Steve Martin on Finding New Musical Talent

The Internet has made it easier to search for new musical talent.
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Topic: Steve Martin on Finding New Musical Talent

Steve Martin: I think I’m a special case because I work within it, so I sort of saw who the early emergent forces were in people like, you know, Pitchfork and Stereo Gum, and then like aggregator sites, like Hype Machine is fantastic because it’ll tell you what people are really getting most excited about on all the blogs and mp3 blogs and so it’s the same way when- you know, when I first started doing this, desktop publishing was exploding for the first time, and so many kids had fanzines and it took so much longer to say like, okay, well, can you send us a copy? I wanna see if it’s any good and if we should service you because it costs a lot of money to put a CD in the mail- <chuckles>- and all this stuff. And we only get so many, so it’s a similar type of thing, just except there’s so much more, you know? So, you can look at things like Alexa to see how highly rated the sites are, see how many visits they get. You can do some trial-and-error and just see, you know, just if you like the writing, the quality of the writing, or if you agree with the people’s taste, see if people are commenting a lot on them and if there is actually a dialog there. So, yeah, it’s just- it is a lot more work, but on the other hand, it works- I mean, it’s- you know, without sounding too crass, it’s good for my business because people still need a gatekeeper and editors and somebody to sort of, you know- the people with all the stuff flying at them on the internet, too, still need that handful of people that they trust, you know?

Question: What does it take to manage creative types?

Steve Martin: I think what it really takes is- I mean, yeah, it definitely helps that I’ve been through the whole thing of touring and, you know, worrying about how music that I made was represented, and the media, and you know, advertising and distribution- all that, all that stuff. So, yeah, I’ve definitely been through the ringer with that. But, I just think it’s not really that difficult when you really are, first and foremost, passionate and knowledgeable about the artist and the material. And- I mean, I only work with people that- whose music I love and that I feel I understand. And you get to know their personalities and their aesthetics and what’s right for them, and what’s right to say no. And also, you have to build a relationship, creative relationship, to the point where you can tell them no, or you can tell them when something’s not a good idea, ‘cause I don’t really- I can’t speak for those other businessmen you’re talking about, but I know like, by and large, people I work with don’t- wouldn’t really care to have a bunch of “yes-men” around them.

Question: What have been your disaster moments?

Steve Martin: I don’t really- I don’t know- I wouldn’t really say that there’s like a disaster that I could point to where something that involved my client actually screwing up. I mean, there were some lawsuits over creative property. There was a Tibetan Freedom Concert- you know, a series the Beastie Boys used to do in D.C. where a girl got struck by lightning and they cut the first day short. I’ve never had to deal with something like, you know, like R. Kelly trial or- <laughs>- you know, paternity suits or- <laughs>- I don’t work with that kind of artist. You know, sometimes some people have been through rehab that I’ve worked with- mostly, it’s got happy endings. I’ve had to drop some clients over the years, but you know, if we weren’t getting along- just went our separate ways.

Question: Do you go to them or do they come to you?

Steve Martin: Now, honestly, yeah. I mean, it sounds cocky to say so, but nowadays, my roster is pretty much set. And to survive in this business, I think you have to have a really tight quality roster of artists. And I’ve been through a period, like in the mid- to late-Nineties through to about 2001, where stuff was just insane and I had like three or four other senior publicists and, you know, at that point, you sort of lose sight of things a bit- this sounds sort of like a musician’s career or whatever- when you’re making millions and it’s not really that difficult, it’s just really hectic, you know- and I find myself fielding calls from dissatisfied people, from artists that I didn’t even really care about- and I
just at that point decided, you know, this is not gonna go on forever, and soon there’s gonna be a big crash, and just downsized my company around, I think it was the middle of 2001. And from that point on, it’s sort of like the 20 or so clients that I see myself working with ‘til I retire. Every now and then, there’s something really exciting that I’ll chase after, like I did chase after Arcade Fire for the better part of, I don’t know, almost two years, I guess. I don’t know if they ever even thought they were gonna have a publicist, but then, when they hired a manager and I started setting up some more formal discussions with him and them, and that was around like 2005- so I think it was about a year later, yeah, like late 2006, we definitely- they were finishing up the M Bible and that’s when we started working on- and I chased after Andrew Bird- who else? Nine Inch Nails- I mean I’ve known the manager, Jim Garneau, for a long time- he’s an industry vet. And when I saw- I’ve been a fan of Nine Inch Nails for a long time- I’ve written about them in the past, when I was like in the Eighties. And then I, you know, I just saw a thing go up on the website, you know, I’m free- I got out of my deal with Interscope, and I just, you know, called Jim, the manager, that day and said, hey- I imagine he’s gonna wanna put his music out much in the same way- <chuckles>- my friends in Oxford just did, and I think he’ll want someone with some experience in that particular procedure. So, yeah, so I did chase after that. Other than that, most of the people on my roster, yeah, I pursued most of them. Some of them have come to me but- yeah, so a lot of them are really like long-time things- six, seven, eight, ten- like in the case of Beastie Boys or Foo Fighters, thirteen, fifteen years, so- <laughs>-
I think those are the things that I’m gonna see through to the end of probably both of our careers, if all things go well, you know, knock on wood.