I was in a music publisher’s office on the corner of la Brea and Sunset, Los Angeles, sometime around 1997. Across the desk from me was one of the Titans of the music industry; the Svengali behind a string of hits over four decades who was about to prove that even immortals can, on occasion, have feet of clay.
I was in LA to visit record companies, publishers and managers in an effort to resuscitate the stalled career of one of my roster, a musician/writer/producer team who had enjoyed some stellar moments in late ’80s and early ‘90s working on a number of chart-topping recordings, but whose current trajectory was, to put it mildly, in a southerly direction. Due in no small part to my own shortcomings as a showbiz hustler, they hadn’t produced a hit in three years and hadn’t worked on anything other than their own, unreleased material in nearly twelve months.
The uninitiated generally perceive the role of the publisher as a shadowy one, so allow me to explain. Their job, as far as recording artists and songwriters are concerned, is to oversee royalty collection and to help develop the performer’s career by arranging collaborations and placing songs on movie soundtracks, TV shows and commercials. In the hands of a creative A&R executive and a reasonably competent synchronisation team a writer’s progress to the summit of Mount Pop can receive a substantial leg up, and my host that day was widely recognised as one of the masters of this dark art. Currently, however, from where I was sitting he wasn’t exactly covering himself in glory, and consequently I was getting it in the neck almost daily from the talent.
“So what have you got for us?” I asked.
“Got for you? In what way?”
“Oh, you know, some co-writes, production gigs, maybe just a remix to get them out there? Who’s doing what at the moment? Anything that might suit? How about something on Drew Carey? Everyone seems to be on that.”
“How about something on Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman? Hahahaha….”
The effort involved in maintaining my rictus grin while hiding my tobacco-stained front teeth was superhuman.
“Not really, no. Not much around,” he said. “Seems to me that their appeal has become more….ah….niche-based.”
“Can I be honest here? Your heart doesn’t seem to be in this.”
“How so, Jeremy?”
“Julian. Well, I suppose it’s got something to do with the fact that you never return my calls, that my emails mysteriously disappear into the ether, and that today is the first time we’ve exchanged words in just over a year.”
“Look, it’s like this….”
I could feel the kicker approaching.
“….the deal is 80/20, right?”
“….which means you do eighty per cent of the work and we do twenty.”
For a moment I wondered if I might have the brass neck to use the same defence next time my artist phoned for another whine.
Probably not, which goes a long way towards explaining why the perma-bronzed incarnation of southern Californian vitality sitting opposite me that day was, and still is, a multi millionaire and I’m not.
I suppose I should be thankful he didn’t recommend a dentist.