In Conversation With Danny Goldberg

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Over the course of his career, Danny Goldberg has worn many hats. He has worked with some of the world’s biggest bands and at some of the  biggest record labels in the US while also having logged miles as a journalist.

The title “author” is one of the most recent titles for Goldberg; his newest book Bumping Into Geniuses chronicles many capacities of the music business in which he has worked as well as some of the relationships and friendships he has cultivated over the past 40 years.

Goldberg is currently artist manager for musicians including The Hives, Steve Earle and Canadian indie darlings Stars. Gold Village Entertainment, formed in July 2006, is a return to the management field for him; from 1983 through 1992, his company Gold Mountain Entertainment oversaw the careers of Nirvana, Hole, The Beastie Boys and Sonic Youth.

In the time from 1992 through 2006, Goldberg held various positions within the music industry including CEO of both Mercury Records and Warner Brothers Records in addition to having founded independent label Artemis Records, the number one US indie label in terms of market share from 2001 through 2003.

He began his career in the 1960’s as a music journalist, writing for prestigious publications including Rolling Stone and Billboard Magazine, for whom he covered the Woodstock Festival. He would move on to do PR for Led Zeppelin and ultimately ascend to the post of Vice President for Zeppelin’s Swan Song label.

But the music business is a far different beast in 2009 than it was as recently as 10 years ago. Physical music sales are in a constant state of freefall as consumers turned to file-trading on the internet, a practice from which the industry has yet to recover from or find a solution to that will restore them to their former glories.

“I think that labels really don’t know what to do,” Goldberg says from his New York office. “But it is the same for the movie industry; it is not just record companies that haven’t come up with a replacement for lost revenue due to people getting their property for free. It is not an easy solution.”

Goldberg goes on to say that digital music sales vary from artist to artist among his roster, but estimates that digital music sales make up between 50 and 65 per cent of some of his artists’ total sales. He says that this figure is lower in Europe by comparison and even lower still in Canada. None the less, Goldberg sees the silver lining.

“A digital sale is still a sale. Where artists and companies are suffering is from the non-sales of product such as downloading. That is a huge percentage lost but is a product of the technology of our world today.”

One facet of the music business that is showing no repercussions of the music sales slump is the live concert portion of Gold Village’s
artists. Goldberg states that the live show business continues to be a very reliable outlet for his clients, admitting that the live show has become a much bigger percentage of the business for his acts.

“I think that all artists have to be prepared to adjust to changing times. The course of making videos, making records and marketing bands has changed significantly in the past decade,” Goldberg says.

“There is certain marketing that can be done via the internet that is far more efficient than the old days of doing mail outs via fan clubs. But honestly, I’m not sure whether the benefits of that can adequately compensate for the loss of billions of dollars of income that the labels are facing.”

One of Goldberg’s past artists certainly had no trouble finding an audience for their music.

Bumping Into Geniuses has a lengthy chapter dedicated to Nirvana where Goldberg states his relationship with their late front-man Kurt Cobain was “the most important of my professional career.”

“I remember how sweet he was but he had a terrible drug habit,” Goldberg reminisces. “Of course, he was a different person when he was stoned than when he was not. But when he was not stoned, he was one of the kindest, sweetest and most considerate people I had ever met. He was always steps ahead of everybody in his orbit.”

Nirvana’s success has been defined as a turning point in the history of music, closing the era of “hair metal” while giving commercial success to a genre of music that had long been relegated to underground circles.

In this writer’s opinion, few bands since Nirvana can lay claim to having impacted music the way Nirvana did.

Does Goldberg foresee such a drastic musical revolution taking place again?

“I think the word revolution is too strong of a word, but absolutely, it has and will happen again,” Goldberg states. “Different generations of fans yearn for something new; something that will make them stand out from their parent’s generation. Youth help to reinvent culture every few years based on their need for their own identity in the world they live in.

“It was true of artists like Elvis and Michael Jackson and it will be true of future artists that can revolutionize the world
with their talent and their songs.”

Danny Goldberg’s book Bumping Into Geniuses is in stores and online now.

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