The Music Industry’s Side Ways: Top Execs Often Hold Down Separate Gigs Simultaneously

It's not uncommon for a music exec to hold down a top label or publishing job while also maintaining a distinct manager or producer gig. For power players, it signifies prestige as well as an abundance of creativity... but on lower rungs, double duty can also be a result of a single salary not cutting it.

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Mark Weaver for Variety

In the music industry, it can sometimes feel like old hat to be wearing only one hat. The business continues to show its openness to executives having multiple roles, even if it’s not always clear which gig is their “A” job and which is their side hustle, if you will. Want to take a high-level label position and still find outside fulfillment as a manager or producer? Not every company has a cavalier attitude about letting top employees potentially divide their attention. But for a multitude of reasons, a “carve-out” in a contract that allows a key hire to keep pursuing an outside position is a common allowance.

“Any great manager has entrepreneurship in their DNA, so having multiple interests, investments and projects isn’t unusual,” notes one high-level industry source. “If you earned that much clout and power, you obviously did something right.”

This friendly setup occurs at some of the biggest companies in the business as well as boutique labels. Def Jam is an example of a label where fluidity has recently ruled. In February, Paul Rosenberg stepped down as Def Jam’s CEO, but in the two years he held the role, he was doing that and continuing to manage longtime client Eminem. Steven Victor has managed Pusha T and The-Dream while being Def Jam’s exec VP of A&R, then moving into an A&R senior VP role for the wider Universal Music Group. DJ Mormile, now Def Jam’s exec VP West Coast, is also the manager of Mike Will Made It and Soulja Boy and formerly handled YG, too.

It’s hardly a one-company phenomenon, though. Matt Galle, who works at Paradigm repping Shawn Mendes and My Chemical Romance, also runs his own label, Photo Finish Records  While Aaron Bay-Schuck was still the head of A&R at Interscope, he was managing the Futuristics; he’s divested himself of his side gig since becoming CEO of Warner Records. Don Was is the president of esteemed jazz label Blue Note while intermittently having his out-of-office flag up to produce rocker clients like the Rolling Stones — although the label just created a general manager position to help Was out with day-to-day operations.

When Gabz Landman was recently hired as VP of A&R at Warner, she was able to keep managing new artist Amy Allen, whom she discovered while working in publishing. In the jazz world, Zev Feldman continues to be co-president of the Resonance label, even as his catalog expertise got him hired on as consulting producer for historical and archival recordings by Universal Music Group. Chaka Zulu, Ludacris’ manager, took on an added gig last year when he joined Spotify as head of artist and talent relations, a role that has shifted to a consultancy. And the beat goes on.…

The term “side hustle” is often employed, though that can have negative connotations. “That’s a racially charged term,” says one of the top lawyers in the music business, who objects to it because, historically, in his experience, a carve-out has often been “the result of mostly Black execs being paid less and them needing additional income. The major labels can use this as a way to pay less, or be able to afford hiring someone.”

But nowadays allowing someone to keep some action on the side is just as often seen as conferring power, prestige or an abundance of creativity on the part of an exec who just desires to do double- or triple-duty regardless of where the money falls. “A lot of times (companies) allow the carve-out because they want to capitalize on a relationship, or they’re looking for extra access to a repertoire — like when they want to hire a manager with three acts they’re interested in,” says the attorney. For all those benefits, he adds, a perceived drawback is that “when someone has a side gig, you don’t know where someone’s loyalty is, and the employers don’t always love split attention.”

Danny Bennett, who has managed his father, Tony, for 41 years, recently spent three as president-CEO of the Verve Label Group — succeeding in that role David Foster, the famed producer who represents yet another example of holding down multiple duties. Bennett disputes the idea that fulfilling more than one gig at a time is too demanding.

“People who didn’t know me would say, ‘You’re going to get overwhelmed,’ but frankly, I’ve never been overwhelmed by anything,” Bennett says. “I restructured the company, launched a number of labels, increased jazz and classical market share, and my revenue streams were 60% year over year … while I was also producing Tony’s NBC special for his 90th birthday.” That juggling does require an innate multitasking mindset, he allows: “I have this weird thing where I can read a book and have a conversation at the same time, but that’s just me.”

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Manager Danny Bennett with Tony Bennett at “Tony Bennett Celebrates 90: The Best Is Yet To Come” at Radio City Music Hall on September 15, 2016 in New York City. Kevin Mazur/Getty courtesy RPM Productions

In Nashville, Michael Knox is a prime example of someone with multiple plates in the air. He started out in the publishing world with Warner Chappell and departed shortly before discovering Jason Aldean at a bar gig and developing him not just on a publishing level but as a producer, overseeing 22 No. 1 singles for the country superstar to date. When he decided to return to the publishing world several years into that ongoing run, he knew a major like his former employer would be unlikely to allow him to run a company and produce, too. It was the family-owned Peermusic, a company with roots going back to the ’30s, that gave him a deal as senior VP that allowed him to keep producing chart toppers — and under his watch it recently became a top 10 country publisher for the first time. He also recently started his own label, Knox Records, affiliated with BBR (Aldean’s label), and Knox has a syndicated weekly radio show interviewing songwriters. But he says that having a firm grasp on which gig is your day job is key.

“That’s the only way it works, man, is that I wake up every morning and go to Peermusic,” he says. “I’ve got to have that in my system every day in order to make all these other things operate properly. But them allowing me to be a little bit of a Renaissance man — or loose cannon — benefits Peer because it helps with my relationships with songwriters. You’ve got to find a way to make it all be part of the same finish line.”

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Producer Michael Knox with Jason Aldean at the CMA Awards Courtesy Michael Knox

While many execs and companies see unofficial synergy in letting corporate talent go free range, others perceive conflicts of interest. Martin Kierszenbaum decided, of his own accord, not to try to do it all. He was involved in Lady Gaga’s early career as president of A&R Pop/Rock at Interscope and then went on to found the Cherrytree Music Co., which he eventually took out from under Universal Music Group’s umbrella after signing Sting as a management client. “Sting is signed to Interscope,” Kierszenbaum told the U.K.’s Music Week, “so I was much more comfortable being outside of Universal managing such an incredible artist that’s signed to Universal. It removed any potential conflict. A lot of people don’t have a problem with that, but I don’t like it.”

But Kierszenbaum’s perspective is clearly the exception among executives in many fields of entertainment, says a top lawyer. “Execs in film have production deals,” says the attorney. “In tech, someone might have a startup at the same time as being employed by a big company, and when the startup catches on, they leave, sometimes with seed money from the big tech company; they call those situations incubators.”

An instance that parallels that kind of relationship occurred when Neil Jacobson — who since his early days in the biz had managed his college buddy, hitmaker Jeff Bhasker, along with writers and producers like Brendan O’Brien and Emile Haynie — went to Interscope as Jimmy Iovine’s right-hand man, then became president of Geffen Records. He was allowed to develop a management company that represented these clients and more … but it operated as a part of Geffen. “I have colleagues who have agreements with their labels where they’re allowed to continue to manage the artists that they have while having an executive role. But my whole vision for Geffen was: No, no, no. We are going to be a company that actually manages producers and writers while [still] signing artists and superstars.”

Ultimately, Jacobson says, Interscope Geffen A&M wasn’t sure it wanted to focus on producer management after all, and that was his biggest passion, so — with its blessing — he left the label group and spun that division off into his own Hallwood Media. But don’t take Jacobson’s decision to focus only on management as a tacit admission that doing that work on top of his duties as a label head at Geffen was too much. “If you were to sit in my cockpit for a day, it would probably freak you out,” he laughs. “It’d freak out most people. But my feeling about ADHD is that it often has to do with an extra amount of energy that people like myself have … and I think I’ve found a lot of ways to be able to take what was a weakness and really turn it into a strength.”

Knox uses the same self-diagnosis as a reason he can take on the jobs of publishing chieftain, producer, label head and podcaster: “You’ve got to be a little crazy and ADD, man, to make things like that work and make it all flow together.”

If there’s anything that rankles — or amuses — a music exec who’s learned to handle multiple roles at once, it’s the word overwhelming. Says Bennett: “What overwhelms me is when one of my family is not well  — that overwhelms me. Everything else you can control, in a sense.” Jacobson puts it in much the same terms: “I’m a big fan of perspective and constantly reminding myself how kind of not overwhelmed I am. Overwhelmed is being in Vietnam in the jungle, trying to get through leeches and mosquitoes and being shot at through sleep deprivation, or trench warfare in World War One. This, working really hard, having lots of things going on, being tired and exhausted by the amount of effort that one has to pursue, sure — but who cares? This is business. This is what it takes to be great. And for me, there is no better feeling than being exhausted and worn down and tired, but victorious.”

A source who often deals with talented multitaskers in the biz says they can wind up being targeted for how much they’re taking on. “When you’re wearing multiple hats, people take shots at how your performance is. You leave yourself open.” But, he adds, it’s a phenomenon that won’t be going away, for reasons having to do with ambition, thinking outside the box and the rewards that are due to respected industry veterans — or, yes, still, for those lower on the ladder, the need to create multiple sources of income.

“The reason for most carve-outs is because the industry puts you in a f—ed-up position financially,” the source adds. “There are inequities in a lot of cases. Is it bad? In a lot of cases, yes. Salaries are so low that these new kids just coming into the business deserve the carve-out more than these millionaires with their silver spoon carve-outs. But the guys who built their business from the mud, these are the people who earn their carve-out.”