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Universal Music Group’s Jay Frank Remembered: ‘He Was One Step Ahead of Everybody’

Even as a student at Scotch Plains High School in New Jersey, Universal Music Group executive and digital music veteran Jay Frank — who died Sunday at the age of 47 after a battle with cancer — was destined for a career in the music business.

Most recently UMG’s senior vice president of global streaming, Frank’s wide-ranging career also saw him founding the subscription service DigSin, the digital music marketing company DigMark, and Futurehit Inc., which predicted songs’ commercial potential. He authored the books “Futurehit.DNA” and “Hack Your Hit,” analyzing how to market music in the digital and social-media worlds, and held senior posts at the television channel The Box, Yahoo Music and CMT.

Dan Catullo, concert promoter, creator and director of “Landmarks Live in Concert” and founder of City Drive Studios, grew up with Frank — in fact, they raised money for a sign, which still stands in front of the school, that reads “Home of The Raiders — Student Council, 1986.” Catullo remembers his friend below, as told to Michele Amabile Angermiller. 

Jay and I grew up together. Even when he was 12, he had the most amazing music collection, and he knew everything about every record ever made. Jay was the guy to go to for music, if you wanted to know who’s hot or what the big thing was going to be. He was the epitome of a music buff.

He used to make custom mixtapes for people, and we would sell them. I would buy these cases of cassettes, and he was so particular about the audio quality — he would yell at me if I bought lesser-quality tapes: “What are you doing? Get the Maxell XL II-S 90 tapes, they’re better!” He’d fill out the labels on the cases, and his handwriting was meticulous. Sometimes we would have a waiting list a couple of weeks long. I swear, the only person I know who knew more about music than [veteran radio DJ and former MTV VJ] Matt Pinfield was Jay. I always knew he was going to be in the music business.

Sure enough, after high school, he went to Ithaca College, and boom, he turned up at CMT, Yahoo and Universal, and founded his own companies. When he had DigSin, his company before Universal, he worked on some of my projects — he even handled the marketing on one of my documentaries.

It wasn’t a surprise to me that Universal hired him, because he had a real technical way of figuring out the technology behind hit songs and what people were going to listen to — determining that hit songs had a certain number of beats per minute and things like that. In his book “FutureHit.DNA,” he tried figure out exactly what comprised a hit and how the human brain reacted to it. He then started applying that to streaming methods. He was a musical brainiac.

Just a few weeks ago, I reached out to him about the KAABOO Festival [held in Southern California last month], to talk about streaming some of the Universal artists, and we were going to reconnect a couple of weeks later. Nobody knew he was sick — he hardly told anybody.

He was a true music person — always one step ahead of everybody else.

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