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Industry Spotlight - Ritch Esra

Posted by MMF on Sep 11, 2012 | 0 Comments

Since 1992, Ritch Esra and Stephen Trumbull have been running the Music Business Registry which includes The A&R Registry, The Publisher Registry, The Music Business Attorney Registry, The Record Producer Directory and The Film and Television Music Guide.

"The directories give everyone vital, accurate and the most up to date information they need to contact the entire A&R, music, publishing, legal and film/TV music communities," says Ritch. "Each directory tells you how to reach these industry veterans by regular mail, E-mail (including web sites), direct dial telephone and fax. Additionally, we provide the exact title, street address, the name of their assistant and the style of music that each executive deals with. Due to the volatile nature of A&R, the A&R Registry is completely updated and reprinted every eight weeks and often has over 100 changes in a single issue. There's no directory of this kind anywhere in the world."

Ritch says that among the subscribers are record company executives, music publishers, managers, agents, attorneys, studios and other various music business professionals in Los Angeles, New York, Nashville, Chicago, Atlanta, Toronto, London, Dublin, Copenhagen, Tokyo, Stockholm, Sydney and Munich.
Ritch started out as a promotion coordinator for A&M Records in Los Angeles in 1980-81. He coordinated releases with radio stations as well as the national field staff, providing promotional prerelease information on what competitive stations are playing, informing stations on status on how a record was selling and overcoming objections and resistance to broadcasting new releases. He also ensured that all field staff had product and took care of any product needs for radio stations.
From 1981-1987, Ritch was director of West Coast A&R for Arista Records. He signed The Thompson Twins to their US Deal as well as Mara Getz. He worked extensively with the publishing and songwriting communities for material for Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, Melissa Manchester, Tanya Tucker, Jennifer Warnes and Jermaine Jackson. He also coordinated music for the "Ghostbusters" and "Perfect" soundtracks.

From 1988-1991, Ritch worked on various independent projects. He produced the award-winning educational video for artists and musicians, "How to Get a Record Deal." "At the time, it was the only video of its kind examining the frequently misunderstood process from five different perspectives: record company executives, A&R VPs, artist managers, record producers and 16 major artists including Los Lobos, Mark Knopfler, Phil Collins, Jody Watley, Karla Bonoff, Michael Bolton, Fleetwood Mac, Chick Corea and Kenny Loggins," says Ritch. Producers Phil Ramone and Jeff Baxter are also interviewed in the video.
Ritch has organized and coordinated the events and activities of The Independent Music Conference in Los Angeles sponsored by BMI. The three-day symposium addressed problems facing recording artists, including publishing, management, touring, obtaining record deals and exploring alternative ways to bring music to the public.

In addition, he has written articles for Music Connection, New England Performer and Musician. He has been a guest lecturer from 1983 to the present at USC, UCLA, NYU, and Middle State Tennessee as well as Canadian Music Week, New Orleans Business Symposium.

From 1987 to the present, Ritch has been an instructor at the Trebas Institute of Recording Arts in Los Angeles, where he was the chief Instructor as well as at UCLA Extension, USC, SAE teaching several courses including:  A&R The Heartbeat of the Record Company, which focused on the artist signing policies of major and independent record labels, Music Business Overview, a course designed to give students an understanding of the many aspects of the Music Industry.  He was a member of the board of advisors for the Department of Performing Arts at UCLA for 3 years 1990 - 1993, and initiated full day seminars and discussion panels on the music business as well as created new course ideas and methods for expanding programs to keep students enrolled in the UCLA Extention program.

What should an A&R rep look for in a new artist?
That's very subjective. You'd have to ask the A&R community. Mostly, they look for people who have music that they believe in. They look for artists or bands who are great live performers. They look for artists or bands who they believe can be stars. They look for artists or bands that believe in themselves. The other thing that A&R people look for are artists that they feel that they can work with. I know of a multi-platinum act that a very famous A&R man passed on - not because they were not great, but because he knew that he could not work with the act. They went on to sign with another label and were very successful. Finally, I believe that not every artist is right for every label and vice versa. A&R people look for artists that will fit the corporate culture of the label that they work for. This is very important to keep in mind because not all labels have the same corporate culture. Sony operates on a totally different corporate culture from Warner Bros. and Interscope. And Capitol operates on a totally different corporate culture than RCA.

What about an established artist in between labels?
They look for an artist who they still believe can have relevance and impact in the current marketplace. They look for an artist who is still making great music. They look for an artist who they feel still has a viable audience. As a live performer this was something Clive completely got with Santana. Carlos was someone who still had a viable audience from a live point of view. In addition, he was still very relevant with the newer generation of artists, and the album that he made was completely a reflection of that.

What should an artist and artist in between labels look for in an A&R rep?
You should look for someone/label who believes in your work and understands what you're about musically. You should look for someone/label who believes in your vision of yourself. You should look for someone who you feel you can work with on a creative level.

First industry job?
I was an office assistant/driver for the trade magazine Record World in 1978.

Career highlights?
Working with Clive Davis for six years at Arista Records in the A&R Dept. Producing an educational video for up-and-coming recording artists called "How to Get A Record Deal" and forming my own co 10 years ago.

Career disappointment?
None really - so far!!

Greatest challenge?
Forming a company with my business partner and having faith that there would be enough money to support us.

Best business decision?
Forming my own company!

Best advice you received?
It was from Clive Davis, who taught me the value of becoming a veracious reader and keeping well informed regarding what's going on in the industry. Over the last 10 years we've built a business on that premise!

Most memorable industry experience?
Signing my first artist when I was at Arista named Mara Getz.

What friends would be surprised to learn about you?
That I love to spend time alone!

Industry pet peeve?
That we expect artists to be successful in 20 minutes and if they are not, we move on. That's my biggest pet peeve - that we've completely lost our faith in artists to deliver. The other part of that comes from the fact that we, as an industry, have way, way too many artists that are signed.

If I weren't doing this, I would be...
Teaching students about the music industry

Industry mentor?
Clive Davis

Office paraphernalia?
I have a lot of signed CD's (James Taylor, Crosby, Stills & Nash) Special Promo CD Packages, signed posters (Rickie Lee Jones)

Best advice to offer?
Never lose sight of what's most important in your life!

What inspired you to want to be a manager?
Some would say I fell into it, although partially true I felt after years of running Universal Music's A&R dept, I felt like I had already "unofficially" semi-managed a bunch of acts already, and after I left Universal to run Radio Starmaker Fund (one of Canada's biggest funding organizations, I had the chance to leave there and manage an act I had signed at Universal who was a platinum act….those chances don't come around very often where the first act you manage is already established….that was 10 years ago and I haven't looked back (well briefly, but who's counting ;) )
What was your first industry job and how did you get it?
I was a Club DJ and I worked in Record retail originally, but my first "real" job was at an Indie label doing retail marketing, and I got the job through persistence…..its funny I had 2 job interviews that day and after my first interview at CBS (Now Sony) the guy called my second interview at the Indie and told them them to hire me….and they did…I sort of had the job before I got there….fate is a funny thing in my career….my career could have been drastically different if I had gotten the first gig.
What determines your desire to work with an artist?
I obviously have to like the music, but as my career in Mgmt has moved on, its less about that for me….its more that you have to believe, not just in the music but the person…..they have to be motivated…and I don't manage crazy people anymore no matter how talented….its just t hard
In your opinion, what makes a great artist “great”?
Its the intangible, of course great songs, something characteristic about them (i.e. Great voice, great playing, interesting look) but its really the thing that makes you look at them and say "this person is a star"…..many years ago I met Avril Lavigne when she was 14 years old….we hit it off immediately, she was country back then, but I within minutes of meeting her I just knew she would be a star……ultimately she didn't sign with the label I worked for at the time, but I will never forget that experience.
What is your greatest professional challenge today?
Juggling…..literally, all of the different hats that I must wear to keep my business going, Label, Mgmt, Publishing not to mention active consulting and the work I do with the IMMF.
How did your business transform over the last several years?
What started as a management company, became a label out of necessity within 1 year of Mgmt….I used to joke that my job as manager was to get Artists out of Major label deals not into them…and thats what I did for the first 2 years of Management, …then my company added a Publishing division again out of necessity ….and finally after a brief stint away from my companies to run the other Funding agency in Canada, when I returned I realized I needed to add consulting to my companies.
I have also changed the way I work with bands as well and he way I work with them.
Where do you see this business 5-10 years from now?
The million dollar question….I used to say 5 years ago that the business would be much more focused and that we would be clear of some of the digital challenges ….seems we haven't gotten that far in 5 years….so I am hesitant to say the same 5 years from now…unfortunately I don't see it being that radically different in 5 years, but I hope and expect in 10 years that things will have evened out a bit, and when you consider who thing have changed in the last 10 its not a stretch to say that our business will be radically different in 10 years….maybe look nothing like it does now?
What is the best advice you have received over the years as a manager?
Without sounding like an ego maniac the best advice is that which I have given to myself  "when an artist becomes huge and successful it is because they are great, when they fail miserably its because I am a shitty manager"….of course I am being tongue in cheek, but so far that has been the truth for me.
What would you tell a new manager coming into the business today?
Be prepared to do everything yourself, don't look backwards but look forward…..if you don't build the story no one else will

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