Interview with BRETT ALPEROWITZ, manager for Bloodhound Gang - May 6, 2002
“We expect artists to develop themselves at an independent level”
Brett Alperowitz works in International Marketing and A&R at Universal Motown Records in New York, and co-manages the Bloodhound Gang (who, in 2000, sold 4 million copies worldwide of their second album, “Hooray for Boobies”) for Republic Records, together with Republic President Avery Lipman and the President of Universal Records, Monte Lipman. Bands signed to Republic include US multi platinum-selling acts Godsmack and 3 Doors Down. The label also successfully licenses international acts, including Alice Deejay, Eiffel 65, Rammstein, and Sonique.
How did you get started in the music business and how did you become a manager?
I was a college representative for EMI, whilst I was at the University of Florida. I started in 1991, after having found the job looking in the ads in my school newspaper. College reps are one way for labels to exploit their music when conventional means, e.g. radio, do not necessarily apply. It’s usually similar to an internship, so it’s badly paid, but you get tons of cool new music, hiphop, alternative rock, indie, etc, and what you do is to throw parties, spread the word to the kids in the campus, and set up shows.
When I graduated, I realised that it was what I wanted to do. I worked hard, had a bit of luck, started working at Republic Records, and became a manager by accident! We were a small new independent record company who had worked hard to break the Bloodhound Gang, which was the first act we signed, and it got to a point where we had to choose between being a record or management company. We decided to be a record company, but to continue working with the Bloodhound Gang as managers. The band are now on Interscope.
What experiences have helped develop your management skills?
In 1995, our only concern was the Bloodhound Gang. I went out on the road with them as their tour manager, which made me appreciate the amount of time and work that goes into it all. Being on the road with the band, I could see what it was all about.
What goals motivate you as a manager?
I want my band to be the biggest rock band in the world. They mix a lot of elements in their music, and I think they have the potential to cross over to a lot of people. I want to help nurture them, I want them to be comfortable, to be able to all buy houses, and to do this as a career, go into producing or acting or start other bands and do whatever they like to do.
What advice would you give somebody who wants to be a manager?
You have to love what you’re doing, because there’s no guarantee. It’s the same as being a musician, there are so many out there, but very few make it. You have to put a lot of time into it, and sometimes it doesn’t turn out the way it’s supposed to. You just have to deal with that. It’s about luck and timing, and you have to be patient. If it pays off, it’s the greatest thing. If not, you just have to realise you’re taking a chance.
What artists do you work with in your marketing position?
Our big priorities right now are Godsmack, Nelly, 3 Doors Down, India Arie, Erykah Badu, a new artist called Remy Shand, and Paulina Rubio, who we think is going to be the next Shakira.
What was the key to breaking the Bloodhound Gang?
The band wasn’t a hardcore touring band, and we didn’t even think about touring with them at first because of the cost, as it can be really expensive at the beginning. So we said, “Let’s keep it regional, do local shows in Philadelphia and the Northeast, and once there’s a demand for the band, then we’ll tour.” Once we had done that, we started sending the music to radio stations across the country that fit the alternative rock format.
One such station was The End, in Seattle. They had an intern who knew about the band and who brought them to the attention of the music director. He thought they were great and played the song “Fire Water Burn” on his Friday night show. And sure enough, he got loads of phone calls about the song, and called me the next Monday morning asking, “Who are this band? It’s a hit, tell me more!”
He is also a really good friend of the music director at K-Rock in Los Angeles who happened to be in Seattle that weekend. She took it back with her and added it to her playlist. So all of a sudden there was a snowball effect, where we basically couldn’t ship enough records out of my little office. Then labels started calling, including Madonna’s label Maverick, who really wanted to sign the band in the worst possible way, even to the point where I had to tell Madonna that I couldn’t put her on the phone with Jimmy Pop.
It took a couple of years of doing shows, taking advantage of the Internet, spreading the word at retail and radio and in every way we could on an independent level, before it finally started to happen.
How do you find international repertoire to license?
I follow the charts in each country to see what’s happening, and then I get those records and see if they make sense for us. We search for artists with hit songs, but who also have albums. We want artists we can develop, and release 2-3 albums with, not just a single. Singles are definitely great to have, and we need them, but we’re searching for real artists, and I think there’s a lack of those in Europe. A lot of European artists tend to be singles acts, and you just don’t know if people will buy the album.
Do you accept unsolicited material?
Yes, but I can’t promise I’ll be able to get to everybody’s music right away.
What do you look for in an artist or an act?
Great songs, great music, and something special about the band that makes a kid care so much about them that he’s going to go to their show, check their website, buy a T-shirt, and is going to have to have that next album, no matter what.
Do you think unsigned artists have a good knowledge of the music industry, or is it something they need to learn more about in order to stand a better chance?
Some people get very eager, send you music, keep following up, and take it personally when they don’t get a quick response, or if it wasn’t the response they’d hoped to hear. They just don’t know, because they’re artists, not businessmen. Others just make music and send it out there, hoping that somebody, somewhere, will to listen to it.
But some of the best people in the business have a good sense for it, and you get that by taking things into your own hands and starting the story yourself as an artist: making your own record, selling it to the stores independently, booking your own shows. When you do that, you start to understand how the business works.
The big artists we work with all started off by working hard at it themselves, making things happen, and that’s really important. You have to spread the word with whatever means you have, and by doing that, you learn what it really takes to break in the music business.
How important is the team around the artist (the manager, A&R, agent, lawyer, publisher) when trying to break an artist?
You have to have people who understand what the music is about and what its potential is. A team that understands the audience you’re trying to sell it to, and are passionate and really enjoy the music, because that makes it easier to get other people interested. A lot of people hang on too hard. Sometimes you just have to step away, like we did with the Bloodhound Gang, everyone involved just said, “OK, the first album wasn’t a hit, let’s re-group and make new music.”
It’s very important that people understand the big picture and don’t get too caught up, too emotional about their failures, and move forward. That’s the essential part of a good team.
How would you advise unsigned acts to approach people in the music business once they have material?
If you can get to them, be patient: just make sure that they’ve received your material, and don’t give them too much of it. Include a photo of the band and your contact information. There’s no need for press clips and videos. If the band is resourceful enough, they should create a website where an A&R could go to learn more about the band. If you don’t hear back that means you haven’t caused a reaction with anybody.
We expect artists to develop themselves at an independent level. We capitalise on something that an artist has built on a small scale, and take it worldwide. Rap star Nelly is a perfect example: he makes his own records and sells them in St Louis, and we take it to an international level.
Do you think it’s good that the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart is based on both radio airplay and single sales?
Yes, it has to be, because we really don’t have a singles market here anymore. It’s the only way we can gauge it, through airplay and some single sales. It pretty much tells the story of the biggest singles in the country.
What do you think about the radio situation in the US?
It’s a little difficult right now. Big companies are buying all the independent radio stations and make it very difficult for stations to compete with each other, as they decide which music each station should play. We’re having problems finding the people who will take a chance on new music. It’s becoming very formatted, and playlists are the same in New York, Los Angeles, etc. So it’s hard to break something by getting a song played on a local station and then just letting it spread.
Has the amount of time labels give new acts before they break decreased in recent decades?
Sometimes you can only go so far and there’s only so much money you can spend until you have to have a return on your investment. But other times you have to take the right cues. We have a rock band called Flaw, and they’re selling, slowly but surely. We’re going to stick with this band, because we feel that the music is great and there are indicators that tell us that people care about the band.
Do you think recording artists' royalties from record sales are adequate?
Artists will never feel that their royalties are adequate at first, but once they're successful, they have the ability to re-negotiate. Most successful artists have done that and worked out deals they are happy with.
With the growth of the Internet and the plethora of new media available (mp3 etc.), what role do you think record labels will assume in the future, what will their business model look like?
It’s really hard to say. We still have to be here to bring the music to the people. Without us, I don’t know if music can get out there. If it gets to the point where we can’t find a way to get around people taking music off the Internet for free, then we’re going to have loads of problems. We’re already experiencing that. It wouldn’t be worth it for the artist and the record labels to make music and promote it. Hopefully, we can find a way to use the technology instead of fighting it.
Imagine if all music ever recorded was to be available as streamed audio, which consumers could access from future hardware with streamed audio capabilities, including mobile phones, discmans, car stereos, hi-fi equipment etc. Consumers would pay a monthly fee for access and would be given a personal code to tap into the devices. Each track played would be accounted and paid for exactly. Would this system work, and do you think it would be desirable from the record label's point of view?
It sounds pretty interesting, if the artist gets paid fairly and the music is protected. In that case, it could definitely work. The hard part now, when people get music for free, is that it is starting to loose its value. So if you can package it like that, it sounds like a really good idea, even though I think there’s a lot to be said about owning a CD.
If you could dramatically change some aspect of the music industry, what would you do?
The Internet is my major concern, and I think it’s about the pricing of music. It’s very expensive to break artists and we need to find a way to promote music in a cost-effective way, so that we can carry that price on to the people, because I think CDs are becoming very expensive.
I want to deliver great albums, not just one great song, and I want to be able to include music videos or something that makes it worth the money. Right now, if there is a song people like, they take it from the Internet, why should they buy the whole album? But if you make sure the package is right and that the whole album is amazing, then I think people will buy your albums and feel it’s worth their 20 dollars.
What has been the greatest moment of your music career?
I think it’s been with the Bloodhound Gang, because we’ve been with those guys for so long, and when their album became a No.1 hit all across Europe and in other places around the world, and their single and album was No.1 at the same time on the German charts, that was exciting! The band not only had a big hit, but people also cared about the band, they meant something to people. They just hit that next level.
What do you see yourself doing in 5-10 years?
Looking for talent, working with new bands and developing more acts as an A&R and marketing person. I can see myself doing the things that I do now, because I really enjoy what I do. I’m part of the process of taking bands from the first to the last step, and I want to continue being part of that.
Interviewed by Kimbel Bouwman