Craig Kallman of Atlantic Records: Listen Closely
Robert Baird, June, 2007
Label heads—those at the very highest positions of power at music companies. To anyone who's spent time near the record business, they're a mythical breed. Like gnomes. Or dragons. Often, it's their vision that spells success or failure for the label they run. And what they say goes. Over the years, many a legendary creature has assumed the title: Goddard Lieberson, Clive Davis, Mo Ostin, to name just a few of those who have survived and prospered. The list of those who did not is at least twice as long.
Several years ago, the head of publicity at Atlantic Records engineered (with my help) a meeting between Stereophile's editor, John Atkinson, and Atlantic's Chairman and CEO, Craig Kallman. JA confirmed all the personal details, charming if hard to fathom, that I'd already heard about Kallman. He was an audiophile, a record collector, and someone who, without fail, spent time every week being an addicted record shopper, slogging through the bins of the proud remnant of what used to be the world's greatest collection of indie record stores, south of 14th Street in Manhattan. Most record execs aren't exactly out beating the streets, hunting vinyl, and keeping their ears on the tracks. When I asked him about his habit, Kallman never cracked a smile.
"For 25 years," he said as we sat in the one of the label's artists lounges located in a building near NYC's Rockefeller Center, "religiously, every Saturday that I'm physically in New York City, that's where I'll be from 12 to 6."
Okay, so the big-label Macha likes records.
Then there was talk that Kallman, 41, was an audiophile. A roomful of rolling eyes would almost equal my skepticism. With some obvious exceptions, the major labels virtually invented thin, lifeless, overcompressed sound. So now one label, whose catalog is among the proudest in the business, but who's also made a slew of loud (read: compressed) hip-hop and urban records, has a president who cares about sound?
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