The New York Times Profiles Jeffrey Jampol: One Man’s Mission To Keep Music Legacies Alive

17 Jun The New York Times Profiles Jeffrey Jampol: One Man’s Mission To Keep Music Legacies Alive

Click here to read the article by Gavin Edwards at the New York Times.

Prince died in April, leaving behind an estimated $300 million estate, a vault full of unreleased music and an untold number of people looking to lay claim to his fortune. More than 20 Tupac Shakur albums have been released since the rapper was gunned down in 1996; with the death of his mother, Afeni Shakur Davis, in May, the future of his catalog is uncertain. The fate of unreleased Kurt Cobain recordings has had his former Nirvana bandmates and widow, Courtney Love, fighting (and reconciling) in public for two decades.

Musicians’ estates can be managed effectively, or run into the ground. That’s why people call Jeff Jampol, who specializes in managing the performers that the music business calls legacy acts and that the general public refers to as dead people.

The roster of his privately held company, Jampol Artist Management, or Jam Inc., is chock-full of Rock and Roll Hall of Famers, including Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, the Ramones, Muddy Waters, Jefferson Airplane and the Doors. (Some of those bands have surviving members but are missing key personnel and have no hope of ever reuniting.) A new addition to the client list: Mr. Cobain, whose work is “going to be relevant for centuries,” Mr. Jampol said.

“A lot of people approach these legacies as vultures winging around this decomposing body looking for little islands of still-pink flesh they can consume,” he recently said matter-of-factly from his West Hollywood, Calif., office. “I take the opposite approach. I believe in reanimating the body, and then all the revenue streams will come with it.” Mr. Jampol has done well with his business model: His office has a half-dozen full-time employees, and he says that he hasn’t needed to pursue a client for 12 years.

His methods have fans in the music industry. “Jeff has carved out a really interesting niche in the management business and done a stellar job with it,” said Mark Pinkus, president of Rhino Entertainment in the United States. “Back in 2007, he came to us with all these ideas for the 40th anniversary of the Doors. We all thought it was going to be a mess, and he pulled it off beautifully.” A Doors gala on the Sunset Strip was such a hit, Mr. Pinkus said, that he was barely able to squeeze into the closing event at the Whisky a Go Go.

Sales of recorded music have been dwindling for all artists, living and dead, in recent years. While legacy artists can make up some of the gap with deluxe boxed sets, Mr. Jampol’s primary goal is not to prop up his clients on the Billboard charts but to make sure that the public remains aware of them. That can mean documentary films, books, museum exhibitions, iPhone apps and Broadway musicals like “A Night With Janis Joplin.” That show, halfway between a jukebox musical and a blues concert, opened on Broadway to mixed reviews in 2013 and is still touring.

“The focus for most contemporary managers is radio, touring and tour merch,” Mr. Jampol said. “That’s their troika. We do everything except those three.” Mr. Jampol, 57, likes to point out that a song like the Doors’ “Light My Fire” will always be new for an 11-year-old somewhere. “Marketing to potential new fans is much more effective than marketing to existing fans,” he said, “because there are many more of them.”

Intellectual property is a more substantial asset than anyone dreamed of in the early days of rock ’n’ roll. David Bowie’s estate, for example, was calculated as being worth around $100 million when he died in January. And the Michael Jackson estate has generated over $1 billion since his death in 2009, almost as much as he earned while he was alive.

The Ramones achieved fame without selling truckloads of records: Their debut album didn’t go gold until 2014, 38 years after its release. The band’s largest income stream these days is from clothing — specifically, T-shirts bearing the classic logo designed by Arturo Vega that played off the United States presidential seal.

“I love merch,” said Linda Ramone, the widow of the guitarist Johnny Ramone. “When you went to a Ramones show, they’d sell drumsticks, banners, posters.” With all the original Ramones dead, Ms. Ramone said, “Now it’s more about books and movies, just to keep the legacy alive, and having great stuff come out there.”

Laura Joplin, Janis’s sister, said Mr. Jampol improved the quality of projects involving the singer’s memory. “The people he was choosing to bring in were better: more skilled, more capable, better artists,” she said. Mr. Jampol ticked off ways the Joplin family benefited from the musical, although its Broadway run was brief: “We sell Janis merch there, we get royalties on the show, obviously we get paid for the music. And it drives everything else — it’s a marketing exercise to connect people with the idea of Janis.” That enables brand extensions like a clothing line called “Made for Pearl”: not T-shirts with the singer’s face, but apparel inspired by the clothes she wore.

Mr. Jampol isn’t the only person to recognize the value of expired celebrities. Jamie Salter at Authentic Brands Group, for example, handles both Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe. The entertainment lawyer John Branca manages the Michael Jackson estate, and has done legal work for many Jam Inc. clients. “There are a couple of other guys, but they don’t really do what Jeff does, or I do, or Jamie does,” Mr. Branca said. “They don’t create Broadway plays, they don’t create movies.” He refers to Mr. Jampol as “The Professor”: “He’s very scholarly, very intellectual.”

Mr. Jampol said he grew up in Los Angeles, “a short, fat, nonathletic Jewish loner kid.” He skipped several grades, which only furthered his social isolation, but he found a community in 1972, at the age of 13, when he saw David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust tour at the Santa Monica Civic Center. “There were 1,900 other weirdos there exactly like me,” he recalled. “It was the first time in my life I felt like I wasn’t alone.”

Childhood lessons on guitar and bass had revealed he had no particular musical aptitude, but he resolved to be closer to the source of rock ’n’ roll. He dropped out of college to manage punk bands and became, he said, “a stark raving mad heroin addict.” By 1989, he had cleaned up; a few years later, he started a management company. He never had a blockbuster touring artist, so while stuck in the office he developed his expertise on less glamorous parts of the business, like music publishing and licensing.

One of his friends was Danny Sugerman, who started out answering the Doors’ fan mail and ended up managing the band after Jim Morrison’s death in 1971. When Mr. Sugerman learned he had lung cancer, Mr. Jampol handed all his bands over to his management partner and in 2002 teamed up with Mr. Sugerman to work on the Doors together. “Danny knew everything,” Mr. Jampol said. “He became what I call the thing between my gun and my foot.”

The Doors drummer John Densmore said that one of Mr. Jampol’s precepts is that “in the long term, saying no to crass exploitation increases the value” of a band.

In 2010, Mr. Cobain’s widow, Ms. Love, reportedly signed over her rights to his name and likeness to the trust of their daughter, Frances Bean Cobain. That same year, Ms. Cobain turned 18 and took control of her trust fund; she was an executive producer on last year’s documentary “Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck.” Now, working with the Cobain family, Mr. Jampol is organizing a touring exhibition of “Kurt’s works and his art and his possessions,” he said. “He’s got some amazing canvases that a lot of the world has never seen or even heard of.”

Looking ahead, Mr. Jampol is interested in branching out beyond music. “What we do for the Ramones or for Otis Redding, we can also do for Robert Rauschenberg or Richard Neutra or Jack Kerouac,” he said. The Jam Inc. client list now also includes the Shaw Brothers, producers of hundreds of movies in Hong Kong.

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Most people in the industry avoid specializing in deceased artists, either because they find it distasteful or because they prefer the spark that comes when musicians actively engage the public. “Although there clearly will be an increasing need for necromanagement, I’ve always been more drawn to the living creative process,” says Martin Kirkup, a founding partner at Direct Management, who represent Katy Perry, K.D. Lang and Adam Lambert.

The inexorable forces of human mortality and actuarial tables mean that in the years to come, the business of legacy acts will grow ever larger. Mr. Jampol said he’s long been interested in buying stakes in estates, but he was waiting to find investors who would pursue a buy-and-hold strategy. He is now partnering with Shamrock Capital Advisors, which in May announced its $250 million Entertainment IP Fund.

“Publishing catalogs are a prized investment right now,” Mr. Jampol said, explaining that their performance is fairly steady at 10 percent a year and unaffected by fluctuations in the stock market. He contends that artists’ estates can be a similarly strong, stable investment.

He added: “I’m open to buying something less than 100 percent — I believe in having the families and benefactors involved. This business is rife with opportunists and money wolves. People just want to get hold of something and ‘exploit’ it. ‘Content’ and ‘exploit’ are two words that I forbid people from using. We use the word ‘art’; we use the word ‘utilize’ or ‘deploy.’ It really changes your thinking.”

Mr. Jampol said that part of what gives him confidence is knowing that he’s repeating history with artists who have proved their appeal. “It’s up to a potential fan to decide: Is this relevant for me? Do I love what’s behind the message? Do I love the music? We know that a certain percentage will and a certain percentage won’t. I’m not trying to massage those percentages,” he insisted. “But I already know what’s going to happen because I know what happened.”

Read the story at the New York Times.