Name Peter Gray
Company Warner Bros. Records
Role Title Executive Vice President & Head of Promotion
Headquarters Burbank, California
If you could provoke change in any area of the music business, what would it be?
Selling music in automobiles.
If we’ve learned one thing as a business since the digital revolution, it's that we’re in a constant state of change. While it certainly appears that streaming is our next buzzword, I’m not convinced that a button on the dashboard of a car couldn’t inspire a renaissance in sales. There were roughly eight thousand record stores in the United States at the apex of the business in 1999. What if there were over 100M cars on the road where fans could complete the purchase (after hearing it) with one touch? Further, Could there be a possibility for the broadcaster (who features the song), and the auto manufacturer to participate in this transaction? Those are partners with a vast audience – how better to incentivize them in this initiative, than with a piece of the action?
For many years, our business told itself that music was an impulse purchase. The context was that you had to drop by the mall to feed that impulse. Seems to me that people should be able to buy music where they interact with it – which in most cases is in their car. It's important to keep in mind that I'm talking about the habits of the silent majority, and not the tastemakers.
How did you come to be at Warner Bros?
The short answer is – the phone rang. It was four years ago on October 1st, 2010. I remember the call very clearly because I was at the hospital holding our third son when the phone rang. He had been born that day. At the time, I wasn't sure why I was answering the call, but I'm very glad I did.
Name three people whom have been critical to your career?
Clive Davis could be critical to the careers of people who have read his books or witnessed his regal approach. Having spent the better part of a decade under his charge, and in many cases sitting in his Manhattan office, he has been so important to my career. There are hundreds of lessons to choose from, but one of my favorites comes from a typical listening session, where we would
repeat the same track several times, and then discuss the merit and potential of the song. This was one of the many steps in selecting an artist's single. Clive asked my opinion about one of the cuts, and somewhere in my reply was, “I really like it”, which was followed by Clive slamming a hand on his desk and sternly reminding me, “Peter! We are not here to pick your favourite song,
we are here to identify hits!”
Richard Palmese. He was Clive's right hand man for many decades. Richard plucked me from an independent promotion company and sent me immediately to the fast lane. He taught me so much about the music business, leadership, discretion, fatherhood and family. He continues to be a dear friend and a mentor.
Cameron Strang. He is the smartest person I know, and I'm very proud to work with him. In the short time that we've been on the battlefield together, Warner Bros. Records has enjoyed a terrific run. Playing a part in authoring the next chapter in WBR’s story is important to me and has been made possible by Cameron.
Looking into the future, what excites you most about Warner Bros. Records’s potential?
Breaking new acts. Next year at this time, the world will be singing arena-sized anthems from a band called Priory.
How would you describe the culture at Warner Bros. Records?
Global, via the west coast of the U.S.A. We are a worldwide company, and Warner Bros. Records typically fills the product pipeline of our corporate group throughout every territory. Yet, even with that major global responsibility, our culture is keenly Californian. From the celebrated architecture of our world headquarters in Burbank, to the palm trees that line our vinyl logo – when you walk the hallways of Warner Bros. Records, you know you're in Los Angeles.
How does this impact on the kind of talent the company seeks?
I would say in many cases, the culture impacts the talent that seeks us. Artists have plenty of choices when it comes to partnering with music people who can help navigate markets and shepherd their careers.
Some succeed in a DIY fashion, some go the small independent route and others choose a major label. Our building and our team have a very unique power. It’s shocking how you can still walk into many entertainment companies around the world and they can feel like the dentist’s office. Our culture and setting are always a part of the conversation when we meet with artists and their managers – it's a detail that helps close nearly every deal.
What is art to you?
Art is something that eliminates all the noise and nonsense of daily life while you are taking it in. If only for a moment, it will stop you in your tracks.
*Photograph by George Byrne