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Producer Rob Cavallo's thoughts on saving the music biz: 'Why don’t we make it be more like Dickens?'

October 8, 2009 |  4:29 pm


This week, producer Rob Cavallo had a hand in delivering the Warner Music Group another top 10 album, as the third release from Paramore landed at No. 2 on the U.S. pop chart. The burgeoning rock act sold 175,000 copies of “Brand New Eyes,” according to Nielsen SoundScan, the latest in a series of high-charting albums that bear Cavallo’s stamp.

The veteran producer/A&R executive signed Green Day to the major, and worked with the act on its late-career resurgence, 2004’s “American Idiot.” He was also behind the boards on Kid Rock’s smash, "Rock N Roll Jesus,"  which was released in the Warner family, and produced the recent Dave Matthews Band album “Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King.” While the latter was issued via the Sony BMG system in the U.S., Cavallo is credited this year with bringing the band into the WMG family, which now distributes the group internationally.

The WMG rewarded Cavallo with  the  wide-reaching, newly created position of chief creative officer. The vaguely corporate title means Cavallo will be an in-house producer for the company, although he will still be allowed to work on select projects from other labels (he’s currently working on Adam Lambert’s debut album for RCA).

While Cavallo has held A&R positions within the Warner family before, he’ll now have a greater hand in developing acts and guiding the major’s transition into the digital age. I spoke with Cavallo on Wednesday for a short piece that ran in The Times' Business section, but the producer’s business thoughts were stricken from the final copy.

The music industry’s struggles have been well documented, with CD sales facing double-digit declines in sales for much of the past decade. Attending the Future of Music Coalition Policy Summit in Washington, D.C., the Chicago Tribune’s Greg Kot reported that only 110 of the more than 115,000 albums released in 2008 sold more than 250,000 copies. Cavallo is already looking beyond the album.

“If a band is only going to make a CD, that’s great, but we have to look at it as a little more,” Cavallo said. “I want to explore how bands communicate with their fans, and see that they do it more directly on a weekly, daily basis.”

Cavallo believes the producer is well-equipped to step into an executive role in today’s industry. He spoke of turning the “drama” of making a CD into a sort of Charles Dickens-like series (he couldn't possibly be alluding to Paramore, could he?), a landscape where artists would have to view every aspect of their career, perhaps even their inter-band relationships, as a money-making possibility.

“It all goes back to what happens in the studio,” Cavallo said. “If a band knows what audience they’re creating for, and how that audience is going to get it, then they can make the content better, and more appropriate for whatever those platforms may be.

“The fan is interested in what’s happening every day. Why don’t we make it be more like Dickens? What’s happening today? Making records is a drama in and of itself. Bands can decide how much and how little they want to put in it, but I know that all the records that have come out of my studio in the past 2½ years have had intense drama. People are interested in that. Some of that is private, but a lot of it can be used.”

Extras, outtakes and trinkets are nice, but it will be a challenge for every label to turn it into a business model. Cavallo’s comments at least illustrate one point: The CD may ultimately be viewed as a sort of loss leader, an item simply to fuel marketing, licensing and ancillary product opportunities.

-- Todd Martens

Photo: Paramore. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times