Interview with RICHARD GOTTEHRER, CEO of The Orchard and producer for Blondie, Richard Hell, Aerosmith - Nov 6, 2000
“If they use these technologies, more people can make music than ever before, they only need to learn how.”Richard Gottehrer is something of a legend in the music business. He has been actively engaged as a songwriter and producer for 35 years with hits to his name such as "My Boyfriend’s Back", "My Candy" and "Night Time". He produced Blondie’s first albums and records by Richard Hell, Marshall Crenshaw, Joan Armatrading, Aerosmith etc. Today, he is the CEO and co-founder of The Orchard (www.theorchard.com), an Internet distribution home for independent artists.
The Orchard is an online and offline distributor of music. They offer anyone that has made a music CD a non-exclusive contract of which they take a 30% cut. Your music will then be listed in the catalogues of major e-tailors selling music from Wallmart to Amazon.com and they uniquely sell to brick & mortar giants like HMV and Virgin. They offer bands promotional tools, but specify that they are distributors.
How did you make your first contact that led to professional acknowledgment?
I started as a songwriter and learned to make records by making demos of my songs. Most of my early contacts came from showing the songs. Early on I had a huge hit as writer/producer (‘My Boyfriend’s Back’) and it rolled on from there.
Is it true that you once pretended to be a band from Australia?
Yes, I was with two friends in a band called the Strangeloves and we made a ska cover of an old song called ‘Love, Love, Love’. In order to turn it into a hit we had to become Australians.
For the promotion we were asked by a DJ on Virginia beach to go to the local airport and get on a plane which would taxi down the runway after which we would get off to be met by the DJ and press announcing ourselves as The Strangeloves from Australia. I came from the Bronx and my friends from Brooklyn. We managed to put on some sort of mangled Australian accent and told the crowd that we were born on a sheep farm.
As an A&R, how do you find new talent?
Well, actually anywhere in the world. I travel regularly to music and e-commerce/Internet conferences such a WOMAX, PopKomm, to Australia, to England and through the States to sign up new acts. The Orchard doesn’t filter anyone. It offers people a chance to be available. What people do with that chance is up to them.
Which sources do you find most effective?
I don’t find that any particular source is the most effective. We use many sources, but as music is often a numbers game, people get signed for the kind of excitement they create. These days people need a story, need to have made some waves before they get signed.
How have the sources of new talent changed in the last years?
It’s pretty much the same story as it ever was, the only difference being that clubs record their sales. Sound scans are used by the industry to estimate the popularity of acts.
Is the climate for new producers more friendly or unfriendly today than 20 years ago?
Nowadays there are more ways to make records than only in professional studios. A band doesn’t necessarily need to go into a fully equipped studio. The technological changes that have taken place over the last 20 years mean that there now exist opportunities to create a full record or create a workable presentation without the need of a professional engineers manning a studio. More people, if they use these technologies, can make music than ever before, they only need to learn how.
Are different talents needed to become successful today as a musician, artist or producer than were needed 20 years ago?
As a musician you need to be good, but with these changes you will also need to know more about technology. In the past musicians only needed their instinct and an engineer. To make records you would have to go to one of the many different music centres to access the studios and their technicians such as in Atlanta, Texas, London, or studios located in the country. Now it’s easy to record anywhere thanks to new technology.
Do you consider unsigned bands to have a good general knowledge on how to approach the business?
No. Often the expectations are too high. It's a very difficult business to understand, but is being made easier by the Internet and new technology.
Are you using MP3s as a source of new talent?
I am not searching MP3 sites to sign new artists as I spend my time acquiring and aggregating music which we distribute to Internet companies that sell music online and to shops that sell physical copies of CDs.
What is your average day like, how is your time spent?
I spend my days supervising the acquisition of content and traveling to visit music and e-commerce conferences in the States or abroad.
What did you do differently to other A&Rs?
I was a producer. I knew how the process of recording worked. I could
actually find an artist, take them in a studio and make a record.
How many songs do you receive from unsigned acts per week?
Hundreds although I think that a lot of people are a bit confused as to what we do at The Orchard. We don’t promote bands.
How many of these do you listen to?
What makes you decide to listen to these in particular?
Nothing really, if I’ve heard about a particular band then that will help. Presentation is important too. Also I recently received a tape. Send a CD-R, please.
What qualities are needed to be a successful A&R and in what aspects do you believe that these apply on you?
You have to be open-minded to people’s possibilities. It also helps if you understand the type of music you are listening to. What’s really valuable is to first evaluate the person and then the song. You have to be able to recognize something in the person.
Why have you chosen to start your own label, as opposed to working for a major?
Working for the majors is another way of life. You have to fit into someone else’s vision and there are also not that many jobs on offer. I like working for myself.
What are the largest misconceptions about being an A&R?
That you can do anything for anyone. Today, the task of someone working as a label’s A&R man is to locate the artist and then present them to your boss, get them signed. You then might follow them for a while but really what follows becomes a marketing and promotion issue.
What is your attitude to MP3s, Napster, the lawsuits and the future of digital downloads etc. ?
What’s happening is good and bad. It doesn’t matter what people think as the issues won’t go away. We know that sales aren’t dropping. What is happening is control being taken away from the major labels. In the end, I think they will buy in. They want to stay in the game; it’s only that they will need to find other ways to monetise music in this area.
interviewed by James Burke
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