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A Getty Getting Into the Music Business

October 15, 2000|STEVE HOCHMAN

Financier Richard Branson was mentioned prominently in recent speculation that he might reacquire Virgin Records, and Microsoft mogul Paul Allen is known to be interested in getting into the music business.

Now another regular on the Forbes lists is set to make a move in the record world. Rather than buy an existing company, though, Peter Getty is getting ready to launch a new label of his own. The grandson of the late oil tycoon J. Paul Getty has formed a partnership with former Capitol Records and Interscope Records soundtracks executive Karyn Rachtman.

And they definitely have ideas of doing things differently, hoping to appeal to artists who have either been squeezed out by the big companies' mergers or don't feel comfortable in that environment.

"We will be a joint venture with our artists, partners in every way," explains Rachtman, 36, whose soundtrack hits include "Pulp Fiction," "Romeo + Juliet" and "Bulworth." "We're not going to have a huge staff, so with each artist we'll pick an independent marketing person together, pick an independent publicist together, put a whole team in place."

Even distribution deals will be made separately for each release rather than through a full-time relationship with any one distributor.

"This way no one will be working on any project they don't believe in, which is sadly common with the big labels," Rachtman says.

Getty, 35, is not merely bankrolling the endeavor (which they haven't named yet) but is a fully active partner. This isn't his first foray into the music business. He owns Emperor Norton Records, a small label with an assortment of left-field releases, including the band the Virgin-Whore Complex, which features Getty himself in the guise of songwriter-musician Spats Ransom.

Clearly he's not looking for the next Britney Spears.

"It's close to what I'm already doing at Emperor Norton, just on a larger scale," Getty says. "We involve the artist in the decisions. And we're going to lean away from enticing people with flashy, expensive things and mucho bucks up front and try to get them to participate in something that might be bigger down the road.

"If you can sell 200,000 records fairly reliably and break a larger band once in a while, I don't see how you can't make money unless you waste it on extravagances."

What they will spend money on, they say, is unique packaging and, of course, a heavy online presence, with each CD to feature link capabilities to Internet sites.

Among projects already in development are an album by Lisa Stone, a singer-songwriter who was signed and dropped by Interscope, former 1000 Clowns frontman Kevy Kev and veteran band Devo--the last two planning albums targeted toward children.

The official debut of the label will be a collection of themes from the Sid and Marty Krofft children's TV shows ("H.R. Pufnstuf" et al.), which will be marketed in toy shops and other retail outlets as well as record stores--a plan Rachtman says will be typical of the company.

CONFLICTED: Perry Farrell is determined to make the best of a bad situation. Just as he was set to start recruiting artists for the Diamond Jubilee festival he's planning to hold next spring in the Judean desert as a show of international harmony, violence broke out in Israel between Jews and Palestinians.

Farrell has suspended the campaign plans for the time being and was initially depressed about the situation. But he realized that the clashes underscore the need for such an event. Now he's expanded the concept to include jubilees in the U.S., and perhaps other countries as well.

"We'll build one for America, and in the meantime we'll be patient and watch [the situation in Israel]," he says.

"I didn't send the brochures out and my reaction at first was, 'Don't do it,' " he says. "But that's exactly what some would like me to think: 'Don't go there. Don't touch the sensitive spots.' But we're going for it, still there in Israel and now also the U.S."

GUITAR FOR SALE: Dweezil Zappa's getting plenty of use out of his guitars these days. Not only is he finishing his own album, featuring some pieces built with layered guitar tracks for near-orchestral effects, but he's also working on a new album by singer-songwriter Lisa Loeb, who just happens to be his girlfriend.

But there's one guitar he's getting rid of: the one given to his father, the late Frank Zappa, by Jimi Hendrix.

"Jimi played it at the Miami Pop Festival," says Zappa. "He lit it on fire on stage, and it was all destroyed."

Frank Zappa restored it, though, and used it extensively through much of the '70s, but later it was lost in the Zappa house. Dweezil discovered it abandoned under the stairs and in poor shape and rebuilt it.

Now the Zappa Family Trust has decided to sell the item, and has approached Paul Allen about acquiring it either for his new Experience Music Project museum in Seattle or his own guitar collection. They're waiting for an answer before exploring other options.

Meanwhile, Dweezil's "Automatic," his first solo album in nine years, is due Nov. 21. While brother Ahmet sings on a rock version of "You're a Mean One, Mister Grinch," the rest of the collection is instrumental, with the centerpieces being massed guitar versions of material from Bizet's opera "Carmen" and of the "Hawaii Five-O" theme.

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