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Baha Men Propel Artemis Chief to a New Rank in Music Glory

Entertainment: Danny Goldberg's label claims a Top 10 spot as he shows he can prosper in the consolidated industry.

December 19, 2000|JEFF LEEDS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

With his upstart label cracking the Top 10 on the nation's pop chart this week, one-time rock manager Danny Goldberg is enjoying a bit of revenge.

As chief of Mercury Records, Goldberg was ousted two years ago when Seagram Co. purchased PolyGram for $10.4 billion, touching off a massive corporate realignment. Worse for Goldberg, the ax felt familiar: He had been fired four years earlier from his job running Warner Bros. Records.

But Goldberg, a former Led Zeppelin publicist whose penchant for self-promotion has long irked rivals and colleagues, is grabbing the limelight once again.

Artemis Records, the independent label launched by Goldberg after he left Mercury, has its first Top 10 hit with "Who Let the Dogs Out" by the Bahamian hip-hop act Baha Men. The record--whose title track has become a radio smash and popular stadium anthem--sold 187,000 copies last week--more than established acts such as Ricky Martin.

It ranks No. 9 on Billboard Magazine's current pop chart and has hovered in the top 15 for three months, with domestic sales estimated at 1.7-million albums, according to the research firm SoundScan.

"It feels like we can make the train go around the track," Goldberg, 50, said from his New York office Monday. "We've proven to ourselves and to the business that we can compete in the pop arena, which is the most competitive part of the business."

The Baha success for Artemis, which started 19 months ago with a $10-million investment from entertainment investor Michael Chambers, illustrates that there is still room for entrepreneurs in the increasingly consolidated $40-billion music business. Five multinational conglomerates dominate the record industry.

Indeed, independent labels are faring well on the nation's pop charts, with three top 10 slots this week occupied by Jive Records, home to the Backstreet Boys, 'NSync and Britney Spears, and a fourth spot filled by Creed, of Wind-Up Records.

Unlike those independents, Artemis is not making a killing on Baha's sudden popularity. The company earns an estimated 10% on each Baha sale for marketing and promoting "Who Let the Dogs Out" for S-Curve Records, the label that signed Baha Men. Artemis makes no money on the record's international sales; the album is distributed by Edel, a German independent.

Goldberg said the label has generated about $49 million in its first full year of operation, though it remains unprofitable. Investors have poured in an additional $20 million since launching the company, he said. Artemis also releases music by Steve Earle, a critically acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful country artist.

Even if he is operating in the red, Goldberg claims to be content outside the power structure of the major conglomerates, where he was known by colleagues for his manipulative political style.

One record executive, who declined to be identified, described Goldberg as an "outsider" to the major conglomerates. "Was he one of the boys in the smoke-filled room? No." He added that the current management team at Seagram's music division wouldn't give Goldberg high marks for loyalty.

Goldberg's reputation as a self-promoter started in the late '80s, when he got himself booked on CNN to spar with Tipper Gore over record warning labels. More recently, he agreed to testify on the industry's behalf at September's high-profile Senate Commerce Committee hearings on the marketing of explicit movies and records.

Cultivating publicity "is kind of irritating to people you work with," Goldberg said, but "having some visibility has helped me to get people to return my phone calls . . . and made me less dependent on any one particular company."

Goldberg got his start in the industry as a clerk in Billboard magazine's chart department three decades ago. During the early 1970s, he worked as a freelance journalist for such magazines as Rolling Stone before taking a job managing press for Led Zeppelin.

In the early 1980s, he opened a management firm called Gold Mountain, which handled such acts as Nirvana and Sonic Youth. He later founded the unsuccessful Gold Castle record label, whose roster included such folks acts as Joan Baez.

He took his first executive post at Atlantic Records in 1992, then quickly worked his way up through the corporate structure at Time Warner's music division, jumping to chairman of Warner Bros. Records. After a corporate housecleaning, Goldberg and nearly a dozen other senior executives received walking papers.

Goldberg surfaced again three months later at Mercury, where he scored a breakthrough in 1997 with the chart-topping teen sensation Hanson. After the shake-up following Seagram's purchase, he was not asked to join the new management team of the world's largest music company and left.

Goldberg said he is "not really a serial entrepreneur," but wouldn't rule out selling his new company or entering a joint venture with a major label.

"I don't have a crystal ball about everything we're going to do in the future," he said.

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