Music veteran talks future, sampling

Jeff Pollack, founder and CEO of international media consulting firm Pollack Media Group, has been involved in the music industry for over 30 years. Counting corporations such as MTV and Paramount Pictures among its clients, Pollack’s company specializes in helping musicians, television networks, and radio stations expand their reach. He has been involved in the music of over 30 films and has helped produce global events like Live8 and the 2002 Olympic Games. Pollack sat down with the News on Monday to talk about the future of the music industry.

Q What kinds of events have you been involved in?

Jeff Pollack, the founder and CEO of media consulting firm Pollack Media Group, has produced international events like Live8.
Jeff Pollack
Jeff Pollack, the founder and CEO of media consulting firm Pollack Media Group, has produced international events like Live8.

A Well these events tend to come up — the Olympics was scheduled and that was something where we were brought in to help bring some talent in. Every night of the 10 nights on the medal plaza we had a different artist perform and that was fun. Some of the other events have to do with urgent issues or are charity oriented. Live8 was obviously about debt relief and having the major industrial nations forgive some of the debt to the third world. In 2007 we did Live Earth, which had to do with climate change and of course we were involved in the reopening of the Superdome. That was meant to be an inspiring event to sort of create hope in a city that had so much misery. So all these events sort of have a different moral imperative and I think our role in each of them is different.

Q Where do you see the music industry heading next year? Is it going to be a continuation of what we have seen so far?

A Well, it’s been a very tumultuous year because digital single sales have been flat and with the meltdown of the physical CD market, the music business is in a very difficult place. And because people aren’t paying for music — something like 19 out of every 20 songs are stolen — it’s a very complicated future for artists and for labels. In Europe, they estimate that over 1 million jobs have been lost in the music business. You know, look, music has never been more popular, never been more accessible, and there’s never been a greater interest in music. The problem is to make a living, you’re not going to really be able to make it off of recorded music because no one is paying for it.

Q What do you think of so-called “mash-up” artists like Girl Talk, who produce music through reusing the original material of others?

A Well, I don’t sit in judgment on enjoyable pop. I don’t think that it is helpful to be a musical snob. I don’t like it when people say ‘my bands and my music are better than your music.’ How often do we hear, just fill in the age of the person talking, that the ’90s were the best decade, or the ’70s, or that Madonna is rubbish, because she is not as good as you know, fill in the blank? That to me is a useless conversation because it has to do with your age and your perspective. In answer to your question, every generation has what we call disposable pop music. That doesn’t mean that that music isn’t enjoyable to listen to. It simply means that it is replaced by the “next.” The macarenas are replaced endlessly by that next novelty song, or the next pop song. You know, is Bruno Mars — who I think is a very talented singer/songwriter — someone who we will be listening to five years from now? I can’t answer that question. I do know that sampling, which is what you’re talking about, tends not to have as long a shelf life as music that is originally created. It also feels to me, unless its brilliantly done, sort of a musical laziness, you know, relying on other things and sampling a lot.

Q Do you find that working in such an immersive capacity in the music industry inspires you more and more each day, or do you become a little jaded?

A I think it’s hard not to take for granted sometimes the great opportunity to work around music. I got into the business because I love music and … I had to learn early on that there was a difference between what I liked and what was going to be popular. There was a discipline that had to be developed for me if I decided I wanted to work in the business, because if I only chose to work with, play, and be involved with artists whose music I loved, then it’d be a small list and I wouldn’t be very busy [laughs]. [Now] I think more as a industry vet as opposed to a music fan if you know what I’m saying because its very rare that these two things commingle as a music fan.

Q I am curious to hear your thoughts on the role of music criticism. It happens quite a bit that I open up the paper to read a review, and wonder if the critic’s thoughts actually affect anything. With increased accessibility and new technology, it seems as if everyone is a critic.

A That’s a really good question, and the answer is yes — but the influence has been diminished, no question, because there are so many places to learn about music, to hear about music. There are some unofficial bloggers who have large followings. I think Pitchfork has a lot of influence, and I think that major critics from major newspapers can help the process of music discovery or reviewing shows. They’re a voice that people listen to, but they don’t have the exclusive voice anymore because there are so many places to get opinions and of course, as you said, with social media, you’re getting reactions instantly from a number of friend or other people you follow.

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