Interview with DAVID ANDREONE, publisher at Warner/Chappell for Disturbed, Michelle Branch, BRMC, Hoobastank - Nov 25, 2003
“Disturbed had taken the initiative to further their own careers, with or without the backing of a label or publisher.”
Based in Los Angeles, David Andreone is an A&R at Warner/Chappell Music in Los Angeles. The artists he represents include Disturbed (US multi-platinum), Michelle Branch (US platinum), Hoobastank (US platinum), Tantric (US gold) and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, to name but a few.
Here he describes how he came to work with Disturbed, the type of deal that he generally signs bands to, the things that songwriters must consider before signing to a publisher, and more.
How did you get started in the music business and how did you become a publisher?
I got my start in 1994 by managing my sister, singer/songwriter Leah Andreone (click on artist or song names to listen to Real Audio files – Ed.). At the time, she wasn’t signed to anybody; she didn’t have a label or a publishing deal. I shopped her demos and she eventually got signed by RCA Records and Warner/Chappell Music. At that point, because of my inexperience in the business, I bowed out, and she got a real manager (instead of just a well-meaning brother).
In the time that I shopped her, I did learn quite a bit about the business, and I also met lots of people who worked in different areas of the business. By far, A&R at a music publishing company appealed to me the most, so I quit my day job and became an A&R assistant at Warner/Chappell. I went out five nights a week, saw bands, and met managers, attorneys and other A&R people. After a while, the people I worked for realised that I knew quite a bit about what was going on, and I was promoted.
What qualities and skills must a publisher have?
Obviously, being able to hear a hit song is imperative. Beyond that, I think that having a musical background helps one to understand songwriters. Additionally, good publishers are business savvy and have marketing insight, which helps them to differentiate between "a great song" and "a great hit song". Times and trends evolve, and because of this, you have to be in touch with the world and new trends, styles, movements and scenes.
What experiences have shaped your skills as publisher?
I was fortunate to have what most people in the music business don't have, that is, mentors. Our business is unique in the sense that there's no real "training program"—you either get it, or you don't. You either make a big splash quickly, or fade away even more quickly. My experience at Warner/Chappell was different. I was able to tap into the skills of publishers who had been in the business for years, and who also had numerous multi-platinum acts under their belts. It was invaluable, and I'll never forget how huge a role people like Rick Shoemaker, Greg Sowders and Judy Stakee have played in making me a publisher who has passion and integrity.
Additionally, I believe that being a musician has only helped me to be a better publisher. Not that there aren't good publishers who've never played an instrument, but I believe that musicians "hear" music slightly differently to non-musicians. Music is a language, and it communicates in a deep and different way when you understand notes, chords and progressions.
What are your main activities?
Signing bands and songwriters, then working with them, developing them and doing everything I can to further their careers.
What styles of music do you focus on?
I'm actually all across the board stylistically. I work with Disturbed, a heavy rock band, and I also work with Michelle Branch, a singer/songwriter. Their audiences couldn't be more different, but there is a unifying quality in their music: at their core, the songs they write are pop songs. They might be dressed up differently in terms of instrumentation and production, but they're still pop songs in structure. I also work with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Hoobastank, Tantric, Remy Zero and Minibar, and the new acts Vue, DriveBlind, Tina Sugandh and Rosey.
What type of songwriters do you usually sign?
I tend to focus on bands and singer/songwriters, as opposed to signing staff writers (writers who specifically write songs for other artists to record). Because we are a business, and a big business at that, my dictate is to find songwriters who strike that elusive balance between art and commerce. In order to have the privilege to work with a songwriter, we give them an advance, which is money up front, so it's important that we're able to "recoup" that investment in time. Generally, with the types of artists who I work with, the lionshare of revenue comes from selling records (mechanical royalties).
What input do you usually have on the songwriting and production?
In some cases, none. In other cases, I'll not only work on each and every song they intend to release, but I might actually be in the studio with them when they're recording. I sign bands and songwriters at all different stages of their careers. When I sign a band very early in their career, it
generally means that there's a need for development, for guidance and advice. When I sign a band who have already written and recorded their songs, most of my focus is then on exploiting those compositions.
How did you come to work with Michelle Branch, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Hoobastank?
I first saw Michelle Branch in 1999 on a tiny stage in Las Vegas, at a music festival called EAT’M. Her manager, Jeff Rabhan, invited me to see her, telling me that it was very early, but that she was wise and talented beyond her years (she was 14 or 15 at the time). He was right, so we (Judy Stakee and I) signed her.
As far as Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are concerned, I kept hearing about them "on the street", so I eventually went to one of their shows at the Troubadour. I was blown away by their intensity and songwriting, and signed them. They didn’t have a record deal at that point, so part of our job was to shop them to the major labels (which I did, with Kenny MacPherson).
I signed Hoobastank after their record on Island was completed, and just before their first single went to radio. I saw a show at the Whiskey, loved their performance, loved the songs, and thought a lot of other people would like their songs too. Their first record went platinum, and it looks like their follow-up is going to do just as well.
How did you happen to see Disturbed play for the first time at the 1999 MOBfest in Chicago?
I saw Disturbed play at MOBfest at Dougie Thompson's insistence. He wasn't managing them at the time but he wanted to. It was the last night of the festival, they had a late show, and I hadn't heard a note of their music. I was exhausted, but fortunately, I trusted Thompson's taste and I went to the show.
Was there anything other than their music that made you want to sign them?
I signed Disturbed for many reasons. One of the main reasons was their lead singer, David Draiman: his presence and voice just got me. They also had hit songs, like “Stupify” and “Down With The Sickness”, classic rock songs that are still on many rock radio playlists years after their release.
Beyond their performance and songs, Disturbed had taken the initiative to further their own careers, with or without the backing of a label or publisher. They developed a strong Midwest following, distributed demos, and even had merchandise. In this day and age, it's imperative that a band do as much as possible to market themselves before getting signed.
What does working with them involve?
When I signed Disturbed, they didn't have a record deal, so the first step was to get them a deal. I shopped them to all the majors, and they eventually signed to Giant Records (Berko Weber, Jeff Aldrich and Larry Jacobson). Because the guys in the band had a very clear vision of whom they wanted to be and what they wanted to sound like, I had little input on the making of the record.
At this point, after selling three or four million records, my role is now more that of a traditional publisher: I find film and television opportunities, make sure their royalties are collected around the world, and so on.
Which are the most effective resources when it comes to finding new talent?
My ears. After that, managers, club owners, club kids, fanzines, magazines, attorneys, friends, family, perfect strangers...anywhere and everywhere. No one other than the kids, the fans, "discovers" a band. I hear about bands from a myriad of sources, but I've never "discovered" a band.
Do you accept unsolicited material?
No, for both practical and legal reasons, I don't.
What factors do you take into account when listening to a new songwriter, artist or band?
It's hard to articulate the feeling you get when you first stumble upon a band that later goes on to sell millions of records. Recognising that you've just come across an artist who will soon be the favourite artist of millions of people, and these people don't know it yet, is a trip. These types of artists have to have some type of mass appeal, whether it's to fourteen-year-old kids who like heavy metal, high-school girls who like pop or people with a taste for alternative music.
What traits and qualities do songwriters have in common?
Songwriters are just people, and they're as diverse as any other large group of people or profession. Having said that, I think that songwriters are able to communicate some kind of universally felt emotion, feeling or vibe in a way that's provocative and unique. Love songs, for the most part, are just that—love songs. But somewhere, today, there's a love song being written that will communicate that emotion in a way that hasn't yet been expressed in song. That's powerful, and that's art in general. You can see hundreds of paintings of battlefields, but there's only one Guernica.
What advice would you give aspiring songwriters in terms of the songwriting itself?
Don't try to write a hit. Write from the heart. Write from a place of honesty and integrity. If you do want to write a hit, listen to popular music. Don't be removed from the world, don't isolate yourself from pop culture and music. Listen to the Beatles, Stones, Squeeze, Elliot Smith, Elvis Costello and Bjork, and then write from your heart. The bands and artists who are chasing the hit single are rarely around for much longer than that one hit single.
When you sign a new writer, what in general does the agreement include?
There are many different types of agreements that we enter into, and the decision depends on a number of variables. We generally sign bands on a per-album basis (one album plus options on subsequent records). Additionally, reversions, territories and advances are negotiated. The majority of my deals are co-publishing deals, which essentially means that we share in
the ownership of the copyrights for a pre-negotiated period of time, and then the rights revert back to the songwriter.
I sometimes hear young writers say, "I'm not giving my publishing away". With co-pub deals, a songwriter is essentially leasing the songs to the publisher for a predetermined period of time, unlike record labels, which generally own master recordings for life.
What key issues should aspiring songwriters be aware of before signing a publishing deal?
I think it's important that songwriters consider the capabilities of the company and the people whom they'll be working with there. Publishing companies should be equipped to collect royalties on a worldwide basis. Lots of publishing companies will claim that they can, but they don't really have their own offices around the world. Therefore, they have to rely on third parties to collect those royalties, and those third parties take a percentage, thereby reducing the royalty that the writer is due.
The publisher should have the muscle to stand up to those who might illegally use songs without payment or permission. The publisher should be closely connected to the film and television studios. Most publishers will claim to have all these qualities, but few truly do.
Lastly, you should like the people at the company. At best, your music publisher should be an extension of your team (label, attorney, manager, performing rights organisation, etc.). These people should be passionate about you, your talent and your career potential.
New artists are often dropped by major record labels when their debut album doesn’t produce a profit, because major labels are owned by shareholders who do not have the patience to wait for an artist to break over the course of three albums. Are major music publishers, which are also owned by shareholders, in the same situation, or are you able to give new songwriter/artists more time?
We absolutely can give the people we sign more time. Here's why: an artist's career is much like that of an athlete. They have their prime years, but generally speaking, because we're signing artists who are also songwriters, there are no prime years—songwriters can write until the day they die. Many of our most active writers had hits, as artists, in the 70s and 80s and they're as busy today, if not busier, than they were back in their artist years.
Is the fact that big radio conglomerates own most of the stations a problem for the music industry and for artists in particular?
Of course it's a problem. Diversity is almost nonexistent in radio today. Playlists have become homogenised and boring. There is good music out there, but if your only source of new music is radio, you'll never discover the good stuff. Not to say that all music on the radio is substandard.
On the contrary, there's a lot of great music on commercial radio, but there's also so much music that isn't getting played. It's a shame, and it's a huge problem. Thank God for non-commercial stations, satellite radio and the Internet!
What aspects of the industry are in need of drastic change?
I'd change the way that record deals are structured and records are made, so that artists don't have to break on their first record (if not their first single). There's no reason why a record label should have to spend upwards of a million dollars on an artist's first record. Prince broke on his third record, and there are countless other examples of artists who came out in the 60s, 70s and 80s who probably wouldn't have broken if they had released their records today.
What has been the best moment of your music career so far?
Seeing my sister perform in front of thousands of people at Madison Square Garden. It's an amazing feeling to see someone you love attain a dream.
What do you see yourself doing in five to ten years’ time?
Working with songwriters. I love publishing, I love finding new artists and I love good songs.
Interviewed by Stefan Sörin
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