The Hot Seat: Nic Jones, Vevo

Published in The Music Network

 

Australia’s frenetic digital music marketplace has another new entrant, Vevo, which touched down here last week. The streaming service is owned in part by Universal Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment. It’s in business Down Under through an exclusive partnership with local digital content expert MCM Media. Unlike most other newcomers riding the digital music wave, Vevo is all about the videos. Somewhere in the vicinity of 45,000, the company claims, all of which can be streamed online at Vevo.com and through free mobile apps for iPhone, iPad, Android and Windows Phone 7. Nic Jones is the executive tasked with taking Vevo to the world, and it was his decision which brought the company to Australia in just its third roll of the dice, following the 2009 launch in North America and the 2010 rollout in the U.K. & Ireland. Born in Australia, and based in London, Jones joined Vevo last year from Starcom MediaVest, where he was chief digital officer. Previously, he held stints at MSN in Australia and Yahoo.

Why does Australia need a local Vevo affiliate?
It’s not good enough to launch a business over here which has Americans or Poms deciding what’s right for the Australian market. It’s important that we have local programming and local ad sales here. We’re all about connecting fans to artists. You can only do that locally. The aim is for all markets to launch local versions. Obviously the tyranny of distance is vitally important to have that local feel, and for the consumers to feel it’s their site and not just an American-based site.

It’s a ridiculously busy year for digital music enterprises arriving in Australia. Why now for Vevo?
It’s a fabulous market. Australia has a passion for music. Live is the best micro-market to understand just how passionate a market is for music. Australians not only go to a lot of live events, but they’re prepared to pay a lot of money which those global bands require to tour. Also, we need to gain the rights for music, and APRA is a really good collecting society to be working with. That’s not always the case with every market. Finally, there’s the opportunity to monetise the traffic. You need a mature digital market where advertisers and agencies are used to and comfortable buying ads on video-on-demand platforms. Music streaming services are really coming into their own now. The market that has the highest user of these services is also the market which is really hard for advertisers to get ahold of through traditional formats like TV. We see that all coming together in a serendipitous moment, so it’s a really good time to be launching Vevo globally. In the UK, we’ve seen tremendous growth of around 30%-40% year-on-year.

So what’s the goal here?
We feel we can build and grow a strong business here. We did 41 million video streams on YouTube this March in Australia, with over 5.5 million unique users. MCM’s sites do around 7-8 million. So we’re doing around 47 million (monthly streams) if you add the two together. Australia bats above its weight in terms of the population size and the number of videos watched. One Direction in March was the most-watched band in Australia, doing more than 2 million video views. One of the ways we draw people in to spend longer and consume more, is playlisting and discovery. It’s about understanding what people are watching, and programming the site to encourage them to discover and consume new music.

What ad partnerships do you have in the bag?
We do have some advertisers, but we’re not publicising that at the moment. We’ve gone live and announced it, now it’s time for (MCM Media) CEO Simon Joyce’s team to get out there and start selling some ads. We’re launching now because we want the ad market to know about us. We have plans for a much bigger consumer launch a little later in the year.

What’s MCM’s role in this partnership?
We’re embedding local producers and programmers. They’re providing a sales team and back-office services. They have close to 100 people. It’s a close partnership and a model we’ll probably roll out in other markets if I can find other partners as good as MCM.

What other platforms are you pursuing?
We’re looking at various IPTV platforms in Europe at the moment. We see interactive TV as a very important part of the experience. We’re beholden to Microsoft’s next iteration of Xbox here, which is due before the end of April. That brings Vevo into the lounge and into the centre of the home. We’re on Google TV and hopefully on Apple TV in the future.

There’s talk of a defection away from YouTube. Any truth in that?
Well no. We have a global partnership with YouTube. We rely on them for distribution, but we sell the advertising. We’re keen to be available on as many platforms as possible. Clearly we’re on all the mobile platforms. Android is a very important part of that. We’re very close with YouTube and want to remain so.


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The Hot Seat: Brian Kennedy

Published in The Music Network

 

US producer Brian Kennedy has a name which suggests he’ll go right to the top. At 28 and with two Grammys to his name, Kennedy is already one of the hottest producers in the game, working with a growing list of artists from Jennifer Hudson and Chris Brown to Natasha Bedingfield and Australian singer Jessica Mauboy.

The Kansas-born, LA-based music maker got his break in 2006 when he produced and co-wrote My Love on Ciara’s second album, The Evolution, and took a giant leap forward when Disturbia – the track he produced for Rihanna – became a global smash in 2008. Kennedy is also buzzing with entrepreneurial spirit. His business activities include the publishing company Team BK and recording studio Kennedy Compound. TMN caught up with Kennedy during his recent stay in Sydney for Alberts’ inaugural International Songwriters Camp.

Brian, when you’re in the studio, how far ahead are you taking your music?
I always think ahead to the next one or two years. Some songs are immediate. Right now, I’m working with Cee Lo to give him a single. I’ve done something new for him which is out-of-this-world. But generally, I’m thinking next year. Unless I put it on the Internet now, it takes a while for people to catch on.

How fast do music tastes change?
Music is like fashion, it’s trendy. It’s 3-5 years at a time. Really great music doesn’t date. The legends, like Prince, their music doesn’t go anywhere. For the last three-four years I’ve heard dance music non-stop.

Some producers live in a bubble. What do you listen to for inspiration?

Deadmau5, Dr. Luke, Skrillex. I try not to study. I don’t mind living in a bubble either. With the hits I have, I wasn’t sitting there thinking “This has got to be the next.” I was just making it happen, creating a beat. What makes great collaborations is in-common personalities and being able to collide with each other. Every great producer has a great team around them. Quincy Jones has a team, Dr. Luke has a team.

Do you carry frameworks of songs in your head?

Sometimes. And other times I just go. I’ve learned how to turn off. I don’t want to be at a movie or out on a date and thinking of a melody. That’s just stupid. I just save it. You turn on, turn off. If you’re in a gym, you work out. If you’re in a kitchen, you cook. If you’re in a studio, you work on music.

Do you have any tips for when one hits a creative wall?

Get away from it. Go to the movies, go out, hang out. Talk. Some people don’t know how to let it go. You have to learn how to breathe and figure out how to take your mind off it. I bring DVDs with me. If you want to get on a social network, that’s cool. But it has to be something that takes your mind off writing. When I’m creating music, I’ve got to keep moving. But I always come back to it. It’s like painting. It takes time. You start something, but you don’t have to finish a masterpiece in one day. I’m great at finishing things. I’m a good starter too.

What’s the ambition with Team BK?

To make great songs and publish great writers, and to be responsible for the next big wave of great writers and producers. The majority of writers I publish are from my hometown, Kansas. In a way, you’re branding people, but you’re also teaching them the business. A lot of guys who come into big hits make money and throw it all away because they don’t understand the concept. I’m still in the process of building myself; I haven’t arrived yet. There’s art to it, but business is serious.

How have you dealt with the tag of being a child prodigy?
Oh, I don’t understand it. I think to people considered prodigies, geniuses, maths freaks, it’s just normal.

You’re working with country artists like Rascal Flatts and Faith Hill. In the music world, this is a world away. How do you approach different genres?

The same. I know it sounds crazy, but I look at all music as one genre. Different rhythms, different structures, but it’s still all the same thing. It’s like speaking different languages, learning how to be fluent. If you play a song on piano and it’s a great song, a country artist can sing it, it sounds country. If an R&B artists sings it, it sounds R&B. If a pop singer sings it, it sounds pop. Technically, music is really one thing. It might be played with electric guitar, or acoustic, to make it sound different.

What’s the next sound?

Tribal. Being in Australia, I’ve heard some dance records, organic percussion. The Latin influence in the drums and rhythm. Melody is always going to be at the forefront. The kick will drive it, the drums will sit behind it. I think that’s the next movement.

Is there anyone you’re desperate to work with?

Coldplay. And Mumford & Sons. I want to tap into that.

 

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The Hot Seat: David Fricke, Rolling Stone US

Published in The Music Network

 

David Fricke is a rare breed among music journalists; he’s as recognisable as most of the rockers he interviews. Even to the casual music fan, the New Yorker is easily spotted as the shaggy- haired regular on rock documentaries. But to the more discerning of music anoraks, Fricke is considered one of the finest living American music critics. Fricke has a storied career with Rolling Stone magazine, dating back to 1979 when he reviewed Frank Zappa’s Sheik Yerbouti. Countless column-inches have followed. His interviews with the likes of Patti Smith, Metallica and late Kurt Cobain are mandatory reading. TMN caught up with the storyteller after he delivered the keynote speech at the AMP.

Will you champion some of those nine AMP shortlisted albums you were exposed to?
I’ll certainly tell people about them. I’ve already written about The Jezabels. I liked the Jezabels record so much I told my editor I’d review it. I told him all the background – they were touring here, that the record was coming out. They got a four-star review in Rolling Stone. When Gotye starts blowing-up, I’m sure we’ll cover that in some way; whether it’s me, or someone who can bring another perspective to it. Kimbra will get attention. I’m hoping the Adalita record and the Abbe May record will get some legs abroad.

Are Australian acts under-represented in the United States?
Only in the sense that we’ve got so many of our own, it’s hard to keep it straight. There’s so much of everything, everywhere. It’s always going to be difficult for an Australian band, even if they’ve got the wind in their backs like Gotye. He did sell out the Bowery Ballroom. But people were down at that club the next night to see somebody else. It’s always been hard for Australian bands because the distance is an issue and what plays here may not play there. Getting music to people, the Internet is great but live performance is where it’s at.

One of the things you learn is how much you’ve got, and how much you’ve got to give when you’re up there performing in front of people. If you’re playing for five people and you can do that, then by the time you get to 5,000, you’ll have it nailed. But it takes time and commitment. The distance is a disadvantage, but it hasn’t defeated you before. If you want to do it badly enough, you will. And when you do it, we’ll know it.

I’m often told, the media of the future will comprise press officers and bloggers – hacks and flacks. Will journos still be paid for their words?
The world always needs writers. People will always need someone to express something they can’t express themselves. I relied on music writers to tell me about things that excited me but didn’t always know about or entirely understand. I got a view on the world from them to excite me enough to want to do more than just get a degree and a job in an office. They inspired me to do more. That’s the best thing writers can do. Whether we get paid for it, how we’re going to be paid for it, nobody knows. Anybody who says there won’t be any music critics in ten years, come back in ten years and tell me that. If I’m still here writing, then you’re wrong. If I’m not still here, then so what. I’m dead.

Are you wary of keeping a distance in your friendships with artists?
My relationships with people are defined by my commitment and honesty. They know I’m not going to tell them something I don’t believe. And if I’m enthusiastic, there are reasons for it and they’re genuine. It’s not like I have to be careful about what I say or how I feel about something. They know it’s true. My independence is pretty obvious.

Who’s the most rock ‘n’ roll person you’ve met?
Ha. Probably the most rock ‘n’ roll person on the planet is Keith Richards. Anything you think you’ve done, he’s done already and he’s finished with it. At the same time, he has incredible passion for what he does, for his music and the way he articulates it. He still does it, he’s defied every bullshit known to man, and he refuses to give up. That’s rock ‘n’ roll. He survives. Iggy, David Johansen from the Dolls. They’ve survived. Whatever they did, however much they did was dumb, they survived. Lou Reed, he survived. And look at the body of work. Even if he’d stopped with the first Velvet Underground record, we’d still talk about him. He did some crazy stuff, but he survived. That’s the best revenge.


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The Hot Seat: Phil Quartararo, Guvera

Published in The Music Network

 

Guvera has some big plans. And with the recent hire of Phil Quartararo, the digital music firm’s decision-makers got the man they’re confident can make it all happen. Quartararo has notched-up 30 years in the record business, including a stint as president of Warner Bros Re cords. The L.A.-based exec has also  served in the upper ranks of EMI and was one of the founders of Virgin Records America. Though Guvera and its ad-supported business model is an entirely different beast. And it will require more cash if it is to push ahead with its expansion mission, and meet its wish to list on the NASDAQ. TMN caught up with the Guvera U.S.A. President when he recently visited Australia to meet with board members and shareholders and spread his vision for the company’s future.

You joined Guvera after a long career in major label world. Why?

The way we tried to architect those companies was to be the place the artist wanted to be because we cared, we listened, we tried to do the right thing on their behalf. The industry, of course, is no longer what it once was. Sadly, the record companies aren’t what they were. There’s not a lot of time to care for the artists as there once was. There are not the resources to care for the artists as there once was. I wanted to leave on a good note. A lot of the companies who approached me were in the business of giving away music. In my stomach, I could never accept that. I spent my career protecting artists and the value of music and protecting the consumer who I always wanted to make sure got the genuine article. When people just want to give away music because they can fill the pipe, that’s distinctly unattractive to me. When Guvera came along, what caught my eye was that it was giving everyone what they wanted. The brand was getting what they wanted, which was a focused advertising target, the consumer is getting the free download and the artist is being respected by collecting his fee for the work he’s done.

 

How has Guvera performed since it launched here in 2010?

It’s had a good reception. It’s a big horse race out there now with all these new companies. Everybody’s trying to find the fastest, the biggest, the newest, the most different. To be different and better will be the way to win the consumer’s heart. I’d like to really expand this model, first through North America. And then later through the world. Part of what we’re doing out here is raising some capital to expand the business.

 

You mentioned the “horse race” out there with the many subscription businesses on the market. Are they putting the crunch on Guvera?

I don’t know if they’re putting the crunch on us. Of course they’re competing with us. But a lot of those streaming businesses aren’t working in the best interests of the artist. There’s a lot of people who offer streaming for free, but they’re just taking the music and giving it away. At the end of the day, that’s not a business. It’s a horserace all over the world. Technology has opened a floodgate for entrepreneurs and innovators. It’s an opportunity, though some people see it as a problem. The truth is while the record industry has imploded, there’s more music consumption today that there’s ever been. But the conventional method of the singular pipe that we called the record industry, that existed between the artists and the consumers, well that pipe is now gone. There’s now a mad scramble to see who gets to reinvent that vehicle between artists and consumers.

 

What will be the shape of the majors in five years?

I had a view years ago when I was in the business that what the record companies and music companies needed to become was a creative centre. And they needed to relinquish a lot of the manufacturing and production. I still think that’s the case. However inefficient it was, the single thing the record industry did was to help steer or introduce public opinion and aggregate enough eyeballs and ears on a track, so you could drive hits through the system. And that’s how new artists got broken. I do think there’s some value in that system. I do think consumers to some degree still like that system. So I do think there will be some remnants of what we have traditionally called record companies going forward.

What was it like to work with Richard Branson?

Starting Virgin Records America in 1986 is one of the great experiences of my life. It was really Jordan Harris and Jeff Ayeroff who steered the beginnings of the original company. The founding team had the great privilege of not only having access to Richard, and his insight, charisma and wisdom, but those were really fun days in the business. And to be able to berth a company with a half-dozen people like that was an extraordinary experience. I don’t know if it could ever be repeated because the market is so different. It’s not as fertile as it once was. And people don’t have the patience or the time to develop new artists as once they did, which is the greatest crime right now.