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.