After 40-plus years in the music business, a man’s gonna have some stories. Veteran music mogul Jimmy Iovine, now head of Apple Music, charmed the Television Critics Association press tour crowd on Saturday with tales of his time in the trenches with everyone from Dr. Dre to John Lennon to U2.
Iovine’s partnership with Dre is the subject of the HBO documentary “The Defiant Ones,” directed by Allen Hughes and set to premiere in the spring. Iovine recalled his first meeting with Dre, not long after Iovine had launched his Interscope Records banner in 1989. What impressed him most was the quality of the sound Dre managed to capture on his landmark Death Row Records recording “The Chronic.”
The low frequencies emanating from the subwoofers that help define the hip-hop had been a huge challenge to capture as a recording. But to Iovine, “Chronic” sounded like “Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ or ‘Sgt. Pepper,’ ” he recalled. “I said ‘Who did this? Who engineered this?’ ” When Iovine learned that Dre engineered the recording himself, Iovine knew he was immensely talented. “I fell in love with the music,” he said.
The documentary focuses on the odd-couple relationship between Iovine and Dre, who came from very different background but clicked on a level that transcended race, age and experience.
“We both grew up racially charged neighborhoods,” he said. “This is about the relationship between a white guy and black guy at a time when the country in this moment is so screwed up in this area… We stayed together under some of the most difficult working circumstances you could possibly have.”
Iovine’s work with Dre with Snoop Dogg and other artists helped turned Interscope into an industry powerhouse. Iovine and Dre would later partner on the creation of the Beats Music and Beats Electronics brand of speakers and headphones, which Apple acquired for $3 billion in 2014. Iovine, who now heads Apple Music, said the company came about after Dre was approached for a sneaker endorsement deal. “I said you should do speakers, not sneakers,” Iovine recalled.
Apple Music is starting to tip-toe beyond hardware into the content business. It struck a deal with CBS for a weekly series based on “The Late Late Show with James Corden’s” “Carpool Karaoke” segment, and it is working on a scripted series based on Dre’s life.
Iovine said Apple Music at present is trying to find the right formula for a music streaming service that is not free and has enough compelling content to make it appeal to subscribers.
“We’re fighting free,” Iovine said. “With Netflix there is no free. … Apple Music is trying to create an entire pop culture experience that’s going to include audio and video. … If ‘South Park’ walks into my office, I’m not going to say, ‘You’re not musicians.’ We’re going to do whatever hits pop culture smack on the nose.”
Among other bon mots and observations from Iovine:
- “Ahmet Ertegun told me if you bump into a genius on the beach you never let them go.”
- At the time Dre created Beats, the music biz was in a bad place, with both hardware and software. “Earbuds weren’t capturing any of the music. So you had music being stolen and sounding like crap. At that time all the headphones looked like medical equipment.”
- “I have big mirrors in my house. I look in the mirror and ask myself, ‘Where did I f— up? Where did you choke here?”
- “Why did I stop producing records? Because I didn’t want to end up being the guy producing Rod Stewart’s son.”
- “I got fired by Foghat because I was an idiot. I ran into Patti Smith as I was leaving the studio. She wanted to hire me. I said ‘I just got fired by Foghat.’ She said I don’t give a s—. I don’t like Foghat.’ “