Berklee today

OCT 2015

Berklee today is the official alumni publication of Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. It is a forum for contemporary music and musicians.

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28 Berklee today ExpErt Given by Doug Morris H'15 to Mark Small Wisdom from Sony Music Entertainment's CEO Doug Morris is widely regarded as the most infuen- tial music executive in today's industry. He has served as CEO for three major record labels: Sony Music Entertainment, where he is the current CEO, Universal Music Group (UMG), and Warner Music USA. Morris started out as a songwriter and producer and ultimately became the vice president of Laurie Records before founding Big Tree Records. Atlantic Records CEO Ahmet Ertegun tapped him to run ATCO Records and later to serve as cochair and coCEO for Atlantic Recording Group. Throughout his spectacular career, Morris has worked with some of the most infuential artists of the past fve decades, including the Rolling Stones, Phil Collins, Led Zeppelin, Bette Midler, Tori Amos, INXS, Mariah Carey, Jay-Z, Stevie Wonder, and U2. Among the many notable artist deals he oversaw were the signings of Stevie Nicks and Pete Townshend to solo contracts with ATCO. While leading UMG, Morris guided the company's evolution from a record company to a full-fedged music entertainment company. He built UMG into an industry leader by leveraging core assets to create new revenue streams through deals with YouTube, Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Nokia, MySpace, and, among others. He became the frst media executive to monetize online music videos, essentially helping to create the music video-on- demand market online by founding VEVO. Morris's vision- ary leadership and principled approach to management rank him among the greatest executives of music business. You began your musical career as a songwriter. How did the doors start opening for you? When I was young, I always went to the piano and played a C, F, G, chord progression and sang melodies and lyrics over it. I loved creating little songs. When I was in col- lege—around 1958—I started interviewing with publish- ing companies and got a job with Lou Levy [Leeds Music Corp.] that paid $25 a week. After I got out of the Army in about 1961, I went to Robert Mellin's publishing company and then I went to work at Laurie Records. My frst semi- hit was "Are You a Boy or Are You a Girl?" which I cowrote with my brother. It was one of a string of hits for Laurie. I also cowrote and produced "Smokin' in the Boys Room." About two years later I started my own record company, Big Tree Records. There were no music business programs when you attended Columbia University. How did you learn the ropes? Having my own label taught me about the record busi- ness. That's where I learned about how to pay salaries, the rent, and keep the door open. You learn that when you don't have hits, you go out of business. Was Ahmet Ertegun a mentor for you? I met Ahmet after I'd owned my label Big Tree Records for about eight years. I'd had a lot of hit singles during that time—songs like "You Sexy Thing" [by Hot Chocolate] and "I'd Really Love to See You Tonight" [England Dan and John Ford Coley]. At some point, Ahmet asked to meet with me. He bought my label and asked me to work for him. I watched him. He was a brilliant person aesthetically and creatively. He knew how to talk to people and how to get what he wanted. Did you have the instincts that led you to sign so many great artists throughout your career from the beginning or did your ears sharpen as you gained experience in the industry? All of that is intuitive. A lot of people want to be a great A&R person who signs artists and puts them together with the music. Everyone thinks they know a hit record, but very few people have the instinct to understand what will work and what won't. I didn't know I had it when I started, but I had a lot of hits. It's not so much ears as it is intellect and thinking about things people will like. I feel it is a given talent and if you keep up with the music and stay current, things don't change that much. You went out on a limb when you brought Death Row Records into the fold at Warner Music and had to stand by your conviction that rap music was going to be big. Yes, but that wasn't about loving rap music. It was see- ing these little labels putting out rap music and how young kids were buying them. It was a different cultural moment. Seeing small labels selling them made me feel that we could sell those records at a big label. It was a business decision to see what was appealing to the young people. It's not much different than today with Emo and dance music. You have to watch what's going on. Young people are the trendsetters, not the music people. Doug Morris tEstimony Larry Busacca

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