For a kid who loved rock 'n' roll but had no clue there was a business side to the music, Danny Goldberg has done all right for himself.
From a clerking job at Billboard, he advanced to music journalist, then publicist, and finally manager of some of the biggest artists of the past 40 years including Nirvana, Bonnie Raitt, Steve Earle, Sonic Youth, the Allman Brothers and the Beastie Boys, to name only a few.
Along the way he's served stints as president of Atlantic Records, chairman and CEO of Warner Bros. Records and Mercury Records Group, vice president of Led Zeppelin's Swan Song Records and founding president of Gold Mountain Entertainment. He also founded the independent Artemis Records, which was home to such talents as Spacehog, Lisa Loeb, Better Than Ezra, John Hiatt, the Pretenders and the late Warren Zevon.
And he'll be sharing some of the knowledge he's gained in the industry with students and the general public in a special master class at 7 p.m. Thursday at ACM@UCO, 329 E Sheridan in Bricktown.
“I turned 18 in the summer of '68 and wanted to get a job so I could get my own apartment and move out of my parents' place,” Goldberg recalled in a phone interview with The Oklahoman.
“And there was an ad in The New York Times that turned out to be Billboard. I didn't know what Billboard was, I just wanted to get an apartment, and it said ‘magazine.' And I'd written passably for my high school newspaper and it just sounded more interesting than the one that said ‘key punch operator.'”
Goldberg had graduated high school in New York, then enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley where “there were a lot of psychedelics around and I think I went to one week's worth of classes and that was about it for my college education.”
His real education began at Billboard, where his first job was to call retail stores where records were sold, find out what was selling, and compile a list for the weekly music charts.
Then, “I discovered after a month or two that there were people on the other side of the office that were getting actually paid to go to concerts and write their opinions about them. And I had a pretty low self esteem at this point, given my poor academic record, but I knew I could do that. So that was really it. I talked them into letting me do some reviews of people where the more senior writers weren't interested. I kinda got the castoff assignments and, you know, once you have a byline you exist in the world.”
But Goldberg eventually discovered he didn't really have the requisite cynicism to be a rock critic, because he couldn't bring himself to write anything bad about his heroes and heroines.
“I was too much of a fan,” he said.
So the next logical step on the stairway to heaven was to become a publicist, which perfectly fit Goldberg's natural tendency to champion rather than denigrate rock 'n' roll music.
“I went from being a mediocre rock critic to a really, really good publicist 'cause that fit my temperament,” he said. But I understood enough about the psychology of my fellow critics and writers that I was able to communicate with them.
“The breakthrough was doing publicity for Led Zeppelin. And the Zeppelin's manager, Peter Grant, was this larger-than-life figure who just intimidated the people. … The record company and concert promoters and the band looked up to him. And I just said, man, that's the job to get. You know, he's the center of everything.”
Goldberg's first client was New York punk/R&B band Mink Deville.
“(They) were really a terrific band. The lead singer, Willy DeVille, passed away a few years ago. He had a widely publicized drug problem at the time that undercut his ability to be as successful as his talent would've predicted. But they were still a cool band. They toured with Elvis Costello and they came up … He was just really a great singer and had a love a certain aspect of rock culture and was able to fuse kind of his love for the Drifters with a punk-rock sensibility, and so they were the first people I actually managed. But it took me a while to get any good at it.”
However, Goldberg eventually became very good at managing talent, to which his resume plainly attests. But don't ask him to pick his favorite clients.
“I try to be enthusiastic about anybody I manage. It's kind of almost like a code,” he said. “I hate to, it's almost like choosing among family members who you love the most.
“Historically there was no question that the artist that I managed that had the greatest impact was Nirvana. You know, there's just no question about the unique talent, commercial success and cultural impact of that band.
“I was very proud that I managed Bonnie Raitt when she did her sort of comeback and won all the Grammys including Album of the year. And among my current clients, I just love all of them. The one I started the company with, the first client I had at this company, GoldVE, was Steve Earle, who I'd previously worked with at Artemus Records. He and I have worked together now between those two roles for more than a dozen years, so that's the longest I've ever worked with anybody. So those are three that I could justify singling out.”
As for keeping up with the trends in the music industry, Goldberg said it's all a matter of staying aware and flexible.
“The biggest change that I've had to weather is, personally, getting older. That is the biggest challenge is to stay connected with the musical culture and to stay motivated, alive, energetic, respectful, contemporary. That's the single biggest problem I have, and that would be true no matter what era it was.
“The decline of the record business, financially, obviously has effected everybody in it and we all have learned the new math, and you have to do things cheaper and you have to focus more on touring and you've got to understand the fragmentation of the media in general, of not only record companies, even things like MTV and radio stations don't have the same impact they used to have, because it's become dozens of different things. You know, blogs and social networks as well as the old media, in order to reach an audience.
“And those are challenging, but I'm sure it was really challenging for people who grew up in the big band era to deal with the rock 'n' roll era and so on and so forth. I find that if you're in touch with the music that audiences like, you can make a good living and if you get lucky you can make a very, very, very good living. The hardest thing for me is to stay culturally aware as the years go by. The external changes, you just have to learn, be open, adjust based on conditions.”