News of Universal Music Group’s $50 billion valuation in the wake of its recent IPO made the “pandemic-ly retired” Marty Bandier wistful. “I sure wish I was in the business now,” says the veteran music exec, who headed both EMI and Sony/ATV Music Publishing over a decades-long career. “The prices being paid for music publishing rights are so wild.”
Indeed, 2021 marks 30 years since SBK Records, in which the “B” is for Bandier, was bought out by Thorne-EMI and folded into its North American Record Group, basically ending its short, but dynamic existence as a standalone label. That concluded Thorne-EMI’s then-massive acquisition of the company — which began in 1989 when it bought SBK Music Publishing for a reported $300 million-plus (north of $600 million when adjusted for inflation) — which seems like a pittance today.
SBK — also named for business partners Stephen Swid, the late financier, and label and publishing titan Charles Koppelman (pictured at left) — came in hot when it launched in 1988 as an EMI-distributed “boutique” label. It lasted less than 30 months, but during its heyday had a checkbook that rivaled the majors’ — enlisting the services of independent promoters at a time when the major labels kept their distance due to a scathing 1986 NBC report exposing commonplace payola in the records and radio business — and used it.
The label broke a series of multi-platinum records by, most notoriously, Vanilla Ice (“Ice Ice Baby”), but also Wilson-Phillips (“Hold On”) and Technotronic (“Pump Up the Jam”), while scoring hits with early albums from British alternative groups Jesus Jones and Blur, as well as Jon Secada, a sideman for Gloria and Emilio Estefan.
Even more impressive was its list of future label executives, from Glassnote president/founder Daniel Glass (pictured at right) to a fledgling A&R newcomer named Pete Ganbarg, who went on to become president of A&R at Atlantic and president of Atco. Others who passed through its glass doors include Cornerstone and the Fader cofounders Rob Stone and Jon Cohen, who were in the promotion department, along with Glass, Hilary Shaev (now Lerner), the late Neil Lasher and Ken Lane. A suit-and-jacketed Monte Lipman, future founder and steward of Republic Records, home to Drake, The Weeknd, Post Malone and many others, joined as an intern and was named a regional promotion man out of Atlanta, a rare post for a white Jewish boy from Montclair, New Jersey. In the legal department was Deborah Dugan, who would go on to become president of Disney Publishing, CEO of Bono and Bobby Shriver’s (RED) non-profit, and endure a brief and controversial turn as president/ CEO of the Recording Academy.
With music and publishing valuations soaring, the saga of SBK Entertainment World – which began as a hybrid record production and publishing company – seems particularly relevant. It was formed after Swid, Bandier and Koppelman joined forces to buy CBS Songs in December 1986 for a then-record $120 million from Larry Tisch, with the urging of CBS’ fiery music chief Walter Yetnikoff, who merely wanted to grease the wheels for the company’s eventual $2 billion sale to Sony in November 1987, less than a year later.
In 1989, Thorne-EMI came courting, acquiring SBK’s song catalog (mainly CBS Songs and a few Koppelman/Bandier personal holdings) for a total reported at anywhere between $295 and $337 million, with another $35 million (added to Bandier and Koppelman’s $5 million apiece — Swid was gone at this point) to fund a 50-50 joint venture start-up record label.
The Brooklyn-born Koppelman famously got his start in the music business with the Ivy Three, a group he formed with several of his Adelphi University Long Island classmates, including Don Rubin, who became another of his longtime colleagues. The trio had a 1960 Top 10 pop hit with “Yogi,” a tribute to cartoon character Yogi Bear, then went to work together at Don Kirschner’s Aldon Music, the legendary music publishers that were home to Brill Building stalwarts Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, Neil Diamond, Barry Mann and Cynthis Weil (though its offices were actually across the street from the iconic Broadway location). Koppelman and Rubin remained after the company was sold to Screen Gems/Columbia Music, but soon left to form their own Koppelman/Rubin Associates in 1967, acquiring the Lovin’ Spoonful catalog, then selling the company in 1968 to Commonwealth United, where the pair ran its music division. By the mid-‘70s, Koppelman was VP/GM of worldwide publishing for CBS Records, including April Blackwood Music Publishing, which morphed into CBS Songs, a company he would end up acquiring in 1986.
Queens native Bandier went to Stuyvesant High School, then Syracuse University (where he has since launched his own Bandier Program for Recording and Entertainment Industries) before earning his law degree at Brooklyn College. His first wife, Denise, was the daughter of noted New York City real estate developer Samuel LeFrak, for whose organization he became General Counsel and eventually senior VP.
Along with LeFrak, Koppelman and Bandier started the Entertainment Company, which independently administered and promoted song catalogs and eventually oversaw the production of albums by artists including Barbra Streisand, Dolly Parton, Diana Ross, the Four Tops, Cher and Glen Campbell, purchasing music catalogs along the way when strapped record companies were forced to sell them off. In 1984, Charles Koppelman’s son — “Billions” creator Brian Koppelman, then a student at Tufts University — discovered an African-American folk singer named Tracy Chapman, bringing her to his dad, who immediately had her signed by Bob Krasnow to Elektra, then executive-produced the Grammy-winning, chart-topping, six-times-platinum album.
By 1989, Koppelman and Bandier, with Swid (who helped bankroll the CBS Songs deal), were ready for a new challenge, and when Thorn-EMI’s Colin Southgate, and later Jim Fifield, came calling, they were ready to launch what would be their first foray into the recorded music business…. what they quickly dubbed, “the SBK Difference.”
Swid passed away in 2019 and Bandier, 80, stepped down from his Sony post that same year to found Bandier Ventures and enjoy the good life in Florida; Koppelman, 81, has stepped back from the fast lane but remains active with his CAK Entertainment, working as a consultant to the Prince estate in the months immediately following the artist’s unexpected death in 2016. Yet both remain feisty and sharp as tacks — read on for evidence.
CAST OF CHARACTERS
THEN: Chairman/CEO SBK Records/EMI Music Publishing
NOW: Founder, CAK Entertainment
THEN: President/COO, SBK Records Group
NOW: Golfing in the low 80s; founder, Bandier Ventures
THEN: SVP Promotion/SBK Records
NOW: President/Founder, Glassnote Records
THEN; A&R/SBK Records
NOW: President of A&R at Atlantic Records and president of ATCO
THEN: GM/SBK Records
NOW: Fishing, writing his memoirs and managing World Party’s Karl Wallinger
Charles Koppelman: EMI put up the money [for SBK Records], and Marty and I put up some money. They put up more than we did, but it was a 50-50 joint venture. After they bought our publishing company, they wanted me to start and run a record label. SBK Music Publishing had offices in 19 countries around the world, but I wasn’t happy about the changes they were going to make. I met with [then EMI Chairman] Colin Southgate and offered to run the combined publishing business for no salary, but if I doubled the revenue — as he has promised the board he would do — then he could pay me $5 million. Instead, he insisted I start the record company, which I wanted because at that time I had never run my own label. It was a dream of mine.
Marty Bandier: Stephen Swid was a college friend, somebody I knew really well. My wife and I were having lunch with him one day and I asked if he knew Larry Tisch because we were interested in buying CBS Songs. He had no idea what that was, so I explained it to him, and he said he knew Tisch well. A few weeks later, Swid said it was available, and he’d like to join our team. He had split with his partner, Charles Kogan — they co-owned the legendary 21 Club — and we all shared the same banker, Jane Heller at Citibank, who ended up funding the deal for us, with Swid helping negotiate it with Walter Yetnikoff. Walter, bless his soul, was really good at being a pain in the ass to Larry. He didn’t care about music publishing; he just wanted Tisch to sell the record label to Sony and to get out from under him.
Koppelman: I was reluctant to get into running a recorded music label because I would often buy publishing companies from guys who went bankrupt in that business. I was always risk-adverse. When I first went into the music business, running Don Kirshner’s music publishing company, I’d look around at the record-label guys: They all had this white pallor, chain-smoked cigarettes, were nervous and jerky and always running to catch a plane somewhere. All the music publishers had great suntans, were smoking big, fat Cuban cigars and looked very relaxed. So I asked myself, which one did I want to be when I was 40? I figured I’d sign artists, producers and writers and place the completed albums on labels. I took Gregory Abbott’s “Shake You Down,” cut it down from 14 minutes and brought it to Bob Krasnow at Elektra, who passed, then Mickey Eichner at CBS, who wanted it, and it became a big hit. I did that with a great many artists.
Bandier: Charles and I saw that CBS Songs was undervalued. Stephen believed in us because we put up equity — basically our life savings. Between the three of us, we put up a total of $15 million in equity toward the $125 million. SBK Entertainment World was doing very well at the time, even without EMI. We had paid down a significant amount of the debt on the CBS Songs acquisition. Our banker, Jane Heller, who remains one of my best friends to this day, had previously helped us in our bid to buy ATV Music Publishing, which owned the Beatles catalog that eventually went to Michael Jackson. We offered the same amount of money, but Michael had agreed to appear at a local TV telethon in Perth, the home of Robert Holmes a Court, who owned the company and agreed to sell it to him instead of us. Neither Charles nor I could do a moonwalk, so I knew we were out, but from that, Citibank was at least familiar with the value of music copyrights. So when it came time to buy CBS Songs, we were ahead of the game.
At that time, I told Charles and Stephen we should offer to buy EMI Music Publishing outright. We wouldn’t have to take on any overhead; it would be a pure purchase, and it would strengthen us around the world. I called [top industry attorney] Allen Grubman and asked to meet with Jim Fifield. We met for lunch, it was very pleasant, and I made the proposition to buy EMI’s music publishing holdings, arguing it wasn’t a good fit for them, and we were prepared to offer 10-times multiple of yearly earnings. He responded, “How about if we bought your company at a 12-time multiple?” I did the math and realized we had done $30 million for the year and answered, “Let me talk to my partners.” It was a life-altering offer. We had no intention of selling, but how can you pass up an acquisition over $300 million?
Daniel Glass: I joined SBK Records in 1989 the day after Terry Ellis and Chris Wright sold Chrysalis to EMI. I was there for seven years. Ironically, EMI was the one company I didn’t want to work for. Within 24 hours, I got a call from Swid and Koppelman asking to meet. They had signed a load of artists, and controlled the publishing on most of them, which was very smart. When I arrived, they had Katrina and the Waves and a pianist named Darryl Tookes. The one record that resonated with me was Wilson-Phillips, which Glen Ballard [future co-writer and producer of Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill”] was producing at the time. I agreed to come on as senior VP of promotion, though that was the same title I had at Chrysalis. My attorney Stu Silfen told me that if I loved the opportunity, take it. It was well-financed on a first-class level and it looked like it was going to be fun. I didn’t hear a great deal of music I liked, to be honest, because I was coming out of Sinead O’Connor, Billy Idol, Pat Benatar and Huey Lewis [at Chrysalis], all of whom we crossed over to Top 40; they were all platinum acts.
Koppelman: SBK Records was built on artists, songs and great records, along with a team that could go to radio and get the music played. When I decided to start SBK Records, I reached out to Daniel Glass and convinced him, if he came with me, I would change his lifestyle. When I recruited Arma [Andon] from Columbia, whom I’d worked with and thought was a terrific marketing guy, it was a similar conversation. I recruited these guys who had great reputations, paid them good money and was confident I would find great music for them to work.
Arma Andon: I saw while at Columbia there were going to be some major changes. Tommy Mottola was about to make his move to get rid of Walter Yetnikoff and bring in Donnie Ienner, someone I did not like at all and who didn’t like me. Charles and I went back a long way. I had helped him out with some of his projects, like Eddie Murphy and Weather Girls. I had some good bosses – Don DeVito, Bruce Lundvall – but Charles was the best. I was the first hire Charles and Marty made for SBK Records. I went there, thinking I could get into artist management, which was what I really wanted to do, but it evolved into so much more.
Glass: My first meeting with Koppelman was about A&R. We listened to music for hours. He asked me, point blank, “Are you a music snob?” I had to clear out the pipeline and identify some hits among the many signings they had already made. I remember the first thing we did was attend the Bobby Poe radio convention and establish our promotion team. People thought we were overconfident to the point of arrogance. We set out to be the best of the best, what we called “the SBK Difference.” We just did everything a little better, spent a little more money on everything from release parties to listening sessions to personal chefs in the office to private jets. For Poe, we rented out a hot-air balloon visible to everyone landing at the local airport in Virginia. We were competing against all the other independent labels at the time – Arista, Motown. Once we hit our stride, we were unstoppable.
SBK Records’ first release was Katrina & the Waves’ “That’s the Way,” in the fall of 1989. It was not a hit. Technotronic, a Belgian electronic music project by Jo Bogaert brought to the label by A&R exec Nancy Brennan, turned out to be the turning point with the release of “Pump Up the Jam” on Nov. 28, 1989.
Glass: I went to this club in New York, Mars, and heard “Pump Up the Jam” being played on three different floors. The next day, I see a contract for the record on Charles’ desk, and we picked up the album. We had them on
“Saturday Night Live,” opening for Madonna. Breaking that record paved the way for the industry to take us seriously when we came out next with Wilson-Phillips. In the beginning, we were regarded as a dance label because of Technotronic, but with Wilson-Phillips, we became the biggest pop label.
Andon: All the major labels had just stopped using indie promoters, at least directly, because of the NBC report three years earlier, so we doubled down. Charles being Charles, he called me into his office and introduced me to [controversial indie promoter] Fred DiSipio, whom he said would in turn hook me up with all the “big players.” I was in charge of handling SBK’s independent promotion expenditures. Freddie and I became best friends, and I met all of them… Joe Isgro, Jerry Brennan, Jeff McCluskey. Charles stepped out of the way and let me do my thing. I learned about record promotion from Steve Popovich, who mentored me. I’d worked closely with Ray Anderson and the promotion staff at Columbia, but I had nothing to do with the indies. It was the wild west.
Bandier: I loved Fred DiSipio. He was always in our offices; he was part of the team, a great, interesting guy. We spent a lot of money on independent promotion, and they delivered for us. But we had the musical goods. The weird thing about promotion is, you can get something played, but if it’s not a hit, it will soon disappear.
Glass: Fred DiSipio was very much involved in creating SBK Records. He was like a mentor to me. Fred also liked Monte [Lipman], so I took a chance on him. Monte was a real nudge. He wouldn’t leave me alone. He’d write notes to me every day to hire him, very persistent. He was working at a bar then. I finally offered him a job as an assistant in the AOR promotion department for Neil Lasher. Monte reminded me of myself at his age: He’d do whatever it took; there wasn’t anything too small for him. I offered to send him to Atlanta to do regional promotion, and he did a great job in markets like Mobile, Tampa and Augusta. He really learned the business. When I started Rising Tide with Doug Morris at Universal, I brought him there — and he’s been [with Universal] ever since.
Pete Ganbarg: SBK was my first major label A&R job. I was lucky. I went to school with a guy named Ed Grauer, who was from Syosset on Long Island. He’s now an attorney who oversees all of Cash Money’s legal work. When we were 17, freshmen at Wesleyan, Ed was the first friend I made on our first day there. He was in the dormitory, sitting on his bed playing a guitar. Within minutes, we started talking music business and he said, “My friend Brian’s dad is in the music business… His name is Charles Koppelman.” This was 1984, and I’d never heard of him. Turns out Ed was high school best friends with Brian Koppelman, who was then in his freshman year at Tufts, where as a junior he discovered Tracy Chapman. Ed introduced us, and we became fast friends. Brian and I would talk on the phone about music for hours. I was running the college radio station, booking the concerts, managing bands, long before you could earn a degree in the music business. He always said one day I’d work for his dad. That went on until we graduated. He sent me the demos of the Tracy Chapman record, and I played “Talkin’ Bout a Revolution” on my college radio show before she was even signed to Elektra. After graduation, he told me his dad was starting a label bankrolled by Thorne-EMI, and at 22, I interviewed with Charles Koppelman, whom I’d been hearing about since I was 17 but had never met. He said he’d heard good things about me from his son and handed me a stack of cassettes. I listened and I guess I passed the test. He hired me to be his entry-level A&R guy in May 1989. I learned A&R from Charles and Marty, while SBK was still three or four months away from its first release.
Glass: I used to hold a massive marketing meeting on the 43rd floor of our stunning conference room. I laid out the five proposed singles from the Wilson-Phillips album, with day and dates of release. All five singles came out in that sequence. We almost hit every release date. The focus and belief were undeterred in getting them all the way. We lived high and well. We believed in independent consultants and promotion people. I wish there were more like that today. When you get something and believe in it, go for it. That was the lesson. You have to combine gut and research. Everybody wanted to be a part of what we were doing. The SBK Difference was a lifestyle. If we had kept going a few more years, we could have been $500 million company. I wanted to stay at SBK my whole career. We were just hitting our stride. I thought selling out to Thorne-EMI was a mistake.
Andon: We were all about marketshare. Marty’s a genius. He kept track of all that. Charles was the dealmaker and was enamored with the artists. He was a unique character.
Ganbarg: Charles and Marty had this huge office that took up the corner of an entire floor, with Charles on one side and Marty on the other, facing each other, a glass partition in between. It was almost like a basketball court. Mike McCarty, who went on to run EMI Music Publishing and SOCAN, was part of the A&R department, along with Don Rubin and Nancy Brennan. My first signing was a rap duo, Partners in Kryme, from New York. Charles needed an end title song for the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” soundtrack, and I had them write “Turtle Power,” which ended up going No. 1 in the U.K. and around the world, peaking at No. 13 on the Hot 100. I thought A&R was the easiest job in the world. That was my first hit as an A&R guy, and for a long time, I was a little embarrassed about the fact it was a one-and-done novelty hit from a soundtrack. Years later, When I met Lin Manuel-Miranda — we worked together on the “Hamilton” soundtrack — he freaked when he heard I did “Turtle Power”: “That song changed my life.”
Bandier: I’ve never been associated in my career with anything that sold as many albums in as short a time than Vanilla Ice. “Ice Ice Baby” was on every radio station and Ice was everywhere. He even had a role in the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” sequel.
Glass: The good news was that Vanilla Ice was managed by Tommy Quon, who owned a nightclub in south Dallas called City Lights. We picked up the 12” from Ichiban Records and blew it up. The A-side was “Play That Funky Music White Boy,” and the B-side was “Ice Ice Baby.” Koppelman called me on a Sunday about the record while I was home. Monte [Lipman] called a radio PD Dave Morales, who was in Mississippi at the time, and he confirmed that both sides were smashes. I called FM-102 in Sacramento, and they were on board. Charles then made the deal with [the late attorney] Peter Lopez, and we took over distribution of the record. We wisely kept a million vinyl and cassette singles off the marketplace and forced people to buy the whole album, which sold 11 million copies. Vanilla Ice is very talented, a terrific entertainer. Lucian Grainge would have figured out a way to get him his own TV show, a TikTok channel… maybe more of a 360-degree deal. Ice is very successful in real estate now. Quick success is a disease in any business.
Andon: They stole the hook for “Ice Ice Baby” from [Queen and David Bowie’s 1982 global smash] “Under Pressure,” which initially stopped us in our tracks. Charles and Marty had to negotiate a separate deal just to get that one riff into the song. Bowie and Queen got a major piece of the record.
In 1991, Thorne-EMI acquired the remaining 50% of SBK they didn’t own, and immediately merged it with two other labels, upping Koppelman and Bandier to heads of their recorded music and publishing divisions, respectively.
Koppelman: EMI never had an option to buy the other half. I had no plan to sell it back to them. It was the first time I ran my own record company. We had a global publishing company so, for the first time, I was able to have hits in the U,S. and around the world simultaneously. Jim Fifield told me he wanted me to run the company’s record group. I answered that I was having fun doing what I was doing, so why would I want to do that? Three months later, he cornered me at a Knicks game and told me about combining SBK, EMI and Chrysalis and having me run it. He said I should meet with Colin Southgate at MIDEM to work out a deal to make me head of records and Marty overseeing publishing.
But I enjoyed working with the artists, and I realized this would take me away from that to a more administrative role working with executives. I wasn’t happy. When I met Southgate, he offered me Fifield’s job and I told him Jim had brought me in and I couldn’t do that to him, but I asked Southgate to pay me $10 million a year for five years. We shook hands and the deal was done. It was only then they decided to buy the other half of SBK because I’d be running everything, and they didn’t want it to look as if I was playing favorites.
Bandier: Charles’ dream had always been to become head of EMI Records North America, and I became head of EMI Music Publishing. It was then we began to have different responsibilities and drifted apart, somewhat. I built an incredible company at EMI Music Publishing. People like [Sony Music Publishing head] Jon Platt, [Universal Music Publishing head] Jody Gerson and [Warner-Chappell Music head] Guy Moot all learned the ropes there. I tried to buy the company in 2006, and when I was turned down, I joined Sony/ATV, which offered me an incredible opportunity, with an equity kicker. When Sony/ATV later acquired EMI Music, everything came full circle.
Koppelman was dismissed by EMI and left the record business in 1997, just 18 months into his second five-year contract after the company acquired Virgin Records and brought in Ken Berry to run it. He later was on the board of directors for companies run by shoe designer Steve Madden and Martha Stewart.
Koppelman: We were making a lot of money for EMI’s distribution company and internationally. I think Colin [Southgate] was just more comfortable having a Brit run it. I almost bought Interscope, but EMI refused to let me because of the content — I had a deal in place with Jimmy Iovine. The real legacy of SBK Records is the people we brought in, trained and made them understand, it’s not the number of plays, but the quality of the music. You can get 1,000 spins on a bad song, and you’re not having a hit. We trained people who are now all over the industry. I’d always made great music, but never had the team to make sure the music happened on a global basis at the same time.
Bandier: Maybe I’m just an idiot savant, but I’m really good at music publishing. We bought CBS Songs for between five and six times multiple, and today artists are selling at 20 times multiple and more. Major companies always underestimated the value of music publishing. They just didn’t look at it as having the significant growth it’s had over the years. All of our dreams were fulfilled. We were lucky, but our hard work made us even luckier. Music is a staple, an important ingredient in all our lives, and the pandemic proved that.
Andon: SBK became very corporate after the labels were merged by EMI. The other major labels didn’t appreciate our rogue status when it came to hiring independent promotion. There was a void and we rushed into it. Charles and Marty took me to another level business-wise, and for that, I am forever grateful. After that, I was on my own, never worked for another label again.
Glass: I see elements of SBK at labels like Interscope and Republic with acts like Billie Eilish, Olivia Rodrigo, the Weeknd and Post Malone. They take bets and really, really go for it with large promotion teams, which is impressive. Same with Max Lousada and Atlantic Records U.K. breaking Ed Sheeran. They have that same street, let’s-go-for-it mentality. Ron Perry’s been signing some acts at Columbia we would’ve gone after at SBK, like Lil Nas X, the Kid Laroi, Diplo… those are SBK Records.
SBK’s roster presaged bigger things ahead, with both D’Angelo and the late Selena eventually going on to success, while losing out on Oasis after signing Allen McGee’s Creation Records only when the label’s change of ownership triggered a contract clause that allowed them to go to Epic.
Ganbarg: Charles and Marty were the best bosses in the world. Literally two weeks after I started – Monday, May 1, 1989 – both my parents were diagnosed with cancer and I was rushed to the hospital with a collapsed lung. My life was turning into a nightmare, but when I returned home, there was a FedEx package from Charles and Marty with a then-brand-new Sony Walkman and 25-30 cassette tapes. The note in the box said, “Enough with the hospital. Now get to work.” It was the nicest thing. [Pete left the company in July 1997 when “everybody else was let go”].
Koppelman: I do miss the record business, listening to music every day and invigorating people to hear that music. It’s what I did my whole life.