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MediaTech Ventures’ Community Spotlight Ep.09 – Ted Cohen

Meet the “Digital Godfather of The Music Industry” himself, Mr. Ted Cohen.

Ted has always found himself in the right place at the right time, and this rings true throughout his career to date. Some of his first live music experiences was the Rollingstones and Beatles first shows in America, at the age of 14. He was so enamored by the entertainment industry, in high school he managed his friend Eric Carmen who wrote “All by Myself”. It was after high school where he ended up leaving college and getting kicked out of his parent’s house, to pursue radio ultimately landing him a gig as assistant buyer at Disc Records in Cleveland, kick starting his long incredible music industry career.

From 1970-84 he would go on to become the Director of East Coast Artist Development at Warner Bros. Records, working with artists such as, Alice Cooper, The Doobie Brothers, Fleetwood Mac, The Who, Van Halen, Prince, Talking Heads, Robert Palmer, The Beach Boys, The Sex Pistols, George Benson, The Pretenders, The Ramones, Roxy Music, Asia and Al Jarreau. To then working with industry legends Al McPherson, Alan Kay, and Robert Stein in 82′ to help usher in the era of the Compact Disc and CD-ROM.

Then on April 23, 1984 during a showing of “This is Spinal Tap,” with Robert Fripp & Tony Levin from King Crimson, he resigned from his position with Warner Bros. the next day.

From April 24, 1984 to present – he has been instrumental in helping shape the current and future landscape of media & entertainment technology. Since the early 80’s he speaks regularly at dozens of conferences all over the world yearly, he met Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak at CES to talk about the Apple 1, he snuck Mark Zuckerberg and Sean Parker into a grammy party as both Napster and Facebook were first starting out, negotiated agreements for iTunes, Napster, Rhapsody, and Amazon to name a few..

There’s too much bad assery to unpack in this description, you can Google him, or check out his Wiki, or listen to our fantastic conversation that covers all of this and much more. Enjoy.

What really inspired you to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. And maybe it was a person, maybe it was something that happened. I’m curious as to what that story is?

Ted: It’s interesting, I can’t give you an exact date. But I loved music from the beginning. And I grew up in Cleveland, my family was in Cleveland. And we would say we were down the lake from Detroit from a radio station called CKLW, which was a 100,000-watt clear channel station, that was clear channel, not broadcasting network, but what they refer to as a clear channel frequency that no one else was on 800 anywhere in the country. And it was a time that Motown was breaking. And so it would be the best of Motown plus the four seasons and a lot of the early rock groups like the Shangri La there were a lot of Phil Spector. So I really loved music. But my parents, I joke, I’m a nice Jewish kid from Shaker Heights, Ohio, and my mother through my bar mitzvah party. And as a play on words, there used to be a place in New York called the Copacabana. And so my mother did an evening at the Cohen cabana, starring Ted Cohen and his first appearance as a man. Haha. So she ended up hiring a guy named Mike Douglas that none of you probably have ever heard of. But ask your parents. She hired Mike Douglas, not Michael Douglas, the actor but Mike Douglas, the singer. He had a TV show the Mike Douglas show in Cleveland that had just launched. And my mother called her friend reverse at the radio station at the TV station, rather than KYW radio and TV and said, I want to hire a singer for my son’s Bar Mitzvah. And here’s what the thing is. She had used this guy to emcee other parties she had done and she ended up hiring Mike for $50. Because he was a nice Irish Catholic boy from Chicago who had never been to a bar mitzvah, or I think anything else that was not Irish Catholic. And a few months after, it was a nice evening. And as an aside, I was joking with John before we started about trying to give short answers to questions. And already I want to cut on my cord. 

So I got a call from a woman named Marianne Moyer, who was Mike’s secretary called my mother. And again, you’ll figure out this is before there were answering machines even forget voicemail. There were no answering machines, and said, we have a band coming in from London to play the show before they go to New York. And Mike thought Ted might want to come down there called The Rolling Stones as he heard of them. So I’m 14 years old. I go down to the Mike Douglas Show. I’m backstage with Mike. I was like Mike’s sort of pet at this point. And I meet the Rolling Stones that was succeeded by meeting over the next year and a half. The Beach Boys, The Birds, Chad and Jeremy Peter and Gordon. I went to see the Rolling Stones did their first show in Cleveland. I saw the Beatles do their first two concerts and people say what was your first concert? I go The Beatles and they go okay, that’s cool. It was fun. And when I turned 16, Mike got me a job between Mike and his secretary Marianne and she now married a guy excuse me, named Jim Gallant. She’s now Marianne Gallant. And Jim is doing the weekend, Saturday night show on KYW. And I’m answering phones. And this week gets the Four Seasons versus Martha Reeves and the Vandellas. And I would keep score and I would tear news off the telefax machine, and I would get coffee for him. And then I started managing dance. So the wind is all up. I ended up in high school, managing a guy named Eric Carmen, who was famous for a song called All By Myself.

And I went on, and all through high school I was putting on shows managing bands, negotiating with the principal. The end of the story is my people ask me, what’s the best deal you’ve ever done? I got called into the principal’s office. And the assistant principal said we want to book your band for the prom. You want $1,000 we only have 800. But what if we give you 800? And we get rid of all your demerits and detentions. And I had to go back to the band and say I can only get you $800 it was terrible. I’m still friends with them.

So you kind of fell into this world of management. Was this during the time that you were an assistant buyer at disc records?

Ted: I also started getting interested in equipment. I mean, literally when the Beatles did the Ed Sullivan show Ampex, the tape company was making a home reel to reel black and white video recorder that I almost convinced my parents to buy me so I could record bands that were on the Ed Sullivan show. So there was this parallel love of what recording technology was doing. I ended up getting a stereo, reel to reel recorder, I would record the bands at rehearsal. But I was good at science and whatever. So I ended up going to Ithaca College and Ithaca, New York as a pre-med major as a science major. It turns out, nobody went to Ithaca colleges and since major. They were thrilled to get me. But they did have this huge broadcast department communication school. And I found out the week I got there that Rod Serling from Twilight Zone was teaching there he lived in Ithaca. I ended up switching majors I switched into communications.

I had Rod Serling for a teacher that was playing out three or four nights a week in a place called the Athens restaurant down on State Street in Ithaca. And I broke my mother’s heart. She didn’t get a doctor. But I could play one on TV. And I got again involved in putting on shows and doing all this crazy stuff. So at the end of my sophomore year, I had a professor that said, you skate, we talk about in technology, minimum viable product. I was doing minimum viable education. And I would read the textbook the night before the midterm or the final and I get a C or whatever I was coasting. Because I was so excited about there were a lot of bands in the Ithaca area. One of them ended up being Ronnie Deo, who ended up being the lead singer in Black Sabbath years later. So I got sent home for a semester. And when I came back to Cleveland, I talked my way into a school John Carroll University and ended up running the radio station a week later. And they had a radio station that was running the Bible hour and I went, are you kidding? So you know, again, it’s okay. We built the pyramids, I figured I could run a radio station. So my parents threw me out. They threw me out because he said either quit the radio station, you’re screwing up again you’re too interested in music and not interested enough in school. I left. I’m now living in my car. And I’m living above the radio station in the bell tower just below the real bells that went off at eight in the morning every morning. So I did that first semester. And while I was doing that, I ended up meeting a guy named Billy Bass.

Billy was a disc jockey at weeks 1260, which was the rock station in Cleveland. And I became like Billy sidekick, and I’d hang out at the station every night and I slowly but quickly stopped going to class. I’m hanging out with Billy, his roommate. This really great guy Lynn Doyle was the buyer at just records and just kept the time was a chain of record stores 34 stores around the country. They were in Indiana, Texas, California, New York, and Ohio and the next thing I know I’m the co-buyer with him. So I’ve gone from living in my car to getting an apartment we’re doing the buying for the Jane. I’m trying to get Simon Cole’s endorsement here. And I was having people like Neil Bogart who ended up creating Casablanca records coming in to see me. I mean, I was like, 20 years old. 

And I’ve got like, while people who ended up running Geffen Records and Casablanca Records, Eddie Rosenblatt, who ended up running Warner and then Kevin, saying, hey, when Bill Berg calls next week, tell him how good our records are doing. And I’m getting stacks of tickets to go to shows and stacks of albums to get my friends. And it was a lot of fun. And I ended up going to work for Columbia Records, and it went from there.

How long were you at Columbia Records?

Ted:  I was there less than a year. So what happened was Billy Bass sort of adopted me. He introduced me to people. I ended up meeting the folks at Columbia Records and I met Marty Mooney and Frank Deleo, who were the local guys. Marty was the Columbia guy. And Frank was the epic guy Scott Budreelin was the branch manager. They have like local record branches, sales offices. And they liked me and they said, there’s a job opened in Cincinnati go down and interview for it. So I drove from Cleveland, down to Cincinnati, I interviewed for the local promotion job. And after the interview, I called Button I said, I think the interview went, well, when will I know if I have the job? And he said you have the job before he left Cleveland just had to do the interview. He basically had told Gandhi, Bill Kelly, who was the branch manager in Cincinnati, hire this kid.

So I have this thing the rest of my life about mentoring and helping people and whatever because some really nice people adopted me and moved me along. Frank Deleo ended up managing Michael Jackson and he managed Michael during beat it and off the wall and that whole period, and they adopted me, they move me along. Steve Popovich, who ran Columbia Records was very nice to me. But our branch manager Bill Kelly got to let go, and they brought in a new person. And everything changed, it could be a whole show on it went from doing what you need to do and get it done to come in every morning at nine o’clock and don’t leave before six. And if you leave call in every 30 minutes, let us know where you are, and wear a suit and tie every day and I’m out of here. So I went to Warner.

I realized very quickly both in Columbia and then at Warner I enjoyed working with artists more than I enjoyed going into radio station sing, please play our new Paul Revere and the Raiders Indian Reservation record. My area was Cincinnati Columbus, Dayton, Louisville, Indianapolis. And I always use this example there’s a guy named Ron Dance at a radio station in Dayton, Ohio called wing. Because Dayton was where the Orville and Wilbur Wright started the home of aviation. And he would ask me a question like, how is the Paul Revere record doing in New York? And I went Ron it doesn’t work like that, first, the record gets played here in Dayton. Then it gets played in New York. If it was played in New York right now. I wouldn’t be here asking you to please play the record.  But there were some that were a little nutty. America had a song horse with no name. And so somebody came up with the really bright idea of why don’t we in key markets giveaway horses in Louisville, Kentucky. And I don’t think you’ve ever heard this one before. in Louisville, Kentucky. I set up a win the horse with no name and you get to name him after you win him. And I set this up with a guy named Johnny Randolph at WAKY wacky in Louisville, every other week I would drive Indianapolis one week, Louisville, the next week, Columbus the next week. Then back in Indianapolis. It was a circuit around Cincinnati. And I’m in Louisville, and I’m in the studio with Johnny and it’s lunchtime. And I said whatever happened to the horse with no name contest. He said oh, yeah, yeah, I’ll fill you in on that in a minute. And he goes on the air and goes it’s 12:05 in Louisville. Johnny Randolph’s next caller was a horse. Pardon. So he never did the contest the next caller won a horse. 

He didn’t even explain that it was America or whatever. The horse that we bought turned out to be sick, the guy who won the horse worked for the Kentucky Derby worked at Churchill Downs, he ended up suing the radio station for getting a horse that wasn’t fit to be dog food. And we had to pay another $5,000 to the winner even though it was given away on the next caller wins a horse. So dealing with radio wasn’t a lot of fun, but dealing with bands was, so I started hanging out with bands. So when I was at Columbia, I became close with the guys in Chicago, the guys in blood, sweat, and tears. There’s a guy named Don Ellis Santana who was around but he hadn’t come to actually I met Santana one time when I worked with Colombia and subsequently worked with him later. But I realized I loved going to shows.

And so when I went to Warner, I started going to every concert of everybody in the area. And I started getting kidnapped by bands in terms of, they would say, why don’t you come on the tour bus with us and come to St. Louis. And so I ended up calling my boss from St. Louis going hi, Alice Cooper kidnapped me said get on the planes come with us. After a couple of years, almost three years of that bad behavior. They moved me into the artist’s development, which was working with the bands. And I became good at basically telling bands, why the radio interview probably wasn’t going to change their life, but it was going to change the DJ’s life. And we were going to sell more tickets, I basically went not to their level, because that sounds bad. But instead of saying, we got to go do this, it’s really important. And, this is part of what we have to do. You got to go to the radio station, you got to do the interview, you got to meet the folks backstage, you got to meet the buyer from the local record store. I got into a rhythm of working with developing artists and also being able to tell bigger artists look, let’s just go do it, and then we all will go have drinks, it’ll be fun.

What were your top three moments that come to mind when you were in artist development at Warner from an experience standpoint?

Ted: I think well, they both actually involved Mick Jagger. I fell into two categories of who I worked with, I worked with what we refer to affectionately as baby bands. And I worked with some iconic superstars, who had been traditionally difficult. And like I said with the superstars. I got into a rhythm of being able to convince them to do stuff that they’d never done before. I mean, I would The Beach Boys. I had Carl Wilson and Dennis Wilson doing interviews every day. I had them meeting folks I had the Beach Boys doing in stores. They’ve never done this since the 60s. But I think the most interesting assignment was Prince. And watching that explode. I worked with Prince the first four years, from a dirty mind up to Purple Rain, and watching that grow and just watching somebody who knew who he was. He didn’t become Prince he was Prince. And I always tell people when they asked me, what did you do, I say I gave advice. I had no advice for prince other than wow, I mean, it was just amazing. It was just amazing.

But in the case of like Van Halen, I mean, I told the joke is I would say to David Lee Roth, you’re talking too much and I would say to David Byrne from the talking heads, please say something. Just stop looking at your shoes and say something you basically have your eyes down on the floor all the time. So in a lot of cases, it was for instance Robert was just one of the most wonderful people ever knew and he died way too young. I mean, literally way too young. He loved music and there are some people that appropriate stuff. Robert didn’t try and see okay, what’s hot right now I’m going to do that he would collaborate. So he worked with little feet and the meters on sneakers zelly through the alley. He worked with Gary Numan, who did in cars. Gary Numan ended up producing his album, he introduced him to Chrissy Hein from the vendors. And he co-wrote with her. He was an amazing guy. The most interesting thing was Mick Jagger came to the Ritz in New York to see Prince.

And it was really exciting. Mick Jagger was sitting in the audience watching Prince do his first show at the Ritz the dirty mind tour, and asked Prince to open at the LA Coliseum at the end of the tour. So having Mick Jagger asking to open for the Stones was probably a great moment for him. That segwayed into Prince being booed off stage at the LA Coliseum in less than two minutes. People throwing bottles and cans at him in from the audience. And then coming back the next day, because it was a two-day thing. They played the Coliseum two days in a row. So the second day, it was a contest for the audience on the second day to see if they could get prince off stage quicker than the audience did on Saturday.

The first day I went to the show, as I’m walking in to go to the stage because Prince had just started I got there late. They were coming off stage. So the second day I got there early. And I think we were on stage for less than two minutes. And it was over. Little Feat was amazing. I mean, it was I used to joke that they pay me to do this. And if they didn’t pay me I’d pay them. But I always explained that a large part of what I do now and how I ended up doing it was a combination of serendipity. And just being happenstance in the right place at the right time. So in 1977, I’m in Chicago, with a gentleman that owned Advent speaker company. And he invited me to come to Chicago with him to go to the Consumer Electronics Show.

In 82′ you were a part of a crew on a cross division, right between Warner records and Atari. But even before that you were at CES tell us a little bit about that experience.

Ted: So Advent come up with the first consumer projection? Well, at least the first that I’m aware of that was successful was called the Advent video beam. And they were pushing the concept of a home theater. And so they had taken a suite, they booked a suite at the Drake Hotel on Michigan Avenue. And they had turned the bedroom into a home theater. And they’re demoing this projection TV. And these two homeless-looking guys walk-in in jeans and scruffy hair and a scruffy beard. And they have a brown zipper canvass case with them. And like, how can we help you? I’m hanging out. I’m just hanging out there. I’m working at Warner at the time, but I’m hanging out with all the admin people. And they said, yeah, we want to show you something and they open up this brown zipper case and they go, this is the apple one computer it’s going to change the world. And they were there to trade an apple one computer for an Advent video beam because the apple one computer was the first computer that did color graphics natively, that you can plug the apple one into the video being input and have color graphics on a projection screen. Somebody ended up with the apple one the trade was made.

But I was then hanging out in the electronic show. And Atari was there showing the Atari computer. Know the Atari game system. I meet the Atari people a year later they come out with the Atari, 400, and 800. And I’m hanging out with Atari now, which is, like you said, owned by Warner. And I become a sort of the unofficial liaison. In 82. We started this group. That was Alan Kay, who invented the mouse invented the graphic interface at Xerox PARC Palo Alto Research Center. And so it was me and Alan Kay and Stan Cornyn, who is one of my other bosses, who was a true visionary if anybody listening or watching Google standard corn, and look up his speech that he gave the day radio died, it’s supposed. It’s up there. It’s an amazing look at how do we discover music without radio? And he did the speech in 79. So I ended up on this committee looking at what is going to be the impact of the personal computer on the entertainment industry. And this was a year before CDs came out in 83. So the premise of this workgroup between the Warner Music Group, and Atari was one CD, you know, are ubiquitous, and people get used to a digital music format, what else will they want to do? So in 82, we talked about ripping, CDs streaming, downloading.

I think people don’t understand the history of streaming music. And it’s incredibly wild, that in 1982, in this brain trust, here you are talking about this was pre-internet, right?

Ted: Internet started in 69. DARPA created the internet, not the web, the web started in 95.

It’s wild because CDs reigned supreme for so long, even late into to the 90s.

Ted: Well, what was interesting about it was at the time, I had an Atari. I started basically, going back to CES for a moment when I said to this guy’s name was Peter Sprague. When I said to Peter, why would I want to go to the electronics show? He says you’ll figure it out really quick. I’ve got albums and concert tickets, you’ve got a pioneer receiver. I’d like that receiver. Would you like 100 Fleetwood Mac albums to send to your dealers to play in-store, I mean, I would come up with business reasons for it, but I would end up with a receiver. So I started acquiring a lot of equipment, which today is stupid. Atari set me up with an Atari 800 computer, company called Hayes did smart modems, I had a 300-bit modem, not 300 k not 300 meg 300 bits it took as long to send an email as it does to download the Godfather trilogy now there was no bandwidth 16 K of memory not mega or gig storage medium was a cassette drive, not a floppy drive or hard drive, it was a four megahertz processor, not gigahertz.

So you had a computer with no horsepower, no speed, no memory. But we’re talking about all these when the bandwidth is there when the storage is there. You know, a blank CD in 85 to record a recordable CD we used for a gold disc was 100 bucks. A CD burner in 86 was $20,000. In 1990, a CD burner came with your computer for free, the acceleration of the medium and you know, CD a blank CD was 100 bucks. And you know, five years later a blank CD was at one point $1 and then 50 cents. But we talked about the concepts. And I always admit the one thing that we never discussed. All of this was happening from a central server. In other words, if you were going to download music, you would download music from the Warner records or the Sony Music, music library, the concept of peer to peer, even though I knew that I could FTP a song to you, and you could FTP it to someone else, the concept of peer to peer file sharing and peer to peer sharing of whether legal or illegal just the the the transmission of entertainment data wasn’t part of what we talked about. But we did talk about basically the equivalent of a mixtape. It was an interesting thing. At the same time, I’m still on the road with bands. So to get to the other pivot, I’m on the road with bands. 82 was the best year of my life in terms of touring. I’m out with Prince I’m out with Asia. I’m out with Van Halen, I am out with Fleetwood Mac. I’m going from one to another, my expenses and I’m flying on Fleetwood Mac’s plane,  I’m on Van Halen bus, my expenses in 1982 were $250,000 a lot of dinners.

There’s always jokes about the flower budget. This was not drugs. I was out with Fleetwood for three months. These were legitimate expenses and we could talk about things I know that are not as legitimate that I witnessed that I only witnessed. Anyway, 82 was an amazing year, 83 it started out with me going out with Roxy Music. And it just didn’t work. Bryan Ferry, the leader of Roxy Music turned out to be just a real dick. I’m sorry. He was a jerk. And I had been excited since the first Roxy Music Album since hearing Virginia plane. And I’m going to work with Bryan Ferry, and he just turns out to be the jerk of life. And it’s the first tour I ever leave. A month later, two months later, I go out with Asia. I had done the 82 tours where they sold 10 million albums sold out every date. Just the most amazing time I ever had with developing artists. I mean they were a put together a supergroup. But they went from zero to 10 million albums in six months. The next year, they’re not speaking to each other. They’re staying in separate hotels. 

They have separate tour managers. They hate each other. And it’s the second tour I leave. And then my boss at Warner, my main boss, a guy named Bob Regear was diagnosed with cancer in his face, his jaw and he literally his jaw crumbled one day, he went to have a tooth pulled and the dentist went to pull his tooth and his jaw came with it, he’s dying, he’s dying. I had the two worst tourism in my life. And I decided I really don’t want to be on the road anymore. And I go to Austin, the chairman of Warner. And I said, I just need to get off the road for a little while assign me temporarily to marketing or creative services, merchandising or promotion. But if I stay on the road with bands, I’m going to kill a band. I know it will help their catalog sales. So a lot of memorial box sets, but I’ll be in jail. He says but you’re so good at what you do. So I’m staying on the road, but I’m trying to stay off the road as much as possible.

I ended up I had one of the other wonderful experiences was working with King Crimson. Robert Fripp and Tony Levin and Bill Bruford. And I’m out with them for a few days stand up in LA. They called me up on a Sunday night. It happens to be my 10th anniversary of being on the road with bands and artist’s development for Warner. And he said we’re going to the Beverly center tonight to see this movie spinal tap. It’s a comedy about touring. So I go with them to the Beverly Center. And I’m laughing during the first 30 minutes and I’m kind of quiet during the next 30 minutes. I think I was crying the last because it was everything a guy records guy was hired by Rob Reiner and Harry Shearer and Michael McGinn and Christopher Guest to go out and get the worst road stories ever. And basically, everything in the movie was based on a band telling him about a horrible experience.

So if you haven’t seen Spinal Tap I recommend They’re actually doing a reunion show as part of that, see the reunion show, I ended up working for one of the last years, which turned out to be a dream, we go to see the movie, and the movie just it’s a gut punch in terms of everything is Spinal Tap, it is ridiculous. The radio station where they didn’t know the band was still together, the in-store where nobody shows up the crazy girlfriends of the band, the wives and girlfriends that want to manage the band. And I ended up going into Austin’s office the next day, the morning after the movie, and I resigned. And I ended up going to work at Westwood One, which was a radio syndicate. I stayed there for a year.

I then went to work for a guy named Sandy Gallin who manages Dolly Parton, Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, the Pointer Sisters, Donny Osmond. And then ended up joining a label that was starting calling Cyprus. We were signing a bunch of ex Warner artists and a bunch of ex Columbia records artists. So we signed Jessie Calling Young and Wendy Waltman. And Jennifer Warnes, and we were an all-digital label. And because we weren’t all digital labels, again, one of these happenstances, we got a call from somebody who said we want to rent your digital to tracking your digital multitrack to start doing what was referred to as elastic music, that depending on how you interacted with the CD ROM, it was going to be a CD ROM project. You could change the mix on the fly by accessing turning on and turning off different tracks through the interface. Ended up hanging out with Phillips ended up going to work and Philips produced the title for the Cranberries oversaw titles for Santana, as for the award festival, Dave Matthews and Blues Traveler, etc. and learned about producing CD ROMs. And over the time that Philips media existed, the CD ROM division, they spent a billion dollars, literally, it was whatever it costs, go do it. And then all of a sudden, the new head of Philips in Holland said we’re shutting you down something about spending a billion dollars. I don’t know why they were upset. So they shut it down. And I started consulting for it just filled the time I started consulting for a bunch of digital music startups had started popping their head out around 95. So I had been the honorary chairman of a conference called music to calm, which was the intersection of music and technology. 

And that’s where I first met our dear friend Marc Cantor and tried to kill him then, but I’ve been unsuccessful in every attempt. Marc, we love you. I ended up with 25 clients between 97 and 2000. I was representing virtually almost everybody out there, except e music.

With your years of experience in the industry side here, you are now in the midst of consulting dozens of technology-focused entertainment organizations, what was the landscape like back then? What were these companies trying to do and how did people find people that were doing this and helping it continue to grow in and be successful? 

Ted: I gave a talk literally a year ago, almost today, a conference is happening this week, virtually in New York called Mondo and I made a point there was a good friend of mine and a lot of people by name of Jay Frank and Jay had ended up solidifying the concept I want to get the right words here. We had talked in 2006 in 2007 about playlists and mixtapes. He took that concept and basically said, it’s much easier to break a record online through a playlist on eventually Spotify and apple and Amazon than it is to just say, here’s a new song, listen to it. So I always talk about the fact that technology is important, but it’s the people who are involved. And it ended up that some great people who were music people ended up getting involved in music and tech and I was honored to work with them. I mean, this guy like Ty Roberts, who was at a company called ion that did a David Bowie CD ROM and did a Todd Rundgren thing called the individualists and the residents in a lot of cases, it was people who were interested in the web, went from being quote, the webmaster to being the CTO, the CIO.

There’s an amazing gentleman by the name of Ian Rogers, who currently is in Paris, working for LVMH which is Louie Vuitton Moaem Hennessy. He started out in high school, he wrote to the Beastie Boys and said, you need a website. He’s in high school, he ends up creating the Beastie Boys website. He goes on to run Yahoo music, be the first gm of beats. And then ends up going doing this amazing right turn going to Paris. And he’s the global Chief Digital Officer for LVMH. So a lot of great people that were music people Declan, good friend of mine was promotion and marketing and artist development and a crystal was a woman who I always spar with him, we have a friendly. So it’s a love little bit eight relationships, Debbie Newman. She was the music video person at Columbia, she became really involved in the visual side of this stuff. So a lot of people love music, who also had a passion for technology kind of evolved into this. And the first companies were companies like music match, it basically was a radio player, for everything on your hard drive. It looked at all the music that you had ripped from your CDs and created a jukebox. There was liquid audio, there was real port. I ended up consulting for Amazon when they created the music store, which was the second vertical after books back in 98. It was a really interesting time. And we all were kind of feeling our way through it. And then there was a big.com crash in 2000, where a lot of companies had become extremely overvalued. And then there was a market correction on April 14 in 2000, where a lot of companies basically saw their valuations they went to 10% of what they had been worth the day before.

When throughout your career, did these conferences start to become obvious, you were at CES in the early 80s. But when did you go from attending to speaking?

Ted: Well, there was an interesting transition where I went from speaking I started speaking early because we talked, there was a new music seminar that was Tommy Silverman from Tommy Boy Records conference in New York. There was a CMJ college media journal, which is Joanne Haber and Bobby Haber. And so I was speaking at these conferences of how do you break in artists? We talked about technology in 1975 through with a friend of ours that you work with now Norm Weiner, who ended up in Chicago at WXRT. He was running WBC and in Boston, we would do a little feat live from the Orpheum theatre when the night of their show. We’d have to wait till the show’s almost sold out. And at six, seven o’clock, they would announce Warner Brothers artists little feed live tonight. Instant radio spectacular few years later it’s a webcast. A few years later, it’s Live Aid being broadcast all over the world. So the concept of connecting people with music just continually got enhanced by technology. But the desire to connect was always there. So if you couldn’t go to little feet, you heard it on the radio. If you couldn’t be at Live Aid in Philadelphia or London, you saw it worldwide or worldwide live broadcasts, most people would remember Phil Collins has the unique distinction of playing in London, and then getting on the Concorde, flying to Philly and playing in Philly the same day. He played Live Aid twice that day, I think it’s the only time that Concorde ever landed in Philadelphia.

So technology, where people worry about how technology, has hurt the music business. It had the music business had to realign. But in terms of helping people connect with music, and helping people enjoy music, you know, we’re going to this is we’re in the middle of this pandemic. In 2012, a guy named Evan Lowenstein started stagette, which was the ability to stream to webcast from your living room and do a show if you weren’t out on tour, for eight years, it remained an amazing idea that was underutilized, the pandemic comes along stages jet has done more shows in the last six months than they did in the first eight years. They ended up hiring a great guy, Steven White, who had been a grace note and then a dub set who’s a really great guy, and he’s blowing it up and big.VR, you have what, Travis Scott good in fortnight recently. And what marshmallow did? Everybody’s looking for what the right hook is. The same time I got hired by Amazon. And I always have to tell this really quickly. I come offstage at the Beverly Hilton, I just done an opening keynote talking about the potential for digital music and a woman walks up to me and she goes, hi, my name is Jennifer Cast. I’m [email protected]. Pause. Have you heard of us? She was like employee number 10. They ended up hiring me to do that two people also walked up to me. They had a new service called web noise. And they said you shouldn’t be speaking at other people’s conferences. You should be a partner in your own conference. Why don’t you join us as a partner in web noise? So we did a web noise in 1999. I had this young guy Mark Cuban come to speak. I had Eileen Richardson who was the interim CEO at Napster, which I almost went to work I consulted worked. And the people from medium or their medium is a for those of you don’t know the medium is a music conference that happens every year, but this year for the last almost 50 years. It can in France con can. And they came up to me. They said, could you create a medium net? Could you create a digital conference for us? So for 12 years, I ran a medium net.

My thing is always getting the smartest people in the room. And I also want to say one other thing. And then you can edit this out, shut me up, whatever. When we did web noise, the second year in 1999. We did it at the Century Plaza Hotel in LA. And we had 2000 people. And it was like Woodstock for digital music. And my partners at the time I comped 500 people because there were people who had because CDs of Napster had come along. And it actually started early to hurt some labels. I would get a call from somebody saying I want to come to the conference, but I can’t afford it. I’d say you know, bring me some Dunkin Donuts from New York. And you’re in I was copying the people that couldn’t afford to go because I wanted the room filled with the smartest people in the world. And we did it and it was amazing. 

There are people who still talk about that web noise. I don’t think anything’s ever happened. Better than that plugin came along and some other new music seminar did their version. But the idea of getting bright people together to talk was really important to me. And the other thing has been this whole mentor thing. And in 2003, I was at Canadian Music Week, again talking, I started speaking there about the artist’s development and then ended up transitioning when I went to Philips to talk about digital. A young gentleman named Darrell Ballantine, walked up to me in 2003, in the lobby of the harbor castle hotel, the western in Toronto, and said, I just heard your talk, I’d like to come to LA and intern for you at EMI, I had joined EMI in 2000, as SVP of digital business development global, and was having a lot of fun, did the Rhapsody deal we did the iTunes deal, the first iTunes deals, we were doing some great stuff. And he said I want to intern for you. He came to LA and interned for six months. He then started lyric find is the world’s first and largest licensed lyric service. And a few months later, he asked me to join the board. And I said, yeah, kid, sure, whatever. And I joined the board in late 2005, early 2006, just as I was leaving EMI, and I’ve been on the board now 15 years, and for the last 10 years, I’ve been consulting for the lyric find.

So basically, I’m on retainer with my intern. So it works out really well. If you meet smart people, whatever you can do, this is my advice. Help them, you know, if you meet smart people that are not so nice, slap them a bit and then help them. There was this young arrogant kid in LA, who was just a complete piece of work. And we did this small session for the organization here in LA. And I added him to the panel. And on the panel, I had William Morris Agency, Microsoft music match, Universal Music Group, and this arrogant, young kid. And everybody’s going, why is he on the panel? I go, look, I know he’s a pain in the ass. But he’s so smart. So Travis Kalanick went on to start Uber. And I think his current net worth is $5 billion. And he was a very smart, very arrogant person, very smart, arrogant person. But I was amazed at how smart he was.

So sometimes they can’t all be nice. I go to conferences, and this goes full circle. Three years ago, I got invited to come to leash Belgium, to a conference called Wallifornia. And again, I had a client I have a client who has remained a friend named Vincent Vibra. Who lives in Switzerland at the time musi map was AI, artificial intelligence, music recommendation, and that one of the best companies in the world, but he recommended me to Wallifornia to speak. And I ended up meeting Jerome. But at two in the morning, here’s our technology. And all this comes together. I get a phone call and a message on Facebook rather I’m sorry, not a phone call. It’s two in the morning. I’m in Belgium. And somebody says you need to meet a friend of mine, Travis. He’s out drinking right now. But he’s gonna send you a Facebook message with a location beacon on it. And I went okay, cool. And I left the hotel at 2:30. And I walk I think about the most suburban area wherever you live. It was like walking down the street. There was nobody I mean, no one, but I’m following the beacon. And it’s going down three blocks and over two blocks and over. All of a sudden I’m in an area called the Caray, the quarter. It’s like 500 bars. My understanding is that when they open on Thursdays they don’t close to like 5 am on Monday morning. So the bars are open 24 hours a day. There’s a tequila bar. There’s a whiskey bar. There’s a bourbon bar. There’s a beer with 500 cups of you know whatever you want. But between each of them. There’s a Belgian waffle stand, Belgian fries stand I mean I was in heaven. It was the best food the best drink I’ve ever had. And at 3:30 in the morning, I meet Travis and this wacky guy, chances are I meet you. We hang out from 3:30 in the morning to 7:30 in the morning. We then agreed to meet for lunch that day. We meet for lunch and we agree to work together. And the reason I’m here right now is that Facebook Messenger beacon technology got me to Travis which got me to you, which got us to lunch. And, you know, I ended up a year ago officially joining media tech ventures. And it all comes from a combination of great people and great technology.

If I am a young, aspiring media, innovation, entrepreneur, what advice would you give people that wanted to explore innovation and media? And what are some either like resources or things that inspired you that you can kind of pass down to them as nuggets of wisdom or advice that you would just give them in general?

Ted: Did you ever see the movie The Graduate? And you remember the iconic scene where the father says, I’m going to tell you one word, plastics? I’m going to give you the one word, Google. I can’t tell you over I mean, starting from the late 90s, through yesterday, how many people I ended up connecting with, who start out by saying, we’re the first people, or we’re the only organization to ever do such and such? And I go, no, you’re not. What about? If you’re starting a venture, and you have an idea, just go onto Google and put in a like a five-word description of what you’re doing, and see what comes back. Because 99% of the time, there have been five companies before you that tried to do what you’re doing. And maybe the bandwidth wasn’t there. Maybe the online payment system wasn’t there. Maybe the pieces weren’t right. But there are very few things that you’re going to do that, somebody else hasn’t tried in some form. And the story as I was when I was at EMI, companies would come in to see me. And they would say we’re the first people ever do whatever. And I go, actually, when I came to the lobby, to meet you to bring you back to my office. And I said goodbye to that other group of people. They’re doing the same thing you’re doing and they were also telling me they’re the first people to ever do what I said. So if we hurry, we could probably catch him downstairs in the garage at valet parking. And you guys should all go out to lunch together. Maybe merge, maybe collaborate? Maybe go back to working for your parents. I don’t know. But it’s amazing. You know, whenever people tell me how amazing iTunes was, I said iTunes is amazing. But it was even more amazing is a real port and his music match and his liquid audio.

Apple, you know, Steve Jobs was an amazing marketer, an amazing mean streamer of concepts. There were tablets before the iPad, I mean, there was a hp at a tablet. There was a company called to go but I can’t remember the correct name of it.  So I always say to people take a look at what people did before, look at what their mistakes were. Look at what the inhibitors were maybe they made no mistakes at all. It just wasn’t it needed more bandwidth. It needed a bigger installed base of potential customers, whatever, whatever the inhibitors were, see if those inhibitors have gone away. If there were mistakes, try and see what the mistakes were. And basically use that to grow with. Apple did an amazing job of that. I mean Apple got very good at whatever they put out. People believed that nobody had ever done it before. And they were getting the first, there were iPods before the iPod. There were video players before the video iPod. Just really look at how does it resonate. And in most cases, try and put it in the hands of a friend that has no idea what you’re doing, and ask them what they think. Collaborate, see who’s out there, and see who you can do things with. And like I said, learn from other people’s mistakes, or learn from the inhibitors, and then have smart people around you and people putting a company together, it’s like putting a band together. And it’s not just about having a great lead singer, but it’s having a great lead singer, that you want to go out and have a drink with afterward. And that’s the problem. Sometimes when I watch companies fail, it’s because they had the best and the brightest, but they basically had people that none of them wanted to be in the same room with each other.  Because the internet gives you this level playing field and direct access. If you’re a band, you can put your own album out, there’s nobody in the a&r department telling you, your album isn’t good. Sometimes it’s good to have somebody tell you, your album isn’t good, go back and work on it. 

Or if you’re putting out your own book, your self-publishing, a book editor tells you the first three chapters are great, chapter four, you’re losing me, you need to go back and work on chapter four again. So again, when you said talk to strangers, go to strangers, show them what you’re doing. Ask them to be, you know, don’t destroy you, but be as brutal as possible. Learn from this input. I mean, you have access now to some of the greatest minds in the world. And if you see somebody that needs to be mentored, help them. I joke the Jewish guilt goes a long way with me. So if someone says to me, can I call you? And I say yes. And they call me and I go, look, I can’t talk right now. How about tomorrow, and they call me the next day. And I go, I know I said today, but I’m really slammed. Understand that I really do want to talk to you. So there’s a way to go. Hey, so what would work good for you? How about Friday, as opposed to but you promise you to talk to me this morning? I didn’t turn out I’m really a jerk and you shouldn’t be talking to me.

If you had a superpower, what would it be? It could be anything you want.

Ted: Oh, god, if I had a superhero power, the ability to answer questions much shorter than I do.

How do people get a hold of you and why would somebody reach out to Ted Cohen?

Ted: I love work. I mean, the parallels that bring all of this together, is the first half of my career was evangelizing music and helping artists become big artists. The second half of my career has been evangelizing technology and helping small companies become big companies, or helping big companies stop taking themselves too seriously and reinvent themselves. So I really enjoy watching products evolve, watching people collaborate and so as somebody wrote in an email to one of my current clients, you’re hiring Jed because he’s going to tell you what you need to hear not what you want to hear. The same way I would say to David Lee Roth, you talk too much, I will say to a tech company, this interface is a disaster. And it’s not me. I’ve shown it to five people, nobody can figure out, you’ve made it. I know, maybe your mom likes it. But this doesn’t work. So I do a lot of tweaking, it’s good to have an outside perspective. Everything I’ve talked about with you has led me to somebody who said to me one day, so what is your skillset? I go, I’m an enlightened generalist. I know enough about what everybody does in the workflow in the supply chain in the product development thing to give an informed opinion, not like have you ever thought of doing it this right? But really, you know, giving, why don’t you try this? You know, even now, you know, with 3d printers, you can prototype a physical thing to take a look at it. And 3d printing, we’re used to having to hire somebody to create tools and dyes and milling and whatever, to create a prototype. We’re in a great place right now. I think everyone would agree that the pandemic has actually caused us to do more work, more introspection, more collaboration than we did in the physical world. Because we’re not committing anywhere, we’re not driving to work, we’re not going out to lunch. We’re not leaving to go to a meeting. [email protected]

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John Zozzaro

Thinker, Tinkerer, Problem Solver, Entrepreneur, Musician, Husband, Dad.

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  1. Excellent interview John. I met Ted in NY several times when he worked at Warner — The Pretenders, Alice Cooper and other bands that I had interviewed. When I was in Japan we invited Eric Carmen and met Ted there as well.

  2. Incredible, I’ve read a couple articles about Ted since our introductary meeting. Would of been nice to have read them before talking about my project for the very first time. hah! I had no idea… definately would of got my shit together a little bit better, either way had a great experience with both John and Ted. Gonna spend some time training in the 20x gravity chamber just in case I get the chance to do it again 😉

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