MUBUTV Insider Podcast Episode Transcript
[Phil Quartararo]


Ritch Esra: Phil, Thank You so much for joining us, we really appreciate it.

Phil Quartararo: Delighted to be here thanks for having me

Ritch Esra: You know I always like to start our conversations with a question everybody, especially with people who have been in the business for a long time which is, when in your life did you know that the music business was going to be your professional career path? 

Phil Quartararo: I was seven years old, sitting on the floor on a Sunday night in Long Island New York watching a black and white TV with my family and I saw the Beatles come down the steps for the Ed Sullivan Show. I saw and I said, I turned my dad and I said, “I don't know what that is but I'm going to find a way to be part of it” and he looked over the top of the newspaper he said, “OK” 

Ritch Esra: Wow okay great. 

Eric Knight: Phil, this is Eric thank you so much for joining us it's a real honor to have you here.  You’re President and CEO of a dynamic New Media company called The Hello Group.  Can you tell us a little bit about the company and what they do and why you joined them?

Phil Quartararo: I was managing some singer-songwriters about 4 ½ - 5 years ago and I met up with a gentleman named Taylor Jones who at the time was a young 23 year old kid from England. I was surprised to find that he had already been in the business seven or eight years as an artist, then as a manager and as a producer. I was so impressed with him and we end up like it is so many times -  you connect with people and we were finishing each other's sentences and laughing we met over a song. Right away we got into business with that singer-songwriter and in fact we ended up placing one of her songs into one of the very first big BTS records and that was the beginning.  He was looking come to America to grow his business and you know he hit at the time with running an influencer agency and I of course with my age and my part of my career I didn't have a lot of interest in the in the influencer business but he wanted to come to America and I knew that he had the the view of the of the current youth world that I don't have nor could I have and I had the 40 years of experience and knowledge that it would take him 40 years to learn right - so the fact that we could complement one another skills or more importantly that we enjoyed each other and we cared about each other and we went off and on this path together to do business was very, very exciting and very good. 

Ritch Esra: Phil, you’ve had a very extensive background in the music business you run some of the biggest labels of our business that you were CEO of Virgin you were CEO of Warner Bros you ran EMI North America.  It's such a different business today.  How has your experience in the industry evolved from what you've learned to running a new company like the Hello Group

Phil Quartararo: Well the common denominator of course is the composer of the compositions. At the end of the day all of our business is a life support system for artists and the songs they create. So, I never left the artist business and I never left the song business. It comes in different shapes and colors and flavors but at the end of the day is still dealing with a song and you still deal with an artist.

Eric Knight: I feel in the past marketing music artists was more oriented towards the music exclusively today it seems that an artist story, their personal narrative is absolutely crucial to connect with an audience. What brought about this change today?

Phil Quartararo: Well it's partly the technology but partly the habits that have grown out of the technology. The business I grew up in was linear you know, there were only two or three levers you can pull. You would originate a song and then you would put it on the radio, you would put it in the stores. If it was after 1982 you would make a video, and that's what you did. You either had hit or you didn’t. You know today, there are dozens of touch points and you know where in those days since it was linear it was a push business. Today it's a pull business. It's all about the setup of all the dozens of touch points and then when you release the track how, where and when you can build a critical mass with fans first and then back into the push that comes behind that. 

Ritch Esra: It’s interesting hearing you talk about that.  What do you feel are some of the most important elements in the new music in economy for breaking artists? And do they vary in your opinion from the genre genre?

Phil Quartararo:  I think what varies from genre to genre is what’s always varied, you're speaking to different demographics and psychographics depending on what the song is and who the artist is. That's not that different. I would say that it's not the vehicles and the tools that we use are not so much different as there is more of everything, there is more choice, there's more data, there is more information, there’s more to learn, more to use, and more to chase in the context of breaking a song.

Eric Knight: And do you find that more of a challenge with The Hello Group having all those touch points?…

Phil Quartararo: Yeah, now don't forget The Hello Group has a lot of moving pieces. We have a huge music component. Then we have film and TV which has developed in the last two years as a result of the music piece coming head-on with the pandemic. We were developing a new girl pop band, like you know how I was involved with the Go-Go's, I was involved with Spice Girls we were about to do the exact same thing and we were building a reality TV show around it right when the pandemic hit. Fremantle in London picked up the show so all of a sudden we were making a TV show. Then comes a pandemic and all of our music stuff keeps going but I moved online and we start creating more and more scripts and a year goes by creating scripts and we were sitting in the backyard one day and Taylor says, I'm about to say the craziest thing I've ever said to you, I think we should start a film a TV studio. We all looked at eachother and bursted out laughing and then we agreed we should do it and we went out and raised the money a year ago and opened a studio we now have you know, 20 active scripts across a lot of different film companies. So that has been complimentary to the music side because they bootstrap one another, and that wasn't what you asked me but…

Eric Knight: No no but it makes sense because you have to be I think really integrated in a lot of different areas today 

Phil Quartararo: You need a lot of legs on the ground, 2 legged table Falls over, we're about a 17 legged table

Eric Knight: Let me ask you - Today what new business models do you see emerging that can help new artists create a context around their music?

Phil Quartararo:  I hesitate to call anything a new model at the moment, that's just my terminology because I get stuck on that stuff. I see a lot of activity and I think that some of the stuff that succeeds - but what's clearly been the difference is an artist today, as opposed to 25 or 30 years ago is, the artist today has to get their own juice up to a certain critical mass whether it's whatever it is whatever the capital de jour is, streams, if its airPlay, if it's spins whatever terminology using you know.  Whereas the record company at one point listened - you know sort out, found, signed, created and then took it from 0 out of the gate that's not what it is anymore. These kids have to show up with some kind of foundation, some kind of base before most of the record companies will even talk to them. That's the good news and bad news but, that's the news. 

Ritch Esra: I think it's interesting hearing you talk about that because it has changed the entire  - I guess what you call criteria of who gets signed and who doesn't based on exactly what you're saying. So much more is now expected of that new artist, new writer, manager you said before the label and I remember that I have worked in the label business and did so much more of that work.

Phil Quartararo: Well it's two parts also Ritch, on coming in - you need to have a foundation before you even walk into the record company and then once the record company takes you on, if there's not a result very fast you're gone. You get dropped quickly so and that's very different than the business we grew up in 

Ritch Esra: Yes you do.  One of the things that I see today that the digital revolution has brought is that there's a much longer tail for a lot more music and I'm curious in your mind how has this Factor affected an artist's ability to make money with their music? 

Phil Quartararo: Well in the pop business it's still a 90/10 business. where 99% of the  business if you will - you know the big hits do the tonnage and everything comes behind it. But what the long tail has done, I deal with a lot of Legacy artists, I deal with jazz artists, I deal with Blues artists, those are people that in the old the music business never really got up to bat. But the fact is that there are communities that live on line that seek out those genres, and those artists, and those songs. So a guy like Arturo Sandoval who I worked with for 20 year, you know he's got a foundation that could not have existed years ago. Great blues players have the ability to sell music that you know they were never going to get the record company's attention, or the budgets, or the priorities and now they're going to the democratization of fan access and I hate using that word because it's a loaded word - but the truth is that if you're a fan, you have more access to more music now than you ever have and that has most benefited those genres that have been underserved in the past music industry. 

Ritch Esra: Thus creating the long tail…

Phil Quartararo: …Because of the long tail

Ritch Esra: It's interesting, Marty Bandier talked about that very factor in terms of making money with publishing on a panel that I did a couple years ago with him. Where, he talked about how in the old days it was x amount of people being paid by the pool of money that came in from ASCAP, BMI or from Publishing. Now 10 times the money is coming in but it's going to 600 times more people than ever before and as to your point…

Phil Quartararo: … it flattened it out.

Eric Knight: How has streaming altered what types of artists can or can't break in today's Marketplace? 

Phil Quartararo: Streaming is fan-driven so you see the trends are different because trends that are led by fans obviously are trends that are different than trends that are driven by the industry or by the infrastructure. So, there's a little bit of a dichotomy there, at the end of the day what you want to believe is that the hits get through and I think to some degree that is the case. The hits mostly get through. But you know, the truth is we all hear records that are truly not hits and on occasion genuinely awful and they get through. But, at the end of the day you hope a hit is a hit and the Golden Rule always was, hit songs find a way to become hits and you hope that still the case. 

Ritch Esra: When you look at long-term marketing plans for a new release, how important to you is tracking your analytics in marketing. You know where the audience is coming from where they're going what actions can I take? Can you speak to that

Phil Quartararo: I am not a data specialist but what I can tell you is that based on what I see and what I hear everyday is that the industry has become much more data-driven than it's ever been. On one hand I admire that it exists, that it's available, that people access it. 

On the other hand at the end of the day we will go up in an industry that we felt music, we felt songs, we felt when a record could be a hit. That, had a skill attached to it if you are on our side and it had a passion attached it on the fan side. I'm happy they have the data, I never want to see the data overtake the passion.

Ritch Esra: Phil, are there any books or films that have really resonated with you professionally speaking that you could recommend to our audience?

Phil Quartararo: As far as our industry is concerned?

Eric Knight: Yeah as far as our industry. We have a lot of like beginning artists and you know people that are trying to pursue the music industry so 

Phil Quartararo: There’s only been, not a lot of books, because what i find with books, candidly, I read a lot of books but, I find that most of the books are written from one vantage point at the table and I don't believe our industry is driven by any one vantage point but there are movies that inspire me. There was a movie that Gil Freezen did years ago called 30 feet from stardom

Ritch and Eric: Ah yes! 20 Feet from Stardom

Phil Quartararo: I thought that was a very inspiring film. I think any of the current flood of films you know, Bohemian Rhapsody of course being the first in the biggest of that pack that came through. When you, anytime that you can share with the fans the road a band takes and goes through to get where the fan perceives them to be. People think bands just show up with number one records, they just show up playing for 50,000 people, they just show up. They have no idea how they get from point A to point B so any documentation that memorializes that growth of a career or of an artist I always find inspiring I hope fans do as well. 

Ritch Esra: I want to ask you a question about you know, you touched on this a little before when you spoke about you know, how we all grew up in a in a business of a certain way and that is, do you feel that music can become really important again, in our culture?

Phil Quartararo: Well I personally think music never became NOT important. I think people of our age the only thing we had was music. We had music and sports but when we were after school when we came home we were playing air guitar in our boxer shorts in our bedroom because we had first AM radio, then FM radio, and then cassettes, and then records and it was always about music. My kids all have countless, they play video games and the Xbox and they have PlayStation there in the middle, they have thousands of ways to entertain themselves but the common thread is all the music attached to them. So my kids hear music that I grew up with because it's used, it's licensed into games and licensed into film. So I don't know that music has been replaced. I think that it has to share the stage with a lot of other forms of entertainment and I don't mind that I think that's good. I think the record business hit the crapper a lot of years ago. I think the music business has never been bigger.

Eric Knight: Phil, what advice can you offer our listeners who are wanting to pursue a career in the business side of the music industry?

Phil Quartararo: There's some real advantage for people who want to be in the business of music. When I went to school there was no Music Industry Program right and I went to the New House school in Syracuse. I went there because they had a film and TV program but they were a journalism school. Within the first couple of months of being there I met my two oldest friends Rob Light and John Sykes who I spent my entire life with starting from the first year of college. Two of my dearest friends and oldest friends. But, today, you know we founded one of the very first music industry programs with the Marty Bandier program at Syracuse and there are today a dozen great music industry programs. There is Amadertican School at NYU, there is Northwestern, there's USC, UCLA, Belmont in Nashville. Great, really really impressive so one advantage for people that want to get into the industry is you can actually go to school for it which was not the case in our generation. The other advantage is that, because of the data and because of the easy access for fans, I think they can get a lot more, a lot easier than we ever had access to. We lived in a closed, gated community in our industry up until 20 years ago. The gates are down. Now that's good news and the bad news because you know, there’s no more gates! It used to be that you had to climb the gate. Now you have to not get trampled when you go through the gate with everybody else. 

Eric Knight: That’s right, no more gates.

Ritch Esra:  Phil, what advice can you offer to people who want to pursue a recording career as an artist today? I mean you work with artists directly so what would be your advice to someone who wants to pursue a career as an artist today in today's market?

Phil Quartararo: I’ve given the same advice since I was very very young about that question. There are artists who sit across from me and I say, “Why do you want to do this?” It's too hard to do if you don't love it, don't do it. It is too hard. You know what if the person across from me says, “I want to be a star”.  I want to have the paparazzi at the end of the driveway, and I want to be famous. I say “You know what, try something else this is not for you”. But when you're sitting across from somebody that looks you in the eye and they say “You don't understand, I can't sleep, I can't eat, I got something in me that has to come out and music is the only way I can express it”. To that person you say, “Whatever it takes, however long it is, you stay with it because it'll get through”.

Ritch Esra: They’ve got to be committed to it as a way of life 

Phil Quartararo: It’s just, It’s not something you can explain 

Eric Knight: It’s something that they have it or they don't. It's not X Factor yeah you have to live breathe it 

Phil Quartararo: They got to you know, you've got to be a slave to it. You just need it, you cannot live without it. It is your oxygen for that person. Quincy Jones used to say, “You have to leave enough room in the studio for God to pass through because composers or songwriters are divinely inspired”. That's what Quincy used to tell me and if you believe that, which I do, because of him, then you realize being a songwriter is not always a choice. You know sometimes it's a mission that you’re given. It’s a calling. So to that person you're not going to dissuade them and you're not going to talk them out of it so, Godspeed!

Eric Knight: Phil where can people best connect with you and the Hello Group?

Phil Quartararo: We’re not hiding, we’re right here, in Burbank and you can come see us. Email us, call us whatever. We're happy to you know, we're obviously very, very busy but we are obviously open for everybody so come see us.

Ritch Esra: Great, Phil thank you so much. we really appreciate it, it was so great seeing you.

Phil Quartararo: Enjoyed it a lot. Looking forward to it, have a good conference. 

Ritch Esra: Absolutely I am too, thank you again. 

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