Interview with PETER MALKIN, manager at PMM for Vanessa Carlton (US platinum) - May 6, 2003
“Bands should be very aware of what's happening in the new world order of record deals, how the business is evolving and changing.”Based in New York, Peter Malkin manages Vanessa Carlton who has sold two million copies worldwide of her debut album “Be Not Nobody” (2002) and previously managed Nine Days (US gold)—both for Peter Malkin Management (PMM), which he started five years ago. Before that, while working at DAS Communications, he co-managed the Fugees, the Spin Doctors and Joan Osborne (all US multi-platinum).
How did you get started in the music business and how did you become a manager?
At college, in about 1989, I found a band called The Hatters, from Philadelphia, that I really fell in love with. I didn't know exactly what to do, but I knew I wanted to help them, so I started booking them at the local clubs on the Philadelphia scene. Then two things happened: one, they opened up for Blues Traveler, who were managed by Bill Graham, and two, they got a record deal with Atlantic Records.
I started working for Bill Graham after I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, in his New York office. I knew David Sonenberg because there was a relationship between Blues Traveler and the Spin Doctors (who were managed by the David Sonenberg-owned management company DAS Communications - Ed.) and, after Bill was killed, I spent six years working for David. Five years ago, I left to start my own company.
What were the most important aspects of management that you learned about while at DAS?
I learned, especially while working with the Fugees and Joan Osborne, how to develop an act from its very small beginnings in the US market to worldwide success. I learned the ways in which different labels function and how to deal with a label's various departments. I already had a touring and booking background coming from Bill Graham's office, so from what I learned most were David's management philosophies, which helped me form my own.
How did you first learn about Vanessa Carlton?
Her attorney, Nick Ferrara, who's a friend of mine, sent me a demo she had done on her own and I fell in love with it immediately.
Had she started performing live at that point?
She was performing sporadically in small clubs in New York City, but she didn’t really have a following then.
How did she record her initial demos and what was their quality like?
She got help from a producer named Peter Zizzo and they recorded in Peter’s studio. I wasn't that concerned about the quality of sound, because it was the songwriting that blew me away.
What happened after you met her?
I didn't sign her immediately. I had to have a number of meetings with her because she was young and because her father, a concerned parent, was involved, so I not only had to make her feel comfortable and persuade her that I could help her, but her father as well. She met lots of managers, so it took me a long while, but what finally clinched it was the fact that she was making a record that wasn't really being supervised and there were problems at her label. She asked me what I would do and I said, "Don't worry, we'll fix it." The other person she had narrowed it down to said, "Gosh, I don't know, that sounds like a tough situation." She later told me that she had been impressed by the fact that I was trying to charge forward.
What did you see in her that made you want to work with her?
Pure, raw talent and somebody who's young and can grow for years to come.
What happened when you had signed her?
Nick had already sent her demos to different labels with the result that Vanessa had signed with Interscope. She was working on an album, but it wasn't working out with her producer. The first thing I did was to sit down with Jimmy Iovine, the head of Interscope, and Tom Whalley, who was the president before leaving for Warner Brothers, and I told them that the current situation was uncomfortable and that we were not sure that this was the record we wanted her to make. We played her music to Ron Fair (the president of A&M Records, a Universal affiliate, as is Interscope - Ed.) and some other A&R people, and Ron called me up and said, "I love this and I can do it." He did the song "A Thousand Miles" first, and everything took off from there.
How important has Ron Fair’s input been for Vanessa?
Tremendously so. Ron had the experience of working with Christina Aguilera and he had in-depth conversations with Vanessa about producing in the studio.
What were the important factors in the breaking of Vanessa?
A hit song, accompanied by a video that Mark Klasfeld made fairly inexpensively, and then Tom Calderone at MTV stepping up way early and saying, "I want to help break Vanessa Carlton."
Does she have a publishing deal?
Yes, with Universal Music Publishing. She was signed by Andrew Fuhrmann (Vice President Creative Affairs, East Coast - Ed.) and Tom Sturges (Vice President Creative Affairs, West Coast - Ed.). They heard the music, and just like me, they fell in love with it. She got the deal very early on, before the album was out.
How has her publisher helped her?
They have created all kinds of licensing opportunities in film, television and commercials. As far as songwriting, they're there if she needs them, but she wrote her first album on her own and is currently writing her second.
What other artists do you manage?
I've got a rock band called Diffuser on Hollywood Records. They are sort of a emo/rock/pop/punk band and their album is due out this summer, and I have a production team called Dangerman, who were formerly an artist duo signed to Epic; they're working on a project with a new lead singer right now.
How do you find new talent?
In all sorts of ways, but mostly through attorneys and A&R representatives.
Do you accept unsolicited material?
No, I don’t. It needs to come with a recommendation from someone we know.
What weighs most heavily in the balance when you are listening to a demo?
The strength of the song, its uniqueness, its lyrical message, and how strong the lead vocalist is.
How important is it that your artists also write their own material?
It's not necessarily the most important thing. From a business point of view, it's better if they write their own material, because then they're controlling their own publishing, but it's not a prerequisite for me. I prefer it, but there are artists I work with who get help with their writing and that’s ok too.
Is there any particular area of the music business that you think unsigned artists should learn more about to increase their chances of having a successful career?
They should learn about the different ways in which they can gain financial profit from their music, not just with a record deal, but also by licensing it for videogames or cellphone applications, for example. Bands should be very aware of what's happening in the new world order of record deals, how the business is evolving and changing; perhaps the deals will get shorter, or perhaps the labels will want to participate in other areas and become more like partners. It's very important that they learn how to get exposure and build a fan base on the Internet. They should really learn how to do things themselves, because the less reliant they are on a record company or anybody else, the better off they're going to be.
What should an unsigned, aspiring artist with no connections do to get noticed by the industry?
Keep making really strong music and build a fan base on their own. It works because it always attracts attention somewhere. The acts I hear about are the ones who are making a noise in their home towns by being played on the local radio stations, by putting on amazing shows and by building their fan base. It's amazing how quickly you hear about things when that happens.
Once signed to you, do you support artists financially so that they can focus on the music?
I would, but it's not my responsibility and managers shouldn't be required to be financially responsible. If they want to they can be and I've done that many times, but to be expected to, no.
Do you devise strategies for your artists on how they should develop and how they should strengthen their brand name?
Of course. You must first identify what audience you're trying to reach and then build your strategy from there. You look at the things you’ve already got: for example, if you have a fan base, where is it and who is it?
How much input do you usually have on the songs and the productions?
I usually let the artist and the producer have their moment and do their thing, but if they ask me for feedback I'm happy to give it. I don't want to be intrusive in that process. I visit the studio, but I don't stay there long; I leave them to get on with it.
Do you think it is management companies who will increasingly take on the task of developing new artists, when record labels, who seem to want a ready-to-go package, are less and less inclined to do so?
Managers should always be there, no matter what. The label or whoever your partner is will help you, hopefully, but developing new artists is one of a manager's functions.
What do you think about the radio situation in the US?
It's tough. Ever since they deregulated ownership, radio has become more generic and homogenized. You hear the same things over and over, although satellite radio, which is growing and is certainly not mainstream yet, has begun to offer a bit of variety. We'll see what happens, but right now more variety is definitely needed.
Do you agree that artists should share the costs of making the videos and the albums with the record labels, as they often do when these are recouped from their royalties?
I wish they didn't have to, but realistically, artists have to bear some of the burden of responsibility.
If artists share the costs of making the album and the videos with record labels, do you think they should also share ownership of the masters?
How do you think the Internet will affect record companies' business model?
We've seen in the last two years how it's been affected. The Internet has meant two things: a new way to market music, and a new way to distribute it. Now record labels have to adapt to these changes, which they are doing, but slowly. For management companies, it means more opportunities and ways in which to expose and make a profit from music, but we also need to be creative in our approach to changing the old model.
Could independent artists' web sites replace independent record releases?
Not as a replacement but as an addition, and that's happening right now. There are many strong independent labels who still develop acts and serve them on a platter to majors. They do all the hard work, and many bands need those labels. There are also independent artists who don’t need a label, who can put a release on the Internet and do very well. It’s an alternative for many bands but, on the whole, it won't replace traditional releases.
What aspects of the music industry would you change?
I would make sure that artists had a greater choice of labels to sign to because, since the conglomeration started, we're down to five major labels, whereas six years ago there were twenty. There isn't enough competition, and there aren't enough choices and different philosophies.
I also wish that artists were able to make money selling records. Very few artists are able to do that these days, because record sales are not keeping up with the costs and with people being able to burn CDs and get music on the Internet. I hope that the Internet becomes a legitimate source of income for artists.
What has been the greatest moment of your music career?
I have had many, but I recently attended the Grammy Awards with Vanessa Carlton, who was nominated and performed there. Two years ago, I got her demo and my instinct told me that this was an artist that would grab everybody's attention.
What do you see yourself doing in 5-10 years' time?
Doing what I do, but on a broader scale, developing properties, managing actors, athletes, comedians, who knows?
Interviewed by Kimbel Bouwman
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