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They Sure Figured Something Out : Jimmy Iovine and Ted Field have broken all the rules at Interscope Records and it's paid off--they're the hottest act in the business. : What's their secret? Don't be afraid of the two "Cs"--creativity and controversy

October 24, 1993|ROBERT HILBURN and CHUCK PHILIPS | Robert Hilburn is The Times' pop music critic. Chuck Philips writes about pop music for Calendar

Jimmy Iovine, whose credits as a record producer and engineer range from John Lennon to U2, still winces at the humiliation of being turned down by everyone he approached in 1989 to invest in the record company he wanted to start.

"People took my calls and they took me to their house for dinner," says the 40-year-old son of a Brooklyn longshoreman. "But I could sense a lot of them thinking, 'He's no record company president . . . he's no David Geffen.' "

Around the same time, Ted Field, an heir to the vast Marshall Field retail empire who's worth an estimated $700 million, was talking to some of the industry's biggest powerbrokers about starting his own label. But many dismissed him as a dilettante.

One who did take Field seriously was U2 manager Paul McGuinness, who recommended that he speak to Iovine about running his company.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday November 21, 1993 Home Edition Calendar Page 99 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 30 words Type of Material: Correction
Nine Inch Nails is signed to TVT-Interscope, a joint venture between Interscope and TVT Records, a New York-based record company. An Oct. 24 story gave incomplete information about the group's contractual ties.

The unlikely duo got together in February, 1990, in Field's 15-floor Westwood office complex--and things clicked.

They launched Interscope Records the following January as a $20-million joint venture with Warner Music's Atlantic Group, and the label, against all expectations, has become the toast of the industry. Domestic sales this year are expected to top $70 million.

Not only is Interscope the most profitable in 1993 of the dozen or so new labels started in the '90s at a total investment of $250 million, but it is also a company with a "cutting-edge" roster--from rap's Dr. Dre to alternative rock kingpins Nine Inch Nails--that is the envy of even the long-standing industry giants. Field and Iovine's success coincides precisely with the rise of Generation X, whose alienation is captured succinctly both in alternative rock and rap.

Insiders say the company's emphasis on having music men at the top--a departure from the '70s and '80s pattern of naming lawyers and promotion people to head companies--could change the executive focus of record companies in the '90s as much as Nirvana has changed the sound of rock.

EMI Music moved in this direction in May by naming Gary Gersh--a 37-year-old executive with a strong music background--to run $400-million Capitol Records. Danny Goldberg, former manager of Nirvana and Bonnie Raitt, is expected to be named president of Atlantic Records.

"Jimmy's one of the ultimate music people in this business," says Thomas D. Mottola, president and chief operating officer of Sony Music Entertainment Inc. "He's got the kind of credibility that goes a long way when you're talking to a band and trying to sign them to your label. Interscope's success certainly encourages a whole cult of new music men."

Another of Field and Iovine's admirers is David Geffen, whose $550-million sale of his 10-year-old record company in 1990 triggered a flurry of label start-ups by showing how much and with what speed money could be made in the industry.

"Ted and Jimmy have accomplished something amazing during difficult recessionary times," he says. "I think you'll have a hard time finding anybody in the business to say anything negative about what they are doing at Interscope."

Interscope is such a hot property that there is already speculation that Time Warner, the label's parent company, may buy them out in two years if the momentum continues. Analysts predict the company could be worth as much as $100 million by then.

However, there have been knocks.

Inside the industry, there are whispers about the pair spending too much for acts. Outside, some of the hard-core rap music released by Interscope came under fire from parent groups and both political parties during last year's national election.

The rap issue is complicated by the fact that the company's three stars have all been arrested over the last year on charges ranging from assault to murder.

Snoop Doggy Dogg, whose debut solo album is expected to enter the national charts at No. 1 when it is released next month, faces trial on a murder charge stemming from an Aug. 25 shooting in the Palms area of West Los Angeles. The 21-year-old Snoop, whose real name is Calvin Broadus, was charged because he was driving the Jeep from which shots were fired by his bodyguard.

The company is also embroiled in a 1992 "cop killing" music-related product liability suit filed by the widow of a slain Texas state trooper.

On the advice of lawyers, Iovine and Field declined to comment on pending legal matters, but they defend rap as an art form. It is music that moves them personally and, they feel, that distinguishes Interscope from the industry pack.

"A lot of this (criticism of rap) is just plain old racism," says a defiant Field, a liberal activist who last year was the fifth largest contributor to the Democratic Party. "You can tell the people who want to stop us from releasing controversial rap music one thing: Kiss my ass."

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