Milwaukee Talks: RCA Music Group VP Peter Gray
OMC: You helped make stars of people like Kelly Clarkson, Daughtry, David Cook, Alicia Keys, Gavin DeGraw and Leona Lewis. Who are you currently working that you think has a long-term future and will make a big impact?
PG: Kings of Leon are breaking wide open as I write this. They've steadily developed into one of the biggest bands on the planet, and are now enjoying a very powerful crossover from rock radio to adult and pop radio which will put them in front of a gigantic new audience. Many are calling them the new U2. Whether or not that will come true I can't say, but I will bet you a bratwurst that they'll end up in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
OMC: Hopefully, we'll all be around to see it! Are you a fan of the music you promote and is that beside the point?
PG: Sometimes yes, sometimes no; but it IS beside the point. We're not here to identify our favorite songs, we're here to amass audience for our artists and their music. We liken ourselves to the Marine Corps, as we're often the first boot on the ground in the fight for a new artist to be heard. When we get our orders, we march into battle.
I try to follow the "don't get high on your own supply" rule, because they can't all be hits -- but it certainly helps when you legitimately dig a song or artist.
OMC: Who are your favorite performers, regardless of whether you work them or not?
PG: My all-time favorite band has always been, will likely always be Extreme. I just saw them last night here in New York City, and they just keep getting better and better as the years pass. I certainly understand that they are an acquired taste, and that many only know -- or recall -- them from the mainstream success of "More Than Words," but I can assure you that this is an absolutely ferocious rock 'n' roll band with vast songwriting chops and an undeniable live show.
Off the company pier, though, I would still wait in the rain to see Foo Fighters any day of the week.
OMC: How do you view the challenges that the recorded music business faces these days? Do you see iTunes and Rock Band and these new frontiers as, for lack of a better term, friends or enemies?
PG: I've always felt that the challenges our industry has faced over the last decade are simply exciting opportunities to usher the business through its most important and impactful revolution to date. The public's hunger for music is louder than ever, and the people currently working in the business are responsible for navigating through the storm and delivering systems to satisfy that hunger -- whether it's a physical or digital buyer -- a 10-year-old or an 80-year-old -- we need to make the impulse buy that music has always been a consistent, effortless and enjoyable experience.
iTunes and Rock Band are friends, to be clear -- the enemies are the ones working to give music away without paying the toll. We just need more of them. Nothing energizes an industry like competition, and nothing sells music like music, we just need more places for people to go to easily purchase their collection in the format they choose.
OMC: I'm a long-time music fan and record geek, so I generally prefer to have a CD or an LP with artwork, etc. Downloading feels too ephemeral, too insignificant to me sometimes. Do you think there will always be a market for tangible recorded music product or am I from a disappearing breed?
PG: Sadly, it's possible that our generation could be the last to appreciate staring at an album cover for hours on end, or arranging CDs alphabetically.
Music is now a digital medium, and the scales are tipping further as we speak. The good news is that the "impulse buy" nature of music is getting easier and more impulsive than ever. Music fans have unprecedented access to their favorite artists, and can spread the good word and work of their favorite band throughout their community or social network in an instant.
The viral effect of the new word of mouth may be hard to properly quantify, but rest assured that it is growing exponentially, and globally.
The bad news is that CDs and vinyl may be tougher to find in the future. Worry not, there will always be a physical market to some degree. Music retailers know that people like you exist, and the savvy ones will find a way to get it to fans. Those fans will just have to dig a little deeper to find their specific fix, be it vinyl, CDs, etc. Once the niche fans find their outlet, they'll likely develop a loyal and lasting relationship with that retailer.
OMC: Do you get back to Milwaukee much? What are some of your favorite things to do here? Favorite restaurants?
PG: We try to make at least two trips a year. One for Summerfest and Fourth of July, and another over the holidays. My first order of business after landing is always a trip to Tomaso's in Cedarburg. The pizza is the best anywhere, and the guy behind the bar looks just like he did when he used to kick us out when my friends and I were middle school punks. I absolutely adore that place.
These days, it's mostly family activities when we visit. Lots of parks, pools, time at the lakefront and trips to the (Betty Brinn) Children's Museum Downtown, which is really impressive. I still dig the vibe around the Brady Street / Farwell neighborhood. Great pubs, great live music clubs.
OMC: Would you consider coming back to live and raise your family?
PG: Amy and I talk about it every time we're home in Wisconsin. We really do love the idea, but along with the privilege of my work comes the fact that our offices are in Midtown Manhattan and Beverly Hills, not Milwaukee. We'll likely watch our boys grow up on the East Coast, then find a way to call Wisconsin home later in life (at least in the summertime!).
That said, I might head home if there was an opportunity to take an active role in turning Summerfest into the global powerhouse it deserves to be.
OMC: OK, give us one big tip ... who is the next big RCA star?
PG: An amazing girl called KE$HA. She grew up in Nashville and is breaking out of Los Angeles. She is a true socal free spirit, a touch dangerous, and quite simply the coolest girl I've met in years -- her star is going to rise very quickly. Tune into 103.7 KISS FM to hear her first single 'TiK ToK' very soon.
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Great article! It is nice to hear something positive from the music industry and to hear how things work behind the scenes. And thanks for being positive about Wisconsin and Milwaukee as well as the idea that music will always be, in some part, tangible.
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