Brief conversations with very important people
WHO: Virgin Records chairman/CEO Jason Flom. Since October, he's been heading the home label to the Rolling Stones, Gorillaz, and now Dem Franchize Boyz and KT Tunstall. Flom's early days at Atlantic Records saw him signing White Lion and Skid Row, but he's perhaps best known for founding Lava Records, where he signed and/or developed Kid Rock, the Corrs, Matchbox 20, Sugar Ray, and Simple Plan.
Austin Chronicle: Do you have a SXSW philosophy?
Jason Flom: To try not to get to bed too much after 4am?
AC: There's 1,400 artists playing SXSW, each probably thinking that at least some element of their career could change from having been here. In today's music business is that even reasonable to expect?
JF: It could be. Look, you're in a place that's teeming with record executives. That in itself increases the chances you're going to be discovered. SXSW is one of the only festivals where somebody could truly stumble into your show thanks to everything being so tightly bunched. There's so much networking people talking that buzzes can build over the course of hours.
AC: Let's say I'm a young band meeting with you at the Four Seasons. Why should I sign with Virgin?
JF: I would sign because we're almost like a big indie. We have a tiny roster. What band wouldn't want the biggest lane to themselves? If you're working radio, a portal like Yahoo, or MTV, you only have so many shots. We all know how many thousands and thousands of records come out every year. What band wouldn't want to be the first priority for Virgin instead of the fourth priority somewhere with twice as many bands? Breaking when you have a lot of company on your roster is daunting. It's not impossible, but definitely harder than breaking when you have the lane to yourself.
AC: We're in an age where careers can run all of one single deep.
JF: Yes. If your first single explodes, then you're lucky and anywhere you signed would have been fine. If it doesn't explode, you're in serious trouble at most labels. It's terrible when you think back on the iconic bands we grew up with that didn't break on a second single, but on a third album. I've had those experiences too, like Tori Amos or Sugar Ray. You have to wonder in this climate if the possibility still exists to get a second shot. That's depressing.
AC: Obviously not depressing enough to hang it up though.
JF: I'm an optimist. There's always going to be new stars. The fun is finding them. KT Tunstall is ridiculous fun. Finding talent and breaking records is a thrill like a drug. Look around SXSW and you'll see people trying to experience that. The thrill of seeing a band you saw in empty clubs grow up to play arenas is an amazing ride almost impossible to describe. There's nothing about it that's not fun.