Lunch With Mike Caren

He believes in artist development.

This is another thing the old guard has wrong. Stuck in the last decade they don’t know the ball has been moved.

Mike finds an act, brings him to the studio for a week and sees if the act has what it takes.

And how does Mike find these acts?

First and foremost you must know he’s addicted to YouTube, he reads the comments, to get the flow, it’s a data resource nonpareil. You see beatmakers post their work under “(famous name) type beat” for wannabes to rap over and post to Soundcloud. These beatmakers are not worried about getting paid, they just want to get in the game. They’re not worried about being ripped off, because if they are, if a hit is based on their work, the labels will come calling, everybody wants to work with a hitmaker. If you’re thinking about getting paid first, you’re old school.

And Mike doesn’t sign a deal with these acts, not right away. It’s the opposite of get the manager and the President and the act in a room and no one’s leaving until a deal is done. As a matter of fact, most lawyers don’t want to broker new artists deals these days, there’s just not enough money in it. Attorneys are rarely a source of new acts.

So Mike brings them in, based on their online work, and checks out not only their talent, but their dedication. Do they come early and stay late? Are they willing to learn? If yes, Mike knows it’s gonna be two to three years of work before he sees any payoff, and he’s wary of betting on the wrong horse. As for a competitor scooping up his talent after he’s invested in it, before he’s made a deal, Mike’s not worried about it. Because if the act feels comfortable with Mike, his writers and his producers, he’s not gonna go anywhere else (and, of course, it’s not only men, it’s women too…)

And Mike laments the fact that too many of today’s “artists” focus on socials instead of music. Because it’s easier to gain a following, easier to work the public, and it gives you data to quote. But Mike is more interested in the music, he’s getting in way early, and then helping you find your way to who you want to be.

And Mike’s also helped make stars of castoffs, like Bruno Mars, who had a deal with Motown and then was dropped. That’s right, being dropped is no longer the kiss of death. It was about surrounding Bruno with the right people, helping him find and execute his vision.

As for Ed Sheeran, he was an incredibly hard worker. He wrote for everybody. Released an EP of collaborations with rappers. In retrospect the climb looks fast, but it wasn’t.

And both Bruno and Ed could keep themselves alive with their writing work.

Whereas today you sign an act and they want to see income in two years and in reality it takes at least three years to find out if you have anything. But the act has little patience, it burns through the advance in two years, and if the manager isn’t making money…

And Mike feels the second album is more important than the first. That if you break through you can’t take all the offers, you can’t do gigs on the weekend and then write and record during the week, there’s not enough time, either you don’t produce or you do so substandardly.

And every act is different, some need a lot of collaboration, others not so much.

And there’s got to be a steady stream of product. An album every six months or a year, so there’s something to tour on.

As for EPs, Mike points to the fact that no one’s ever broken on one. That’s something he does with all his acts, sit them down and ask them who they want to be, their role models, and usually he finds out the wannabe has no idea of the pitfalls of the star, the failures, the hard work, the wrong turns. It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock ‘n roll.

And the truth is we live in a hip-hop world. And we might not have had a new sound come along which eclipses hip-hop, but hip-hop has been through five or more changes in the last decade. Furthermore, today’s artists grew up with hip-house in the house, that’s what their parents were playing.

So upstairs is Mike’s office and his publishing company. Everybody has a piece of the action. And the ratio of acts to execs is very low, so there can be hands-on interaction.

Downstairs are the studios. With a computer and board and a couch and a coffee table that rises up so your laptop is at the right level. Furthermore, the writers have control of the speaker volume. Everything has been built from the ground up to foster creativity.

And a few buildings away is where the label marketing people are.

And on the same street is Crush Management, which has production next door.

And Anderson .Paak is across the street.

And down the street is the epicenter of hip-hop shopping. They were lined up for blocks outside the Supreme store and it was three o’clock on a Thursday afternoon. The internet may rule, but the public still wants to belong, still wants the identity totems.

So this is the way the new world works.

If there’s traction on Spotify Mike will spend marketing dollars. He doesn’t need radio to do so. As for radio, he wonders how long until they embrace the algorithms, go with what works on the streaming services as opposed to callout research.

So today you’re a self-starter, alone, at home, with your laptop. You pull beats from YouTube and you post your rap atop them and wait for a reaction. Some of these Soundcloud mixes have 250,000 listens. Because hip-hop is a community, a whole culture, which you can not only embrace, but stretch, innovation is treasured.

Whereas learning to play an instrument is hard. And there’s nowhere near the culture in other genres.

As for the success of Adele, Mike believes it’s not easily replicated because of the involvement of XL, the hipsters were interested, where normally the hipsters avoid this sound.

And if you were with Mike for three hours either you’d get really excited or really depressed. And your depression would come from realizing the game has changed, everything you believed is in the rearview mirror.

It’s not your music business anymore.

It’s the teens’ and twentysomethings’.

And they have no idea what you’re talking about. And they believe opportunities are plentiful. As well as money. They’re not talking about what once was, but what is. Meanwhile, too many labels are complacent with the uplift from streaming. You’ve got to rebuild your operation according to the new model. Empower not only the musicians, but the executives too.

Mike has.

Me On CNN

Me On CNN

Katherine Kendall was on after me.

I was driving to the Troubadour the night before, flipping the news channels on Sirius, and I heard her story, about Harvey Weinstein chasing her around his apartment, about hiding out in a bar to get away from him.

And here she was.

I don’t work it, I wait for the call. And yesterday, since no one really calls anymore, I got an e-mail from CNN, did I want to come on and talk about Eminem?

SURE!

But my logistics were off. I was in Santa Monica having lunch with Chris Moore and my electric razor was in Sherman Oaks at Felice’s house. I’d been planning to spend the rest of the day on the Westside, catching up, and now my schedule was blown to hell.

I hate to shave. And only do so once in a while. Not because I want that hipster look, but because the Beatles all said they hated to shave in one of those teen magazines and I’m bad at it to boot, I haven’t got the patience.

So I answered 279 e-mails, wrote twice and hot-tailed it to Sherman Oaks to shave and get myself together.

Whereupon I got into the provided car and they whisked me to CNN’s studio in Hollywood, an edifice that was once famous for its music residents, but no more.

And they’ve got tight security, as you can imagine, but if you’re on the list, you’re golden. That’s what life’s all about, being on the list.

So I was immediately ushered in to makeup. Whereupon I got the life story of the artist. That’s what inspires me most, people’s stories. They’re each unique, and they’ll all tell you, because they want to be known, so few people ask, and the facts are secondary to the nuances. How did they get from there to here, what inspired them, how did they make that choice. And along the way you find points that bond you, unexpected ones, life experiences that are embedded inside that you rarely get to talk about, like being impacted by suicide.

And as we were discussing people taking their own lives a couple entered the room to be cleaned up. They were jovial, connected, only they weren’t.

There was the resident psychological expert. And the attorney. And both were dressed up in business attire, looking sharp for the show, and we all live in L.A., not New York, where I haven’t been to a doctor wearing a tie in memory. And the suit was sharp. Not an Armani, but something au courant that said something about its wearer.

They were there to talk about Harvey Weinstein.

That’s all they were talking about on Tucker Carlson’s show, which I was listening to on the way from Santa Monica to Sherman Oaks, a hellish escapade on the freeway, L.A. traffic is insane, even at 8 PM.

And you’d have thought the Weinstein case involved world peace. Tucker kept excoriating the silent left, the Hollywood hypocrites. He insisted the government investigate tinseltown, to root out this behavior. Huh?

The government ain’t gonna crack down on Hollywood. And what exactly is the crime here anyway? Carlson wasn’t talking about the culture of harassment so much as the silence with regard thereto. But if you were listening to him you’d be all fired up, that bad Harvey Weinstein, wreaking havoc.

With his daughter calling 911 and Harvey evading the cops.

And the expert?

Harvey Levin.

That’s right, the majordomo of TMZ, that’s how far we’ve sunk. And Tucker’s railing that Weinstein’s escaping to France, to evade the long arm of the law, and it’s Levin who’s got to reel Carlson back in, saying no crime has been charged and as a matter of fact Weinstein is not going to France. Yup folks, on Fox the gossip columnist was the voice of reason, correcting the bloviating blowhard.

I’m just wondering what Tucker Carlson would be like in real life. Would he really say these things? Maybe he’s one of those bulldozers who never backs down, abhorred in every day life, but really, is Harvey Weinstein’s sexual behavior the most important thing happening in our country, does it Trump North Korea?

On Fox it does.

And then I’m called in to do my spot and what you forget is for the anchors this is a job, they’re there all night, I’ve been on before, they’re busy talking through their earpieces, but then the light goes on.

And we hit it just that fast.

You can see the results above.

But one thing is I was running so fast yesterday that I didn’t Google myself. Yes, I do that regularly. So I didn’t know that doofus in the “Atlantic” had written about me, I was caught off guard, and you always want to be prepared.

But then as the anchor read the words I started to laugh, genuinely, THIS IS THE CRITICISM??

And I was complimented when we were done, told we put ten minutes of news in a five minute bag. They were happy, and that’s the essence of work, you want to keep the customer satisfied.

And I ambled back to the makeup room to have my face removed and…

Someone was sitting in my seat.

And another woman was right by her, she came for moral support.

So who was this?

The aforementioned Katherine Kendall!

I told her I’d just heard her on the radio the night before.

But I couldn’t remember the outlet.

Then she listed all the ones she’d been on. You see when you’re news, they swoop down and pick you up, and then they drop you off soon thereafter. You see news is a business, and it’s not called OLDS, so when your five minutes is done, it’s back to obscurity (like me!)

And Katherine was 24 when this happened. It sapped her drive. She had a career, she’d been in “Swingers,” but if this was what the industry required to make it, she was not up for it.

And we’re truly getting into it, the war of the sexes, her decision to go on the record, but what was utterly fascinating was watching the physical transformation. Now don’t get me wrong, Katherine is a very attractive woman. But by time Kristina, the makeup artist, was done with her, she was the untouchable beauty from the cover of a magazine.

Maybe it was the instant curls from the hot iron.

Or maybe it was the eyeshadow.

But I’m thinking it was the lipliner and lipstick. When Kristina was done, Katherine Kendall was…

A movie star.

You see it’s all an illusion. Kinda like those kids at home trying to replicate stunts they see in the movies. Oftentimes they’re not real, they’re done with special effects, but they don’t know that.

And I’m b.s.’ing with Kristina and Katherine and Katherine’s friend and everybody’s being open and honest because I’m inside the club.

One often wonders, is it Tucker Carlson’s desire to get inside the club? Believe me, being a right wing pundit doesn’t get you far in Hollywood.

Nor does being a left wing one. All those writers in the newspaper, they ain’t got the fame of the movie stars and musicians.

Which is why when Eminem speaks, everybody listens.

Trump is still silent on Marshall.

A politician is no match for him.

But a musician?

It’s no contest.

Billy Bragg At The Troubadour

“I played bars thirty five years ago and I’m still playing bars today.”

That’s what Billy Bragg told me when I asked him about the dream, you know, the one where you become rich and famous. He referenced other acts, like the Housemartins, who had broken through, where were they today?

But he’s still standing.

I’d never seen him before. Always knew about him, got the CDs from the label, but never paid much attention, thought he was marginal in today’s winner-take-all world.

But he’s not.

The Troubadour had sold out months before. Steve Martin, the agent, told me they could have done three no problem. But what about the rest of America, outside the city? He was good for almost as many tickets, sometimes more. How could this be?

But the audience was not young, not the boppers propping up the popsters, but rather thirty, forty and fiftysomethings, who knew every word and sang along. They needed Billy. They needed to be there. How did they get the memo?

I still don’t have the answer to that.

But one thing’s for sure, Billy was a star in their world.

So it’s just him. An electric and an acoustic and two amps, nothing more. And for two hours Billy plays and talks and…

He said he had a cold and his voice was shot. To tell you the truth, I didn’t think it was that off, but then he remarked that one of his handlers said they came for the stories not the songs anyway.

And the stories are riveting.

It’s the antithesis of modern showbiz, all sleek and removed. There was little barrier between the fans and Billy, but one thing’s for sure, they saw him as a teacher.

You remember teachers, don’t you? Probably some of the worst experiences of your life. But when done right…

Education is illuminating and stimulating.

And it was last night.

Billy’s a left winger. Dyed-in-the-wool. And he won’t give up. And he doesn’t believe in apathy or cynicism and sings songs to that effect. He’s imploring you to stand up, telling you that what you say and do makes a difference.

And he assumes you’re educated, that you’re not a nitwit, that you keep up with the news. He’s talking about Brexit and Corbyn and America getting bounced from the World Cup and and one thing’s for damn sure, this is not the same show he does every night.

Now normally when you don’t know the material a show is an endurance test. You can’t make out the lyrics and the hooks don’t, hook you that is. But going to see Billy Bragg is akin to seeing a musical, you need no advance study, all the songs are comprehensible, and BRIEF! Normally live the numbers are extended. But Billy’d sing the three minute song and that’d be it. Then he’d go back to politics, his personal life, his history, exuding no star attitude yet his talent shined through, you knew you couldn’t stand up on stage and do this.

So what motivated him to become political?

MARGARET THATCHER!

Before that he did not give a damn.

This is what Billy told me upstairs.

Normally he hangs out with the crowd, for an hour, and I didn’t expect to meet him, it’s usually unpleasant meeting people who don’t know you, if you’re a glad-hander backstage you’re ignored, but Steve said we should go up and after the perfunctory notes about the show, in a moment of silence, I asked Billy about his career, where he was going, politics.

And he had no problem articulating his position.

I was stunned. Most musicians are aloof. Can barely eke out a sentence, never mind an informed one. But Billy walked me through the Tories and Labour and what was gonna happen with Brexit and I could have talked with him all night if they weren’t shutting the place down, if we didn’t have to go.

I guess you can go to the show and have just that, a show. That makes you marvel, that might even leave you with a glow.

Or you can have an experience. That makes you think. That takes you on a a journey. That makes you feel whatever you’re experiencing is personal only to you, tonight, with this crowd.

Now Billy is carrying on. And he’s got multiple projects, he’s promoting a book he wrote on the skiffle sound. He’s making a living. As he told me, he never had a straight job, music has supported him, and that was a victory in itself. But he’s not dominating the chart. But he has a loyal audience. And you wonder…

What does the future hold? Will there be more journeymen like Billy Bragg, or just superstars and complainers who bitch that they are not?

I’m not sure.

But one thing is for sure. I’m continuing to think about last night’s performance. I was impressed by Billy’s passion, his belief, his perseverance.

That was a beacon to me.

And it will be for you too.

I recommend you go.

P.S. Billy does a reworked, topical version of “The Times They Are A-Changin'” that is genius. Start at the one minute mark in this video:

More Eminem

Trump’s afraid to tweet back.

That’s the power of entertainment, that’s the power of Hollywood, that’s the power of Detroit, that’s the power of art.

My inbox is filled up with right wing denizens decrying the work of Marshall Mathers. Saying he sucks, that it doesn’t matter, that we must respect the President. They’re no different from the older generation that hated the Beatles and supported the Vietnam War. They were on the wrong side of history, and Perry Como’s been long forgotten.

You’ve got to be on the front lines. That’s what the liberal elite just doesn’t get, the faceless reporters for the “New York Times,” the highly educated who know no one who voted for Trump. Then how did he win? Put your name on the line and you’ll be subject to blowback, I get it every damn day.

I knew of Trump’s power because when I denigrated him they came out in force, always with the same message, screw the poor, I worked hard for my money and Obama and Hillary are criminals, oftentimes with poor spelling, always writing “your” instead of “you’re.” And you can laugh at them, but they’re ruling. Check out the landscape, it’s not only Trump, Republicans rule D.C. and most states. Because the Democrats weren’t working for them, or they just want to keep their money and they’ve been misinformed by the right wing media.

You’ve got to watch Fox News. I listen on Sirius. It’s like a totally different country. I flip between MSNBC, CNN and Fox on the satellite. Oftentimes big stories don’t make it to Fox. And the hosts interrupt naysayers. And you’d think they had it so right if you didn’t know they had it so wrong.

That’s right, Fox, et al, have won hearts and minds. Almost no different from the Vietcong, it’s hard to defeat indoctrinated people.

Kinda like this Harvey Weinstein thing.

As soon as I wrote about it my inbox overflowed with right wingers wondering if he was gonna get the same treatment as O’Reilly and Ailes, saying that there was a double standard. Talking about donations to Hillary and Obama.

But Paul Krugman had it right:

“The Weinstein affair is giving us an object lesson in right-wing projection. I keep seeing outraged demands for liberal condemnation 1/

‘Will liberals condemn Weinstein the way they condemned Ailes and O’Reilly?’ they ask, presuming that the answer is no. But actually … 2/

Everywhere I look the answer is, in fact, yes. What we should ask is: ‘Did cons condemn Ailes/O’Reilly the way they condemn Weinstein?’ 3/

And the answer, mainly, is no. Excusing evil behavior by people on your side is what THEY do; they’re just projecting it onto libs 4/

And they’re outraged in advance over the false assumption that liberals are just like them 5/”

Those tweets were on Friday (@paulkrugman), and the truth is everyone on the left is excoriating Weinstein, he’s done, how many on the right came out against O’Reilly and Ailes?

Very few.

So hip-hop is the most powerful force in America. Rock is a joke and movies are too. Television is superior, but the biggest show, “Game of Thrones,” is fantasy, hip-hop is real life.

And Eminem is hip-hop royalty.

It doesn’t matter what Killer Mike says. Young Thug either. I applaud their efforts, but the America we live in is one wherein only those at the tippity-top have power. So the fact that nobodies, people far down the food chain, with a fraction of the traction of Mike or Thug, warbled songs against Trump is irrelevant, as a matter of fact, many were just looking for attention, but someone at the top, who is listened to, who has a broad audience, takes a stand and…

He or she can move mountains.

No one else has done this during the Trump Presidency.

Never forget, you can get away with anything as long as it’s the truth.

And Eminem’s screed was such.

And it doesn’t matter that the cognoscenti watching television hate rap, the younger generation lives for it, it’s a whole culture, absent from any other genre of music. People don’t go from hit to hit, they’re INVESTED in the sound.

And rap has been around for decades. So not only do you get the thirty and fortysomethings, you get the young ‘uns, and they are the future.

And you’ve got to start somewhere. Kinda like with the Vietnam War. So many were for it before they were against it. What turned them around? The culture, the music, the same music being listened to by the younger generation today. You may be pro-Trump but when your hero comes out and says the President’s a doofus directing us towards danger you evaluate what he has to say in a way you don’t evaluate the opposite viewpoint in TV or film. You believe in Eminem, you believe in the sound. And he’s so passionate and pulling no punches.

So Donald Trump can attack NBC. Elected officials. But he doesn’t dare mess with Eminem. Kinda like you can mess with the NFL but not the NBA. Because the slaves have taken over the plantation in the NBA, the players realize without their participation there is no game, and they utilized this leverage.

Whereas most musicians leave their leverage on the table. Believing they can accumulate the wealth of a techie or a banker they play it safe and whore themselves out with the result that no one believes them.

But they believe Eminem.

That’s the power of hip-hop.

That’s the power of music.

Who’s next?