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THE JON PLATT MOMENT, PART 3

In the last installment of our conversation with the Warner/Chappell chief and City of Hope honoree, Jon Platt detailed the events leading up to his decision to pack up and relocate to L.A. after a successful run as a Denver DJ. 

Steve Prudholme called me one day to say he was taking a job at Warner Bros. Records. He told me he was going to refer me for his job. Jody hired me in March 1995, and that’s how I started at EMI.

How much did you know about publishing when you said yes?
Enough, but I was confident I could learn more. I always believed I could make it in the business because I knew music.

In ’95, during my first six months at EMI, I signed a kid named Marqueze Ethridge. He wrote ‘Waterfalls’ for TLC. The first person I ever signed to EMI was AZ, who had a big song with Nas, “Life’s a Bitch,” and his own solo song, “Sugarhill.” I also signed Warryn Campbell in my first year; that’s how Mary Mary came along. Jay-Z and Usher were soon after that.

So tell me about your first encounter with Jay and how you ended up working together.
The music was my first encounter. The Reasonable Doubt album comes out and the songs were so visual. It was on his own label, Roc-A-Fella Records. I wanted to sign him, and I was so innocent that I cold-called the label looking for him. I got bounced around to different people, and finally Dame Dash gets on the phone. He starts aggressively firing all these questions at me: “You got any money? You got some paper? If you haven’t got money, there’s no conversation to be had.” I got so flustered that I told him I’d call him back [laughs].

Not long after that, I went to an event at Billboard Live. I get there early and see Jay-Z just standing there by himself. I introduced myself and told him I was a big fan of his music. It was cordial, but I ran out of things to say [laughs]. Later that night, I see a friend of mine, Jay Brown, laughing and joking with him. I call Jay Brown over and told him how much I loved Jay’s music and wanted to sign him. He took me over to Jay and Dame, and did a formal introduction, and it was a completely different conversation. I remember it all as if it happened yesterday. Jay-Z signed to EMI a few weeks later. I knew something special was happening.

JP, JZ, JDYou led with your passion.
That’s where it always starts with me. I just go after things that I love. I met Usher because of Jermaine Dupri. I actually discovered that I wanted to sign Usher at the City of Hope Spirit of Life Gala, 20 years ago. L.A. Reid and Babyface were receiving the award. Usher was on their label, and performed that night, doing the songs L.A. and Babyface wrote for Bobby Brown. I just thought, “That guy is a star!”

I signed him and the first album in the deal, My Way, was very successful. Jermaine wrote many of the songs. It made me understand Jermaine as a songwriter. Jermaine would spend time with an artist until he learned you, and then he’d write a song that was just for you. JD and Usher wrote a good part of the next album, 8701, that was very special too.

I would always hang out with JD in Atlanta; he became one of my best friends. We’d always end up at his studio at the end of the night—2, 3, 4am. He’d play songs he was working on and I’d play demos of songwriters I was working with. Late one night, he played me a rough version of “U Got It Bad.” I swear I asked him to play the song over and over again. I probably made him play it again 20 times! To this very day, it’s my favorite Usher song.

Can you say a little bit about the experience of EMI?
I benefited from complete support at EMI, from day one. I had the support of Jody, then Marty, and then Roger Faxon. I will say, I didn’t appreciate how special my situation was until people started to ask me, “How do you get your deals across the finish line? Where I work, they won’t let me do my deal.” That’s when I realized, I had never been told I couldn’t do a deal. A&R is all about trust. I’ve had the pleasure of working with people that trust me. From the trust they gave me, we’ve all had success.

What was your sense of Marty at that time?
The same as it is now: Marty Bandier is an icon, make no mistake about it. He was very supportive of me as an A&R. I’m very competitive and Marty’s very competitive, so we had a connection there. Sometimes when you work at a company and you become successful, your success can become a little bit of a problem internally, with the rest of the team. Marty would say, “Keep going, don’t stop.” Marty has played a big role in who I’ve become today.

Not every songwriter I sign is Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Drake or Kanye West. That’s not to say that those other songwriters are failures. Some songwriters’ timelines are different than others. Hits come when they come. If I sign a songwriter, and they decide not to work anymore, then I view that as a failure on my part. It’s important to know that songwriters who haven’t written #1 songs are not failures. I believe you just haven’t written that song yet. I firmly believe that. I signed you for a reason.

What I learned was, trust comes from the top - that was from Marty, Jody, and Roger. Trust was handed to me, and it was up to me who I wanted to pass that trust onto.

JP in a smoke-filled room with Jermaine Dupri and Marty BandierTell me about the process that brought you to Warner/Chappell.
EMI got sold and at that point I felt the need to evaluate what was next for me. Ultimately, I decided to leave, and Warner was my choice. So I came here in 2012, working with Cameron Strang.

Before I came to Warner/Chappell, I took a few months off and did some reflection. I thought, “What do I want to do differently, or better?” I decided I wanted to be a real leader. Early on in my time at Warner, I was lucky enough to find some talented A&R people, who allowed me to lead them and teach them. The image of Warner/Chappell began to change, and we made a name for ourselves in the business. In 2015, the call comes from Steve Cooper that he’d like me to become CEO. I will always be grateful to Steve for that opportunity. Once that happened, I asked myself, “who do I want to lead A&R now?”

Which leads us nicely to your team.
Yes, I decided to choose two young executives, Ryan Press and Katie Vinten, to lead our U.S. A&R team. Neither one had led a department before. I believe you can teach leadership. As I said, it’s music you can’t teach. So, I let them do their thing. I trusted them. They ran the team their way. I was always there to support them and help whenever needed. And we are better for it.

Justin Tranter was in a band that was signed to Warner/Chappell before Katie and I arrived. The band was about to be dropped. But my question was, “Can any of the guys write? Shouldn’t someone find out before we drop them?” I asked Katie to meet with Justin, and she did, and said he was a good songwriter. Katie and Justin locked in together after that. Justin has gone on to win BMI Songwriter of the Year awards twice and became one of the top songwriters in the business today. That’s why we do what we do.

Ryan and I signed Mike Will Made-It together. Both Ryan and Katie know it all starts with the music. I don’t like when A&Rs talk my ear off. Just play me something great. Then tell me about the vision you have for the songwriter. A&R in music publishing is not about chasing a hot song, or signing a songwriter and then letting them do all the work. I view music publishing as a partnership from day one.

Platt with W/C writer/producer busbee and the pubco's Katy Wolaver and A&R co-heads Katie Vinten and Ryan Press.

One thing I see in our business is that everyone wants credit. I believe I’ve had great relationships with songwriters because I remove myself from that conversation.

Let me explain what I mean; Jay-Z recorded “Empire State of Mind.” Jay wrote the rhymes and performed the song around the world, literally. Angela Hunte and Jnay Sewell wrote the chorus. Alicia Keys sang the hook and wrote the bridge that was added to the song. So, ultimately, what did I do? I found the song and that sparked an idea. I’m an A&R; that’s my job. But some people would want to say, “It wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for me.” No. It wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for them. That’s what I mean when I say songwriters first.

Sometimes music executives want to be a star. My view has always been that there can only be one star in the room, and that’s the star. I’m here to provide a service.

Do you want to say a little bit more about the people on your team that you assembled here?
When I took over the role of CEO here, the company needed some work. I dove right in; I hired a new CFO, Paul Kahn. I focused on the U.K. first, and we hired a new MD, Mike Smith, who is fantastic. We have great A&R execs in the U.K., in Amber Davis and Paul Smith. We have Natascha Augustin in Germany. Natascha has helped us become the market leader there. We put new leadership in place in Spain, with Santiago Menéndez-Pidal. I put a new Global Head of Digital in place, a young executive named Eric Mackay. I brought Carianne Marshall in to be our COO. I met her through the SONGS sale process, and we just clicked. I was lucky enough to be able to bring her to Warner/Chappell. She’s so passionate about songwriters, and she’s a fantastic executive.

My feeling about all the people I mentioned is that we share a common view. We’re here to serve songwriters.

So can you say anything about the process of what shape the company’s leadership takes after you?
No, that won’t be my decision. What I will say is that I think the company is well positioned for continued success. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished here, I’m proud that we’ve done it together, and I know there are great things ahead.

I’d like to have you speak further on the larger issues about diversity in the business and some of the challenges in that regard.
Music comes from everywhere and is very diverse. The problem is, our business doesn’t look like the music that it represents. Our industry must fully respect what black culture brings to the table, or what LGBTQ people bring to the table, what women bring to the table, what Latin culture brings, Asian culture brings—I can go on and on.

I see diversity as a discipline, not an option. To be clear, the most qualified person should get the opportunity, always. However, the pool from which you select for that opportunity should always be diverse. The pool must be diverse. Those of us at the top of the business that have been able to break through, we must leave the door open, and help others come through as well.

 

The Jon Platt Moment, Part 1

The Jon Platt Moment, Part 2

TWO GRAMMY NERDS DISH ABOUT THE NOMINATIONS
Let the opinions fly. (12/12a)
TOP 20: XXX-RATED
Decking the halls with hip-hop. (12/12a)
A NEW FACET OF
WARNER BROS. RECORDS
Justin Tranter and Katie Vinten start a label. (12/12a)
RAINMAKERS: IT'S POURING DOWN VISIONARIES
The Max factor. (12/10a)
COLUMBIA'S URBAN UNIT GETS 2 CHIEFS
Ron Perry makes another major hire. (12/12a)
GRAMMY NERDS BREAK IT DOWN
Wow, they really are nerds, huh?
REVERBERATIONS OF TAYLOR'S DEAL
What does it all mean? What did it cost? Answer the second question first.
IS IT COLD IN HERE?
It's fine, really. We'd just like to feel our extremities again.
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