Interview with PETER KATSIS, manager for Korn, Limp Bizkit - Jun 11, 2001
"The biggest mistake unsigned acts do is to try to make a move before they should."
Together with Michael Green and Jeff Kwatinetz, Peter Katsis manages Korn, Limp Bizkit, Backstreet Boys, Enrique Iglesias, Ice Cube and Staind for the Firm, a management company based in Beverly Hills, USA.
How did you get started in the music business and how did you become a manager?
I was a student talent promoter who organised concerts on campus. I studied at Southern Illinois University, which is near St Louis and I soon started liking what I was doing. I began to book some clubs in town, one a jazz club and the other, a rock club. This got me interested in the business. I was studying for a degree in film production, which I never ended up using.
I was offered 3 or 4 rockíníroll jobs that I could have taken by the time I finished school because I did such a good job booking and promoting the concerts on campus.
But instead I took a job in Chicago with a small agency for about 8 months and then I ran across Ministry in Chicago and I started managing them. I was about 21. Thatís when I really got the bug for management. I eventually ended up doing several different things, working for a label, being an agent, being a promoter, being a talent buyer for a promoter, running nightclubs. I enjoyed management the most.
And your break for success?
I suppose that must have been with Ministry. From the beginning there was quite an aura around them. I got them their first record deal, but didnít stay involved for that long afterwards. My contract was bought by Lookout Management.
Could you explain a bit how The Firm works?
We grew up with many of our clients and made it with them, so itís a cool thing to be in business together. Weíve put so much of an effort into developing a sound and convincing alternative radio to change to this more aggressive sound.
Iím the senior VP of music, but itís just a title. In terms of the way we work itís a little bit more like a ( record )label. We all work from our expertise and specialities. Itís not so much like other big management companies where everyone has their little fiefdom. At The Firm we all work on all the acts. At first we fed off our knowledge in specific areas, mine in touring and in making records. To this day those are probably the sides of my job that I love most. We are assisted by the A&R departments at the record labels, but I spend a lot of time making records with the artists. I help in coordinating the making of the records and in helping the artists realise their own vision.
At this point we have recently brought in two other managers, Simon Renshaw of the Dixie Chicks and Kenneth Crear who manages Sisqo and who has just signed 112. From here we will build the roster with staff and with talent.
Is The Firm your company or is it a joint venture?
Michael Green and Jeff Kwatinetz are the true owners of The Firm. Obviously Iíve got my share. Itís been a unique situation in that weíve merged many talents together. We donít let anything fall through the cracks. In a sense, I help all of the acts at The Firm make their records and help them put their tours together. Now that we have more staff, I can concentrate more on my specialities, and as a result of that, my job has become a lot more fun.
What are the key tools for you, in order to break a new band?
Well, I still think it helps a lot if a band is talented and if the goods are there, songs, melody. But it doesnít necessarily have to be about hits. You donít need a hot single. Sometimes you only need a track that has something you can hang your hat on.
Something you can create a vision around, create a marketing path around.
Could you give an example of something that fits that category?
Something like Kornís first single, which was obviously not a radio hit but it had that calling card, "Are.... You.... Ready..." and that whole build-up and maybe owed a little bit to Nirvanaís loud/soft quality that Kurt Cobain used so well. A very reactive song catches your attention and a song like that doesnít need much airplay to stimulate sales, interest, and a vision of what the band is about.
What characteristics do you consider necessary in order to be a successful manager?
One of the advantages of being a successful manager is working with a partner like Jeff Kwatinetz who is extremely intelligent and extremely shrewd. Weíve got quite a good combination of people. I think we have to be very good at marketing, obviously. A vision needs to be created, somewhere between the artistís dream and the way to expose it to the public. You have to be very patient, you have to be able to listen to and imagine a vision of how these artists see themselves. You have to come up with ways to project this vision to a bigger audience, get it exposed in the first place and keep it pure. There are many ways to do this that are a lot more manufactured. I think we would prefer to do them in a more realistic way, with a more real feel, to create something more long term. At this point, I donít doubt for a minute that we could fabricate a hit just with our abilities, our position and the amount of clout we have, but I donít think thatís what itís about. I think itís more about creating something with a band and you canít really do this on your own. You do need talent that has vision and that has knowledge of themselves and the necessary drive to complete the package of a great manager and a great artist. This is what it takes to create a long term vision, an act that will last over time.
Patience is also helpful because we live in an impatient world. Many younger artists also need someone that doesnít overreact to their growth and doesnít overreact to what they want to do, someone to keep their vision on track.
So youíre saying that a good manager is someone who can communicate a bandís vision and get the message out by marketing it to as wide an audience as possible?
Yes. All of the other stuff is details, like your ability to take care of details or to make people money. All of this is a lot easier than having the insight to create a vision with artists and keep it pure while reaching as wide an audience as possible.
What are the more mundane tasks?
The details. These include having peoples lives run smoothly, which means bringing the right people behind them, the tour managers, the crews that will help the mechanism roll and help make the artists lives simpler. Obviously there are some babysitting aspects, but I think thatís part of creating an atmosphere for the artist that they can work in. I know that patience is probably one of my better qualities. It takes an awful lot to get me rustled.
What kind of network, business contacts, does a manager need to develop?
Ideally, itís wonderful to have great contacts in the surrounding areas like great booking agents, great business managers, great entertainment attorneys, great merchandise companies, great publishers. These are the partners that become part of the team that each act builds around themselves as they are trying to make their career happen. Itís great to have contacts in all those other fields. Use your common sense and gut instinct. Itís not impossible for young managers to do many things for themselves. Once again, having the patience and willingness to learn and listen and find the right paths will help. Donít be afraid to work with successful people. Often young managers want to work with attorneys who don't threaten their inexperience, which is a mistake. Always try and surround yourself with the best.
How do you find new talent?
We heard about Limp Bizkit from Korn and we heard about Staind from Limp Bizkit. And we do get tapes that come from other labels and referred to us by other attorneys that we have enjoyed working with.
Do you receive unsolicited material?
We donít encourage it. At this point we are getting a little too big for it. On the other hand who knows when a great tape will make its way to you. Artists themselves are an incredible source for finding new talent. These days they already have in mind who they want to take on the road with them. As I said, Korn brought us to Limp Bizkit and Limp Bizkit brought us to Staind.
I understand that most demos that arrive from unsolicited sources donít get listened to, and even if they do, more often than not they get thrown away.
Yes, itís true, and most of them should be. You do get used to working with certain people, for instance, you start working with a great attorney and heíll say, ĎThese guys are doing such a great job on this actí. And the attorney will let us know when management becomes available on artists that he thinks we should check out. That kind of thing has happened time after time between us and those people we have created great relationships with, such as agents or entertainment attorneys.
What do you look for in an artist?
Somebody that has his own vision. They also need an incredible drive because it takes so much to make it. There are many brilliant kids, but Iíve met a couple in my career who donít want to work hard. Even while they have a love of creating music, they donít have the urge to do the rest, the interviews and the other stuff that is such a pain in the ass sometimes.
What about artists that you pick up later like Enrique Iglesias?
Hopefully these are people who, when they become available, share your vision, drive or the way you work. Enrique is very young and very hungry. Heís 24. This fits our profile in a lot of ways. In the beginning everybody thought we were very good at marketing hard music to young teens and maybe thought this was our field of expertise. When we met Enrique we were really impressed with how much he wants it. Obviously heís been a big star in the teen world for quite some time. He sold triple platinum on his first Anglo release in the States. You can tell where he wants to go and that he has the drive to get there. Heís not shy.
What can your artists expect from you?
They can expect us to always provide a team vision and represent the artist and use everything we have, to the best of our abilities, to help them fulfil their dreams, on their terms.
And your expectations of the artists?
To work hard and have the same commitment to us as we have to them. Certainly working for Fred from Limp Bizkit and Johnathan from Korn, these people are very driven and are not easily satisfied. These types of people may provide the biggest challenges, but also provide the most satisfaction.
Are you managing Michael Jackson as well?
No, we recently let him go, as he seems used to doing so much of the work himself. We are totally hands on and involved with our artists, and Michael likes to do a lot on his own. If you come to The Firm, hopefully you come with an open vision and open mind to tie in with some very creative people. If you are looking for someone to just carry out orders then there are probably many other management companies who will do that better than we can.
How would you advise unsigned artists to approach the music business?
The biggest mistake unsigned acts make is to try to make a move before they should. They get four songs on a tape and send it to everyone. I think what they should do is get the best four songs they can on tape, songs that all head in one direction under one vision, and then start going to town with it. When people meet me they are always in a rush to give me a CD. The best thing for them to do would be meet me, make an impression and then send me a CD when they are ready to send me a CD.
How involved with the repertoire and production are you?
I get very involved myself, although more so with some acts, depending on how clear a vision they have of where they want to go. There are things you can do that help people stay true to what they are doing. Make sure you subtract the bullshit factor, stylistically and artistically. Put the artist with the people that hopefully give them new ideas, such as producers or co-writers, depending on who they are and how much of their vision they complete themselves. Backstreet Boys would be placed together with co-writers, while Limp Bizkit with guest artists or the right sound engineer. Every project is a little bit different.
When your acts break out of the US, do you still handle every managerial angle or do you involve management companies from those other territories?
No, worldwide is the only way to look at this. At first we tried to do some US-only things with some talented bands, but itís too much to share with other people. You have to look at every project as a world project, you have to schedule it like that - itís just too hard to do if you are sharing the reins with another manager.
American acts seem to break in the European territory with much more ease than European acts do in the American territory. In your opinion, and if you agree, why is that?
It goes in waves. I think right now American alternative radio is concentrating on the harder edge music, whilst European radio isnít. Itís funny because thatís what the kids in Europe want. Bands like Coldplay can come to the States and do well, but itís relatively well, platinum vs. triple-platinum. Radio 1 in the UK has only recently turned around. These harder bands with melody are breaking through in the UK. We still havenít seen the break to radio in Germany. There just isnít the amount of radio in Europe as there is in the US. When an idea starts growing in the States, it can very quickly develop into a national thing.
Has the amount of time given to new acts before they break (or get dropped) decreased in the last decades?
Yes, I think itís getting faster.
Do you think that a system for artists, modelled after the actorís situation (actors arenít signed to companies anymore but are free agents) where acts would be free to record for any label they would wish, do you think that is desirable and do you think it would work?
No, although it sounds interesting.
If you could dramatically change some aspect of the music industry, what would you do?
I think I would love it if people kept more of an open mind to different types of music.
It seems that once people find something that they like, they close their ears to lots of other interesting music as a result. I hate to hear people say about a good song, ĎThat would have been great if that had come out three years agoí, or, ĎIt would have been great if it came out next yearí. But whatís wrong with this year, as this is the year the song was written in? People often lock themselves in and lock out other music. They limit themselves. Look at MTV today. Itís a hard-edge rock band, a pop act, a RnB act or a hip hop act. When you come to Europe you notice the variety of styles different acts have. They would have the hardest time getting onto radio in the States, whilst the music is still good music.
People like following.
Yes, and that way the radio and TV stations donít have to take any risks. Once you drain a category then you can start on a new one. It would be nice if they just went with what was good music.
How do you think the Internet can or will affect the music business?
They really thought all this technology would gain mass acceptance, but everybody is waiting for broadband. Now companies are concentrating more on using it for marketing and promotion. People are honing their skills there while waiting for the new Internet music model. As a marketing company we use it as a marketing tool, to turn our artists into brands to make the most out of their world.
Do you do a lot of advertising online?
No. Promotion, yes. Using it as a promotion tool we probably outdo most companies in our ability to ignite our audiences. Right now we think itís important to develop our artists as brands and develop their world and vision and create as much visibility and knowledge as we can.
Interviewed by James Burke
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