Among the most passionate people about music are those who work in the music industry: at labels, as press relation people, as concert promoters, as booking agents, as managers, as music critics, and so on. RREVERB proposes to its readers a series of interviews with passionate music artisans.
Today, we meet…

MICHAEL SIMON

What’s your name, what’s your role in the company you are presently working at, and since when are you working there? Where are you from and where do you live now?

MSS: I am the President and CEO of Rumblefish, the premier American music rights management platform that simplifies the administration of musical compositions and master recordings. Rumblefish and HFA were acquired by SESAC over the last year and a half. Previously, I was HFA’s Senior Vice President of Business Affairs, General Counsel and Chief Strategic Officer. I joined HFA in late 2001. I have lived in New York City since 1986 but I was born and proudly raised in St. Paul, Minnesota.

When have you started to work in the music business?

MSS: This really depends upon how one defines work. I began to play drums with a group in front of others in about 1980. Starting in about 1982, I even got paid for that effort. As far as non-performing work goes, I began to manage and provide legal services to bands in about 1990.

At what age have you started to love music?

MSS: Probably at an age that was too young to recall. I was given my first drums at the age of 5 (in 1968). But, that wasn’t a drum set. It was a random array of calf skinned Ludwigs that were no longer needed by the drummer of my older brother’s band. I also had a timer on my bed side radio that allowed me to play the local pop station for a few hours every night while I drifted off to sleep. All of those pop songs entered my DNA, then, by osmosis.

ludwig drums vintage

By 1970, I had invented a game in which my friends and I “Played Beatles”. Not Beatles songs, mind you. A game in which we were Beatles. We went on Beatles missions around the neighbourhood and each “earned Beatles songs” for success. I guess I was circling the publishing industry, then, by the age of 7. If it were only so easy to actually acquire songs.

When you were 20, what was your dream?

MSS: When I was 20 it was pretty simple. I wanted to look up from my drums and see people dancing (usually in the 7th Street Entry of Minneapolis’s First Avenue) to my ska band. And, then, in a recording studio, I dreamed of decent track separation between a hi-hat and snare drum. Basic dreams, really.

Have you ever been a musician? Tell us about your career.

MSS: I have and still am. As I mentioned above, I started playing drums a long time ago in a land far far away. Over a rolling youthful period, I learned (note for note) all Earth, Wind & Fire songs, then Prince (particularly the songs on Dirty Mind) and, then, the Specials. I then joined what we considered a punk band (but really wasn’t by comparison) in order to play really fast Association covers like Windy alongside the Ramone’s Blitzkrieg Bop, the Jam’s A-Bomb on Wardour Street and two by the Clash (London’s Burning and, of course, I’m So Bored With the U.S.A) at high school home basement parties.

After forming a ska band in 1981, we emerged from those basements to open for the Replacements, Hüsker Dü, The Suburbs, Scotland’s APB and, yes, A Flock of Seagulls. It was at the FOS show that a man with a truly ridiculous hair style (look it up) decided to tell me that our band was terrible. He may have been uniquely qualified to understand what awfulness actually took. I still have drums in my office, a piano and other gear at home and picked up a fantastic J bass over the recent holidays.

zombies

With his son (in red) and The Zombies

ABOUT THE MUSIC BUSINESS

Do you live from it ?

MSS: Yes. The business side—not the performance side.

Who did you meet in your musical path that was key to your development / success?

MSS: In the mid-70’s, at teen dances, while the other kids were bouncing around the room, I stood next to the DJ and, after each song, asked “who was that”. I was relentless. Most of these parties were worked by the same put upon DJ. Remember: there was no Shazam. There was no looking up the song by searching on the lyrics on your mobile phone. Instead, there I stood, Saturday after Saturday, asking “who’s that”. The DJ finally said to me one night, “if I give you this record, will you leave me alone”? And so he did. And so I did. And so I still have Earth Wind & Fire’s “That’s the Way of the World” with the DJ tracking sticker on the cover that is supposed to tell the DJ which tracks to play. I played that record every day. And I learned every drum part note for note. And, it was playing the drums, in school and in bands that led, eventually to me entering the music business. And that DJ went on to form Lipps, Inc. who released the global smash “Funkytown”. He was the same guy who gave me the Ludwigs that I mentioned above. A huge influence upon my career.

 

What do you like about your current position?

MSS: Developing the business structures that enable music distribution innovation.

What would you change about the music business today?

MSS: It would be inspiring and helpful if all parties in the industry worked together to solve our current problems rather than shout about them from the hustings. It is so much easier to complain about the problem than to participate in the creation of the solutions.

Vinyl, cassette, CD or digital?

MSS : Yes.

OK. You wanted more. I don’t buy much vinyl these days but do have about 30 feet of it in my living room and my personal label manufactures vinyl for some of our releases. I also have several tons of CDs at home. In addition to being a massive music consumer, I worked for a major label and brought home « one of each ». Day to day listening, now, for me is mostly a streaming proposition.

ON ARTISTS AND MUSIC

What are your preferred music genres? Was it always the case through your life?

MSS: Frankly, as a music fanatic and music business executive, I’m interested in nearly all genres. And, can learn from any recording or performance. As a result, my genre list is probably too long to be instructive: Ska (from its origins until about the early 90’s), Soul, R&B, Bakersfield Country, the Old Nashville Sound coming out of Bradley’s Barn, Quirky rock a la XTC, a lot of punk progenitors and early punk, nearly all forms of jazz, Qwaali, trance, Tibetan throat singing, Disco, Mod and on and on.

On a desert island you bring those 5 albums (no more!)

Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys,
Odessey & Oracle by The Zombies,
Sail Away by Randy Newman,
The Complete Ellington on RCA
That’s The Way of the World by Earth, Wind & Fire

Playlist!

 

Who is the friendliest artist/music celebrity you’ve met?

MSS: Believe it or not–Paul Leka. Paul was one of the writers of the Lemon Pipers’ hit “Green Tambourine” and was one of the writers on “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” for Steam. He was also a writer/arranger for the Left Banke. Occasionally, artists and writers would show up unannounced at PolyGram (where I worked in the mid 90’s) and ask to speak with someone about their royalty statements. Usually, one of the lawyers would be “sent out” to greet the artist with the goal of encouraging them to reduce their questions to a letter while everyone else hid in locked offices.

Back in ’95, I drew the short straw to go out to reception and speak with a long haired alleged irate person. Of course, having a law degree COMPLETELY qualifies one to conduct that sort of conversation. So, I went out and met a disarmingly cordial Paul Leka. So cordial, in fact, that I invited him in and we chatted about the complete history of 60’s east coast rock and his participation in it for a couple of hours. Thereafter, I was Paul’s point of contact on all business matters and the label.

 

Some artists weren’t friendly nor easy to work with. Without naming them, can you pinpoint why or the circumstances of a negative experience? Is ego always the problem?

MSS: Being enormously talented doesn’t mean one is, always, enormously humble or ethical or a good business person. Sometimes, everything one has is bound up in their talent and there’s just nothing left for the rest.

Which brilliant artist should have made it big, but didn’t (yet)?

MSS: The Honeydogs

 

Thank you Michael!

For more information on Rumblefish’s activities, check out their website (click on logo below) and follow them on Facebook

rumblefish

Rumblefish is the leader in micro-licensing and YouTube royalty administration. Its micro-licensing platform allows social video networks, video applications and marketplaces to offer soundtrack functionality on web, tablet and mobile offerings providing access to the world’s largest copyright-cleared soundtrack catalog of over 5 million copyrights. The company makes soundtracks for online social video easy and legal, and has had over 65 million videos use its music as soundtracks, resulting in millions of dollars in royalties for its artists.

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About The Author

Nicolas Pelletier

Mélomane invétéré et rédacteur agréé, Nicolas pratique la critique en mode olympique: il parle de tout, tout le temps, depuis 1991. Il a publié 6 000 critiques de disques et concerts dont 1100 chez emoragei magazine et 600 sur enMusique.ca, dont il a également été le rédacteur-en-chef de 2009 à 2014. Il publie “Les perles rares et grands crus de la musique” en 2013, et devient stratège numérique des radios de Bell Média en 2015, participant au lancement de la marque iHeartRadio au Canada en 2016.