On Wednesday, March 12, NYU Steinhardt proudly presented industry pioneer Jac Holzman with the third Music Business Program Visionary Award. The award honors a business figure of note for their lasting and positive impact on the music industry through innovative, effective and creative business leadership.
Holzman sat down with Faculty Songwriter-in-Residence and Master Teacher in Songwriting Phil Galdston before an audience of Music Business students, alumni, faculty, and Holzman’s own family, friends and colleagues to discuss Holzman’s unique and extraordinary perspective on the history and future of music and technology. In the course of the conversation, Holzman explained in-depth the creation of Elektra Records in his college dorm room in 1950, and Nonesuch Records in 1964. He also discussed in detail his process of developing bands like Love, The Doors and The Paul Butterfield Blues Band.
Holzman entered the recorded music industry at a time “when independents started in the same place. We didn’t know what to do, so we made it up as we went along and learned how to move to our own internal drummer.” Holzman reminisced about a time, particularly the 1950s, when independent record labels communicated with each other about almost everything. “It was convivial and nobody was trying to push the other person underwater.” Holzman considers these years to be the time in recorded music history that is most essential to the future of the music industry.
To Holzman, working in the music industry is not a job, but a calling. “A calling is something you can’t resist.” After over 60 years in the music business, Holzman spoke with the passion and spirit of someone who has just gotten started. A self-proclaimed autodidact, Holzman built Elektra’s catalog by going to artists’ homes with a tape recorder, and recording them himself. “Autodidacts are so in love with life and so in love with what they do, that they want to wrap themselves in it, and that’s what I wanted to do. I learned more and more, I got better at it, and I got smarter.” Galdston emphasized that Holzman discovered artists, pursued the artists, and engineered and produced the records – something that most executives today cannot do. Perhaps the most understated takeaway from the evening was how Holzman and Galdston’s conversation revolved around the music itself. Holzman maintains that artists are the most important part of a record label, and advised, “if you take care of the music, the music will take care of you.”
In 2013 Holzman launched the Doors app when he concluded that box sets had no place in the digital world. Holzman summarized the app’s 16-month development process as “the most pain and the most fun” he has ever had. With 1600 discrete items, it is the most comprehensive and fully interactive music app ever. Made with help from his family, the app is designed to test new approaches to digital music presentation, production techniques and the economics of pricing, marketing effectiveness, and the optimization and monetization of a product that offers unparalleled value through its ability to upgrade content and navigation.
Holzman left the audience with an invigorating reminder. “I’m not in the music business. I’m in music.” At the end of the conversation, Student Ambassador Board members Julia Pernicone (UG ’15) and Suzanne Rollins (G ’14) presented Holzman with the Visionary Award.
For more music and business wisdom, and secrets of Holzman’s remarkable career, pick up his book Follow the Music.