THE BLOG
09/26/2013 02:34 pm ET Updated Nov 26, 2013

The Rhino Records Story Takes Shape -- Part 1: Arianna Says Yes

Ten years ago I was hiking with Arianna Huffington, not too long after I left Rhino Entertainment, the well-respected reissue label I founded with Richard Foos that was now part of the Warner Music Group. She wanted to know my next move. With the California Democratic Party needing an infusion of new ideas and new blood -- especially with Arnold Schwarzenegger recently elected as the state's governor -- she asked if I was interested in running for office. It was something I had thought about in the past, and for a time my major at UCLA had been political science, but given my psychological make up, I thought I would find the experience too frustrating.

I told her that I considered writing a book, in part because the Rhino story was such a unique one, and that I thought it needed to be told. I was initially inspired to write my memoirs after reading Iacocca: An Autobiography in 1985. Lee Iacocca, the veteran auto¬motive executive, broke new ground in the way he revealed his personal life and professional career.

Richard and I weren't big on promoting ourselves, which may have diminished our appeal in the eyes of the inflated egos in our industry. When we made ourselves available to the media, we focused on plugging our current product rather than resurrecting our story. When I was in my 20s I wrote about rock music for the L.A. Times, the UCLA Daily Bruin, Rolling Stone and other music publications, so I felt I was up to the task. But it wasn't writer's block that kept me from turning my notes into prose.

I explained to Arianna why I put off the project. Because of illegal downloading, the music industry was experiencing a decline in revenue. After we left the company, the subsequent head changed the name from Rhino Entertainment to Warner Strategic Marketing and stopped promoting the Rhino name, even though it was still used on the product. Although my relationship with our successors was tenuous, I didn't want to engender ill feelings in succumbing to the tendency to compare the current company unfavorably with the former one. And lastly, no matter how many good things I would say about my former partner, human nature tends to make one focus on the not-so-good ones. All without being compensated in the generous manner that the author of a celebrity-tell-all would have.

In the early era of rock 'n' roll, teenage music wasn't considered a lucrative business. The majority of the rock 'n' roll hits were on independent labels. Many of the early singers, like Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Screamin' Jay Hawkins, were wild characters. There was a fun and exuberance that had largely dissipated by the time we issued our first record. It was the seventies, and pop music was dominated by serious singer-songwriters and disco acts. As sales of albums grew, so did profits, and the major labels flourished. Rock was no longer an independent's game, but a big business with labels being scooped up by conglomerates. From the first years of our label, to our last one at the company, it was important to express ourselves with a sense of humor, not only in our product, but in the way we marketed our label.

While our motivations were pure -- not greedily pursuing profits -- they were influenced by the social tenets that flourished in the 60s. We were responsible, humane and ethical, but there was also an antiestablishment streak and a rebelliousness. It's one thing to express one's discontent and rebel against a boss or corporation, but how do you channel that tendency when you yourself are the boss? The Rhino Records Story describes how we created a great company, one that received the Clinton Administration's Corporate Citizenship Award as well as being voted the best record label by industry trade group NARM.

I wouldn't characterize Arianna as being a rock 'n' roll fan. Although she wasn't a follower of our label, she knew enough about our story to encourage me to write the book. Although it took me a few years to resume writing, Arianna's interest in our story and encouragement were never far from my consciousness.

Harold Bronson's book THE RHINO RECORDS STORY will be published on October 22nd.

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