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Johns Hopkins UniversityArts and Sciences Magazine

Spotting the Next Superstar

A decade ago, David Boxenbaum '91 was an executive at Price Waterhouse when he got a call from his college buddy James Diener '91, then a senior vice president of marketing for Columbia Records/Sony Music, where Diener worked with such artists as Aerosmith, Bob Dylan, and Pink Floyd.

Diener's proposition to Boxenbaum: Let's start anindependent new music label that will take the industry by storm.

Today, their ambitious quest has been realized in A&M/Octone Records, the hot music label that has produced artists such as multi-platinum Maroon 5, modern-rock Flyleaf, rap-rockers Hollywood Undead, and pop hip-hop artist K'Naan.

A&M/Octone is small, and the company takes on only a handful of acts, which Diener and Boxenbaum say allows them to give artists the personal attention needed to vault them out of obscurity and into commercial success. The company receives about 100 demos each week and they all get a listen, says Boxenbaum, the company's general manager.

"I'm a hopeless idealist," says Boxenbaum, who consulted for Universal Music and Disney during his years at Price Waterhouse. "I want to believe that at the bottom of that stack is that great band that no one knew about and that didn't have the connections to get directly to me. I want to believe, 'Wow. This is gonna be great.' I love the discovery."

He offers up the Grammy Award-winning Maroon 5 as an example. "Every single major label passed on them," he says of the group. "It's about seeing what people don't see. The connection they have with an audience.What we saw was a diamond in the rough."

Diener and Boxenbaum signed the group in 2002, and in the years since, Maroon 5 has seen several albums go platinum.

Diener, who is president and CEO of the New York-based A&M/Octone, is no stranger to the music industry. In the 1970s, his father was president of ABC records. During Diener's years at Hopkins, he played guitar with a variety of cover bands and worked at local recording studios.

"I never regret my decision to not be producing music myself because I know that all of that creative tutelage and thousands of hours of music study during early years has played an essential role in my success today, the success of A&M/Octone—and my personal ability to interact successfully with the talent," notes Diener.

When Octone launched in 2000, Diener simultaneously took on the position of senior vice president for the RCA Music Group (a division of SonyBMG Entertainment), where he signed and developed singer/songwriter Gavin DeGraw. In 2007, he helped cut a deal to sell Sony BMG's interest to Universal Music Group, for about $75 million. A&M/Octone then formed a joint venture with Interscope-Geffen-A&M/Universal Music Group.

The merger was a different approach in the industry, allowing bands to get personal attention from a small label (It's not unusual for Boxenbaum, Diener, and colleagues to advise an up-and-coming group to get a better guitar player, or hire a professional manager), with the major financial support that's needed to take it to the next level: ever bigger concerts and audiences, and worldwide marketing and distribution.

Boxenbaum, who holds an MBA from Columbia, says the nature of the business means lots of travel and late nights.

But the pay-off is worth it,he says.

"There is nothing like seeing Maroon 5 go from playing to75 people in a bar to 20,000 fans at Madison Square Garden and every one of them singing their songs," he says. "That is why Ido it."






(l-r) David Boxenbaum '91 and
James Diener '91


"I want to believe that at the bottom of that stack is that great band that no one knew about and that didn't have the connections to get directly to me."
—David Boxenbaum '91, general manager, A&M/Octone



Related Link

A&M/Octone Records