A Conversation with Herb Trawick & Dave Pensado
Mike Ragogna: When did all this Pensado/Trawick bromance begin?
Herb Trawick: Oh God, about twenty-five years ago in the lobby of a studio when we were both aspiring kids from the south. Dave was from Atlanta by way of Florida, I was from Kentucky by way of Montreal. We came to L.A. to make our bones and ended up in the same studio lobby accidentally. We connected there and I had a chance about a month later when somebody called me for a referral--I had just met this white guy who worked on James Brown and I thought that was pretty cool. I hadn't heard a note, but I referred him and he went over and did a job on a hip hop record and absolutely killed it and has been hot for thirty years and we've been friends for that long.
Mike Ragogna: You've released a book, The Pensado Papers that we'll talk about, but first, how did the television show come about?
HT: Because of our friendship, we've always kept in touch. I was his first manager, but he and I have been amongst a small group of best friends for a long time. We were talking career stuff at the time, he was being managed by Roc Nation and Jay-Z, this was about five years ago. We were re-examining our careers and where we were going to go, we'd been blessed these last three years. In the middle of that, Dave had a brain incident that put him down for a little bit. He had a miraculous recovery and since we were talking careers, I tried to come up with something he could deal with from home, and deal with these prodigious, outsized talents that he has. By fate one of our friends worked at a digital network and heard about this idea I had for him to just stay at home. They sent an email and said, "We'd like to do this as a show." They were putting out online television from this little broadcast studio. We only did it because in Dave's case he didn't necessarily want to spend the money to capture the contents of the idea that I had for him to stay at home, so I said, "Well, let me cut a deal, we'll go over here, this will last maybe three months and we'll be able to cut some content and we'll be able to get it started and everybody will be happy and you won't have to write a check." Three months is now five years, two hundred episodes, a hundred and eighty seven countries, a hundred and fifty school around the globe and it's just turned into an amazing ride, an example of digital media and a huge platform that continues to grow every day. It's the most amazing thing that either one of us have dealt with in our career.
Dave Pensado: And let me just add, there were several things that I found interesting from an insider/outsider perspective. One was that when Herb and I started we were just trying to be entertaining, but from the very beginning Herb was like, "Man, if I'm going to be involved it's got to be good TV." So we patterned the show originally after Charlie Rose. Every day Herb would give me broadcaster lessons, so I've grown to really enjoy the process of sitting in front of cameras and disseminating and sharing information. I want to give my partner full credit for insisting from the beginning that everything be done right. The business part was perfect, the financial elements were perfect, and first and foremost it was going to be quality television. I think that kind of helped separate us a little bit from the rest of the pack. We weren't trying to make an interesting YouTube video, we were going for NBC. I know that sounds arrogant, and I'm not saying we've reached that yet, but that was probably the foundation upon which the show grew. Plus the fact that my friends and Herb's friends in the industry really helped us out. All the top names in audio, engineers and producers and artists, just saw a value in it that early on I didn't see. It really helped us get this thing to where it is today.
MR: Nice. Aside from being entertaining, your show also has an educational element to it. What is the goal of the show behind the scenes? Is there a mission?
DP: Yeah, Mike. We've all been in various educational institutions, but if the food don't taste good, nobody eats it. Initially we wanted to spotlight and highlight the audio industry and how many cool people were in it and if you wanted to learn various elements you could watch and listen to what the greats had to say--"the greats" being our guests--or we have a segment called "Into The Lair" where we actually show you techniques on various levels. Education has always been what we were trying to do, we just didn't want to make it boring. In fact, I think Herb can agree with this: If we were a hundred percent in the education space in a way that we found adapted to our entertainment values we'd just be happy, happy, happy.
HT: As Vice President of Mission Handling [laughs] when the idea came up for me, I made a couple of principal decisions. One is we were in on it together; two, we would never make it a star vehicle, it's really Mister Roger's Neighborhood, so Dave has his fans and I have mine, our producer has fans, our young interns who do corner office has fans, we make our audience have profiles and our guests have profiles--So that was one mission. The second mission was, one of the early indicators of the show being successful was the number of schools that started to adopt it very early as curriculum and teaching. Frankly, for Dave and I it's one of the proudest things. As much as we wanted to disseminate information, we didn't necessarily know that it would be seen as intelligencia. We never tried to make it intelligencia, we're just sharing our experience. So as it exists now and relates to a mission, we have seven verticals that are offshoots of the show. We have a convention business, a concert business, we're about to announce in January a global distribution deal with the largest education publisher in audio, we will be developing curriculum for over seventy five countries and for every big box store like Wal-Mart, Target, Sam's Club, Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com.
Education has become a huge fundamental footprint. We just got our own theater at the brand new SAE campus in Los Angeles. Its an historic auditorium where silent films transitioned to talkies. So we will have our own television studio. We're also in a partnership with Ideaplex in DC, a revolutionary media/education institution that is going to change the game. That gives us a facility on the east coast where we can shoot.
What turned into us having an audio show that used music as a portal, although it's not limited to music because we have movie fans and television fans and gaming fans, at the heart of it became education. What we find is when we travel and tour and speak and have all these different things, people really come to learn. It has become a real responsibility for us. The last year we gave away a hundred and fifty thousand dollars in scholarships to people. We just have our head down believing the dream. But every time we raise our heads up and look it seems like other people go, "You all are cool, keep going!" So we just put our heads back down and do it. We just keep going.
I would say this, too: We are enormously humbled at the response that we get, the passion of the fans. We have fans who have used the show to get through painful parts of their lives, we have a number of people who have used the show to find out information to have medical interventions that they didn't realize they needed. We've had people who have been very close to making a very big decision they couldn't come back from, people who were suicidal and said, "I turned on the show and you guys made me laugh and I've decided to fight another day." When you get those kinds of emails, it shakes you to your core, and you realize, "We've got a huge responsibility here. We can't f*ck this up." We didn't know it, but I will tell you, we're inspired every day because of it.
DP: I agree fully with that.
MR: You reacting to peoples' reactions has caused the show to evolve so much. It may sound like a stupid question, but what the heck is this show, ultimately?
DP: Let me stumble through it first, and then Herb can come in and say it succinctly and eloquently--herein lies my charm, being an idiot. I'm going to answer a different question. A lot of people ask, "Why do you spend so much money and so much effort to share all this information and keep the show free?" I've been trying to formulate and answer to that question forever, and I think the answer to this particular question I'm posing to myself will answer your broader question: There's something about gathering this information and knowledge as a person that tends to be kind of unique to your profession. Herb is a gifted businessman, he's a very well-known and very gifted manager, no the kind of manager that tells you where to be and all that, but a manager who can plan your future and see in advance, a manager who has a gifted sense of show business. At some point in your career you realize that you've gotten all of this information and yeah, you could make a good income--and I do, I work on a record every day in my mixing career--but there's something about that process that our guests and ourselves who have become a lightning rod for this content, we really enjoy when we learn something. "Sharing" is probably the wrong word; there's a little bit of bragging involved, "Hey look what I did," "I caught the biggest fish, here's the way that you do it."
The show is definitely altruistic in nature, but it's also just fun for Herb and I to sit in front of gifted people every week and see them bring things to the table that they've learned, and they're proud that they've gone through the hassle of learning it. One of many things that Herb and I have been surprised by is that the top of the top practitioners in audio have adopted the show as a means of doing just that: making sure that our craft and the things that they've spent time learning can be disseminated to the public in such a way that these ideas will advance the craft, whether it be Foley or doing music for a game show or whatever. That's kind of the foundation of everything in a way and kind of the answer to the original question. It's buried in there somewhere. Like a WWE event, I'm going to tag my partner now and he's going to come into the ring and tell you what's what.
HT: I've got it. I just jumped through the ropes. I manage Dave's mixing career and one of the things that Dave says that's kind of funny is, "Hey man, if you leave me along with the music, I'll leave you alone with world domination."
DP: Let me modify with that. I would say now it's cosmic domination. Even the galaxy is too small.
HT: So here's what is probably true and is probably a little bit disorienting: None of this is accidental. I'm not constructed not to try to look at marketplace opportunities. Some of it is self interest. It started out as self interest; "How do we take this happy accident and turn it into a business?" Then you find out you're serving people and it turned into, "How do we take this incredible reaction we're having and build something out?" So here's some guys in their fifties who caught the digital media wave and as I kept analyzing it and looking at it I said, "We have an opportunity to build a media company that can do well, educate people, build up some verticals, hire people, have global impact, why wouldn't we?" What a lot of people probably wouldn't necessarily know is the extraordinary amount of work that goes into this. I have never worked harder in my career. We had an award show last year that brought us right to the end of bankruptcy, but at that award show, our very first one for this "Little web show," Paul McCartney sent tapes. Neil Young called and he came and presented just because he'd heard about it. Saturday Night Live flew in and got an award. Martina McBride flew in and presented. Foo Fighters came. People from Apple came. People from Time Warner Entertainment came. Alex da Kid got an award, he produced and found Imagine Dragons. One of the biggest engineers in the world said, "Well, I can tell you what's not happening tonight, and people kind of looked quizzically: "There are no hit records being made anywhere, because everybody who makes hit records is in this room tonight." We were floored.
Now remember, we had no prep team. Only three people up until our awards show have built out the Pensado entity for the last four years. When Forbes magazine comes up, or a book publisher comes up and says, "Do you want to do a book?" you realize you're making an impact. I don't mean this arrogantly, I just mean this in the way we're constructed, Dave and I are very competitive but in a kind way, and I'm very brand-centric, so whatever is related to Pensado--we actually call it "Pensadian"--is going to be best in class, it's most likely we will try very hard to make it innovative, we're going to be contrarian in our approach, while everybody is headed left we're going to head right. Ultimately, it's an exercise that has proven to be fruitful in that the audience has responded to it. And every time something works, I'm more inspired to push the envelope further next time. When I tell you that as a guy who's the vision guy, or in charge of that, every move is really carefully calculated and we do it to death. We don't win at everything, but we have had a pretty good track record for five years. We start our fifth year in January and it's pretty amazing that this little web show has global distribution deals and all this exposure. I've had the CEO of Netflix call, I had a call from the head of YouTube and had him come in and sit down. When you see all the people who are watching you--I got pulled over on the freeway the other day by a guy screaming at me, my windows are kind of tinted, I thought my car was on fire, this guy was screaming "Roll down your window!" I was like, "Oh sh*t!" I rolled down my window and the guy goes, "Herb! We love the f*cking show, man! We never miss the f*cking show!" [laughs] I thought I was going to die at seventy miles an hour from love. We take it pretty seriously because there's no way you can have the reaction we're having accidentally.
DP: And Herb, when you said we take it seriously, one of the things I haven't really discussed with you is that we get a lot of comments form people who are inquisitive about our relationship. Some of my favorite moments on Saturday Night Live when the actors crack and can't get back to their script. I love doing that with Herb. There's something about our bromance that people seem to find like reality show-type entertaining. How do you describe that, Herb?
HT: I think you just did. To be more succinct about it, Dave and I are on the air just being the way Dave and I are off air. We didn't think that many people would just enjoy that. Now we obviously have learned from broadcasting how to do things and I love the show runner aspect of it, but here's the other side of it: For two years the show made five thousand dollars in the whole years. By year three, that changed dramatically, so now, we have sponsors and other things. They have high expectations because they're paying a significant amount of money because of our reach. We reach a pretty broad number of people, we have a very high engagement rate, and all these confluences of circumstances, the fact that the audience likes Dave and I's relationship, the fact that we take it seriously, the fact that we give away scholarships, the notion that all the schools use us, you end up having some guideposts that all result down to one thing: Deliver, deliver in a high, high, high way, never take it for granted because it can go away, and enjoy the shit out of the ride. We've had pretty good careers outside of Pensado's Place but by far this is the highest calling that I've had professionally ever, and I really don't want another one. It's amazing every day. And I will say this, we are nowhere near done. In our opinion, we're just starting.
MR: With your histories in the music industry and considering what you're trying to do with Pensado's Place and much the music business has changed, are you ever tempted to grab the reins and go, "You know what? You need an overhaul, and this is how it might be done."
HT: Yes. The answer's yes, yes, and yes.
DP: [laughs] And yes.
HT: And yes. I can tell you that when I came up with the idea and talked to Dave I was disgruntled with the music business. I was ready to get out of it, I didn't know what I was going to do with my career. There's a short shelf life when you do it, and the specificity was that the record industry was in trouble, the music business was changing and healthy, but nobody knew how to monetize it. So you take this paradigm shift, the show has caused me to fall back in love with music. If you look at it for the love of the music but realize it is part of a digital medium of digital content, it changes the way you think about consuming it, paying for it, exploiting it, developing artist in it and the different places you can go. So actually it unleashes in your head--if you have the capacity to think this way--all kinds of things you couldn't do in the old traditional model. Well that becomes optimistic when you're doing something that's working.
Now we say this openly. We work very hard, we think we've been smart, but luck and providence come into play as well, too: When you get to do that now because we are successful with it, we're in different conversations where we can affect change, where people say, "Can you guys do this with the show? Can you reach this?" Some of the things we'll do with this year's Pensado awards will be some innovation where people we've told about it will go, "You've got to be kidding me. Nobody's really thought about that." I personally get the hell off when somebody says to me, "Nobody's thought of that!" I'm like, "Cool, 'cause we're thinking about it." We do see where we can make a contribution to the changing paradigm and make it positive. The way we characterize it, Mike, is that we sit at this interesting intersection. The intersection is digital media in one place, entertainment in the other place, music and different application at the other place, and education. When you put those things together and the cars meet in the middle for a big old train wreck, it is fascinating what comes out of making all of those molecules collide. I really think it's the way people will consume and learn and listen and pay and evolve into in the future and we're blessed that we're at least on the cusp of the wave.
DP: Hey Mike, from my perspective, there's an interesting optimism that pervades the show as it relates to our guests. That optimism is that the music business and the music industry is actually going to be okay. It's going to make a comeback. The other interesting thing is that same optimism has a curiosity about how it's going to do that. The internet is great for a lot of things, and one of the things the internet does a lot better than anything is generate and propagate really bad information quickly and get that bad information to become considered factual. I say that tongue in cheek because the methods by which people are going to start earning a better living in terms of audio are there, it's just a question of getting the correct information and learning how to use those tools to generate income. So the show doesn't really try to do that so much, but it's just become a place where people can express those opinions so that the viewer can get a little more accurate overview of where the industry is and where it's going. I think that's probably a little bit of an answer to your question. We don't overtly consider ourselves champions of anything.
MR: No, but the fact that you guys were able to come up with something that was a type of success, look at what's come from that! Look how it's grown. And now you have a book about the concept. I think what you're doing is resonating with people because they're wondering what the next thing in music will be and here you are with a unique delivery system. Did I say that right?
HT: No, you're a hundred percent correct. Here's what's interesting about your observation: From my chair, I'm a carpetbagger of the industry. I come from the finished record side. I'm not an audio person, Dave's an audio person. At the heart of the show is Dave's spirit, because he gives audio expertise. Then what I contribute to it is the vision and the business side of things. But here's the bottom line: When I used to hire engineers to mix records of artists, I managed, it was a closeted secret society. It's almost like the Yale Skull & Bones society. One guy would prepare this sh*t and the other guy will cut your throat if you do this, sh*t, you'd meet in a back alley and you didn't share. Well, one of the shifts we've seen is now people come on the show and it's like you've given them a truth serum. What I call it is the "internetalization" of humans. Now they realize, "Oh, you don't just have to share online, we can share in real time." That gives it context and humanity and flesh and blood and emotions, and that touches people when they're watching.
I focus as much on the arc of the narrative of the story as we do just with, "What does this widget do?" So when that happens now people come on and they are just ready to give it. That shift is huge, both in terms of what people can learn, because our demographic goes from about eighteen to fifty. It's not all guys who just make records, it's really people who consume on their computer and they may do this for fun. So now they get experts that they have more of a chance to emulate and become a cool mixer or a cool ADR person or whatever by having the best in the business tell the how to do it. We actually make those people available to them to talk to. Now our guests will say, "Hey, what can we do? Can we go on one of your educational tours?" It's become this very giving, sharing community. As we often say, fire makes its own wind. That's kind of what's going on and it's amazing to be stewards of that. It really is amazing.
DP: We'll see if this has any use to you: I tend to think metaphorically a lot, it just helps me organize thoughts. I thought back about the photography world, when digital cameras came in they weren't very good, but then they got a little better and better and now they're incredible. The interesting thing about digital photography is there are no dark rooms anymore because we have Photoshop and Lightroom and a lot of different softwares. Now your average photographer is pretty sophisticated. There's something about us humans where once we get into something we want to improve, and the same thing has happened in audio. There's a bunch of programs and applications that came down the pipe that allow the average guy to make the same quality records that I make and that anybody makes. That average guitar player who was in his last band at seventeen years of age and is now thirty years old and has a family and a little disposable income and wants to get back to guitar playing and making records for his friends, that's a big chunk of our audience. The advanced amateur prosumer, whatever you want to call them. They like the show because it's like going and watching Tiger Woods at a golf match. They want to see what you use. They know they're never going to be Tiger Woods, but at least they know that if they're not, it's not the equipment that's going to be the problem, it's that they don't' have the time to get the skills. I think that's somewhat of a big part of the show.
MR: Okay, let's finally get to your book, The Pensado Papers. What is the story behind the book?
HT: When we were approached about the book, Dave was on a panel, we were at the school where we have our own theater now. The editor came up to me and said, "Hey, Herb, I'm from Hal Leonard, we do this," and he pitched us on doing a book. When we decided to do it the first thing I said to them was, "What we'd like to do is not a Hal Leonard kind of book." They said, "What do you mean?" and I said, "Well you guys are so big in your space, you're an amazing publisher and you're global, but a lot of the stuff is textbook-y and kind of nerdy. We want to reflect just kind of who we are and be as holistic and three sixty about the process. So what was really weird but also interesting was they said, "Okay, well Herb, why don't you write the first fifteen hundred words and come up with chapter titles." I went, "Is there an assumption that I'm a writer here?" I'm kind of a Swiss army knife, you just pull out what you need."
Having to think through it, what Dave and I talked about--because we talk about everything--if you take our audience makeup as broad as it is and whatever their stimulus is, there are a couple of things that come through. One is they love career advice. Two, they love technical advice. Three, and it's a big part of Pensado that we didn't necessarily see but we understand; they love inspiration. We felt if we could tell our stories separately and also where they combined, if we could have career opportunities and stuff that would be good for them, if we got our guests, how could we not tell and share what some of our guests have shared, so we have tips and tricks from the guys which allows them to have techniques, we know the interest in the show is high, so we wanted to make them understand that although Dave is a mixer and I'm a manager, we put on the same hour-long content that if you turn on broadcast or legacy television and you watch Fox Five or Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel or Bill Maher or whatever it is, Dave and I have to put an hour together every week that somehow punches those buttons. So we wanted the book to be reflective of all of those things. What we're pleased about is that it seems that people got that and the reaction has been, "Man, great read," or, "I was inspired by that," or, "I learned something," or, "I got some career advice." You know how a boxer will sometimes work the whole body, he doesn't just throw jabs at your chin? Sometimes you uppercut, sometimes you hit the kidneys. We like to work the whole body of audio and make sure that we're catching all kinds of places. One is just the demands of content. You don't get hiatus on the internet. We have to be there every week for fifty weeks. So that's the long and short of it.
The opportunity to have a full-bodied look at the process, to me, is as critical as just getting caught up in one element of it. It's also why when we shoot location stuff, we shot at George Lucas' ranch and people said, "Why?" and I said, "Look at that incredible story." And then we shot at Let's Make A Deal and people said, "Why?" and I said, "Well, because it's the only game show where Prince's ex-keyboard player is actually doing a live concert and literally responding to Wayne Brady's cues." He's not doing pre-programmed stuff, he's inventing it on the spot for tens of millions of viewers all over the globe day after day after day. That takes a pretty badass musician, so let's go show that.
Saturday Night Live has agreed that we can come do a story on them. We want to show that. We want to do a Super Bowl and show audio stories there. There's all of these compelling audio stories in other places on how people capture content and their technology, but they're also buttressed by human stories. We had Drakes producer/engineer, Noah 40 Shebib, who's a Canadian and he said, "Well the first two records that went multiple platinum we actually selected hotel rooms based on their duvets because we would hang their duvets up around the room and we got such a better sound than going into the studio that we cut the records in hotel rooms. All the while the engineer had multiple sclerosis. Who knew that story? We could go on and on. Alex da Kid did Rihanna and Eminem, Rihanna's in Paris, Eminem's in Detroit, and Alex is on a train going from London to Manchester doing vocals on his Mac. Anyway, the point of it is that I find the audio practitioner brilliant, technical, full of humanity, they're the last stop between art and commerce. If Beyonce has a hit and a producer's written a hit and Dave f**ks-up the mix, they don't have a hit. That's a very critical place. They're psychologists. They have to handle managers, lawyers, promotion teams, label people, artists, producers and work all that out into a mix that's also commercial. It's a fascinating space that nobody has looked at.
MR: Nice. What advice do you have for new artists and engineers?
DP: For me, one of the happiest days of my life was when my daughter decided not to go into audio. I would say make sure that you're not trying to elevate your hobby to a career because that doesn't work so well in audio. Make sure that your passion is genuine and that you've got a high tolerance for how make poverty into an art form. Make sure that you have some basic skills. If you're a certain height you're probably not going to make it into the NBA no matter how hard you try, and if you are a certain height and you think it's automatic that you'll get into the NBA you might not make it either. I would say watch our show--Not so much for any other reason but to see the unmitigated passion that's displayed by our guests. It impresses me and just makes me proud of my profession when I see multi-millionaires working harder than people that are tying to get into the industry. We're a hard-working bunch of people, we've made a lot of sacrifices that we didn't know we were making because it was just something that we had to do and wanted to do, like waking up and brushing your teeth. I would say, "Do a gut check." I've got a lot of friends that enjoy fishing, including myself, but that doesn't mean I want to be a professional fisherman. Make sure that it is a profession you want to do, and once you do that, there are so many professions now that weren't available to my generation. There are incredible educational opportunities, several of our sponsors, check those out. We make sure that our sponsors are top-notch. The internet has amazing resources for learning, but there's no substitute for just getting in the backyard and shooting basketballs all day long. You've just got to sit in a room and do it at some point. You can read all kinds of information on how to drive an Indy car at two hundred miles an hour around the track, but until you do it you're not an Indy car driver. The more you do it, the better you get. Start out with a go kart and the move up and up. I'd say the main thing is make sure that it's your passion and not just a hobby. I know that's a cliche.
HT: Yeah, I would say Malcom Gladwell's outliers concept applies. Try to get in as many hours as you can, because that's going to tell you if you have the passion. If you're not willing to do the work it's not going to happen. On the engineer's side, remember that now you're creating a hybrid of what it was. It's not about just getting expert at one silo, you need to understand digital media, you're going to deal with video, we live in a video world. You're going to have different kinds of opportunities to apply your skills if you learn that way, schools are beginning to teach that way. About a week ago Dave and I had lunch with a dear friend of ours, Randy Jackson, who to his credit, no matter what happened with the American Idol success, he hasn't changed a bit. We knew him way back in the day and one of the things Randy was talking about was that when they first did the show one of the opportunities that worked for the show was that he and Simon were A&R people, and when you pick talent the first thing you're going to do on the artist side is determine whether or not somebody's a star. So you may sing well, you may play well, you may write well and there may be opportunities for you to have a career, so one of the things you need to do as an artist is identify your strengths.
Be very realistic about the business. Some people feel like they're artists if they post a bunch of things to Sound Cloud and get a lot of comments. That's one level, but that's not all the levels. Don't fool yourself. Take truth serum and really drill down on where you want to be. And if you want to be a superstar, you're also going to have to have that magic that's innate and that not everybody has. While most kinds in the newer generation think the world's all about digital, Pensado's Place, as well as what I think happens with artistry, it's really a combination of analog and digital. You can't just be digital but not know how to touch people, or how to do have the human condition be part of the experience that you extend. That comes from experience in living life, it doesn't come from having your head in a device. Ultimately the artists that break through and stand up hit you on a deeper level. The ones who come and have a hit and go away hit you on a more superficial level. That's what I'm saying. On the engineer side, recognize you're going into a more complicated world that's a digital hybrid but also has more opportunity, on the artist side, don't discount star power and then apply that to your natural skill sets and stuff. And then last but not least: F**king go for it. Don't half-ass none of it. F*cking go for it. You're not going to get there if you don't go for it.
MR: When I was trying to be an artist, I believed in the premise that you could "luck in" and have a hit, that launching a successful musical career. Had the hit, big deal, nothing happened, mainly because I didn't have enough knowledge of what to do next. I feel like if I had good management, I might have taken classes and become further educated in various aspects of the field as opposed to just having connections and opportunities that I squandered from a lack of knowledge and good advice.
HT: Look how smart you are. For four years running, our producer guy said, "Herb, will you just do a Google Hangout? People want management advice." I'd say, "Oh, you know, I'll just impart it through the show." I finally agreed to do one, scheduled it for ninety minutes, it was fully subscribed for seven and a half hours. I literally almost couldn't get up. My thighs cramped up. It was question after question after question about the mysteries of management and the business side. So to your point I used to tell my artists when I was more full time manager, "I need your brains, too. This is a collaborative effort. But you're not going to help yourself or help us if you don't know what the fuck is going on." You've got to learn the business. The opportunity that seems wonderful in the beginning becomes a problem if it's not going well and you don't know what the f**k's going on. As an insurance policy it just made sense to me that the smarter my artists were, the more they had a hand in their decision and that if there's a wrong decision made, we made it together based on the right thing, and then the implications aren't so bad. That was back when we had a simpler model. If you had a top thirty record I could go tour and make a living. A top thirty record now may mean nothing. Top Thirty on what? On iTunes? On Sound Cloud? What does that mean? I still have issues with that. So now more than ever the more educated you are about stuff--and again, the combination of not just learning on the internet as Dave talked about, but also learning real life and having a manger that you partner with. You can also do this with lawyers, where you learn the business. This is your career, why put that in somebody else's hands? You'll sort of go through it with ignorance and bliss, but some of the responsibility is on managers to make sure that they have that kind of built-in construct so that people can go. As you well know, people don't understand that it's a five to seven-year shelf life for somebody who's hot. You're generally out of the business by the time you're thirty. You can't screw that up.
MR: And it's good in a lot of ways that that the old paradigm mostly has collapsed, at least the part where they were totally controlled by Mommy & Daddy Record Company. I understand that not all artists can express themselves thoroughly if they also have to control the business side, but that's why I think a good manager throughout a career is so indispensable.
HT: And to your point, the outlier artists who decided to rail against that system often times because of the guys who stood the test of time--the Bon Jovis, the Mellencamps. They were guys who said, "No, wait, I'm going to put the career in my control," or, "I'm going to share it with somebody." Sometimes success made you do that. Quite frankly any time there has been even a little bit of an outlier musical push, some of it has been a business construct. Whether it was grunge or hip hop, some of it was, "I'm going to say things that you don't get to sign off on," or "I'm going to build things in a way that you don't get to." You can see that periodically things come up that change or shift the paradigm, but you're right, back then everybody didn't want to rock the boat and they were sucking at the breast of the major label. Quite frankly most people were making money and having access to money that they never even dreamed they could. That didn't make it okay, but I'm saying I understand the system and I'm glad I get to see it change somewhat.
MR: So what does the future bring for you guys?
DP: Well, I've had a couple of number one records this year, I want twice that many next year. The show has reached X number of people--it's hard to tell exactly how many, but we know it's in the millions. Our producer, Will Thompson is an integral part of the show gives us these numbers. Whatever they are, I'd like to triple them next year. I'd love to see the award show become something that is cherished and grows after Herb and I relinquish our control of it. That award show is for everybody. We give awards for home studios, we give awards to the top people. We give awards to the cream of the crop but we also give awards to entry-level engineers. It's a great thing. I guess I could say rather succinctly what I always want is just more. More of everything. I'm not constructed to do what I did last year and be content. Neither is Herb. If we win one championship we want to win twenty, but we want to do it with quality, style, fairness and generosity. We've got lofty goals, you know?
MR: When will Pensado's Idol begin airing?
HT: [laughs] It's been suggested! I think to layer on to Dave's thing, to take our platform to even higher heights, to keep the principles intact so that things like success and exposure and stuff don't prostitute it and make us different. We're pretty demanding that we stay accessible and real for people. I think that if we were an example to schools on how to educate in a cooler way, a fun way, a smart way but as well as an example for business people to say, "Wow, if you put the tools together and you're smart about things," I call it digital emancipation. What we're doing you couldn't have done ten years ago. You'd have to have somebody at NBC agree that you're a television talent and they'd have to put up money and go forward. That's not the case now. We've built out our media company, we do more for people, we've expanded our international reach and the verticals we have, and we try to be an example of people who didn't lose their bearing while success kind of hit them in the head. I want Dave and I to just remain Dave and Herb, whatever that is. I don't want to lose sight of that. Unlike Dave, I probably will never relinquish this, because it's very hard to move forward with Pensado anything without the Pensado folk.
DP: I'm committed to this for my remaining days.
HT: We just try to be good stewards, Mike, really good stewards and bring it all the way home.
[NOTE FROM DAVE & HERB: Shoutout to The Blackbird Academy, Vintage King, Avid, Audio Technica, iZotope and all the others who make it all possible.]
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne