The Hot Seat: Tobin Watkinson

Published in The Music Network


Tobin Watkinson represents the changing guard of A&R. For two years, the L.A.-based executive has helped to develop the roster of MySpace Records, the joint venture between Universal Music Group’s Interscope Records and News Corp’s social networking platform MySpace. It was a good fit for Watkinson, whose decade in the music industry has straddled the independent and corporate sides of the business, and drilled deep into both the traditional and digital arenas. Prior to his start at MySpace Records in 2007, Watkinson partnered in joint ventures with Warner Music Group, Columbia Records and Sony/ATV Music Publishing and played a role in the development of Internet start-up The MySpace Records director of A&R will be scoping-out Australia’s music talent when he pays a visit this week for the September 9-11 Big Sound conference in Brisbane.

What makes MySpace Records special?

We have direct access to the largest on-line music platform in the world. Certainly the largest of any independent music company. Amongst other things we have the ability to reach a wide range of people whether that be on a mass scale or a very specific segment of the population. If we want to target a music consumer of a certain sex in a certain age range, in a specific territory, we can do that. MySpace Music is to kids of this generation what MTV was to mine. When people want to discover new music or watch a music video from one of their favourite artists, more often than not they do it on MySpace Music. That’s extremely powerful and it puts us in a very good position to capitalize on that and hence promote the acts that we’re in business with. We have a clear-cut upper-hand against other independent record companies.

How do you see record labels evolving in the digital age?

For major or independent labels to survive, it’s important that they embrace technology and find ways to make it work to their advantage. They can’t shy away from it as has been the case in the past. Despite the economic crisis our business is facing, it’s also still very much about having incredible artists as much as it is about finding new and creative ways to monetize them. There is no business without ‘career’ artists and the ability to develop the career acts of the future. The discovery process for labels has changed with utilizing online tools. In ways it certainly makes the job of artist discovery easier, but in other ways it’s made it more difficult. There are now fewer A&R executives, against the millions of bands worldwide with access to affordable audio and video recording equipment and the platform to share their creations. That said, it’s an exciting time to be in the music business. People are being pushed to think of new and creative ways to approach the business of music.

Will indies increasingly play an incubator role to the majors?

Yes, in my opinion they have been and will continue to. Larger record labels have less and less time to develop younger acts. If they get too caught up in developing baby acts, they’re ultimately taking away resources from the acts helping to keep them in business. When MySpace Records signed Kate Voegele, we built her from selling 500 records a week to at one point 20,000 a week. Kate sold 250,000 albums on her first album through MySpace with little to no radio airplay and at that level it made perfect sense for Interscope to be involved as she was in a position to go to the next level and was relevant on the major label roster.

Is MySpace Records in a position to expand?

Although we’re not necessarily looking to open label offices outside the U.S. we’re very much looking to be in business with international acts. We were in talks with The Temper Trap, and we’re definitely looking at acts in Australia. If we were to sign a band from Australia, or any foreign territory, not only would we effectively work them in the U.S. but our platform crosses many territories. That coupled with our international distribution channels makes us truly able to market and distribute our artists throughout the world.

Karnivool Time

Published in Billboard Magazine

The Western Australian five-piece Karnivool’s career has been something of a thrill ride of late. The alt-rock act found itself flying high on the national Australian Recording Industry Assn. albums chart after its second album, “Sound Awake” (released June 5), debuted at No. 2. The set, on Karnivool’s own Sony Music-distributed label Cymatic Records, has been certified gold (35,000 copies).

Previously, however, Karnivool had been carving a niche away from the mainstream. The band’s self-released debut, “Themata” (2005), had an unspectacular sales opening, but the act’s Sydney-based manager Heath Bradby says the title track has surpassed 770,000 plays on the band’s MySpace page and the album is now approaching gold status.

Karnivool, Bradby says, appeals to people who like their music “heavy and smart—and they’ve been excellent at engaging a community through the Internet.” The national youth broadcaster Triple J has also been a big supporter of “Sound Awake.”

Published by EMI, the band plays U.K. shows in September and October. Karnivool is booked by Billions Australia (Australia), TKO Agency (North America) and Primary Talent International (Europe/Japan).

A U.S. digital EP, “Set Fire to the Hive,” through Sony Independent Network/RED—provisionally set for a Sept. 1 release—will precede late-September shows in Los Angeles and New York, with “Sound Awake” slated for a February 2010 release.

“We’re going to spend as much of next year over there as we can,” Bradby says.