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In Music

Peter Buffett talked to in Soho in May.

In Music

Peter and Jennifer Buffett escape the Manhattan heat.

Milwaukee Talks: Peter Buffett, part two

NEW YORK -- Yesterday, talked to Peter Buffett about Milwaukee and the move to New York City, as well as about his foundation, charity work and more.

In this second installment of a two-part Milwaukee Talks, recorded in Manhattan in May, Buffett tales about his involvement with Radio Milwaukee (WYMS), about his music, about his "Spirit" show and much more.

OMC: Let's talk a little bit about the radio station. Are you still involved in the radio station?

Buffet: Yes, very much so.

OMC: Have you been able to hear it much?

PB: It is online, so I can listen to that. I'm not listening probably as much as I should, which I feel very guilty about, but I do listen. And it was very fun to listen in Milwaukee when I was there. The funny thing is that when I was first listening, when it first got launched here in New York, I was listening and I was really liking it, and then it dawned on me that, oh my god, this is coming out of car radios in Milwaukee. I didn't quite make the full connection, which is kind of funny, but because you're listening on your computer, you're sort of thinking that that's how people are getting it. Then you go, "Wait a minute, this is the local station now."

OMC: Yeah, I've been listening to radio online for probably eight or nine years now, and I used to listen to a London station all the time, and I actually heard that there was a fire on a street where my friend lived. So I emailed her to say that I had heard that there was a fire on her street, and she was at work, and said that she hadn't heard about it yet. She said, "Thanks, I'd better walk home instead of taking the bus," because the bus would just be sitting there in traffic.

PB: Oh my god, that's hilarious. To answer your question though, yes, I'm really liking what I'm hearing. Absolutely. You know, I'm not involved in that at all purposely. We hired people to do those jobs and I trust them, and believe in them, and all of that, and I'm thrilled so far.

OMC: What's the feedback been like? Have you been hearing much about that?

PB: Personally, I've been hearing nothing but good feedback. It was very fun, because Jennifer's cousin had it blaring in the house, and had it in her car, and was saying that she hardly listened to CDs anymore, she just listened to the station. I forget how old she is, but she's late 40s early 50s, and she's loving it. And we're only getting a few negative comments. Of course there are jazz lovers that are disappointed, understandably so, but you know, it's owned by the Milwaukee Public School System, which should somehow be serving their constituency. The way we look at it, we're serving the parents of young children, and the community in general. Frankly, I think almost all of the complaints were from outside the city limits. So it's kind of like, well, two things: one, you're not even in Milwaukee, and two, this station was not serving its known constituency.

OMC: What's your role there these days?

PB: Definitely. Well the role really… when I say heavily involved, we are really interested in a successful outcome. But in terms of, in any sort of day-to-day involvement, no. Not at all. We're just heavily involved in supporting it, and hopefully setting the stage for the Milwaukee community to take ownership. Kind of literally and figuratively, so we're really, and I'm really, I say "we" like the foundation, really, is very interested in its success and making sure it happens. Frankly, it's only going to happen if Milwaukee loves it.

OMC: Is there red tape involved because it's an MPS thing? Is it complicated by that?

PB: So far, it really hasn't been. They've been really great, which is so not MPS in terms of the way people think about the complexity of the school system.

OMC: So, there hasn't been some sort of bureaucratic roadblock with every step?

PB: Well, the truth is that they sent out a request for proposals because they knew that running a radio station is not their core competency. It's not something they wanted to do. But they knew they had an asset. So all they wanted really is something that the people they serve liked, and did some service to them, including school itself, which will have the whole online student component. And that it didn't drain their books. So, those things are happening, so they're happy. If they got a bunch of complaints, they'd be complaining to us, but that's not been happening, so they seem to be thinking, "Well, if it's not costing us a dollar, and it's doing better for the people we serve, then let it go. So, so far so good.

OMC: Is this something that, this is not a personal thing you're doing, this is via the foundation?

PB: Yeah, I'm Chairman of The Board of the radio station right now, but we're looking to change that, because again, I would like Milwaukee people, the people to live there, to be connected to it.

OMC: I wanted to talk to you also about music. And now, my first question is, is about "Bison Head," which, I don't know, I got the sense early on that it was meant to be something more than a vanity label for your own releases.

PB: Right, but it hasn't been that yet.

OMC: Is that still the plan, or has it become an outlet for you to release your own stuff? Are you happy with that?

PB: I'm not sure, to tell you the truth. What I'm going to do is this new vocal release, which is going to come out in August, is switch over all of the Pop stuff, which would be "East Side Attic," "Christmas Album," "Gold Star," and the new one to B-Side Records. So, I'm going to switch the name. Because Bison Head is so shaded, and rightly so, with the Native side. So, keep the native stuff on there. I'm hiring my first employee soon, for the label, so they can start to just deal with mounting either interest or just stuff that has to be done, and for the first time I sort of thought about bringing on other artists as a possibility. At first there was, I didn't really know what it was, but I knew that I didn't want to be signed to a label, and I didn't really foresee the fact that you don't need to be signed to a label anymore.

OMC: Well, it changed over time. It used to be that distribution was the key thing.

PB: They can't really do a lot unless you're a huge act. And even then, I've had people in the PR and marketing world say that the labels just call them, so okay, "do this, do that." So clearly there's no need to be signed, and then of course there's how much of a label do I want to be if there's no need to be signed. So, what I'd like to do, is, and focus for the first time intently, on seeing if I can crack some sort of code to get a record known and out there in the world. So with this new release, I'm hiring a PR company called "Shore Fire."

OMC: They're in Brooklyn, aren't they?

PB: Yes. Exactly. Great reputation. Great people. So, I'm hiring them, I'm bringing somebody on, I may hire a separate marketing arm as well, and really start to see if there's a way to capture new people that are interested in the record, but also my old audience, because 30,000 people used to buy my records on Narada. You know if I can find half of them, that's a great start. So, it's sort of…

OMC: And you're not paying somebody else …

PB: Oh, it's amazing. I'll make way more selling 15,000, whether it's downloads, or the physical product, or whatever.

OMC: Than you would selling 30,000 on Narada.

PB: Easily, and, you know, probably three times that. So, I'm going to see if I can start to establish a little foothold, and then I might start to bring other people on. Because there are a few other opportunities that are looming that, we'll just see how it all unfolds.

OMC: So the foundation work and the move have not cut into your music playing too much, or has it?

PB: Well, it's been… it's certainly a great time to be alive playing music, because in my second bedroom, I can now make a record, and truly make a record.

OMC: Now, you've been doing that for a while.

PB: Now, I've been doing that for a while. I'm sort of, an old hand at making records myself and making things hopefully sound good in a small space. So, what I can do here is, and the vocal stuff has been this whole new found thing for me, which is a blast. I'm really having fun with it. So I can do the foundation and set aside a day here or a day there, or a four-day spot here, that kind of thing, and do a surprising amount.

OMC: But you have to take the time, otherwise the days slip away if you don't.

PB: Definitely. I have to book the time. That's what I've learned here in multiple ways. There's so many things, to potentially get invited to here, or do, plus the foundation, plus the music, that we really have to be smart about allocating our time.

OMC: Is it hard to force yourself to stick to that?

PB: It has a tendency to get a little sloppy around the edges, but I'm really learning that you just have to do it, and so I'm fairly disciplined in general. It hasn't been too hard, but I've noticed that I've started to encroach on time I've set aside, and I really have to pay attention to it.

OMC: So, were you happy with the results of "Gold Star" and with the response to "Gold Star?"

PB: Very. That was a real surprise. I got another one done already that will be out, and I'm very happy with that as well. "Gold Star," as you can see by the packaging, was really just an experiment. So I'd slip it under the door and see what happens. And the response was so good, you know. Like with radio, I never thought I'd get it to radio at all. But the New Age Reporter, which is the New Age rag, sort of, that would play some of my instrumental stuff, they have 200 some reporting DJs, and it got nominated for Vocal Album of the Year, which is really great. I mean, they get a lot of CDs, so okay. Didn't win, but in the top five. That's pretty good for a first time out.

And then lots of good reviews and response. Really great. So that's why I'm putting more into this one. Let's see how far I can take this. So I've been, yeah, really happy with it.
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