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COVER STORY

Going Against the Grain

Maverick Records was once thought of as Madonna's vanity project. Not anymore.

August 25, 1996|Robert Hilburn

It's a measure of the enormous skepticism surrounding the 1992 launch of Madonna's Maverick Records that the catty gossip went so far as to suggest the only reason that chief talent scout Guy Oseary got his job was that he was a former Material Girl boy toy.

No sooner had the ink dried on the joint venture with Time Warner than several top industry players began dismissing her new label as simply a vanity deal--a way of making her new recording contract look sweeter.

But Freddy DeMann, Madonna's manager and co-CEO in Maverick Entertainment, warned the doubters that they were wrong.

"This is no vanity deal," he declared at the time. "We're going to be a major force. . . . Give us a minute and we'll prove it."

Well, it actually took more than a minute, but no one is laughing at Maverick anymore.

Though the company's film division hasn't established a presence yet, the record operation has brought respect to the company. Thanks to the blockbuster success of Alanis Morissette's "Jagged Little Pill" and other hits, Maverick is now worth $150 million, some sources say. Not bad for an original investment estimated at less than $10 million.

And what about that talent scout?

Oseary, it turns out, had never even met Madonna when DeMann discovered the young music marvel through the manager's daughters at Beverly Hills High School and began helping introduce him to the business.

And how did Oseary, who was just 19 when Maverick was formed, reward DeMann's faith in him?

Oseary, whose title is artist and repertoire representative, signed the woman who had been turned down by virtually every other record company in town: Morissette, whose album is expected to hit the 20-million sales mark worldwide by the end of the year. He also signed Candlebox, the rock band whose 1993 debut album sold 3.5 million.

About Morissette, he said, "I heard one song--'Perfect'--and that's all I had to hear. I just felt it. . . . It was something I knew I'd run out and buy."

It's a success story that has made Oseary one of the hottest properties in the record business. Even titans such as David Geffen cite him when asked about the industry's new blood. DeMann described him proudly as "a one-in-a-million talent."

Only slightly less surprising than Maverick's success is the fact that the company has steered away from the dance music identified with its co-owner.

"I felt we needed to go in a complete opposite direction of Madonna," says DeMann, a longtime promotion man in the record business before he began managing Madonna in 1983. "Everybody had this notion that we were going to put out dance records, but I wanted to sign alternative bands. I wanted to go against the grain."

It took a while, however, to establish credibility.

"The keys to a successful record label are to demonstrate the ability to find the right artists and then the ability to sign them," says DeMann, who personally signed Me'Shell Ndegeocello, one of only nine acts on the label roster.

Maverick showed an early flair for spotting talent, but credibility was an issue at that point.

"The very first act we tried to sign was Courtney Love and Hole," DeMann, 57, says. "Guy and I went after her, but she didn't want to be on Madonna's label. She made some crack about Freddy DeMann going to want her to ride an elephant [to get publicity] or something like that. It was funny, but it demonstrated the wariness some artists had about us. That's changed: Now we find artists and sign them."

And Madonna's role in the company?

DeMann says he consults daily with his partner about Maverick affairs--even while the singer-actress was away for months during the filming of "Evita."

Only slightly less surprising than Maverick's success is the fact that the company has steered away from the dance music identified with its co-owner.

"I felt we needed to go in a complete opposite direction of Madonna," says DeMann, a longtime promotion man in the record business before he began managing Madonna in 1983. "Everybody had this notion that we were going to put out dance records, but I wanted to sign alternative bands. I wanted to go against the grain."

It took a while, however, to establish credibility.

"The keys to a successful record label are to demonstrate the ability to find the right artists and then the ability to sign them," says DeMann, who personally signed Me'Shell Ndegeeocello, one of only nine acts on the label roster.

Maverick showed an early flair for spotting talent, but credibility was an issue at that point.

"The very first act we tried to sign was Courtney Love and Hole," DeMann, 57, says. "Guy and I went after her, but she didn't want to be on Madonna's label. She made some crack about Freddy DeMann going to want her to ride an elephant [to get publicity] or something like that. It was funny, but it demonstrated the wariness some artists had about us. That's changed: Now we find artists and sign them."

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