2 May 2017

Music man talks tech’s takeoff

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 2:16 pm on 2 May 2017

Ted Cohen is considered something of a visionary in the worlds of music and technology. 

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s he worked at Warner Brothers Records as an artist development manager overseeing the careers of the likes of Prince, the Pretenders, Talking Heads, Fleetwood Mac and the Ramones. 

He later became senior vice president of digital development & distribution for EMI Music.

He got his start in computing in 1979 with an Atari 800 with "a whole 8K of memory" and has embraced technological advancements ever since.

Now he is managing partner of TAG Strategic in Los Angeles, a digital entertainment consulting firm. 

Cohen visits New Zealand later this week as a guest speaker at an Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality Summit.

Despite 15 years of the music business being moribund, Cohen says growth is returning. 

“A lot of people looked at it [technology] as the death of music, I’ve maintained, and it’s starting to bear out, that the whole idea of people being able to share music by having music on their phone, on their iPod on their laptop, things like Sonos in their home, those things that were going to hurt music we’re now seeing after, admittedly about a 15 year slump, the music industry growing.

“People have discovered that services such as Spotify can basically get people closer to music than ever because they’re not inhibited by not owning the music.”

Cohen’s music career began behind the counter at Disc Records in his native Cleveland.

He then worked for Columbia Records before joining Warner Bros. Records in 1972.

Around that time he met a Fleetwood Mac in the doldrums and in transition, the original incarnation of the group having dispersed.

“I got a call from Mick Fleetwood saying his manager had stolen their name and put another band on the road!”

The band at that stage was re-building its career after a series of line-up changes had left it in reduced circumstances.

“I started working with them when Bob Welch was in the band, they were station wagon tours - we had three station wagons and an equipment van. We did the first Stevie [Nicks] and Lyndsay [Buckingham] tours with the station wagons and then a year later it was a private plane.”

He stayed with the band through the next 10 years at the height of its commercial success with the Fleetwood Mac and Rumours albums, but says by the early 80s the band were jaded.

“In ‘82 I had to leave the tour to work with The Who, I got such grief from everybody in Fleetwood Mac they all took me aside: ‘You fly on our plane, we give you your own limo, you drink our champagne and you’re leaving us?’

“And I went; ‘you’ve stopped doing interviews’. They got to the point where they didn’t really want to meet anybody, they were having internal struggles.”

Cohen also worked with Prince early in his career, an artist he says needed little, if any, guidance.

“Prince I got to work with right after his second album when he became the illegitimate child of Jimi Hendrix and James Brown after the Dirty Mind tour in 1981.

“I went to Minneapolis to meet Prince, I watched him it was unbelievable and we proceeded to go out on tour for the next couple of months - it was just watching something explode - everything he did I just said 'wow!'"

Ted Cohen is coming to Auckland this week for the Magnify AR/VR Summit 

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