Steve Martin on Finding New Musical Talent

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.


The Internet has made it easier to search for new musical talent.

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Hold your breath at Marble Arch!

Air pollution up to five times over the EU limit in Central London hotspots

  • Dirty air is an invisible killer, but an effective one.
  • A recent study estimates that more than 9,000 people die prematurely in London each year due to air pollution.
  • This map visualises the worst places to breathe in Central London.

The Great Smog of 1952

London used to be famous for its 'pea-soupers': combinations of smoke and fog caused by burning coal for power and heating.

All that changed after the Great Smog of 1952, when weather conditions created a particularly dense and persistent layer of pollution. For a number of days, visibility was reduced to as little as one foot, making traffic impossible. The fog even crept indoors, leading to cancellations of theatre and film showings. The episode wasn't just disruptive and disturbing, but also deadly: according to one estimate, it directly and indirectly killed up to 12,000 Londoners.

Invisible, but still deadly

Image: MONEY SHARMA/AFP/Getty Images

London Mayor Sadiq Khan

After the shock of the Great Smog, the UK cleaned up its act, legislating to replace open coal fires with less polluting alternatives. London Mayor Sadiq Khan is hoping for a repeat of the movement that eradicated London's smog epidemic, but now for its invisible variety.

The air in London is "filthy, toxic", says Khan. In fact, poor air quality in the British capital is a "public health crisis". The city's poor air quality is linked not just to thousands of premature deaths each year, but also to a range of illnesses including asthma, heart disease and dementia. Children growing up in areas with high levels of air pollution may develop stunted lungs, with up to 10% less capacity than normal.

Image: Transport for London

ULEZ phases 1 and 2, and LEZ

Khan has led a very active campaign for better air quality since his election as London Mayor in 2016. Some of the measures recently decided:

  • Transport for London has introduced 2,600 diesel-electric hybrid buses, which is said to reduce emissions by up to 40%.
  • Mr Khan has pledged to spend £800 million on air quality over a five-year period.
  • Uber fares will rise by 15p (20¢) to help drivers buy electric cars.
  • Since the start of 2018, all new single-decker buses are zero-emission and all new taxis must be hybrid or electric.
  • Mr Khan has added a T-charge on the most toxic vehicles entering the city. On 8 April, the T-charge will be replaced by an Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), contiguous with the Congestion Charge Zone.
  • The ULEZ is designed to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide and particulate matter by charging vehicles who don't meet stringent exhaust emission standards.
  • By October 2020, a Low-Emission Zone (LEZ), applicable to heavy commercial vehicles, will cover most of Greater London.
  • By October 2021, the ULEZ will expand to cover a greater part of Central London.

Central London's worst places for breathing

Image: Steven Bernard / Financial Times

Heathrow (bottom left on the overview map) is another pollution hotspot

What worries experts is that despite considerable efforts already made, levels of air pollution stubbornly refuse to recede – and remain alarmingly high in locations where traffic flows converge.

It's not something you'd think of, given our atmosphere's fluctuating nature, but air pollution hotspots can be extremely local – as this map demonstrates.

One important lesson for all Londoners: don't inhale at Marble Arch! Levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) are five times the EU norm – the highest in the city. Traffic permitting, quickly cross Cumberland Gate to Speakers' Corner and further into Hyde Park, where levels sink back to a 'permissible' 40 milligrams per cubic meter. Now you can inhale!

Almost as bad: Tower Hill (4.6 times the EU norm) and Marylebone Road (4 times; go to nearby Regent's Park for relief).

Also quite bad: the Strand (3.9), Piccadilly Circus (3.8), and Hyde Park Corner (also 3.8), Victoria (3.7) and Knightsbridge (3.5), the dirty trio just south of Hyde Park.

Elephant & Castle is the only pollution hotspot below the Thames and, perhaps because it's relatively isolated from other black spots, also the one with the lowest multiplication factor (2.8 times the maximum level).

On the larger map, the whole of Central London, including its relatively NO2-free parks, still shows up as more polluted than the outlying areas. Two exceptions flare up red: busy traffic arteries; and Heathrow Airport (in the bottom left corner).

Image: Mike Malone, CC BY SA 4.0

Traffic congestion on London's Great Portland Street

So why is Central London's air pollution problem so persistent? In part, this is because the need for individual transport in cars seems to be inelastic. For example, the Congestion Charge has slashed the number of vehicles entering Central London by 30%, but the number of (CC-exempt) private-hire vehicles entering that zone has quadrupled over the same period.

Cycling has really taken off in London. But despite all pro-cycling measures, a wide range of other transport options and car-dissuading measures, central London is still a very congested place. Average traffic speeds on weekdays has declined to 8 miles (13 km) per hour – fittingly medieval speeds, as the road network was largely designed in medieval times.

Narrow streets between high buildings, filled to capacity with slow-moving traffic are a textbook recipe for semi-permanent high levels air pollution.

The large share of diesel vehicles on London's streets only increases the problem. Diesel vehicles emit lower levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) than petrol cars, which is why their introduction was promoted by European governments.

However, diesels emit higher levels of the highly toxic nitrogen dioxide (NO2) than initial lab tests indicated. Which is why they're being phased out now.

As bad as Delhi, worse than New York

Image: Sanchit Khanna/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

By some measures, London's air quality is almost as bad as New Delhi's.

By some measures, especially NO2, London's air pollution is nearly as bad as big Asian cities such as Beijing or New Delhi, and much worse than other developed cities such as New York and Madrid.

The UK is bound to meet pollution limits as set down in the National Air Quality objectives and by EU directives, for example for particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide.

  • Particulate matter (PM2.5) consists of tiny particles less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter emitted by combustion engines. Exposure to PM2.5 raises the mortality risk of cardiovascular diseases. The target for PM2.5 by 2020 is 25 µg/m3. All of London currently scores higher, with most areas at double that level.
  • Mainly emitted by diesel engines, NO2 irritates the respiratory system and aggravates asthma and other pre-existing conditions. NO2 also reacts with other gases to form acid rain. The limit for NO2 is 40 µg/m3, and NO2 levels must not exceed 200 µg/m3 more than 18 times a year. Last year, London hit that figure before January was over.

Google joins fight against air pollution

Image: laszlo-photo, CC BY SA 2.0

Elephant & Castle, London.

Studies predict London's air pollution will remain above legal limits until 2025. Sadiq Khan – himself an asthma sufferer – is working to make London's air cleaner by measures great and small. Earlier this week, he announced that two of Google's Street View cars will be carrying air quality sensors when mapping the streets of London

Over the course of a year, the two cars will take air quality readings every 30 metres in order to identify areas of London with dangerous levels of air pollution that might be missed by the network of fixed sensors. An additional 100 of those fixed sensors will be installed near sensitive locations and known pollution hotspots, doubling the network's density.

It's all part of Breathe London, a scheme to map the British capital's air pollution in real time. Breathe London will be the world's largest air quality monitoring network, said Mr Khan, launching the scheme at Charlotte Sharman Primary School in the London borough of Southwark.

Up to 30% of the school's pupils are said to be asthma sufferers. Charlotte Sharman is close to Elephant & Castle, as the above map shows, one of Central London's air pollution hotspots.

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Meanwhile, Spaniards are the least likely to say their culture is superior to others.

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Strange Maps
  • Survey by Pew Research Center shows great variation in chauvinism across Europe.
  • Eight most chauvinist countries are in the east, and include Russia.
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White-nose syndrome is nearly as lethal to bats as the Black Plague was for humans.

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  • White-nose syndrome has killed at least 6.7 million bats, though this estimate was made in 2012, and the current figure is almost certainly much higher.
  • Bats serve a crucial role in our ecosystem and economy, and white-nose syndrome is already pushing many species to the brink of extinction.
  • Researchers and scientists are working hard to develop novel methods to cure white-nose syndrome; a few methods have shown promise, but none have yet been deployed in the field.
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