Joel Flatow, the general manager of West Coast operations for the Recording Industry Association of America, lobbies for legislation that benefits the music industry, which has undergone seismic shifts since most people stopped buying albums and CDs. But Flatow also uses his fat Rolodex to encourage musicians to use their celebrity for charitable causes, including LGBT rights. The out wheeler and dealer is now in Washington, organizing the 2013 Presidential Inaugural Charity Benefit for Musicians on Call, which brings live music to hospital patients; he snagged equality-minded Ke$ha to headline the Monday event. We recently spoke to Flatow about his career, the state of the music industry, and why the band fun. are his personal heroes.
The Advocate: Your job sounds exciting, but what exactly does it entail?
Joel Flatow: The Recording Industry Association of America represents the major record companies; we’re an industry association. My specific role is general manager of West Coast operations, which means I’m the point of contact for RIAA here in California; politically, I do our lobbying for the state of California. I'm kind of the face of the music industry here and then I also run our artist and industry relations program, which has a keen eye to Washington D.C., and federal legislation.
What is one of the major issues you’re working on? Is piracy still the biggest concern?
At RIAA, our issues are really to promote healthy business. We still, of course, fight the piracy fight. but I think you see an industry that’s hugely adapted. Over 50% of our legitimate business is digital, which is pretty significant for any industry.
Everyone seems to be gravitating to Spotify. Do artists really get paid when you listen to music that way?
They do. They have negotiated deals, I’m not an expert on the deals, but it’s a service that’s licensed. It’s watershed, and I think that’s symbolic of where the industry has come. There are practically 500 different music services, and whether it’s subscription services or streaming or iTunes, there’s a plethora of new modes of getting music.
You’re known to hook up political figures with artists. Is that part of your official job or just a personal interest?
Yes and yes. I feel very blessed to have developed artists’ relationships for RIAA. There’s the job side, which has to do with engaging artists in industry and business issues, and there’s the personal side, which is being able to engage artists in causes ultimately that they care about. I feel very blessed to have extracurricular causes and being able to utilize my relationships with artists and their managers.
You were involved in getting artists to the nominating conventions this fall?
Yes, that was on the job side of life. For instance, for both conventions we at RIAA partnered with musicians for Musicians on Call, which is an amazing organization that brings live music to hospital bedsides. We had a presence at both conventions to support On Call.
What artists appeared at the conventions?
For our specific events, Common was a performer at Charlotte [for the Democratic National Convention[ and Jermaine Dupri did an incredible DJ set. I know Mary J. performed there and a variety of other artists. Gavin DeGraw performed in Tampa, specifically for Musicians On Call.