HOW ONE ROCK STAR BECAME A BUSINESSMAN
HOW ONE ROCK STAR BECAME A BUSINESSMAN
2005-04-10 at 10:00:00 am #8733
How One Rock Star Became a
EVERY Artist has to become a businessperson to protect their art.
I was with the E Street Band, and just as we were about to make it with Bruce
Springsteen, with the “Born in the U.S.A.” album, that’s when I left. It was
perfect bad timing.
I was completely consumed with the content side of creating records, but I
realized very quickly that it doesn’t matter how good a record or product is if
it doesn’t get marketed properly. It was the early to mid-1980′s. None of my
records sold. It was partially my own fault. I learned everything, what little I
know, from that period. For seven years, I dedicated my entire artistic life to
politics, co-producing “Sun City,” the anti-apartheid album, and co-founding
Artists United Against Apartheid, among other things. It was valuable but didn’t
pay the rent.
By the early 1990′s, I realized I really needed to start figuring out how to
make a living. I made a few dollars from producing “Born in the U.S.A.” when I
was with the E Street Band, but the real money was on the road and I left before
that happened. I was in South Africa and Nigeria, involved in human rights
causes, while everyone else in that band was buying their first house.
I thought maybe I would produce records for a career. I started to meet with
new bands in the mainstream in the early 1990′s. I said to the bands, “You have
to have 10 good songs before you go in the studio.” They looked at me like I was
Then I got talked into inducting the Rascals into the Rock and Roll Hall of
Fame in 1997. David Chase, the writer and director, happened to be watching. He
called me to be an actor on his new show, “The Sopranos.” I had no interest
whatsoever. No. 1, I’m not an actor. No. 2, I don’t want to be. No. 3, if I did,
why would I want to be on a TV show? They sent me a script anyway and it was
It was perfect timing. I wasn’t relating to music; the pop thing was
happening, grunge and hip-hop were getting bigger and bigger. So I became an
actor, playing Silvio Dante, the consigliere, and a year into that Bruce decided
to put the band back together, so I rejoined.
Around this time I discovered garage rock. It absolutely profoundly affected
me. I was thinking the whole rock ‘n’ roll thing was over and here it was, a
bunch of young bands studying the 50′s and 60′s. I said, “O.K., let’s do a radio
show.” I went to a good friend of mine, Richard Neer, a famous D.J. in New York.
He said his brother Danny had a studio in his basement.
I did a pilot with Danny and I went to syndicators. They said, “We can’t put
rock ‘n’ roll on the radio anymore.” I said, “Excuse me?” They said, “Yes, it’s
over.” I didn’t believe them. We sent out 300 packages to radio stations;
everyone said no.
This is the moment when I became a businessman. I said, “This is not
acceptable.” We have a generation of kids that never heard real rock ‘n’ roll.
So I said to the radio stations, “If I can show you I’m going to make you money,
would you be more open to the possibility?” They said yes.
I got together with their advertisers. My role on “The Sopranos” helped me
here. We started in 2002 with about 20 stations, and now we’re in 200 markets.
Then a friend of mine got a consultant job at Sirius, the satellite radio
company, and he talked me into coming on board in late 2003. I ended up
producing two entire channels, Outlaw Country and the Underground Garage,
formats I created.
I wasn’t going to be defeated. I’m not good at selling myself, but if I have
a righteous mission or cause, forget it. My father was a tough guy, an
ex-marine,a Goldwater Republican. I was the first hippie in town. He couldn’t
possibly understand me or me him.
The big generation gap between me and my father did get closer. It helped
when Springsteen was on the cover of Time and Newsweek. He thought, “Maybe
there’s something going on here.”