Ken Schwartz of @AlltheCoolBands: “Be Humble”

Be Humble: At work, if something good happens, the credit should go to the whole team. If something bad happens, take full blame, and promise to fix it. The same rule applies in life. Be humble about your success and be willing to work on any of the failures. These are the kinds of leadership traits that people notice when they want to promote someone.

Rock & Roll has been extremely popular from the 50’s until the 2000’s. But with the rise of Hip Hop, Pop, and electronic dance music, it has seen mainstream decline. But some observers have cited that Rock & Roll may be on the verge of a comeback. The frustration and turmoil of the past few years align well with the message of angst, protest, and rebellion that rock & roll conveys. In this interview series called “Music Stars Helping Rock & Roll Make a Comeback” we are talking to music artists, music groups, and music producers who are helping Rock & Roll make a comeback.

As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Ken Schwartz, a lifelong Rock & Roll fan and author of a new book, “I May Be Old But I’ve Seen All the Cool Bands: One Fan’s Story About Why Music Matters.” Ken had a long career working in the music business, has a father who was a music legend, and has seen just about every band on the planet, multiple times, as his book suggests.

Thank you so much for joining us in this series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?

Thanks so much for chatting with me. I grew up in a house full of music. My dad, Red Schwartz, was a legendary promotion and A&R man for multiple companies throughout his career. He’s most famous for signing and working with bands like Tommy James & the Shondells, Curtis Mayfield & the Impressions, and Kool & the Gang. So, there was always music being played, music being discussed, and healthy debates on why ‘this new groove’ is going to take over the world.

My mom grew up in the clubs of Hollywood in the ’70s and has a life-long love for Motown music. Between the both of them, I was surrounded by just about all the great music you can possibly imagine. I grew up in the ’80s where Rock & Roll was king! The Sunset Strip. The hair bands. I loved it all. Between this, and the music from my folks, it made me want to do something with music for the rest of my life.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path? Are you able to share a story with us about what first attracted you to Rock & Roll in particular?

The truth is, I wanted to follow in my dad’s footsteps. But I wanted to do it with ‘my’ music, Rock & Roll! I wanted to sign bands. I wanted to be friends with rock stars. I wanted that whole lifestyle! I told this to my dad one day thinking he would embrace me and say, “c’mon son, let’s go change the world” but instead he looked me up and down and said, ‘what the hell do you know about the music business?’

I was devastated but he was right, so we came up with a plan to get some real-world music experience. Working with unknown bands, promoting them in clubs around Los Angeles, even interning at the local record label, which is sort of where I got my start. It was all a great ground-level experience. Dad knew what he was doing for sure.

And it’s hard to explain exactly why Rock & Roll attracted me in particular. I listen to music in the ’70s and early ’80s that wasn’t Rock, and some of it was very cool. Glenn Campbell, RB Greaves, even synth bands like Missing Persons and The Human League. But they never spoke to me the way Rock still does. It never kicked me in the chest and made me want to pump my fist and bang my head. And it never made me want to plunk down thousands upon thousands of dollars for records, tapes, CDs, concerts, t-shirts, and cassingles!

Can you tell us the most interesting or most funny story that happened to you since you began your Rock & Roll career?

When I was an intern at A&M Records in the early 90s, my boss told me to run something across the lot to someone else and make it quick. (This was before email so yes, it had to be hand-delivered!). I did what was I was told and ran across the lot to deliver this message. I jumped up some stairs three at a time, and literally ran headfirst into the entire band, Soundgarden, who were there to promote their brand-new album, Superunknown.

I profusely apologized and made a joke about hustling for the boss, but they just stared at me, shook their heads, and walked on by. The moral of the story is: it’s ok to work your butt off, but always keep your head up so you can see where you are going!

What would you advise a young person who wants to emulate your success?

Well, it’s no small thing to say that the music industry had changed completely since I first started my journey. Gone are the multi-national conglomerates scouring the earth for bands, feting them with three-martini lunches, and imploring them to sign on the bottom line. But the industry does still exist in its own new and modern form. And that’s where you have to find your own space.

I talk about this in my book, but I did everything humanly possible to get into the music business. I worked in mailrooms, I stuffed envelopes, I worked for bands and booked tours. I did promotion for bands no one ever heard of. And everything else in between. Just to be near the industry I loved the most.

These days, I would get good at Pro Tools and other music mixing software. Maybe start a studio in your house and offer to help bands in your hometown. Go work for a local club or arena and drive traffic to their doors. Make videos for a new band for YouTube or TikTok. Or any of a million other new ways to build buzz and make that one band stand out over the myriad of others trying to do the exact same thing.

We still listen to music, right? So, something is working. Go find it. Go try it. Go do it.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Scot Finck was on the Promotions team at A&M Records. We had a lot of great chats about music, the industry, cool new bands, even cool old bands. I still credit Scot with turning me on to early Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan. But his advice during my time at A&M has transcended all sorts of jobs and industries I’ve been in ever since. How to treat people. How to prioritize what’s important. How to complete a task, get credit for it, but do so humbly like it was no big deal. Great life lessons with a kick-ass soundtrack to boot. Thanks, Scot!

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Like many of your readers, I assume, I read a lot of Rock & Roll books. Singers, guitarists, drummers, managers, roadies, even groupies! When I looked at my collection, I realized there was one important voice missing — the fans. That’s why I wrote “All the Cool Bands.” To give a voice to the fans of Rock & Roll — and believe me, there are still millions of us out there — and I wanted to tell just one small part of the overall Rock & Roll story.

Since I wrote it, I’ve been trying to promote the brand All the Cool Bands, get the name out there, and highlight all the great things that are STILL happening these days in the world of Rock & Roll.

And my book even has its own theme song! This was a surprise, but my buddies in the band Pincushion Jones wrote me this song for the book and well, frankly, it rocks!

Are you able to summarize the message of Rock & Roll in a sentence? Why do you think that message is more relevant now than it’s been in a while?

I think the message of Rock & Roll is “live your life your way.” And I think it resonates now, more than ever. The last few years have been tough on everyone, to say the least. Diseases, riots, climate change, etc. The bad news doesn’t seem to end. Music has always been there to help people through rough times. But to me, Rock & Roll not only tells me it’s going to be ok, it tells me that as long as I’m doing what I love, then I’m doing the right thing and headed in the right direction!

As a famous band once said: “Sing with me, sing for a year, Sing for the laughter, and sing for the tear, Sing with me, if it’s just for today, Maybe tomorrow, the good Lord will take you away.” Powerful stuff.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

Ask Questions — A Lot of Questions: I used to be really shy and awkward and never asked questions because I was afraid of looking stupid when I did. Wow, what a mistake. Turns out, people LOVE answering questions about themselves, their work, their music, etc. Ask them everything. You can always preface it with ‘hey, do you mind if I ask you a few questions about X’ so they know the onslaught is coming but it’s truly one of the only ways you learn.

Be Humble: At work, if something good happens, the credit should go to the whole team. If something bad happens, take full blame, and promise to fix it. The same rule applies in life. Be humble about your success and be willing to work on any of the failures. These are the kinds of leadership traits that people notice when they want to promote someone.

Have a Daily Stretch Goal: Don’t know much about accounting? Sit with the accounting team one day and ask them to show you their world? Never tried Indian food? Give it a shot! (ProTip: it’s REALLY good!) But the point is, how will you know what you like and don’t like if you don’t at least try it.

Listen to Something New Every Day: I have almost 1,000 CDs and many of them I bought because someone suggested I might like it. “Mexican polka mixed with Slayer? No way I’ll like that!” Well, I was wrong, and I’m glad I was wrong. And because I try and listen to something new every day, that CD will be in my collection forever.

See as Many Damn Concerts as You Can Handle: I realize resources can be tight sometimes, but if you get a chance to see a band, go see them! I once gave up tickets to Nirvana to go hang with some friends. Kurt passed, and they never played in my town again. A huge hole in my Rock & Roll resume. So, when a band you like comes to your town, go see them!

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Everyone has a story to tell. What are you waiting for? Tell it? As a rock fan, I want to hear your best Rock & Roll moments just like the ones I put in my book. Don’t just save them for the dining room table, share them with the world. Let’s start a whole new genre — we can call it Fan Non-Fiction. Be a part of that. I’m betting that you will find hundreds of kindred spirits who have similar fun experiences which can open up whole new worlds for you in your life. Plus let’s be honest, we all want to see those photos of you with the big hair in the 80s right?

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Go big or go home. As I said, I was a very shy kid and an extremely awkward teenager. I was afraid to do anything. I always cared what people might think. I never asked that girl out. Rock & Roll helped me break through that shell. So after many cringe-worthy years, my advice is to go big!

Who cares what people think? As long as you are not harming anyone, do what you want. Dance in the street. Bang your head. Pump that fist. Play your music just a little too loud. I guarantee I’ll be doing the same thing.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Wow, this one is really tough. There are literally hundreds of rock stars and rock star makers I would love to meet and chat with, hear their stories, and ask them about music.

From the music world, I’d have to go with Joe Elliott, the lead singer of one of my favorite bands ever, Def Leppard. He even took the photo that’s on the cover my book! But I’d love to go to his bar in Dublin, have a pint, and just ask him what he loves so much about music. What is he listening to these days? What was his favorite concert ever? I could chat with that guy for days!

From the business side, Q Prime Management has been doing things right for decades. They still manage some of the best bands in the world, from Metallica to Volbeat to Eric Church. Cliff Burnstein and Peter Mensch, who founded Q Prime, are legends in the industry and I’d love to chat with them about their methods and process for managing bands in the quick-paced world for Rock & Roll. And I would particularly like to know their views on how the industry has changed. They’ve had a front-row seat!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

The book is available online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and wherever books are sold. And you can follow me and tell me about your own musical stories @AlltheCoolBands on Twitter and Instagram.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

It was lovely to chat with you as well. Thank you and as always, rock on!

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