Billboard article - February 12, 1994

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Billboard magazine article, February 12, 1994
Publication Billboard magazine
Author Chris Morris
Date February 12, 1994
Title Geffen's Modern Rock Methodology Pays Off
Format Print
External link Billboard
Wayback Machine (Weezer Media Archive)
References See where this article is referenced on Weezerpedia

Geffen's Modern Rock Methodology Pays Off
Author: Kevin Bronson (Billboard Magazine)
Published: February 12, 1994

Geffen/DGC's recent conquest of the top three slots on Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks chart could be just the beginning for the label, which plans to unleash a heavily alternative-oriented slate of releases in the next quarter. The label is planning to maximize the impact of its new and still-developing acts with marketing, sales, and promotion campaigns custom-tailored to its baby bands' needs.

Geffen's recent chart trifecta with its DGC acts is an unprecedented feat. The week of Jan. 29, Nirvana's "All Apologies," Beck's "Loser," and Counting Crows' "Mr. Jones" held Nos. 1, 2, and 3 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart, respectively; the following week, "Lower" hit No. 1, "Mr. Jones" climbed to No. 2, and "All Apologies" slipped to No. 3.

It marked the first time a single imprint held the top three slots on the chart since its creation in September 1988 (although companies in the Warner family -- Warner Bros., Sire, and Reprise -- collectively pulled off hat tricks in 1989 and 1992).

Geffen president Ed Rosenblatt sees this alternative-skewed triumph as an outgrowth of his label's basic orientation.

"We, up to this point, are a rock'n'roll record company," Rosenblatt says. "We are not in the urban business . . . We are not in the country business. We're not in the classical music business. We are in the rock'n'roll business. We're just taking advantage of some excellent signings that our A&R department was fortunate enough to get, and some excellent records that those artists have made."

Elaborating on Rosenblatt's theme, Geffen A&R executive Tom Zutaut adds, "Historically, Geffen Records has always been great about bringing various styles of rock music into the mainstream. When hard rock/metal bands were having their day, we were heavy in that business, and we saw it coming before it happened.

"There was this sense two or three years ago that maybe the new generation of teen-agers, the X generation if you will, was going to want its own heroes and its own music . . . What you see now, with Geffen having this success in the alternative area, is really the fruition of seeds that were planted a couple of years ago."

Zutaut points to the work of such newer A&R staffers as Mark Kates, who joined the department after serving as Geffen's head of alternative promotion for nearly five years.

Kates, who signed Beck to the label, says of the label's modern rock slate, "I've always felt confident that these would be the artists that would take us into the future, and perhaps to some extent the future is already here."

In the immediate future, Geffen/DGC will be issuing diverse offerings by several modern rock-oriented groups.

The label just issued "speedisdreaming," the label debut by the East Coast-based rock unit St. Johnny. On Feb. 15, the company will release the self-titled debut by that dog., the harmony-based group featuring, the daughters of Warner Bros. president Lenny Waronker and jazz bassist Charlie Haden.

Following in March are "Mellow Gold," from Beck; "Living Room," by New Jersey-based rock act Cell; "Fruit Of Life," the debut of L.A.'s violin-laced Wild Colonials; and "Live Through This" by Hole, the abrasive group fronted by Courtney Love, wife of Nirvana's Kurt Cobain. April will bring albums by San Francisco's Spent Poets; L.A.'s tart punk-popsters Weezer; and New York noise mongers Sonic Youth (who blazed the modern rock trail at Geffen as a prominent signing 3 1/2 years ago.)

Tentatively on the May schedule is the long-awaited Geffen debut by Manchester, England's Stone Roses. Each group will receive a fine-tuned campaign developed collectively in Geffen's marketing meetings.

Says Rosenblatt, "Each artist has a different marketing plan, based on that artist's strengths and weaknesses . . . It's not a cookie-cutter approach."

Head of marketing Robert Smith says the company's plan "clearly falls somewhere between pure science and a dartboard game with a blindfold on . . . We really do treat every single record individually."

Smith says for that dog., which is being aimed primarily at college audiences at first, "It would be wrong to put them on a major tour, blast the record to all of the top commercial alternative stations, to make an expensive video, to do any of those things that labels tend to do in the urgency to create so-called successes."

In the case of Cell, Smith says, "The band is really good live, so it's a question of tour support, local market advertising, making it a [product development manager's] priority at [Geffen's distributor] Uni so that all the small stores and all the tour dates are covered, and building up a base . . . We're working this album simultaneously [at] college and metal, out of the box."

The moody, delicate-sounding Wild Colonials, Smith says, "will have a pretty immediate home at [adult album alternative radio]. Because it has such a broad spectrum of age and taste, triple-A will bleed onto commercial alternative . . . We're intending to keep them on the road, doing clubs, or headlining themselves or with great opening slots."

In the case of Hole, featuring the notorious Love, Smith says, "It's urgent to us that people quickly get to hear and understand how good the record is, because the hype that could surround it could get in the way."

Sales is also part of the marketing equation. "that dog." is being distributed by Minneapolis-based indie REP Co., and not by Uni.

"It's a way of getting the product into a deeper level of retail," sales chief Jayne Simon explains. "[Uni] is not looking to deal with smaller stores that are buying ones and twos and threes . . . It is [about] getting the right records to the right places at the right time."

By also using REP to distribute Pat Metheny's "Zero Tolerance Through Silence" -- an atypical album of raw solo work from the usually mellifuous jazz guitarist -- Geffen hopes to hit the alternative bases as well.

Alternative sales director Ray Farrell says, "We're going to cater to the same market that really does appreciate what Pat does -- the same people that bought [Metheny's collaboration with Ornette Coleman] 'Song X,' the same people that buy his records because they like what he does, as opposed to responding to a smoother-style record."

Uni product development managers have been circulating Wild Colonials and Weezer tapes to retail accounts far in advance of sales solicitations, according to Simon and Farrell.

In radio promotion, Geffen will continue to go for building an audience base, rather than a blizzard of adds.

Alternative promotion director Ted Volk says, "Saying 'We're going to go for that dog. adds on March 22, so we want no reports prior to that and we'll try to get 20 stations' -- I don't find that the way to do things. We try to pinpoint stations and find fans of the artists, and get them to commit to the record. After that, hopefully, if the record reacts, we then take it step-by-step to different stations."

Geffen GM Bill Bennett, who oversees label promotion activities, admits the plethora of modern rock acts will keep his field staff of 20 busy. "Yes, our plate is full. I'm sure this is no scoop, but promotion in '94 is all about timing. So we'll make the necessary changes. We'll move things around. We will not let one kill another, particularly when we have so many baby bands.

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