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A TASTE OF RAINMAKERS:
JON PLATT

Towering Over the Competition

WARNER DAYS: Platt with Len Blavatnik and Cameron Strang

Yes, Warner/Chappell Music Chairman/CEO Jon Platt is exceptionally tall. But the stature he’s achieved in the biz in a relatively short time is even more impressive. So much so, in fact, that the “Big” that used to precede his name is now superfluous (we note that in addition to being tall enough to play, he is an avid hoops fan). And that stature increased considerably in late 2018, when it was announced he would succeed Marty Bandier as the head of Sony/ATV.

The news came just before Platt was due to receive the Spirit of Life honor at the City of Hope’s annual industry gala, a black-tie affair made all the more momentous by the big man’s career developments. “I dreamed of running the largest publishing company in the world one day,” Platt said during his City of Hope speech, alluding to the SATV gig. “Then, a few weeks ago, I opened my eyes—and I could see it.”

Platt has overseen sustained global growth and creative expansion at Warner/Chappell. Advocacy on behalf of songwriters has been a constant in his career, and he has been particularly outspoken about according greater recognition to black music and its creators—and championing diversity, social justice and community in the wider world. He spoke passionately about these themes during his City of Hope speech and also in an in-depth HITS interview conducted just ahead of the event.

“I don’t view this as City of Hope just recognizing me,” he said. “I would like this to be a celebration of the culture which has supported and nurtured me.” And so it was, with his longtime friend and associate Jay-Z presenting the award, Beyoncé performing, Pharrell Williams hosting and other Platt-affiliated performers and speakers chiming in.

“I want you to look around,” he enjoined the throng of industryites at the Spirit of Life dinner, “and see what happens when you don’t exclude anybody.”

While Platt first made his name with some major signings in black music, his achievements in all genres put him on the top tier. “You can’t look at me and put me in a box,” Platt told his home-town newspaper, The Denver Post, in 2010. “I love all music. I don’t love just hip-hop and R&B. That, for me, is one of the blessings of me growing up in Denver. There were so many things going on in Denver on the radio—pop and rock and country. I got a feel for those songs, and I didn’t realize what it meant at that time, but what it taught me was that music has no color. A hit is a hit. The only thing that pushes it into one genre or another is the approach to the production of the song.”

Platt, who was born in Philly and spent part of his childhood in Oakland before the family relocated to Denver, credits his Mom’s collection of Motown records for his early love of soul—and local FM radio for giving him an appreciation of classic rock. “That’s how my taste in music, and songs, became so diverse,” he remembered to HITS.

He was working in a Denver sporting-goods store as a teen when he happened to do a good turn for Thomas Edwards, a top local DJ, who tracked Platt down and offered to show him the ropes as an expression of his gratitude. “He would give me records and began showing me how to use his turntables,” Platt recalled. “Before long, my high school friends asked me to DJ at a party.” Then, he added, he met another DJ, Al Your Pal. “He really taught me how to blend and mix,” the big man says. “He showed me how not to be afraid to talk when I DJ’ed. That changed everything for me.”

“I love all music. That, for me, is one of the blessings of me growing up in Denver. There were so many things going on in Denver on the radio—pop and rock and country. I got a feel for those songs, and I didn’t realize what it meant at that time, but what it taught me was that music has no color. A hit is a hit. The only thing that pushes it into one genre or another is the approach to the production of the song.”

An avid student, Platt became a popular DJ in Denver in the late ’80s. Retired basketball star Chauncey Billups (once an all-star guard for the Denver Nuggets and Detroit Pistons, now an ESPN commentator) remembered to The Denver Post, “When I was really young, Big Jon was the big-time popular DJ at all the nightclubs and private parties and weddings. If you had Big Jon there, that was the place to be.”

In 1990, a comment from Public Enemy front-man Chuck D got Platt to envision a bigger future for himself. “He says, ‘So, Big Jon, what are you going to do with your life?’ I said, ‘I’m good here in Denver. I’m the man here.’ Chuck says, ‘Yes, you’re the man here, but unless you dream bigger, that’s all you’re ever going to be.’” The conversation, he says, “really resonated with me, and that’s when I started looking for information.”

Platt read books about the industry—including Don Passman’s seminal All You Need to Know About the Music Business—then moved to Los Angeles and began promoting and managing R&B and hip-hop artists. He met Steve Prudholme, a Creative Manager at EMI Music Publishing, who later signed Platt’s first client, Madukey, as well as producer Kiyamma Griffin. In 1995, Prudholme left EMI to join Warner Bros. and put in a good word for Platt to be his replacement.

Platt was a presence at the EMI offices even before he was hired. “He would go in the tape room and borrow DATs from the DAT machine,” Jody Gerson remembers. “And I would say, ‘Wait a minute, I don’t understand. Who’s the guy working from our conference room and taking all of our DATs to make music and having meetings?’ And it was Jon. He literally showed up and set up office.”

Gerson made it official by hiring Platt as Creative Manager. Within six months of his arrival he signed Marqueze Ethridge, who wrote TLC’s 1995 smash “Waterfalls,” a Grammy nominee for Record of the Year, as well as AZ (who wrote “Life’s a Bitch” for Nas); not long thereafter he inked Warryn Campbell and gospel duo Mary Mary. He rose swiftly through the ranks—Creative Director, VP, Senior VP, Executive VP, President of West Coast, Creative. He spent 17 years at the company, rising to the position of President of North America, Creative.

“He was relentless,” Gerson recalled during the City of Hope kickoff. “Very few executives I’ve hired compare to Jon and his integrity, work ethic and deep relationships.”

Read the rest of the piece in Rainmakers: History of the Music Biz Three.

Check out other Taste of Rainmakers profiles on Marty Bandier, John Branca, Jody Gerson, Sir Lucian Grainge, Max Lousada and Rob Stringer.

 

 

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