“Music itself is more popular than ever—it’s been integrated into every facet of our lives. But with the current economic state of the business, it’s critical that we develop and deliver the best music possible.”
——Jeff Kwatinetz, The Firm
Major Releases, Developing Acts Keeps Them Humming

Who says artist development’s dead? At a time when the industry as a whole is bracing for continued downsizing and consolidation, The Firm is firing on all cylinders, and even adding a few to the traditional management engine.


The multifaceted management company, founded in 1997 by Jeff Kwatinetz, along with Peter Katsis, Gayle Boulware and two assistants in a Malibu condo, now sports multiple managers in its music division, which represents over 20 platinum artists, including the Dixie Chicks, Jennifer Lopez, Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, Korn, Staind, Audioslave, Enrique Iglesias, Puddle Of Mudd, Rob Zombie, Michelle Branch and Mary J. Blige. The Firm has also grown to include film, television and branding divisions—but right now, music is making some serious noise.


“Music itself is more popular than ever—it’s been integrated into every facet of our lives,” says CEO Kwatinetz. “But with the current economic state of the business, it’s critical that we develop and deliver the best music possible.”


The Firm has a slew of major-label releases slated from now through the first quarter of next year: Albums from Blige (Aug. 26), Limp Bizkit (Sept. 23), 112 (Sept. 23), Static X (Oct.7), Puddle of Mudd (Nov. 11), Westside Connection featuring Ice Cube, Korn and Enrique Iglesias number among upcoming high-profile projects.


“We’ve got a lot of great records coming out, a lot of good projects coming to fruition,” notes music division co-head Andy Gould (Gould’s counterpart, Dixie Chicks manager Simon Renshaw, was busy holding radio consolidation seminars in Washington and was unavailable to comment for this story due to the lack of a television tie-in).


“We currently have J.Lo and Staind at Top 40,” adds Firm music manager/radio head Michael Papale. “We’ve just launched Limp Bizkit, and we’re happy to say that MTV put their video immediately on the air and into Big 10. And we’re currently pleased to have the #1 and #2 songs at Active and Modern Rock, which are Linkin Park and Staind.”

Papale also notes that clients Audioslave are having their third consecutive hit at Active and Modern Rock (PoMo) radio with “Show Me How to Live,” while their debut album has now been in the Top 30 for over 35 weeks. Singles from Blige and 112 have also been performing well at Crossover and Urban radio.


Having its own marketing, radio promotion and licensing staff sets The Firm apart from most other management companies operating today. The intent is to create a full-service, almost label-like environment—but one run by managers.


Maintaining those in-house resources allows the company to be more flexible in pushing its clients’ projects forward. But The Firm isn’t trying to go it alone, Papale cautions: “We spend as much time cultivating teamwork with our [label] partners as we do going actively into the marketplace and getting it done ourselves. We can’t pull this off without collaborative and collective effort.”


But The Firm’s ability to “go actively into the marketplace” has allowed it to focus on (and succeed in) an often-mourned but seldom-revived element of the record business: artist development.


“We live and die every day by making our clients successful,” Gould relates. “And we don’t always get it right. But I believe that having 7 out of the Top 10 Active Rock records and 6 out of the Top 10 Modern Rock records and the most successful tours of the year is more than just a coincidence.”


“In the middle of a tough touring season, our artists have done well in the marketplace,” says Kwatinetz. “The Dixie Chicks broke Ticketmaster’s single-day record, selling 800k in one day, while Korn was featured on Ozzfest, Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park were on Summer Sanitarium and Audioslave, Jurassic 5 and Rooney all played Lollapalooza.”


“We actually keep delivering,” Gould adds. “It comes from Jeff, and I’ve always believed it myself: If you chase art instead of chasing a fiscal quarter or year, you can actually develop really good things. And then you don’t take no for an answer.”


A prime example of the latter tenet, Gould says, is Linkin Park, repped by The Firm’s Rob McDermott. “He believed in the project, and instead of dropping it because everyone kept saying no and didn’t want to sign it, he kept developing it and developing and developing, and lo and behold, that’s 23 million records in 34 months.”


Another example is the ongoing success of Michelle Branch: After a strong debut album, the “sophomore slump” jinx was a looming concern. But manager Jeff Rabhan and team were able to bridge into the second album with a hit Santana duet (“The Game of Love”), and thanks to an audience-broadening tour with fellow Firm clients the Dixie Chicks, Hotel Paper (released in July) remains in the Top 50.


And then, of course, there’s the overtime Renshaw put in helping the Dixie Chicks themselves navigate both a difficult renegotiation with Sony and an unprecedented public-relations shitstorm.


“What we’re trying to do over here is develop acts,” notes the always-demure Gould. “And by the way, this isn’t rocket science. You’re supposed to have hits, and I’m all for having a hit, but with the money and resources of having hits, we should be developing new, great talent.”


Among the new bands now being nurtured by The Firm are Lo-Pro (signed by Staind’s Aaron Lewis), Revolution Smile (signed to Fred Durst’s Flawless imprint), alt-metallurgists Soil, new country signing Miranda Lambert and the aforementioned Rooney (signed to Geffen/Interscope).


Rooney is a current point of pride with The Firm, which has had the band on the road for the past year (including Lollapalooza), with one single generating 100,000 in sales since the debut album’s release in late May. “It’s a major priority with Interscope,” notes Papale.


“Unlike almost every other industry there is, the music business doesn’t do research and development,” observes the always-deferential Gould. “In the past, bands were already playing gigs and already had a following before they had a record. They didn’t have some jackass A&R guy who reads certain magazines go and sign them after the third rehearsal at S.I.R.!”


Ultimately, The Firm’s managers believe building careers for clients means getting back to basics: “We want to focus on the fundamentals—on having great music, great songs, getting those songs maximum exposure and then having a terrific tour that supports it all,” Papale says. “You have to maximize your hits, but you have to continue to cultivate. We can’t be a business that eats its young. We’re not going to do that.”


Adds the always-understated Gould, “We basically have a record business that exists only in the present—and you can’t run a business that way. The guy who runs a fucking used-car dealership knows that. As an industry, we need to be saying, okay, we’ve got to develop acts for next year, rather than milking the acts we have now to a point where we overexpose them and people want them to go away.”

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