fan growing up. “I usually liked more edgy music.” But with Full Moon Fever, released in 1989, he was hooked. “The consistency and quality of songwriting on the whole album sucked me in. I listened to it all day every day in my car for a year.”
Full Moon Fever included “Running Down a Dream”, one in countless titles that just make you go… “Aw man… love that one”… and immediately start singing the words. I mean…really…. really think about it. The volume of songs Tom Petty gifted us is staggering, giving a run for Clive Davis’s “Soundtrack of Our Lives “title”: Running Down A Dream, American Girl, Free Fallin’, I Won’t Back Down, Learning to Fly, A Face in the Crowd, You Wreck Me, Don’t Do Me Like That, The Waiting, Don’t Come Around Here No More, Here Comes My Girl, Mary Jane’s Last Dance, Even the Losers, Refugee, Breakdown… and so on and so on and so on.
Petty’s talent and catalog were matched only by the tangibly genuine, drama-free sincerity with which he clearly approached life. The outpouring of shock, sadness, and gratitude was evident across social media immediately, many retweeting a characteristically classy post Tom had shared just days prior: Thanks to everyone for supporting us for the last 40 years! Without YOU, there’d be no US! #TPHB40”
Just a sampling of tweets in tribute:
Damn ….Tom Petty I remember standing backstage w him & he tells me ‘Go Get Em at a. Presentation #rockAnointed
Praying for all those affected by Vegas last night.
And now the loss of one of my great influences Tom Petty today.
I loved Tom Petty and I covered his songs because I wanted know what it felt like to fly.
“you belong somewhere you feel free.”
My goes out to all the people affected by the horrible shooting in Las Vegas, & to family,friends & fans of Tom Petty, of which I’m one.
Man this cannot be happening. Not Tom Petty please. Our deepest love and condolences to his family and band. A brother and true believer.
Today Just gets worse . The very talented musician , writer Tom Petty has just passed away . Another great has… http://fb.me/2lAsuYcD8
So sad to hear of the passing of Tom Petty. Such an incredible, inspiring artist. I’ll treasure fond memories of our time spent together this past summer
RIP Tom Petty. Thanks for all the great rockin’ music, hard to believe you’re gone.
What a horrid day for our country, music fans and music itself. RIP Tom Petty. His songs are always good medicine. Love to his family.
I can’t believe we have lost Tom Petty on this already horrible day. My love to his wife & children and the entire Heartbreaker family.
Just when I thought today could not get any worse…
R.I.P. Tom Petty. Thank you for your beautiful music and inspiration.
Sending love to Tom Petty and his family at this difficult time.
No! We have lost Tom Petty. From our opening act in the seventies to becoming a brilliant songwriter and performer I have loved his music.
Tom Petty’s music and songs are timeless. He was a wonderful writer, musician and singer. Irreplaceable and unique. #RIPTomPetty
Bless his powerful spirit. #TomPetty
So sad about Tom Petty, he made some great music. Thoughts are with his family.
blasting tom on the tour bus tonight.
God bless Tom Petty peace and love to his family I’m sure going to miss you Tom
While each year seems to offer us more tragic reminders of the force of mother nature, each hurricane has also gratefully shone a light on our ability to come together as a species, celebrities and mortals alike. Hurricane season and its wrath have sparked monetary donations and public awareness campaigns across the music industry and beyond. Artist Liners are available via Play MPE from artists urging further support: Blake Shelton, Rascal Flatts, Florida Georgia Line, and many more have lent their voices.
Social media continues to hold a mirror to those who’ve given, including the industry’s brightest stars, including Taylor Swift, who, according to the organization’s official FB page, donated to the Houston Food Bank: “Taylor Swift has generously made a very sizable donation to Houston Food Bank in honor of her mother, who graduated from the University of Houston. We thank you, Taylor, and we thank everyone for donating to help rebuild our community. #houstonstrong.”
Houston native Beyoncé was discreet regarding her amount donated, but shared the following with the Houston Chronicle. “My heart goes out to my hometown, Houston, and I remain in constant prayer for those affected and for the rescuers who have been so brave and determined to do so much to help.” Beyoncé’s camp has joined forces with Bread of Life and Greater Houston Community Foundation to help with relief efforts.
DJ Khaled followed Kevin Hart’s lead, tweeting “ HOUSTON TEXAS my prayers are wit you ! I just sent 25k your way to help all the families in need and help the city HOUSTON TEXAS @kevinhart4real I accepted your challenge @kevinhart4real bless up ! GOD IS THE GREATEST!!!”
Chris Young posted “As everyone knows, Texas was hit Friday by Hurricane Harvey which made landfall as a category four hurricane, the largest storm to hit the area in decades. Port Aransas, Rockport, Corpus Christi, Houston and so many other places are going to be dealing with so much damage and loss of life for a long time to come. I’m worried about the people there — my friends, family and neighbors — and I want to help. I’m starting this GoFundMe campaign in an effort to help everyone in Texas that has been affected by this hurricane. I’m pledging $100,000 to relief efforts and hope you will join me.”
Artists came together to join the multi-network telethon, as well. “Hand in Hand: A Benefit for Hurricane Harvey Relief” welcomed participants Justin Bieber, Tori Kelly, Barbra Streisand (to name a few), in helping to raise funds for United Way of Greater Houston, Habitat for Humanity, Save the Children, Direct Relief, Feeding Texas, and the Mayor’s Fund for Hurricane Harvey Relief.
Indeed, musicians themselves have been affected directly, prompting campaigns from organizations like The Grammys’ MusiCares: “MusiCares is lending a hand to those affected by the devastation of Hurricane Harvey by establishing a relief fund to support members of the music community affected by the storm. Assistance will include help with basic living expenses such as shelter, food, utilities, transportation, medical expenses, doctor and hospital bills, medications, clothing, instrument and recording equipment replacement, relocation costs, home repairs, debris removal, and more.”
President and CEO of the Recording Academy stated “Now is a time when we must come together and take care of those who need help, as we are only just beginning to understand how life-altering Hurricane Harvey will be for its victims and their communities. It’s important that we step up and support the creative community, and take action to provide immediate assistance to members of our music family.”
Sweet Relief reminded those affected: “Sweet Relief Musicians Fund is here to provide immediate assistance to people affected by the massive flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma. Musicians and music industry workers who require emergency aid please call our Toll-Free Assistance Line at 1-888-955-7880 or submit an application to us via email at email@example.com.”
For artist liners in support of Hurricane Relief efforts, check out your Play MPE account!
Santa Cause: Rock by the Sea
‘Tis the season of giving, but for Tallahassee-based Rock by the Sea, that’s true all day, err day. For 11 years, the community-organization has devoted time, resources and over $500,000 to worthy charities ranging from the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, and the Polycystic Kidney Disease foundation to local libraries and families in need. Eight of their years in operation have also seen the release of an annual Christmas music CD, as conceived by Rock by the Sea’s Tod Elmore. We caught up with Tod to get the scoop on the organization and this season’s holiday music nuggets.
“We’re doing very serious work. We take it very seriously, but we have a good time doing it. It’s very rewarding. We do music festivals that are small and intimate–a thousand people, 3 different events a year… We do a fall event that’s also a golf tournament. The annual CD is accompanied by its own concert. “It’s funny– the charity is called Rock by the Sea, but we do the Christmas show in Nashville, nowhere near the water. We celebrate the release. Some of the artists who contribute to the CD come play the show, and other artists who are sort of part of the community play.” Alongside the festive concerts, the organization lays claim to less conventional fundraising: “Two weeks ago, several of our charity board members went to Washington, D.C. and repelled down a 30-story building. It was sort of like, if you recall the old March of Dimes walk-a-thon. You get people to sponsor you, and they give you money and you go on your walk; it was a similar premise. We had people sponsor our board members (who flew from all over the U.S.) and we had board members repel down a 30-floor building in Washington D.C. and we raised $15,000 doing just doing that.”
As for this year’s CD, Elmore speaks excitedly about the offerings. “Most of these artists are friends of mine, or run in my circle. One guy here in Atlanta, he and his wife (The Hot Hearts) delivered this song I had never heard of my whole life…completely, completely unfamiliar with. (“In The Bleak Midwinter”) 8 years in, we have a really deep catalog of really diverse music. An, now in a Spotify world, it is sort of evergreen. Every year these songs sort of pop back up and pop back on. This song in particular gets 200-300,000 streams on Spotify every Christmas and I had never even heard of it.”
This year’s offerings include original and standard gems from Keaton Simons, Pat McGee, Carly Burruss, and more, including the The Wealthy West’s version of “Carol Of The Bells” (“haunting”, as described by Mr. Elmore). “I chose ‘Carol Of The Bells’ because I thought it would be a fun challenge,” reports Brandon Kinder of The Wealthy West. “I LOVE Christmas music, and I felt like I hadn’t really heard many non-choral versions of the song. I think it turned out pretty special, and hope you do, too.”
As Elmore shared, “People give their own interpretations of really familiar songs and some are really really creative.” FRIENDSWITHBENEFITS, the synth-pop side project of The Rocketboys’ Justin Wiseman, contributed”‘Ding Dong Merrily On High.’ “I chose (it) because it’s got such a cool, upbeat melody and it’s a little more obscure than other Christmas carols,” Wise shared. “I heard the song originally from a rendition by Canadian Brass. And synthesizers make similar sounds, bright sounds to brass instruments, so I thought it would be awesome to combine that vibe with a nice, fun groove!”
Rock by the Sea Volume 8 also provides the traditional New Year’s offering, “Auld Lang Syne”
“I began arranging my version of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ a few years ago as the holidays had come and gone,” Lang Freeman opines “The new year was swiftly approaching and I, like so many folks around late December, was struggling with a previous year’s worth of laments. I took some creative liberties with the tune (given that it’s 300 or so years old) and penned a few of my own verses, allowing me to personalize the song a bit. I think what came out is a beautiful song about joy, sorrow, happiness and regret all occupying the same space at the same time.”
You can check out those and the rest of the holiday treats in your Play MPE account, just click here!
What’s Up Doc?
My professional life has been a constant record of disillusion, and many things that seem wonderful to most men are the every-day commonplaces of my business. – Harry Houdini
A friend of mine once referred to Houdini as the first great marketer. Lessons may be taken by those looking to spread their own good word…it’s right there in his repute: “the master of illusion” —and the highest paid man in vaudeville.
With mystery of the unknown comes curiosity. Give ‘em just enough. Give em a story. Build tension.
In a post reality TV world, the social dynamic tides have shifted at a frog in boiling water pace. While once mystery sold, today, it’s a tweet all, bare all world. Forty somethings now in the music industry grew up reading about their heroes in Rolling Stone…but never had the opportunity to share direct exchanges with them over 140 characters on Twitter, much less read their favorite artists’ ponderings, gaining greater insight into them as a person vs. an artist. These days, there’s a desire to knock down the fourth wall. Kids have been weaned on The Real World, now selfie-ing their way through their own day to day lives, documenting daily moments.
So, it’s no wonder that a bevy of rock docs are now available, peeling back the curtains to those “Celebrities: They’re Just Like Us” moments. At 25, Demi Lovato has released Simply Complicated via YouTube. Longtime friend Selena Gomez has proclaimed her support of Lovato’s disclosures about her substance abuse problems and eating disorder.
Just dropped on Netflix, Lady Gaga’s long-awaited Five Foot Two offers plenty of behind the scenes on the queen. For its part, Five Foot Two provides glimpses into the singer’s interactions with fans, as well as her struggles with chronic pain.
You can also on demand your way to some rare, previously unreleased Beatles footage via 2017’s It Was Fifty Years Ago Today! The Beatles: Sgt. Pepper and Beyond which explores the making of the legendary record.
Also on Netflix is 2014’s gut-wrenching tribute to Glenn Campbell, I’ll Be Me, an up-close look at Campbell’s recent performances, never shying away from filming Alzheimer’s’ impact on the artist and his family. Local theaters have organized screenings complete with expert Q&A sessions regarding the illness, all to raise funds for the Alzheimer’s Family Organization.
Standard-bearer HBO continues to see success with The Defiant Ones, their captivating look at Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre. In it, Jimmy Iovine opens up about resisting pressure to offload Dr. Dre’s Death Row Records from his own Interscope amidst response to gangster rap’s growing popularity.
As the title suggests, it’s an homage to shared traits of the unlikely duo’s impact on culture as a whole. (In the context of hip-hop and post 90s music, one can forget Iovine’s roots as a producer dating back to John Lennon, Patti Smith, Bruce Springsteen, and Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks –who, as legend has it, Iovine was dating prior to the magical release of “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.”) Petty shared “Next thing I know he goes, ‘Hey, I got something I gotta play you,’ and he plays me ‘Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,’ the same track, with her singing…I go, ‘Jimmy, you just took the song?’… His comeback was like, ‘This is gonna buy you a house.’ But it pissed me off because … [Nicks’ track and ‘ours’] came out at the same time, so I think our single suffered.”
Such reveals are also inevitable with Apple’s release of Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives. It’s a title that’s really not too big for its britches: Davis’ golden touch has impacted or launched the careers of countless artists across nearly every conceivable genre: Janis Joplin, Bruce Springsteen, Simon & Garfunkel, Santana, Miles Davis, Billy Joel, Barry Manilow, Patti Smith, The Grateful Dead, Kenny G, Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Sean Combs, Alicia Keys…just scratches the surface. The biopic and look at history features archival footage and contemporary interviews in tribute to the legend Aretha called “the greatest record man of all time.”
Grab the cuddlduds blankie and the popcorn–with the winter months looming, we music freaks have more than enough binge-ing to sink our teeth into.
Play MPE is once again pleased as punch and as ever to partner up with Christian Music Broadcasters for the always enlightening, engaging, and illuminating Momentum. We’re always so struck by the content of the panels in particular, so we’re thrilled to again be onsite recording them for your Play MPE account so that we might, well… spread the gospel. Fancy that!
If you are in attendance, however, make sure you say hi to the intrepid Laurie Gail. You’ll have the chance to compare notes on this year’s bevy of thoughtful speakers across all manner of industries, including photographer Jeremy Cowart. Huffington Post, Forbes, and Yahoo recently named Cowart the “Most Influential Photographer on the Internet.” The entrepreneurial Cowart gained notoriety launching a global photography movement called Help-Portrait. Help Portrait is described as a global movement of photographers, hairstylists and makeup artists using their time, tools and expertise to give back to those in need. Like many ideas, this one is both simple and clever: “give people who otherwise couldn’t afford photography, a chance to capture a moment, a memory…’
Which is all very much in line with Momentum’s vibe, of course. It is, after all the flagship event of CMB, whose stated goals are in part “to provide ideas which will help the business of Christian media to thrive, to improve competence through education, and to sustain the Christian radio format as an effective tool for communicating the Gospel with the intent of leading as many people as possible to spiritual growth and salvation.”
The only conference devoted solely to Christian music broadcasting, Momentum itself, meanwhile, has since 2009, CMB proudly shares, been “packed with applicable best practices, actionable advice and multiple networking opportunities, representing radio and record industry professionals dedicated to the success of Christian music broadcasting, representing 30+ million weekly listeners.
With so many thoughtful minds under one roof, ideas are bound to flourish– especially against the backdrop of inspirational talks from folks like Tim Miles. Described as part Dave Barry, part Dave Ramsey, Miles’ blog and Funny Business Podcast have reached audiences across 37 countries, and every continent but Antarctica. The key to Tim’s pearls of wisdom? One family business owner shared “Tim Miles is the least full of crap guy he’s ever heard talk about marketing, management and motivation.” Sign me up!
“This year marks Christian Music Broadcasters’ 15th anniversary,” CMB Executive Director Michelle Younkman proudly shared. “We’ve been celebrating all year and plan to bring the celebration to our premiere event, Momentum (Sept 6-9 at Loews Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando). Momentum will be packed with applicable best practices to equip our attendees for excellence in radio. There will be 700+ radio and record industry professionals together under one roof who are dedicated to the success of Christian music radio. We are thrilled to have speakers such as Daniel Anstandig, Paul Jacobs, and Lori Lewis (plus many more!) invest in the Momentum attendees. Christian radio’s favorite artists will be performing as well, including Matthew West, Matt Maher, Mandisa and more. It’s going to be a great Momentum experience!”
Those stations will indeed have a chance to tackle all that and more, at the house Mickey built in just a few weeks. For more deets on Momentum, head to cmbonline.org/momentum-2017/
Industry Spotlight: Don’t Worry, Be Nappi
While there’s nobility to be found in and reverence to be felt for all manner of occupations, fields and trades and means by which we support ourselves and loved ones, the unique charge that comes from speaking with someone truly happy in their work cannot be understated.
One such person is clearly Tommy Nappi, Senior Vice President of Promotion, RRP/Atlantic Records. With a nice guys finish first resume boasting the likes of Madonna, John Mellencamp, and now Kelly Clarkson as office mates, Nappi’s Mt. Rushmore career trajectory is a template to be reckoned with. Before tackling his own history, Nappi was thrilled to share the Kelly Clarkson scoop. “It’s really, really exciting. She’s a wonderful person. Anybody you speak to in the business, in the industry, has nothing but great things to say about her. She’s a hard worker and it obviously is going to be a major priority for us here and I’m looking forward to the challenge and working it and really getting in the trenches and hopefully putting her on the map again as is so deserved.”
We were thrilled, meanwhile, for the chance to hear the some of the secrets of his success, not least of which stem (not surprisingly for a hard-working lad) from his folks.
“When I was 15 years old my dad bought me DJ equipment. I wanted to be a DJ. That’s how I started. My dad was a salesman and had nothing to do with music, but he was very passionate about music. We always had music in our family, in our house, you know playing the drums, you name it. Always had music on. So when I was 15, he buys me the stuff, and– cut to the chase, I end up a few weeks later DJing a party for $50, a sweet 16. I couldn’t even drive to the gig! My dad had to drive me, drop me off. The house ended up really liking me- they’re like ‘Kid, what are ya doin’ next Saturday? We got another party in here. We’d love to use ya- how much ya want?’ I said ‘50 dollars.’ They said ‘We’ll pay you $75. Be here at 7 o’clock.’”
With an infectious chuckle, Nappi graciously and gratefully reflects on the path that took him for mobile DJ to club DJ to radio DJ to VP (at times, all concurrently). “I was ranked in the top 100 club DJ’s where I was a reporter to Billboard magazine which takes the best 100 DJ’s that they consider are out there playing, and I was working 6 or 7 nights a week. It was my main source of income, being a club DJ. So, at that point I started a production company. I wrote and produced some songs that were out there.”
It was the fateful connection with Billboard that led to Tommy’s gig at Polydor, where he ran the dance department, and subsequently served as the New York regional for Mercury. (“I went on the interview and was pretty much a wiseass and they called me back the next day and offered me the job (laughs) and I took it!”)
Lesson being, boys and girls? Be yourself. For Tommy, being yourself has led to a myriad of surreal experiences during the arc of his career, notably he mentions a Deftones show “where I hafta meet Madonna outside the club and then go and physically watch the show with her. You’re like looking at yourself like…I’m with Madonna right now watching The Deftones as there’s a mosh pit going on and people are killing each other out there. It’s things like that that. The memories are amazing.” (Did we mention Nappi’s 7 years running promotion for Madonna’s Maverick Records? That preceded his time at Sony where he ran Top 40 for Epic for about 7 years, moving on to Universal subsequently before planting his feet at Warner Music Group. (“That’s the Reader’s Digest version.”)
And quite a ride it’s been. He’s a grateful traveler and quick to vocalize the gratitude. “I have to thank my dad because he so much instilled music in our lives. My brother right now to this day is a mobile DJ and he basically took my business over and now he has a huge successful mobile DJ business. So, I thank my father for what he did for my brother and I… Look, I was in the music business when he was alive, but, I know he’s smiling up there because it was his passion that drove us to do what we do.”
A father himself, Nappi joyfully shares a recent memory of bringing his daughter to see Kinky Boots, featuring Brendon from Panic At The Disco “My daughter’s been a huge Panic at the Disco fan and I took her to the show and he was amaaazing. The show gets done and we’re gonna go backstage. I didn’t tell my daughter any of this and 5 minutes after the show, we’re literally on the stage. She looked at me and said ‘Dad, we’re on stage right now.’ (laughs) We go back and we’re in his dressing room and it’s just me, my daughter, and him and, it’s like, things like that you’ll remember your whole life.”
I ask Tommy if he was always nocturnal, if that played a role in his work ethic and the course he charted.
“Oh yeah. I was a worker bee always. When I was 11 years old I had a paper route, would get up at 4:45 a.m., wrap my papers, put ‘em in the bike, fall over the top of the bike because the papers weighed more than me and be on the bus to go to school at quarter to 7.” Eventually, that same drive translated to post-class, pre-gig power naps, to keep him energized spinning club gigs. With music in his heart and mind always, Nappi seems destined for the gig he holds now.
“Working here at Atlantic, they allow our artists to really have vision as to what they wanna do and we just try to fit in, guide it to the level we need to get it to. There’s some great artists I get to work with here and I know I’m lucky and blessed to have that. I have a great team of people I work with. Our field staff is amazing. My boss, John Boulos is unbelievable. Our leadership from the top-Julie Greenwald and Craig Kallman who are the Presidents of Atlantic– they’re the best leaders I’ve ever worked for. It makes it just wonderful to walk into this building and do what we do. Ya can’t do it – nobody does it on their own. This team that they’ve put together, it really is amazing. All the departments are great, they really are.”
Like with like. Given the breadth of understanding Nappi brings to the table, it seems no surprise he’d be surrounded by like minds who understand what it takes to “make” a record…and often that means patience. “I always say this – every day I get up, there should be a smile on my face. Look what I get to do. Here, it’s been amazing. Here at Atlantic, our roster is so loaded and so diverse. It’s been a great run. We’ve had some really, really great things. Like 21 Pilots we’ve been working from the ground up and I remember begging people to come to shows to see them where there were maybe 40 of 50 people in the room and then, you know, as it graduated, maybe a year later we’re playing a bigger venue and a year later we’re playing the next one, and you know this is the last time you’re gonna see ‘em in a room this size. They’re gonna wind up playing Madison Square Garden and Staples Center, all those places.”
Kind of like starting out delivering newspapers and DJ’ing Middle School dances.
Faces of Play MPE: Right Said Fred
Fred Vandenberg’s soft spoken, mild manner belie the near unbridled giddy pride and audible esteem in which holds the company he now oversees. Like a kid in a candy store, Play MPE’s erstwhile CFO and now CEO holds the keys to a kingdom about which he can’t wait to shout from the hills.
A seasoned accountant, Vandenberg was introduced to Destiny Media by way of his tax practice. Once a client, Play MPE has been home to him for the past 12 years. “The controller at the time left and I took over his duties and hired some staff when Play MPE was starting. It was just an idea at the time.”
An idea which of course took flight, to the delight of music aficionados everywhere, including Vandenberg. A diehard U2 and The Tragically Hip fan, Fred has seen both bands in the past year. “That’s a big thrill, the Joshua Tree tour. The Joshua Tree is probably my favorite album.” As for The Hip? “I don’t think they ever got much exposure outside of Canada. They were on Saturday Night Live one time and I thought ‘Oh, this is great- they finally are gonna get some exposure to the U.S., but they just never seemed to take off.’
It’s a running theme, the idea of artists receiving deserved exposure…and one Fred sees as veritable marching orders for the company. He explains: “Have you ever watched the documentary Searching for Sugar man? I just saw him (Rodriguez) in Vancouver last Saturday. He was at the Orpheum in Vancouver, which is a small venue. I was pretty much close enough to touch him. It’s a really cool story actually, about a guy- I think he’s from Detroit. He was probably around late 20s or early 30s when he released a couple of albums in the early 70s and they did nothing in the United States, but they took off in South Africa. But he (Rodriguez) never knew about it! So he lived his life without ever knowing that he was really really wildly popular in South Africa. Anyway, the story is about these guys who start looking for him because they wondered what happened to him. They found him- eventually. And now he’s touring and singing his songs. It’s really good music and I just can’t help but think that that’s a really topical story for our business. How we can get music out to more people. That’s sort of the overriding theme of how we develop our tools. How do we expose more music to more people and break an artist or help somebody become successful, or well-known. Especially when they have really good songs. His songs are really good. But for whatever reason they just didn’t get the traction (in the US) they did in South Africa.”
Having transitioned recently from CFO to CEO, Vandenberg has big plans for music and Play MPE both internally and externally. “I think it’s time to celebrate the industry we’re in. We have a bit of a shifting focus on what we’re working on and we’ve got a lot of cool product ideas for Play MPE that I think are going to help our customers even more, which I’m excited about.” Fred gives a glimpse of some developing details on the technical side. “The biggest single development is we’re going to be issuing a web encoder, the encoder that people send the music out on, they’ll be able to access it online so they can use Macs and PC’s. It’s going to be a lot more user friendly so I think there will be lots more functionality. It’ll be really easy to use as opposed to maybe a tool that you need to be a little bit more trained in using right now.”
The celebration of the industry will take place within the office walls, as well, with more music playing in the halls, and even music trivia nights. (I warn him to get ready if he’s up against Laurie Gail.) “The challenge has been laid down. That’s good-maybe I can get her on my team, then.” (laughs) We speak of the multigenerational nature of the industry and organization, the breadth of musical taste experience each employee brings to the table. “I talk about listening to 8 track tapes in the car with my mom. Lots of people hear that and have no idea what that is.”
Vandenberg reflects on those 8 track years, and the career path his childhood may have otherwise led. “I grew up in a hockey town so there’s guys from my home town that made the NHL that I grew up with and that’s just something I did.” (Vandenberg can still be found on the ice most weekends.) “I never really concentrated on music. I loved music, I loved listening to it. My brothers had stereos. There’s all sorts of things that bring me back to certain eras. You hear a song– ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ brings me back to driving around with my mom in the pale blue Valiant with the 8 track tapes. I can’t hear “We Don’t Need Another Hero” without thinking about driving across North America when I was 17.”
While the 8 tracks may be retired, music (alongside film and photography) will always be a passion. “I do have a guitar that has been wanting desperately to be played. I can only string a few chords together. I’ve been wanting to learn it ‘cause I love the sound of an acoustic guitar. I think my talents lay in business, but I certainly hold a passion for music. I have a good ear for music but I don’t know if I’d have a good talent for playing it. It’s not something I learned as a child and I wish I had, you know? My nieces and nephews all play multiple instruments and they have a piano. I see them play and I’d love to get one of my nieces on the drums and my nephew on piano or something like that… and then me on the guitar and do a song- that would be awesome.”
Indeed, just another way to get the music to the people.
Dr. G. Yunupingu 1971-2017
The music world lost a legend last month. Blind from birth, Dr. G. Yunupingu has been revered as one of the most important figures in Australian music history. His music has reached well beyond his native Elcho Island, selling over half a million albums worldwide. It must be noted that out of respect for Aboriginal custom, his given name and images are absent from coverage of his passing last month at the age of 46, after a long illness.
The highest selling Australian Indigenous artist in history, Dr. G Yunupingu emerged from the Galiwin’ku community off the coast of Arnhem, earning a platinum album in Australia with his debut. Singing in his native language, he went on to reach silver in the UK, and chart across the world, singing for audiences including Queen Elizabeth II and Barack Obama. His singing could be heard both in Yolngu languages including Gälpu, Gumatj or Djambarrpuynum as well as in English.
Known most perhaps for his voice, he counted among his fans, not surprisingly, Elton John, Sting and Bjork. Yunupingu was a veritable virtuoso, with skills extending across multiple instruments. He played keyboard, drums, guitar (a right-hand strung guitar which he played left handed), and didgeridoo.
Though his meteoric success took him far and wide from his Elcho Island origins, Dr. G. Yununpingu never strayed far from his community, serving as the backbone of the Yunupingu Foundation, serving young people in the Northern Territory.
Joining many in public tribute, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull took to social media, sharing “Dr. G. Yunupingu was a remarkable Australian sharing Yolngu language with the world through music. Prayers for Galiwin’ku & family & friends.”
Mark Grose, managing director of Yunupingu’s label Skinnyfish Music, reflected “In this day of too much noise, Dr. G. Yunupingu showed us that music is a powerful force for reconciliation. One of the greatest achievements any of us can have is to touch the hearts of others. And this is what Dr. G. Yunupingu did over and over and over again.”
Stephen Green, Director of SGC Media which represents Play MPE in Australia said: “Dr. G. Yunupingu was more important than just a musician. His work bridged a chasm in our nation, creating a window for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians to begin to understand each other. His legacy is as big as his heart and the ripples of his work will continue to be felt in this country and around the world for decades to come”.
Get your roots down: AmericanaFest
As perennially cool genres go, Americana consistently delivers. So, naturally, our own Laurie Gail will be there representing at AmericanaFest, paneling it up! Happening September 12th through the 17th, the 18th Annual gathering will feature a treasure trove of twang not to be missed.
It’s the flagship fest of the Americana Music Association, born in 1999 out of a gathering of about 30 volunteers from the radio, label, and media sides, descending upon Austin to brainstorm their mutual cause: to help American roots music assume an elevated and secure place in the artistic and commercial life of the nation. Americana, indeed. More formally speaking, the association “works closely with those in (the) industry, whether artists, labels, radio stations, retailers, print media, festivals, agents, publishers, etc. to help organize and build the infrastructure necessary for (the) genre to achieve success both creatively and financially.”
The 18th Annual strummy soiree aims as ever to tackle the interests of those in its community, all with a killer soundtrack of over 230 live performances across nearly 40 Nashville venues.
We were pleased to check in with AMA Executive Director Jed Hilly for his perspective on the upcoming week. “Americanafest 2017 is shaping up to be the best event ever… we have added almost 80 bands to the festival lineup bringing the total of showcase performances up to 300 over the 6 day event.” Jed helped to paint a vivid picture of the nuances of the event. “Its curation is driven by the Association… you won’t find label, agency or corporate sponsored showcases at this event. Every act and every slot has been carefully selected based on their creative merits.”
This year’s celebration of the genre is packed with gems for everybody’s tastes, from Shelby Lynne to Robyn Hitchcock. (To say nothing of Robert Cray, Iron & Wine, Lori McKenna, Blind Boys of Alabama, Colin Hay, Nicole Atkins…you get the drift). From Jed’s perspective, that broad swath is what it’s all about. “If I had to point to my favorite part of Americanafest, it’s that it features legends and the next generation of stars sharing stages and venues… but most, Americanafest is special because of the discovery element. I challenge anyone to know all 300 acts that will be featured this year, and guarantee, that regardless of the venue, you will find a band you have never heard of that all become your next favorite artist!”
For all the 411 on the AMA and the Americanafest line up, click here: http://americanamusic.org/about-americanafest