My music business life in seven offices
My music business life in seven offices
By Doug D'Arcy
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Listen to episode 4 here:

A bit of history. We’ve had an office in the US since 1970. We ended our relationship with Dee Anthony’s New York-based Bandana Enterprises our original American representatives and Derek Sutton, an old friend of Terry’s from Newcastle University, came in to run our US business He opened a Chrysalis New York office/apartment at 360 E 65th street. That changed to an office in the Galleria Building on 115 E 57th street when we added an American publishing company to our management company. Derek fell out with Terry and went off to run his own management company in LA. When Terry moved to LA he opened an office at 9255 Sunset Boulevard which became our main US office.

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Visiting LA requires careful planning on my part. The problem is I still can’t drive. Public transport is limited which leaves either unreliable taxis or expensive limousines which are discouraged as a bad example to the LA staff. I rely a lot on lifts from Chris which feels just like our Manchester university days all over again. It also means staying at the same hotel as him. When I was touring with our bands we always stayed at the Continental Hyatt House on Sunset Boulevard which made a point of catering to bands. The management had discovered how profitable it can be, so parties in the rooms, poolside parties and even parties in the hallways were actively encouraged, hence it’s nickname the Continental Riot House. Nowadays sadly I’m a business traveller staying in business hotels.

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When we made the deal with Warner Records to be our North American licencees Chris, Roy Eldridge and I joined Terry in LA to discuss how our collaboration with them would work and build some relationships. Terry booked us into the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on Rodeo Drive on that occasion. It was very classy. Since then Chris has fixed on the Beverley Hills Hotel. He likes tennis and socializing so it’s perfect for him as Alex Olmedo, a former champion tennis player, runs the tennis club there and the Polo Lounge is the best hangout in LA. So that’s where I stay.

I like it here. Jet-lagged and eating a very early breakfast at the Coffee Shop can mean sharing the counter with a film star like George Hamilton or having a late night drink in the Polo Lounge can mean waiting until Tony Curtis has been served. Adam Faith always stays there. He is friendly with the owner’s son and leaves a collection of clothes and what not so he can travel without luggage. He can be a help. When Roy is given a room he’s sure is normally a laundry cupboard and is moaning as he miserably eats his breakfast Adam secretly has his luggage moved to a better room and to Roy’s utter amazement as he finishes his meal he is presented with a new room key. Another advantage to this hotel is it’s a short drive, for those who can, from here down Sunset to our office.

The office itself is in a fairly typical LA building. It’s five floors and we have a floor in the middle of the building with our own reception. Compared to the London office it feels mighty spacious. The atmosphere is different as well. Like everywhere in southern California it’s relaxed. Everyone seems so cool it’s hard, when you’re jet-lagged, not to feel tongue-tied and a bit clumsy. Some visitors arrive at the hotel and immediately head for the pool only to appear at the office the following day with a bright red face, which thank goodness hasn’t happened to me. Since the sixties, when brits were the cool creatures from another planet, times have changed. Now we’re less interesting and have to work harder to get their attention. Los Angelenos know full well they’re at the heart of the biggest entertainment market in the world. Despite all this everyone at Chrysalis Inc thinks of London as the head office and wants to know what’s going on there.

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We have lots of lunches at the Hamburger Hamlet just behind the office to answer the questions and spread the word. It’s the best hamburger restaurant anywhere in the world by the way.  On my first visit I found myself sitting at the next table to Adam West the original Batman. That’s Hollywood! They have a thing called ‘lifestyle’ which involves leaving early on Fridays for a long weekend, and having a life outside the office during the week. At the same time they rarely take holidays and they all exude confidence in their ability to do their jobs brilliantly. Every office has windows except Terry’s. It’s in the middle of the floor and has absolutely no natural light. It must have been a storeroom. He claims to like the fact that he has no distractions but it gets claustrophobic very quickly. Californians who bask in the sunshine don’t like spending time in that kind of atmosphere at all. Terry’s intensity sometimes makes him unaware of what the people around him are thinking and he doesn’t know that they dread long meetings in that office. Everyone respects his vision of the industry and his success but he sometimes seems remote and his determination to succeed can seem high-handed.

 Terry Ellis

Terry Ellis

Sal Licata is president of the US company. He’s almost a veteran having worked at the legendary Blue Thumb label started by Bob Krasnow and Tommy LiPuma two pioneers of the independent record business. Terry, Chris and I have a working knowledge of the US industry from our time on the road but Sal’s expertise is essential. He comes from an Italian-American background and he runs the label like a family business making sure his office door is always open. Like the rest of the music business in LA he’s sports crazy and makes sure Chrysalis has good seats for ice hockey and basketball. They’re an essential part of the entertaining, which is obligatory in the LA music community. 

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Our deal with Warner Bros was running out and the first thing Sal did was to move us to the independent distributors network across the country. Altogether we’ve ended up with seventeen different distributors covering the various regions even including Hawaii and Alaska. Some have the reputation of being mafia controlled and unwilling to pay their bills, but Sal has worked with them for many years and he knows who to deal with and how to get paid. Many of our competitors, like A&M and Arista, are also independently distributed. It gives the label more control over it’s product and a better profit margin. In a country of this enormous size distribution is a big factor in selling records. 

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Airplay is the other key to getting hit records and because music radio makes hits and generates a lot of cash it’s something of a minefield. There is a network of independent promotion men who consultant radio stations as to what records they need to be playing. If they don’t play the hits first in their market they lose audience to competitor stations and then advertising dollars. It’s cut-throat competition. It also works the other way with Program Directors and DJ’s getting kickbacks in cash for playing certain records. Indie promoters regularly arrange parties and free concert tickets to influence program directors.

A magazine called Radio and Records or ‘R & R’ is the weekly trade paper of the commercial radio world and has a must-attend annual convention known to be the most decadent to be held anywhere in the world. All the labels take hospitality suites in whichever hotel is hosting the convention and then fills them full of free food, drink and drugs. It’s not unusual to see people lurching out of a suite temporarily unable to speak with a flagon of vodka in each hand. The sound of hype, bullshit and loud music is phenomenal. Record companies need to pay these indie promotion people or their records don’t get on the air. It is a kind of blackmail and very expensive. 

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Sal’s experience is vital here. He has an annual meeting at our offices with Fred Di Sipio, one of the major characters in the promotion game. It’s a private meeting and Sal explained to me that he shows Fred our release schedule and sales projections for the year. He also sees a version of our previous years accounts, suitably massaged to show lower profits than we actually made. From these figures Sal and Fred agree between them what Chrysalis can to afford spend on independent promotion for the forthcoming year. It’s then apportioned to individual records as the year’s releases come out.  Sal has also brought in Billy Bass as our Vice-president of promotion. He’s Afro-American which is unusual in a rock label but he has a great feel for hits and he’s an attractive and confident character who has a huge presence in the office. We’ve already had our first No1 in the US with a Nick Gilder single ‘Hot Child in the City’.

Sal’s  team also includes Paul Hutchinson Vice-president of Finance, the bluff English accountant who moved to LA a while ago, and Russ Shaw our Vice -President of Artist Relations who worked at Warner Bros where he became close to many of our artistes. Terry persuaded him to come to Chrysalis when we moved to the independent world. His job is a typically American function where the record company and the market are both so big they need someone to make sure the artists feel they have someone at the company to talk to and make sure their ideas, complaints and aspirations get a hearing. It helps that he is charming, excitable and quick witted. His father is a well-known Beverly Hills physician. His uncle Sam Shaw is the famous photographer of Marilyn Monroe and Marlon Brando and a film producer for John Cassavetes. Russ is a Hollywood insider to the core. He even shares the same accountant as the Maitre’d of the Polo Lounge.

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Stan Leighton is head of sales and Mick Borthwick is head of production. Eliza Brownjohn is responsible for international and there are lots of other great people, Lydia Sarno and Linda Carhart who have worked for us since the beginning, Lydia in LA and Linda in New York in the Derek Sutton days. Rhonda Esby works in Legal and Terry’s long-time pa Diane Baker keeps his life together. There’s quite a big A&R team lead by Jeff Aldrich Vice president of A & R with Roger Watson who has been in LA since Terry set up the office, Steve Moir, Steve Schmerler, Thom Trumbo and Kathy Nelson who is the cousin of the Ricky Nelson. In the mailroom is Michael Goldstone who is very influential. 

We’re in LA for our International Roster Review Meeting. Luckily Terry’s daylight free office isn’t big enough for everyone so we hold the meetings at his house in Alma Real Drive in Pacific Palisades. His home is the former ballroom of a large estate. It has been turned into a beautiful house with a lovely garden overlooking the Pacific. The old ballroom itself is now Terry’s sitting room and dining room. It’s absolutely enormous and beautifully furnished.

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We spend two days in this meeting so his gourmet catering is very welcome. The purpose is to review the progress of each of our artists, monitor our investment in them and check their contractual status. That’s 46 artists at the moment by the way and that’s why it takes two days. Terry, Chris and I attend along with multiple accountants Terry Connolly, Paul Hutchinson and Nigel Butterfield. The legals Peter Caisley UK and Rhonda Esby US are also there. The a&r staff squeeze in somewhat reluctantly.

These meetings are useful in managing our a&r activity and planning our release schedules but they can easily acquire the atmosphere of a Star Chamber where skeptical accountants question the amount of time and money being spent on almost all the artists, excepting those who are selling extremely well at this moment.

Belief in an artist is an instinctive matter and difficult to defend when they aren’t selling.

On a bad day the Star Chamber can feel more like the Nuremberg trials. Fortunately two of the artists who have the largest unrecouped balances, or debt to the label, at this point are the Babys and Billy Idol, and both are being personally supervised by Terry. His defence of the artists and his confidence in their success sets a standard for the rest of us with our difficult projects. In a real crisis the best thing to do is read what people have said in the minutes of previous meetings, they can make very embarrassing reading.

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One summer my family and I rented a house on Summit Ridge Drive in Beverley Hills. I worked in the office, with lifts from Kate, and got to know the company. Since then Sal and I have got on well of despite being very different personalities. Nevertheless there is an underlying feeling that the British artists are not given the same priority in promotion and sales. There’s a difference in tastes between the two markets which you can see in the charts, the US is still a major rock market. Jethro Tull, Robin Trower, Rory Gallagher, UFO and Michael Shenker are all significant sellers but some of the newer British artists aren’t as successful as quickly in the US as in the UK. There’s a new music channel called MTV which is making a difference. 

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The LA company is always fun to visit, great weather, shopping at Maxfield a hip new clothes shop on Melrose Avenue with the best Japanese designers, great food, lots of really good gigs, the entertainment history of the place and the whole atmosphere which is totally absorbing. It takes you over as if nowhere else matters. The music scene is very druggy of course. Terry has a girlfriend who is West Coast photo editor for Playboy magazine which means he’s really part of the scene. For Terry it’s a pretty high profile existence in a community that despite the smiles and praises is viciously competitive at the top end. He loves it but the pressure on him is tremendous. A good year means huge profits and an average year means big losses.

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Terry and Jeff Aldrich have become a close team. They’re working with Bill Aucoin, the manager of Kiss, who has taken on Billy Idol’s management and Keith Forsey who is producing his album. He is poised to be a major solo artist. The Baby’s are another group who have been slow to make it but all the signs are good especially for John Waite the singer. Terry has also made a couple of new signings, Pat Benatar who Jeff has brought in and Huey Lewis and the News who Roger Watson has brought in.

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Mike Chapman the writer and producer of hits in the UK with artists like Smokie, Mud and Suzi Quatro has moved to LA to build his career. He’s hooked up with Terry and Jeff and has become part of the team. He has already produced our Nick Gilder No 1 hit. Bob Gibson of the publicity company Gibson & Stromberg and Abe Somer the top music lawyer are also important to Terry.

It’s a smart fast living crowd.  You have to envy them their life in Santa Monica, Laurel Canyon, Beverly Hills, Sunset Strip and Mulholland Drive.

For us it’s off to the airport for the overnight flight to Heathrow and the tedious drive into London’s usually grey weather. It’s funny though how soon you settle into being back.