In an era where content is king, David Saslow’s background in video production gives him a unique advantage in his role as General Manager of Atlantic Records. Compelling content combined with incredible music can break an artist, so who better to help lead an artist development focused label than an experienced content producer? Check out David’s advice for new artists and learn about the ever-evolving music industry from his own personal experience in our exclusive interview.
Interview by Jonah Bayer
How did you get involved in the music industry?
I've only ever worked at a record company–it's the only job I've ever had post-college, and actually in college if you count internships. I got my first job at Elektra in 1992 in the video department and worked there for three years. I worked at Interscope from 1995 to 2007 and came to Atlantic to cover the video and content area in 2007. Coming from the creative side during a boom when content became the real driving force for artist exposure was really exciting. Ultimately, that lead to a larger conversation and, due to my experience and understanding of labels, I took on a bigger role at Atlantic Records as General Manager in 2013.
It seems like in a lot of ways content development is kind of like the Wild West. How did you manage to find your way through such uncharted territory?
Well, when I first got started, MTV was America's national radio station–it was a really powerful tool. You could take a small band that was off the grid and, through a variety of performances, change their profile entirely. It was an amazing tool that worked for a really long time but as the Internet became a huge equalizer for artists, the purpose of music videos and how artists expose themselves expanded. I got really into the production and creation side of things at that point–making sure the artist presented themselves in a way that was honest to their vision, because there is no other form of expression quite like a music video.
One thing that also sticks out is the fact that it doesn't seem like you work with only one type of artist at Atlantic. Your roster is so diverse.
That's the beauty of it, isn't it? Every artist is different and every campaign is different. We love artists that have strong, pure voices and are really careful about the way tha they are presented. A great example of this is Twenty One Pilots who know exactly who they are and how they want to be portrayed. At the end of the day it's their name on the spine of their CD or in YouTube search results, so they're the ones that have to wear it–which is why we're in constant communication with them, trying to get them the best possible placement. Hopefully the process works most of the time and the video is interesting and represents what they want to say in a unique way.
Some people say that music videos aren't as important as they used to be. How do you respond to that?
They're actually more relevant. Think about it, the video is the first place you look when you hear about an act that's going to be huge soon. The video is additive to the song so video search results should be plentiful and compelling. Gone are the days where one music video was the entire exposure for a song. Now, we'll start with a lyric video or an interesting visualizer when a song comes out and later drop a second music video. Then you can present the artist in a different way with another performance. There's no real limit to what we might do–we may go back again and again for videos for the same song.
"The distribution models will change but what won't change is the fact that you need great artists who make compelling art—and that's something from our end that will remain steadfast."
This must be a really interesting time to work in this field of the music industry.
It's an amazing time–a true revolution. We never know where it will lead us year to year. In the course of my career we've seen the shift from CDs to MP3s to streaming now, and that's only in twenty years. It’s incredible to see how quickly things have shifted. The distribution models will change but what won't change is the fact that you need great artists who make compelling art—and that's something from our end that will remain steadfast.
What advice would you have for an artist who is starting out today?
I think the tools to get recognized have become more accessible. If an artist's social game is tight and they're making incredible videos–between view counts and the channels where music is passed along these days–I think there's a large opportunity to garner an actual audience, which can absolutely get people's attention. But more than anything, be really honest about the art you want to make. It's not about chasing the latest trend; it's about becoming the best you. There's an ability now to get an audience the right way because people don't have to be at a club to see you anymore. I would advise any artist to build your audience through every tool available and be as creative and honest as possible. There's so much freedom right now and it's about great ideas versus production value–you can do everything with your own equipment for the first time. There really is no limit to what's possible.
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