Interview with JORDAN FELDSTEIN, manager for Maroon 5, Robin Thicke, Sara Bareilles - Oct 30, 2013
“The idea behind the Blurred Lines video was to make a great viral piece – and it worked”
Artist manager Jordan Feldstein specialises in firing careers into the pop stratosphere. He took Maroon 5 to the very top over ten years ago and has managed to keep them there ever since. He turned Robin Thicke’s modest Stateside success into global stardom and has cultivated a major mainstream career for singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles (US #1, UK Top 10).
Feldstein talks exclusively to HitQuarters about the masterplan behind viral mega hit Blurred Lines and how he helped Maroon 5 evolve from breakthrough act into established stars.
What's your background in music?
While I was in college I interned at record labels during the summer and then after college I started working for [talent agency] ICM as an assistant in their music department.
How did you find Maroon 5?
I’ve known Adam from Maroon 5 my whole life because our dad's were best friends in high school. When I started working at ICM they were a band called Kara's Flowers and they were just getting back together after being dropped from Warner Brothers. He called me and he played me some music. I loved it and said to him: "I want to manage you!" He said: "Alright!" And I quit my job.
In the beginning how did you build things? Did you invest any money?
I put in some of my own money and I have to credit Graham Nash who paid for most of the demo process. This was a different age, we put the demos together, the Internet was just rolling and they barely had a website. We just started playing around in LA. We rebuilt their local following, worked on new music, shopped it and ended up getting passed on by every major before we eventually signed with an indie called Octone Records (HQ interview).
What did you start working on once the label was involved?
It was really a guy called James Diener who founded the label and was an A&R at J Records at the time. He really pushed the guys to write more music and then put them with [producer] Matt Wallace to make that first record (Songs About Jane).
It was a very collaborative process. Everyone was involved. We worked on a quick timeline so there was a lot of pressure on everybody but the band wrote an amazing record and the sound was very unique for the time.
What were the main events that led the band forward?
Early on we had a Mavi Jeans commercial with the song "This Love" which helped build the underground buzz. But with Maroon 5 it was never really one thing. It was a consistent work ethic by the band. We worked that record for 4 years. We just kept going and going, building a fanbase, touring … I mean they did like 3 years of 200 dates a year.
It was always a slow build. It wasn’t like with Robin Thicke, where the video for Blurred Lines was such a gamechanger instantaneously, or with Sara Bareilles who had a TV commercial for Love Song for Rhapsody that changed everything.
How was it for you at the time working for 4 years with a band till things started happening?
It was tough. I was also working at the time with a management company called Leopold Management who managed Melissa Etheridge. I did some day-to-day for them but I primarily worked on the band. They were slow years.
To manage a band at the beginning of a career, what are the main things that are important?
Honestly I haven't really built a band for quite some time…[laughs]. What was important then is not as important now. I'm not that much in the new artist business.
For a pop act your online presence is a key factor. But it still comes down to having a great song. When Maroon 5 came out it was very much the artist writing their own material but now you compete with the best songwriters co-writing with the artist.
When you say the online presence is key, does it come down to things like YouTube views and Facebook likes?
None of that stuff matters to me, but I do think it matters to other people. It's about providing content online and being creative with it. The idea behind the Blurred Lines video was to make a great viral piece – and it worked. Without the initiative it took for Robin and me to put that piece together, he would not be having the level of success right now.
What was that initiative that led to that breakthrough video?
We knew it was great a song but we knew it wasn’t going to be the kind of song you can push on the radio. We had an artist in Robin Thicke that had never had a hit on radio. It was a non-traditional song; it didn't sound like a Timberland or Benny Blanco record so we had to approach the market in an interesting way.
The idea to shoot the video and go viral was mine. I brought in Diane Martel because I love her work and she was also very close with Pharrell [Williams], who produced the record. The concept of the video was Diane's idea and then we executed it online. We didn't ingest it through the record label through Vevo, we put it up on YouTube directly ourselves.
I knew it would get it banned quickly, which at that point spurred more interest in the video. I know that getting something banned actually helps you. MTV had banned the Maroon 5’s This Love video and made us re-edit it and that turned out to be a big turning point for Maroon 5.
So it got banned, we did a press release. It started the internet buzz and we reintroduced it through Vevo who allowed the content. Since then it has just been on a rocketship upwards.
How do you get a song put up through Vevo?
Through the record label.
How involved are you in the marketing of the artists you manage?
Marketing and promotion is really my thing. This is where I get heavily involved. We create every plan and help execute it. We do a lot of stuff in-house.
In terms of pushing something online, what are the key things to do?
I don't know if there are any tricks. With our video it was a word of mouth kind of thing. You need some organic interest in what you are doing.
How did you find the song?
The song was there when I started managing him. Him and Pharrell wrote the song.
You started working with Thicke in October last year. What made you take him on?
I love him as an artist and he had a career going. It wasn't like he is sitting at home waiting for something to happen. He accomplished a good amount of credibility and fanbase during the course of his time before I got involved. He was on the programme, The Voice, for one season so I got to see a little bit of him there and I was impressed. So when he was looking for a manager I was very interested in getting involved.
So it's been just less than a year working with him. So what were the steps that you were working on?
I always knew the song was great and at the time he was on a TV show called The Real Husbands of Hollywood which had very nice viral buzz. We were riding the wave of that and as that show was coming to an end we put up the video. That was kind of it. The song and the video took it from there.
Since then we have been building it with TV show appearances and all the other marketing around the song.
Managing a superstar artist how do you deal with all the various things that come up?
I've got a great team of people and from Maroon 5 we are used to it.
How do you build up a team around you?
The main person that has been there from the beginning is a guy called Adam Harrison, who is my GM. You slowly build it over time. You meet people. Sometimes you bring in the wrong people and sometimes you bring in the right ones. But then you also bring in people with expertise in certain areas. There is a guy called Wayne Sharp who does our touring, who ran Madison Square Garden and Universal Amphitheatre.
He has a tremendous amount of knowledge and experience in one specific area. He provides us with a certain level of expertise.
For all the online stuff do you have somebody that takes care of all the social media stuff?
Here we have two people that maintain our websites and our social networks. We never have to rely on a third party. They also help come up with creative ideas.
How big is your team?
I've got about 20 employees.
Which artists do you manage at the moment?
Sara, Maroon 5, Robin Thicke, Barenaked Ladies, Gavin DeGraw, Alanis Morrisette, Megadeth, Breaking Benjamin.
Do you have a particular person working as a manager for each artist?
We have little teams of people. Mainly a day-to-day with an assistant, a couple of new media people and a couple of tour and marketing people.
Maroon 5 have been a top act for over a decade now, how have they managed to maintain their popularity for such a long time?
I think every long-term top act evolves musically – look at U2 or Madonna. Maroon 5 originally came out with a very innovative sound, but then they kept that sound for a couple of records. I'm not unhappy about those records but they were definitely not taking the same risks that they were with their first record.
It's a natural progression with every artist. They then decided to be more bold with what they're trying to do. They brought in some outside writers; they found some collaborators and started to push themselves musically. It was that progression that eventually led to the song Moves Like Jagger.
Now it's almost more of a fun experience because when they work with new people they are that much more inspired to record and write. It's not just them sitting there alone in a house trying to come up with a whole album of material.
Interviewed by Jan Blumentrath
Read On ...
* Octone Records A&R, Ben Berkman, on breaking Maroon 5
* Robin Thicke's former manager Neil Jacobson on A&Ring LMFAO