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How to Save Rock & Roll

Nine insiders who are reshaping the music biz for 2009 and beyond

Ali and Hadi Partovi
Founders of iLike.com

The Big Idea: Founded iLike, the top music application on Facebook, creating an interconnected universe of 30 million fans.

Why It Matters: iLike elegantly connects the world of social networking and music fandom and encourages those 140 million Facebook-ers to sample new acts and make playlists and recommendations — plus buy more than $15 million worth of MP3 downloads, merch and concert tickets (Ticketmaster owns 25 percent of the company). "We know who people's friends are and what their tastes are," Hadi Partovi says. "If you find a concert you want to go to, our user interface already knows where you live and whether that artist is playing near you."

How They Did It: The Iranian-born, Harvard-educated twins first worked together on Garageband.com, a social-networking site that predated MySpace, but never caught on. "You could have a band at the top of the Garageband site, but still nobody would hear it," Ali Partovi says. "I felt it was necessary to work with some other media channel that had a consumer audience." Within weeks of debuting, the iLike application on Facebook gathered millions of users.

What's Next: Like MySpace, iLike is working aggressively with the record industry to market music online without alienating fans from buying it. And attitudes at major labels about free Internet music are changing — slowly. "The major labels are trying out a lot of things now that they may not have been trying out a few years ago," Ali Partovi says, noting that albums from R.E.M., Thievery Corporation and Nine Inch Nails have premiered on iLike. "I'm excited about is this period because we're in this experiment. There are so many models being tried out, and one of them is bound to be better than the old model — which, I think you'll agree, is broken."

Eran Egozy and Alex Rigopulos
Co-Founders of Harmonix

The Big Idea: Created Guitar Hero — and a billion-dollar music video game business. After corporate mergers left the Guitar Hero name with a rival company, they regrouped and came out with Rock Band in 2007, which added drums, bass and vocals to the formula.

Why It Matters: Not only have the pair's games turned a new generation of kids on to classic rock, they've created a wildly popular and profitable new format for the music industry. Players can download additional tracks (at $1.99 apiece) and entire albums to their gaming consoles — when Metallica's Death Magnetic dropped on CD in September, it simultaneously arrived as a $17.99 expansion pack for Guitar Hero and the band sold 490,000 copies in a week. (The company is working on a Beatles-themed video game for later this year.) "Artists now see these games not as some frivolous licensing opportunity, but as a way to connect their fans to their music in a new way," says Rigopulos. Harmonix's products turn music consumption from a passive to an active experience. "You're not just listening to music, you're playing it," says Egozy. "You're understanding how all the parts come together and you're participating in the making of the music."

How They Did It: After the M.I.T.-educated pair's first product was a flop — a music-improvisation gadget called "The Axe" — they decided to focus on video games, inspired by the cartoonish mid-'90s PlayStation hit PaRappa the Rapper. "I'm a really shitty musician, and my whole life I've been butting up against my desire to make music, and the reality that it's so frickin' hard," says Rigopulos. "We wanted to invent new ways to bring the power of music performance to people who can't otherwise enjoy it."

What's Next: "We want to have thousands of songs that people have access to," says Egozy. "And we want to launch indie bands as Rock Band downloadable content. If something becomes big and you have a million downloads, a band can be essentially born overnight. It's up to the folks out there to decide."

Jeffrey Remedios
Co-Founder and President, Arts & Crafts Productions

The Big Idea: Created a full-service independent music company, Arts & Crafts, based around the sprawling Toronto rock collective Broken Social Scene.

Why It Matters: By putting the functions of a record label, music publisher and management company under one roof, Remedios and his partner, BSS's Kevin Drew, are able to take a holistic, artist-friendly and collaborative approach to launching long-sustaining music careers. The Arts & Crafts brand has become a powerful one within the indie-rock scene, boosting the careers of BSS spin-offs like Feist, Stars and Apostle of Hustle. The label's single biggest hit — Feist's "1234" — was the product of a collaboration between three A&C artists: New Buffalo, Gonzales and Leslie Feist. "We're a community," says Remedios. "Things like that happen naturally and normally."

How He Did It: Remedios was working at Virgin Records Canada when his friend, Drew, played him the demos for BSS's 2002 breakthrough You Forgot It In People. "I was like, OK, I'm totally in, I wanna be involved in this," he recalls. "My goal was to try and put the same care and attention into the business of the music as we put into the creating of that music."

What's Next: Taking Arts & Crafts international. The label signed British twee-pop act Los Campesinos! and French rockers Phoenix. They also just opened an office in Mexico City. "The world is flattening, and it's flattening faster and faster," says Remedios. "Fans will have infinitely more choice, infinitely more ways to interact with music and musicians, and the companies that'll be there moving forward will be the ones who focus on that and focus on helping to develop that relationship."

Martin Kierszenbaum
President of Interscope A&R Pop-Rock

The Big Idea: Creates hit records by scouring Interscope's international partners for artists that will appeal to American ears.

Why It Matters: He's broadening the sound of pop music, by signing foreign artists such as Feist (Canada), Robyn (Sweden), Tokio Hotel (Germany) and t.A.T.u (Russia) to his Interscope-distributed imprint, Cherrytree Records. At the same time, Kierszenbaum has helped American acts find success in distant territories. After convincing Nelly Furtado to collaborate with German singer Reamonn, her 2005 album Loose went on to sell more than 1.2 million copies there. "I want to find places where artists can kick-start their career and spread it," he says. "I know a lot of artists around the world, I try and put them together and create this sort of cultural exchange. It's a pretty straightforward concept: Let's get the music to as many people as possible, to see if they like it."

How He Did It: Kierszenbaum — who grew up in South America, Europe and the U.S. — attempted to turn Italian opera singer Alessandro Safina into star in the States. The album didn't catch on here, but Safina went on to sell 250,000 copies in Holland. Impressed, Interscope CEO Jimmy Iovine tapped Kierszenbaum to keep globetrotting. "I'm not really focusing on regions, all I'm doing is widening my opportunity to find the one kid that's special and extraordinary. It's about being able to notice and find and help a musician that you might not have otherwise had access to before."

What's Next: While the global industry suffers from slumping CD sales, Kierszenbaum is looking for ways to get consumers to buy music digitally. "In Korea, most of entertainment — music and otherwise — is digital," he says. "They seem to be finding a way through cable, phone and social networks to monetize music. In fact, a lot of our albums don't even get a physical release there. It's an early test ecosystem because it's a small market and it happens to be technologically advanced."

Jeff Anderson
Founder, Artist in Residence

The Big Idea: Produces lavish limited-edition box sets for some of rock's biggest names, including Nine Inch Nails, Beck and Sigur Rós.

Why It Matters: At a time when most music fans favor digital files, Anderson's company Artist in Residence makes albums into objets d'art, creating a whole new profit source for artists. All 2,500 copies of the $300-edition Anderson made of NIN's Ghosts I-IV — complete with a hardbound photo book, a Blu-ray disc, DVD and vinyl LPs signed by Reznor himself — sold out in less than two days (He's also sold more than 7,500 of an unsigned edition). Anderson's business flies in the face of most music industry trends, from digital sales to lower prices. "It seems utterly insane from a business perspective," Reznor says, "but the fact that we sold these out immediately was reaffirming that there's other people out there who care about aesthetic details in this age of iTunes."

How He Did It: The former Interscope A&R executive started his second career by publishing a book of photographs and interviews with Icelandic rockers Sigur Rós. To his surprise, the $150 version, which came with seven vinyl discs, far outsold the $20 edition. "They were a perfect fit because they're such a pure band in terms of creativity," Anderson says.

What's Next: Artist in Residence is planning special editions of Death Cab for Cutie's early discs, a Wu-Tang release and the Pixies' studio albums. "You can only forecast so much," Anderson says, "but I think people want quality again. We would rather not sacrifice creativity for a production budget."

Bob McLynn & Jonathan Daniel
Co-Owners of Crush Management

The Big Idea: The pair run Crush Management — a Motown-style hit factory for the emo set.

Why It Matters: Emo has become the sound of rock & roll for young suburban America largely because of Crush, who manage Fall Out Boy, Panic at the Disco, Gym Class Heroes, the Academy Is... and Cobra Starship. As the anchor of a strange socialist collective that includes a recording studio, video directors, merchandise squad, producers and songwriters all housed in their loft, Daniel and McLynn help oversee every aspect of their bands' sound and image. With Pete Wentz as their mascot, they've matched their own career-building acumen with the brand-extending savvy of hip-hop moguls like Diddy and Jay-Z. "It's very [much] a hip-hop model like what Jay-Z did with Roc-A-Fella," says McLynn, who remembers Interscope's big hip-hop signings like this: "Dre found Eminem and Eminem found 50 Cent so it's really a natural thing."

How They Did It: Bob McLynn will be the first to admit that he's no emo fan. "I hated that type of music," he says. "I hated pop-punk and emo." But after catching footage of a feverish FOB gig in Wisconsin, he signed the group. "Just seeing how the kids were reacting, it was like 'there's something very real here,' " he recalls. When FOB imitators started popping up Crush signed them and turned the sound into a franchise. Adds Daniel: "We started knocking down doors looking for bands that wanted to tour — and work the Web."

What's Next: "The traditional music business, it's almost gone as it is," says McLynn. "But people will always need new music. It's about rolling smaller, finding types of music people like, and finding ways to capitalize on it and keeping the fan in mind."

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