There’s not a lot of common ground between Vanilla Ice and Mumford & Sons, or the Baha Men and Phoenix, unless you count Daniel Glass. The founder and president of quintessential indie label Glassnote started his music business education 38 years ago, when he joined his future father-in-law Sam Weiss at SAM Records. Stints at Chrysalis, SBK, EMI, Rising Tide/Universal and Artemis saw him working with a wide range of artists—from Spandau Ballet to Warren Zevon—and learning from Chris Wright and Terry Ellis, Marty Bandier, Doug Morris and Danny Goldberg. In 2007, Glass struck out on his own and opened Glassnote, which has seen Grammy gold with Phoenix and Mumford & Sons, and scooped up a wide range of trend-setting artists from electro-alt rockers CHVRCHES to comedian-turned-rapper Childish Gambino. An inveterate networker who never passes up a chance to sing his artists’ praises or compliment a partner at radio, retail or press, Glass sat down with HITS on the day Mumford & Sons’ third album hit #1, though he may have preferred to celebrate with more distinguished company.

First off, congratulations on another #1 album for Mumford & Sons.
Good day to be here.

This is a different-sounding album for them, and it’s unfolded a little differently than last time.
I got to hear the first demos last summer. “Believe” was the first song I heard, and it was true rock & roll. You heard the scope, size and ambition of the music. You got the feeling around the end of the last tour that they were ready to plug in and get louder. Every great artist evolves. If you don’t, whether you’re a label or you’re an artist, you will stagnate.

But the first-week sales are less than half of last time out. Are you concerned?
I’m happy with the sales. I take nothing for granted—especially as an independent—I think to be #1 is pretty great. But last time you had a band touring almost nonstop for three and a half years, playing new music every night. You knew “I Will Wait” and all those songs before they came out. This time it was a brand new sound—and where it’s new and unknown, people take a wait-and-see. That’s one factor. That could be 20-to-30% there. Another is the streaming numbers are huge. “Believe” is at almost 50 million streams. I’m a huge fan of streaming. You factor that in, the audience is huge. And they have not toured one public date on this record. If we talk next February or March, I think we’re going to be looking at a very, very successful campaign.

There’s a lot of contention around economics of streaming. What’s making you a big fan?
I’m a fan of exposure. I have a strong background in promotion and marketing. When I saw the streaming services take off—whether it was early Napster or Spotify and Pandora or what iHeartMedia has done in the last three years—I got excited. It’s our job to work with these services and learn how to market our music through them.

The competition is getting heavy now. We’ll see what Apple does in the next few months. But Spotify, Pandora, iHeart, satellite radio—they keep raising the level of artist relations. You see a lot of ex-radio people, artist-relations people, writers, editors going into those places. I think there was an arrogance, an ignorance of how to handle relations with artists and labels, and they quickly got their act together.

When we presented our royalty checks and our gold records to CHVRCHES and Childish Gambino last year, you look at the sales—the download, physical sales—they’re not gold. When you add in the streaming numbers, the 2013 and 2014 numbers were extraordinary. You see there’s a business.

What was your initial take on Tidal?
Tidal was weird. I think we are a pretty good label. They didn’t contact us, they didn’t contact any of our artists, to be part of it. So I look at it like any consumer. I saw the press conference. I knew some of the artists, some of the managers on the stage. I was caught off-guard. As a businessman, I root for it. The premise is, “We want to pay artists.” That would be great if it succeeds. But I can’t even comment because I’ve never met a person from Tidal. Glass worships CHVRCHES.

What do you think of the coming battle between iTunes Music and Spotify?
I think it’s healthy. Apple gets me very excited when I see those names of people who are in the room. Jimmy Iovine—a visionary who has always been ahead on things. Julie Pilat, Larry Jackson, David Dorn, Jay Liepis—those are music people. Zane Lowe is the #1 DJ in the world. That’s a really good room.

Spotify’s got a head start, and Spotify has upped their game. They’ve done a good job of being artist-friendly. They show up at our shows. They were a great part of the launch of Mumford & Sons. We have an artist named Aurora who has never until this week released a record. Her song “Running With the Wolves” is over a million streams. What they’re doing with Aurora is proactive. And one of the first tweets in the world on Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear was from Daniel Ek.

There’s a push from UMG and Sony to do away with Spotify’s freemium tier. What are your feelings?
We’re an independent label, completely autonomous. The nice thing about our relationship with Universal Distribution is they leave us alone, and we don’t get involved in their business. My personal feeling as the leader of this company is: I believe artists in 2015 have earned the right to decide how their music is treated on a streaming service. If HOLYCHILD or Mumford & Sons decide that they want the first month to be free, and taken off of free after a month, it should be their decision.

That’s similar to Taylor Swift’s argument.
Yeah, but I do think that without the freemium at Spotify for these years, we would have had more piracy. In this company, the artists guide us. Our artists are having a very good time with the streaming. Their live numbers are great; we’re selling records; we’re streaming records. So when the artists start yelling at me and say, “Daniel, we’re getting short changed,” then I will get angry and call the tops of these places. But right now, I think it’s working.

Glass has high hopes for Flo Morrissey.

Your career started at an indie—SAM Records in the ’70s. You’re running an indie now; what changes have you seen in that time?

I joined Sam Weiss at SAM Records. I was a DJ at Regine’s. I met the man and woman who became my father-in-law and mother-in-law at the club when I was spinning records. So not much has changed in my life. I learned everything about business at SAM Records—about contracts, publishing, international, mastering records, retail, because my father-in-law owned the biggest one-stop in America, and one of the biggest import/export places. I went from SAM to Chrysalis and stayed for seven years, starting in 1983. My path has been a 20-year education in how to do it right. Along the way, you meet Sam Weiss; you meet Chris Wright and Terry Ellis; Chris Blackwell; Jerry Moss and Herb Alpert; Mo Ostin. They teach you how to do it—how to make international deals, how to make distribution agreements, how to do what’s right for your artists. And that’s what got me ready. I just wasn’t ready until eight years ago to open up this record company. I didn’t know enough. I wasn’t ready to come out of school.

So eight years ago you were ready to graduate. What were your goals and expectations when you started Glassnote?
Well, first thing, everybody said not to. Which was so inspiring. As a marathoner, the most common question I get asked is, “Did you finish?” It’s the most insulting question you could ask me. It’s like: “Did you finish the book?” “Did you finish the meal?” Of course I finished.

How many marathons?
It think it’s 22 New York, another two or three around the world, and soon to be another one in New York. And I finished every one of them.

How do you differentiate Glassnote from the pack?
The live thing and the working-hard thing—they’re more old-school and they’re more ambitious. We like old-school media. I really want you to be on Saturday Night Live, the Grammys, the BRITs, Jools Holland, Jimmy Kimmel.

We’re not for everybody. We work really, really slow here. We’re extremely patient. I think our work on Phoenix changed the way people, including major labels, approach rock radio, because we took 58 weeks to break “1901.” It was the longest climb in history to get to the top. It created a blueprint of tenacity, and we never took our eye off the ball. We did the same thing with “Little Lion Man” by Mumford & Sons. We’re doing the same thing with Robert DeLong—three and a half years of working with Robert DeLong and we take him to Top 3 Alternative. It’s still growing in audience.

During the 58 weeks it took to break Phoenix, was there a point where you remembered everyone saying “Don’t start this label” and thought they could have been right?
There are weeks you go backwards, weeks you slip, weeks you plateau. The spirit of this company—one of the parts of this company that makes us unique—there are very few people here who’ve ever worked for a major label before, who’ve ever worked for a label before. There are no preconceived notions, no politics. Just people who came here for the love of the music and wanted to be part of the family. We fell in love with Phoenix. Four of the coolest guys I’ve ever met in my life. So each week we all pulled each other. But I’m not sure another company would have the patience, the perseverance. And we approach every record like that. I’m not sure people would be pulling for Robert DeLong at another label. It makes us different.

Everything we do here is left of center. Son Lux, Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear, The Temper Trap, Childish Gambino, Mumford & Sons, Two Door Cinema Club—they’re not down-the-middle artists. We don’t know how to do down-the-middle here. We love the challenge. We love the torture. Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear: You have a mother and a son from Kansas City, produced by an English guy —Jim Abbiss, who did Adele and Arctic Monkeys—in Nashville. It’s magic to me. Glass helps Kimmel with his monologue.

I always tell people, come here if you want to be a great live artist and you want to play on a big stage. I don’t care if it takes three months, three years, three albums, four albums—we’ll get you there. You’ve gotta work hard, your songs have to be great. We’ll get you the producers, the mixers, the arrangers, the mastering engineers. There’s no one we can’t get you. And then, maybe we’ll move you to the center. Radio in 2014 and 2015, how many banjos and kick drums are there? It was ubiquitous, another reason Mumford & Sons had to evolve. The Phoenix sound has been copied ad infinitum. It’s nauseating to me. I think you’re going to hear a lot of bands like Madison Ward and the Mama Bear coming up, with this organic, folkie sound.

You’re a little more than a year into your distribution deal with UMG. How’s the experience been, and how’s it differ from working with Sony RED?
We are the only indie, really, in that system. We have dedicated people who work with us. And we get treated great. It’s a completely different culture than Sony. I’m not saying one is better than the other. We had a great run with RED, so much success.

What are the differences between the cultures?
They’re both really good, but RED had only independent labels. With Universal we have the benefit of the experience and clout of all the major labels. They hear about things, they negotiate the deals with people. I’m really impressed with this Universal team. Candace Berry has done a great job, and under Michele Anthony’s leadership what they’ve done with advertising, with branding, is very progressive.

You’ve built up your publishing company, Insieme, over the last year.
Our publishing company is blossoming. We signed three writers this year. Odd Martin, who’s from Norway, wrote half of Aurora’s record. Johnny Wright, a U.K.-based writer. Our first cut with Johnny is with X Factor contestant Andrea Faustini, on RCA. Rory Andrew, who just signed with us recently, has a track coming out with Tamia on Def Jam and Parson James on RCA. Cara Salimando—who’s been signed here as a publishing client for almost five years, since she was 17—has two cuts coming out on Capitol. That’s just the last few weeks.

When Tim Cook announced the Apple Watch, he unveiled the new commercial—that’s our master with HOLYCHILD, “Running Behind,” and our publishing. We recently brought on Sharon Tapper as head of publishing, who’s a great addition to our team. We have a small team, and it’s a very young team: Ed Poston in London, Marc Nicolas in L.A., Jenna Rubinstein and Laura Margolin in New York.

Who are the other key people on the team, and what do they bring to the party?
McKee Floyd’s a great example. I met McKee through my son Sean, who’s a successful DJ/entrepreneur. He said, “Dad, I’ve found your head of marketing.” I looked at her resume—she worked on Capitol Hill, gets her elbows sharpened there, then she goes to work at sweetgreen, then she helped curate Sweetlife Festival.. Nick Petropoulos, our head of promotion, I met when he was doing radio at RED. Nick is a Hall of Fame guy, and I’ve had a great reputation of mentoring some of the best heads of promotion, who’ve gone on to major labels: Greg Thompson, Monte Lipman. Lauren Papapietro, who came from the branding business, is heading up our publicity. Stephanie Shim, who came from a classical background at Decca, is our head of digital. Sam Rumney, who heads up our U.K. office, was the producer of Zane Lowe’s radio show. Jeff Neuberger runs our touring business. Chris Scully, our general manager, has been my partner from the day we opened the doors. Ellie Hewitt, our European head of international, has hits in Germany, France, Scandinavia right now.

Let’s talk about the year ahead. What records are coming, what artists have you signed that you’re excited about?
HOLYCHILD is very important to us. Robert Delong is on his way to a Best New Artist Grammy nomination. Madisen Ward and Mama Bear are going to be the big word-of-mouth story. We’re not going to hype it all. We’re going to let it breathe. Flo Morrissey is a magical artist. Son Lux is coming out this summer, Oberhofer is coming out in August, Aurora is coming out September. We signed Chris Baio, from Vampire Weekend, a few weeks ago, and his record is coming in September. Little Green Cars, Childish Gambino, GIVERS,. Tor Miller and Panama Wedding are making records. Next year you’ll have a Phoenix album. Plus we signed the Australia-based band, Mansionair. It’s a lot for us. In 2014 we released two records; this year it’s going to be more than 12 records. But we don’t control the creative process.

You’re very active in charity. Tell me about some of organizations you’re involved in.
I’m a co-founding president of Lifebeat, and I’m still very active. We just did a great thing with U2, thanks to Arthur Fogel and his generosity. Our youngest son is graduating high school and going to Princeton in the fall. We’ve been very active, my wife and I, in fundraising and on the board at Dalton, for 26 years. My daughter is still teaching there, so we’ll stay connected. I’m very active in the UJA. They’re religion-blind, they’re race-blind, and whether it’s Katrina, Nepal, Haiti or Sandy—or what’s going on with the middle class and the elderly of our city, with the mentally or physically disabled—it’s an incredible organization. I’m very active at Brooklyn College, where I went. Can’t do enough for them. If I wasn’t at Brooklyn College Radio, WBCR, I don’t know if my path would have led me to being here today.

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