Michael Goldstone and Thaddeus Rudd

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By the time he launched Mom + Pop Music in 2008, Michael Goldstone knew a thing or two about artists. Operating more behind the scenes than some of his more flashy contemporary A&R types, the Long Island-born music obsessive signed Pearl Jam and Rage Against the Machine to Epic Records, and then went on to build DreamWorks’ A&R and marketing departments. He followed with a five-year stint as president of Sire Records before founding Mom + Pop in 2008, which is celebrating its 15th anniversary in typically low-key fashion this year.

Goldstone, co-owner Thaddeus Rudd (pictured above, left and right, respectively) and their 25-strong staff are primarily focused on breaking a new crop of pop-adjacent young acts such as Goth Babe, Magdalena Bay, Underscores and Del Water Gap, while also nurturing the music career of “Stranger Things” actress Maya Hawke. Additionally, Mom + Pop recently won a multi-label sweepstakes to sign longtime Columbia Records act MGMT, whose first album for the label, “Loss of Life,” will be released Feb. 23. The label’s roster also features well-established acts including Courtney Barnett, Porter Robinson, FKJ, Tegan and Sara, Madeon, Caamp, Jai Wolf and Beach Bunny.

“I’m still trying to identify artists that really can reach as large of an audience as possible, but it’s important to be able to sustain over time whatever that audience is,” Goldstone tells Variety. “For us, sustainability for those artists is a significant measure of success.”

“We’re looking at the largest, most dynamic roster we’ve ever had in terms of quality and quantity, and we’re going to have by far our biggest year ever next year,” enthuses Rudd, who joined the company in 2009 and prides himself on Mom + Pop’s enduring independent spirit. “We’re evolving into that destination we always wanted to be, where we can do really great work for artists that we gravitate to.”

What were the origins of Mom + Pop?

Goldstone: I had thought about the concept probably five or six years before it ever manifested itself. Before I went to work for Sire, I had kicked tires with a number of the usual suspects in terms of creating something that was similar to what James Diener had with Octone [the Universal-distributed label that signed Maroon 5]. He also worked for Clive Davis, so he had both gigs but could build something while continuing with his other work. I wasn’t really able to make that happen, so I started to think about different ways to go about starting something like Mom + Pop. [Former Warner Bros. CEO] Tom Whalley offered the presidency of Sire.

Being the kid from the mailroom, it was so great to grow up and work for something so reverential. I really valued the curation of trying to build a roster. It was extremely valuable and rewarding. The impetus to start the label, though, was those creative controls, all the way back to my having worked with a number of artists that had independence and vision. It really was about wanting to be in a situation where I could stand behind what I represented.

Rudd: From day one, Goldie set up a direct relationship with iTunes, which was prescient. It became very valuable when we eventually weaned ourselves off traditional distribution altogether, which is how we operate. From distribution and Best Buy, to the iTunes store, to the beginning of streaming, it’s like we’re dealing with four or five different record businesses in the past 15 years. The act of talking and dealing with artists has always been the same. What they need, what you’re there to do and how you run your business is so different.

Of late, many prominent artists from the 2000s like MGMT have fulfilled their major-label deals and are signing with indies like Mom+Pop. Why is this a place where they can prosper at this stage of their careers?

Goldstone: We’ve historically been fortunate to deal with a high level of artistry, and offering creative controls and transparency about what we’re trying to achieve is a factor in why we’ve been able to sign artists in that position. We’re in the process now of signing an artist who gravitated here because they grew up on Courtney Barnett records, and that’s the value that you have over time. We want to empower those kinds of artists to execute in a way that puts the emphasis on really giving back to their fans in an authentic fashion, as opposed to, “Hey, your streams are down.”

Labels have to be so nimble in an age of viral hits and short attention spans. Mom+Pop had one during the pandemic with Ashe’s “Moral of the Story.” How do you help grow long-term careers in this environment?

Goldstone: Before the song happened, Ashe had such an appetite to thrive artistically and succeed. She didn’t define herself just as a songwriter. She sang on a Whethan track and a Louis the Child track. She jumped on a bunch of tours by herself because she could grab an extra bunk and do all those shows. So when that bigger moment came along, true fans had already gone to see her in clubs.

Rudd: Ashe was already signed here, so it wasn’t a derby, but we had to build as much of a platform for the bigger career than the growing career she’d already developed. We probably overspent in certain areas because we had the ability to create an audience for the artist, not just max out a song. What we were playing for is, how do you actually get people to know the song and connect with an artist? All those things eventually yield tickets and grow fans. We worked hard on the story and we turned a mid-tempo piano ballad with a female vocalist into a top 10 alternative song, which is not easy.

Mom + Pop has enjoyed long relationships with so many artists from its roster, including Courtney Barnett and Flume, as well as Sleigh Bells, which was the label’s first breakthrough band in 2010.

Goldstone: At that moment in time, what they were doing was unique and transcendent, and it had a statement and an attitude to it. We were able to make moves to put them in a better position than when they walked in. Down the road, they got “Saturday Night Live,” and on that first record, we achieved really significant inroads in terms of defining that sound. For us, that was a moment of profound awareness because of the amount of attention around that band, and to be able to have gotten it away from some of the bigger companies.

Rudd: The deal Goldie signed them to was non-corporate, non-traditional and it moved at the pace of the music instead of the pace of a corporation or conventional release schedule. Something from the early days that speaks to a longer-standing commitment to an ethos is when Goldie did deals with Ingrid Michaelson and Metric. They afforded the artist and the artist team an inordinate amount of power and control, and accepted a role that required us to realize we weren’t running that artist — we were elevating and amplifying that artist.

Goldstone: It’s always a great barometer when you have artists that don’t have to stay, but do. Sleigh Bells came first but Alan Palomo was shortly thereafter. He’s never left.

On a similar note, large number of Mom + Pop staffers have been there for more than five years.

Goldstone: We have the best staff we’ve ever had, and it’s harder to build a staff than a roster. It’s really about continuing to empower them and put them in the best position to further themselves and have that level of ownership around the records. Someone like Lindsay Schapiro started here in the digital department blasting out socials and now oversees a staff of five people, and has been here for seven or eight years. Suzanna Slavin did that classic intern-to-assistant-to-manager-to-A&R to all the way to senior VP of A&R. It has been extremely satisfying to finally be in a position in my career where I can mentor other A&Rs through nothing but wanting to see them succeed for selfish and unselfish reasons.

Rudd: We’re built to do the work for a longer period of time with a higher degree of touch than other systems we sometimes compete with. We don’t have layers of management. Everybody is in charge of their own business. They’re not reporting into a boss that’s cracking the whip and going, what are we doing on these records? So, there’s a high sense of ownership of what their day-to-day is and what their jobs are. Also, we’ve tried to keep recording and marketing rollout budgets really transparent, so the artist managers and the people at Mom + Pop control those things together, collaboratively. It hopefully has removed a lot of the old-school combativeness between a manager and label.

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