Industry Profile: Aimee Berger
By Bob Grossweiner and Jane Cohen
Aimee Berger is president of 2 Generations SPA Music Management (2G), a music management and record label company, and co-creator of Camplified, a new concept in summer touring where developing artists perform at summer day camps and sleep away camps in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states.
Aimee began her music business career in the A&R administration department at Island Records' Miami Beach office, under senior vice president Holly Ferguson. Later, while attending Southwestern University Law School in Los Angeles, Aimee took an internship at Warner Chappell, where her first-hand experience at one of the largest music publishing companies in the world armed her with the resilience to plunge into the West Coast music scene. She soon began serving as a consultant to unsigned bands, and upon passing the bar, she took a position with BMG/Arista in business affairs.
Aimee is the second person in her family to build a career in the music business. Her grandmother, Shirley Cohen, owned the famed New York nightclubs, The Peppermint Lounge and The Wagon Wheel. Both venues housed historical events as the former is considered the birthplace of Chubby Checker's "Let's Twist Again," and the latter is where a number of legendary recording artists were discovered by Atlantic Records co-founder Ahmet Ertegun during the 1960's.
"My grandmother made an extraordinary impact on the music business and on me," says Aimee, attributing much of her own success to her grandmother. "I work hard to maintain the legacy she left behind. She instilled important values in me and I think she would be proud to know that I do my best to conduct business in a way that mirrors her own sensibilities."
In 1995 Aimee launched 2G as a consulting company for developing music artists, which evolved into an artist management firm. In 1997, modern rock quintet Lunch Box Heroes was signed as the company's debut act for artist management, and within a year, the group signed a record deal with producer Richard Gottherer (The Ravonettes, Blondie, co-founder Sire Records). Shortly before LBH's label signing, Joyce Dollinger, who had worked with Aimee years before at Island Records, joined her in order to fulfill the escalating needs of the band's rapid growth. Next, the duo took on Into The Woods, a jam-rock quartet, who they infiltrated into the grassroots, do-it-yourself community. With each band working full time, Aimee brought in another former co-worker, Lisa Weissberg, whom she had previously worked under at Arista at the end of 1998. With nearly a decade of music business experience, Weissberg greatly complemented and rounded out 2G's executive personnel.
Within the last six years, Aimee has been at the helm of 2G's artist management arm and record label, SPA Records, Inc., overseeing staff hiring and talent signing. In managing the day-to-day activities on behalf of each artist, Aimee is constantly seeking out and creating new opportunities for the bands through touring, publicity and promotion--on and offline--and serving as a liaison between the artists and the music community at large.
Beginning December 1999, SPA Records released its first compilation, coinciding with a promotion tour to bring the music of breaking acts to the attention of new audiences and industry professionals, nationwide. "We toured 18 acts cross-country and received sponsorship from many sources including BMI," says Aimee. "BMI, in an effort to increase membership among up and coming rock bands, used our tour as a resource for new acts. Four artists were signed off the compilation CD, and it became very apparent to my two partners Joyce and Lisa and myself, that our newly formed company was onto something grass roots. However, the idea of compilation CDs being used to expose artists and promotional tours was not an original one, so while sitting in a restaurant one evening and discussing what to do next with SPA Records, a light bulb went off in Joyce's head. She turned to me and said, 'Remember summer camp?' I said, 'I sure do,' and she said, 'How about concerts inside summer camps, and SPA Records making up compilation CDs and passing them out to all the campers?'"
The seeds of Camplified were planted.
Aimee and her partners met with potential sponsors and television networks to discuss a media element to this innovative tour and management companies. "We were met with ultimate enthusiasm and then the work really began," she says. "Through a friend of a friend, I was introduced to AMSKIER, a company specializing in insurance for summer camps. Aimee Skier became an instant friend. She introduced me to her father and brother, and with the summer camp concert tour proposal in hand, I set out to convince these three that the concert industry could have a positive impact on camping if handled through proper channels with utmost care and consideration of the camps and camp owners."
To launch Camplified in 2003, Aimee, along with her partners, formed Alternative Venue Entertainment, a joint venture with Trevanna Entertainment, headed by industry veteran Carl Freed, and SPA Records. "Carl has been a major force in the music business promoting concerts for American Idol, Warped Tour, Backstreet Boys, Boom Boom Tony Hawk and Hot 97 Summer Jam," says Aimee.
"The impact that this type of company has had on the music industry at large has allowed for a new innovative style of touring to take place for young breaking artists," Aimee explains. "It has also given sponsors the opportunity to reach tweens and teens in appropriately targeted settings coupled with a concert and an interactive experience all rolled up into one."
Camplified just finished its second season with a third already in the works. Camplified's inaugural tour consisted of 15 dates playing 20 camps. Artists featured were: Lucy Woodward (Atlantic), Rose Falcon (Columbia), FeFe Dobson (Island/Def Jam), Skye Sweetnam (Capitol), and Fifth Year Crush (Shoebox). This year's tour played 23 camps over 12 dates and featured: J-Me (Ripe Records/Navarre Distribution), Huckapoo (appearing on several Disney soundtracks) and The Bloody Lovelies (Cheap Lullaby/Red Eye Distribution).
"In an atmosphere bereft of artist development, Camplified enables artists to establish an intimate connection with potential fans at a crucial developmental time in their familiarity with music," she explains. "The camps hosting our show are like family, we have been working with many of them for over two years making sure we are creating an age-appropriate and memorable experience for their campers. By pre-familiarizing the audience with the music before each show, the artists can invite more participation and make the concert even more of a party."
"Every camper is a VIP, every camper experiences what a backstage environment at a concert might be like with the artists. The campers have the ability to interact and communicate with the artists, have photographs taken, purchase merchandise, receive free samplers including CDs, posters, autographs and stickers and eat lunch and/or dinner with the artists on hand. In spontaneous situations, the artists have been known to stay the night at camp, judge a camp talent show, perform additional impromptu performances at a campfire, or participate in camp activities all within the guidelines set by the camp directors. It's my belief that the tween and teen market remains untapped in significant ways and that conventional ways of reaching this audience has been played out."
"Camplified 2005 will once again expand and will undoubtedly reach many more tweens and teens with some very exciting strategic partners in the mix," says Aimee, "with the tour going beyond its initial geographic region, hitting more camps by adding dates, cities and artists."
In January 2004, Dollinger and Weissberg amicably parted ways with Aimee and 2G to pursue other business endeavors; they are still involved with Alternative Venue Entertainment. Presently, Aimee manages Fifth Year Crush, Squeezetoy, Paolo Gregoletto of Metal Militia and bassist for Trivium (Roadrunner Records), Tammany Hall, Dave Pittenger Band, and The Bloody Lovelies (Cheap Lullaby Records), which consists of Eric Holden and Craig MacIntyre of Josh Groban's band. Aimee has also expanded the roster with a full production-management arm representing such notables as songwriter/producer/arranger Russ Desalvo, producer/mixer Dug McGuirk, producer Glen Robinson, production team The Churchills and Full Force, and hip hop producer Manifest. The company also has developed its own label, SPA Records, Inc.
What kind of artists/producers are you looking for to sign for management?
First and foremost hard working clients, who show up on time to sessions, meetings, interviews and tour dates. Currently, we aren't looking to develop any new bands at the moment for management purposes because the current schedule is pretty hectic. Typically for me, the first thing I'm interested in is an artist who can identify four to six markets within 100 to 300 miles of their hometown that we can explore for them. We build the marketing plan around those identifiable markets, and we seek out to execute on that intended plan. Artists playing less than eight shows a month probably aren't going to make the cut when being passed along to our talent scouts for review. We have set guidelines, and they need to meet most of that criteria or it ends up being counterproductive for them and us.
Artists who are okay with being self-sufficient, and self-contained and want assistance with such, should seek out 2 Generations. I'm interested in an artist who has the desire within to stick it out for an extended period of time, can climb mountains because I will climb with them, and we will take it one building block at a time. They need to withstand the criticisms and the length of time it will take to self-develop without a machine working for them. We're signing artists to competitive distribution deals, and the structure of the deals are more joint venture oriented. In a joint venture setting, we bring certain things to the table, like a finished record and several markets where the record is selling and the band is playing, and we utilize the label and/or distributor for marketing, touring and distribution support.
We will find our bands endorsement deals to help supplement their income and exposure. We also help our bands create tour packages with other bands especially if they don't have a booking agent or even if they do, we make it a bit easier on the agent by finding two or three like bands and making them each responsible for three to four venue dates so that we can do mini 8- to 12-date tours with each band driving the audience on their responsible dates. This helps the bands expand their exposure by supporting other like acts with sold out crowds in small to midsize venues.
Also, I spend a significant amount of time, and so does my staff, looking for new projects for our producers. I may not be interested in signing a band to management at our company, but I may want my producer to invest time in the act's development of their musical style and then help the artist find appropriate management. If one of my producers is involved in the project than inherently I have an interest in the artist's welfare and mainstay so assisting them in putting a team around them has mutual benefit to me as well.
How was Camplified was formed?
Mark Shulman formerly of Metropolitan Entertainment, who is now a talent buyer at AEG-NY, is a dear friend of mine. He was one of the first people I confided in when my partners Joyce Dollinger, Lisa Weissberg and myself decided to make an attempt at pioneering a new innovative type of concert touring. Mark had always been very supportive of me probably because we both share the same alma mater - Penn State.
Mark introduced me to Carl Freed who I had known of but was not formerly acquainted with at the time. Mark felt that Carl, his colleague at Metropolitan and someone who had many years concert promotion experience, was a perfect fit to assist in getting Camplified off the ground. Carl and I met, and it was instant admiration for each of us. We agreed on a handshake to bring this tour to fruition no matter how many executives made it extremely complicated for this venture to see the light of day. Mark is a very devoted friend, and I owe a lot to him, more than I can ever repay and more than a few nice dinners at the Blue Water Grille will show my gratitude.
What are the various roles of the Camplified partners?
Joyce Dollinger handles all in house counsel for Alternative Venue Entertainment. She executes all the contracts on behalf of the company with the camps, sponsors and the artists. She is also on hand at many of the tour dates to ensure each day goes smoothly and each camp is satisfied.
Lisa Weissberg handles all the spreadsheets and gathering of database information that needs to be shared with the artists and the camps. She acts as a liaison to the camps in providing them with information as it's relayed to us immediately to the camp directors. This information will be in regards to logistics and the scheduling of the actual day at the camps. The DVD which depicts the excitement of the campers, the camp directors and the artists participating in the tour was created by Lisa in conjunction with Lia Starace, a video expert I highly recommend that we hired to make us look very very good at what we do.
Carl Freed handles all the production and budget coordination for the tour and acts as a liaison with the record labels, management companies and their agents!
I handle the role of interacting with the camp directors, signing up new camps and renewing ones who have already worked with us in the past. I travel to all the camp dates, always with a camcorder in one hand, a digital camera in the other and constantly shooting the most bizarre and spontaneous moments of the tour! I also work closely with the artists and their management team at each tour date to make introductions to campers and assist in the interactive activities of the day.
Why did you go with relatively unknown artists for Camplified?
The first year we went with acts that were on major labels with significant financial support and that we felt would make a very strong impact in the aftermath of the tour. It was an opportunity for us to maximize exposure of our tour concept and deliver to the camps our intended goals.
The second year we wanted to explore the indie labels because it became known in the industry that the indie labels were gaining significant momentum, and we wanted to be a part of assisting them in delivering talent to captive settings. We wanted to be involved in the organic build of an indie label's development of an artist because we also felt the kids at the camps would be excited to take part in the viral marketing of these lesser known acts to their friends.
What is expected of the camps involved in Camplified?
The camps provide an appropriate venue for Camplified to take place, usually on the soccer field of the camp property. The camps invite all the campers to attend the event ranging from as young as 8-years-old to 16. The counselors range from 17-25. The campers come from all over the U.S and the counselors come from as far as Australia and New Zealand.
The camps provide a very conducive environment to host these shows and also allow some of their staff to assist in the set up at the camp the day of the show, which allows some campers to experience the labor end of producing a show. Since our day at the camp is almost a full day, we need the camp to accommodate meals for the artists, crew and, of course, their campers.
What is expected from the artists on Camplified?
The camps and campers are our customers. They bring the energy and the right atmosphere setting for the show, but it's the artists that set the tone for the type of experience the kids will get. First and foremost, they need to prepare five to seven songs for their set with one song being a cover that's recognizable to the kids. They need to be prepared to sign autographs and take pictures with every camper and to provide Camplified with samplers and merchandise that can be supplied to the camps in advance of the show so the kids can get a taste of what's to come. The artists chosen to be a part of this tour need to be relatively clean cut, well mannered and professional in demeanor. They need to show their appreciation of the campers and the staff and understand these campers have the ability to communicate to their friends what took place at their camp this summer and who they saw on stage.
What do the campers get out of Camplified?
Every camper gets a Camplified t-shirt with the artists and camps listed. They get free CDs, posters, stickers and signed autographs. But the artists also sell merchandise on this tour and the kids do purchase items that price between $5-$10 a piece. The campers also get a one-of-a-kind interactive experience that can't compare to anything out there. On this tour, no one needs a backstage pass, and there isn't a VIP list because everyone is a VIP and everyone has backstage access and ample time with the artists. This isn't about a quick meet and greet. We remain on the camp property until every camper feels fulfilled. At some camps, the artists even participated in impromptu acoustic sets in the campers bunks, cafeteria, campfire and also partook as judges for camp talent shows, spending the night at the camp, in an extra bunk for guests of the camp and leaving the next morning to meet up with the tour.
Do the camps want publicity out of the experience?
The camps have not asked us to publicize their camps and in some ways the camps prefer to remain out of mainstream attention. However, they do like the idea of publicizing our event at their camp to potential campers that will come to their camp the following season. They utilize our experience as a selling tool to parents and campers. The camps put out newsletters throughout the camp season, and before camp starts, to tell prospective campers and their parents about what's expected at camp the following summer and/or what's going on at camp currently. The camps also have websites and feature pictures and video streams of Camplified. Some camps even sell pictures of Camplified to the parents from their websites, letting the parents know that there are pictures available of their children experiencing Camplified on the camp website.
What are the plans for future Camplified seasons?
It appears that with the current trend of recent publicity on Camplified that our offices are receiving more calls about potential artists and more advertising agencies are preparing to utilize our tour as a vehicle for launching new products and brands. These brands need to be kid-friendly, and the more a camper can touch and feel the product and feel like they are a part of announcing the "coolness" of the product to their friends, the better it will be for the brand to meet its marketing goals.
With the rise in sponsorship interests, we intend to reach five times the amount of camps we have thus far. The tour will increase from one tour to possibly as many as three tours. This would increase the amount of artists needed. We believe it would be best to provide artists to day camps that skew a little younger and artists to resident camps that skew a little older. Ideally, two tours with 45 dates each would be fantastic but we have to take into consideration that camp is only eight weeks, which means 60 days, and the camps don't usually do much in the way of events the first and last week of camp with outside companies. During the first week of camp, all the campers are becoming acquainted with each other and the camp environment and the last week of camp, campers are preparing to leave and doing last minute bonding with their friends.
First concert attended
Andy Gibb at the Pompano Sportatorium in Florida in 1979--it's not in existence anymore.
First concert worked
38 Special at Penn State University in Spring 1992. I was helping my friends in Beta Sig, a local fraternity, put on a huge concert called Regatta that raised money for their charitable organization.
First industry job
Island Records A&R administration, working out of Chris Blackwell's South Beach, Fla. offices overlooking the ocean.
Starting 2 Generations on my own back in 1997 and beginning my career as a music manager part-time while still working in the corporate infrastructure at a major label;
Starting SPA Records (www.sparecords.com) with my former partners and coordinating a tour of 18 developing acts cross country in Spring 2000 with such acts as Howling Diablos (Michigan), Epstein's Mother (Las Vegas), Big Sky (Florida), Eclectic Nobody's (Connecticut), Steamroller (Texas), and Kilgore Trout (New York), while launching a compilation CD of their music with financial backing from BMI among other sponsors. Four of those acts--Howling Diablos, Lunch Box Heroes, Kilgore Trout, Steamroller -- later were signed and went on to achieve national recognition;
Signing Russ Desalvo, one of my songwriter and publisher clients, to Paul McCartney's publishing company, MPL Communications. I'm a huge fan of the Beatles and visited Liverpool and took a tour of Ringo's, George's, Paul's and John's homes, schools and hangouts. This was a monumental moment; and
Alternative Venue Entertainment's launch of Camplified and travel to our first official date -- 2003, Julian Krinsky in Pennsylvania with FeFe Dobson, Skye Sweetnam and Fifth Year Crush;
There really hasn't been any career disappointments and not because things go perfect every day - they don't ever - but I came from a place a long time ago deep inside where I began to believe in karma and things happen for a reason, and for every set back comes two gigantic steps forward. Every time disaster sets in it's a sign that something really extraordinary is about to hit around the corner.
If I had to pinpoint a disappointment, it's probably nothing unique from what most managers face in the business, and that's doing everything possible to develop an artist all the way to execution of a record deal to finding out that not long into their new future, the act decides they can do much better with a different manager than the one who put them on the map. This can be a difficult moment in time to digest especially because it feels like a divorce, or rather your partner having an affair and you're no longer good enough for them. But again things always seem to work out for the best and, in essence, it becomes a blessing in disguise.
Creating the first concerts ever to appear in camps, not singer/songwriters around a campfire but an actual concert. Breaking new ground with camp directors and working to convince record labels that this untapped territory of captive audiences could be the next wave of touring for young breaking artists.
Best business decision
Restructuring 2 Generations in the early part of 2004 with a highly charged staff, a new operating plan, and a great advisory board. As a result, the company has achieved a 50% increase in revenue and clientele as a result.
Best advice you received
Any time a crisis sets in and you want to have a knee jerk reaction, which I'm constantly known for, take 24 hours and see if the crisis still exists. Nine out of 10 times, yes nine out of 10 times, it goes away and all is restored to normal. What seems like an emergency to one may not be an emergency to another, and if you don't react immediately and give the crisis a minute to breathe, it almost always works itself out.
Best advice to offer
Try to stay balanced, be aggressive, and don't let them see you sweat. Embrace the challenges and stay positive through the trials and tribulations. But since we all have heard this before, I offer up two great books that I read and found to provide some extreme form of motivation and impact:
First, Lessons from the Top: The 50 Most Successful Business Leaders in America--and What You Can Learn From Them by Thomas J Neff and James M Citrin. This book will surely motivate anyone, whether in the entertainment business or not. Reading about everyone from the person who started Ebay to the man that opened the doors of Starbucks, the gentlemen that brought us Home Depot and the man who created Dell Computers. The book makes you believe in yourself, your goals and following your destiny.
Second, once you realize you have followed your destiny and hit it big with your first successful act, then I strongly suggest you pick up a copy of Loopholes of the Rich by Diane Kennedy, C.P.A., because no doubt the government will be knocking at your door excited to claim 50% of everything you just worked hard to earn!
Most memorable industry experience
Andy Gibb pulling up to my house in Florida in his black Porsche. I was seven years old. He was a big rock star. My dad was representing him on a personal matter not related to his entertainment career. He came into my house and started talking to me, and I was probably blabbing on as usual about nothing. He picked me up and kissed me on the lips as if I was kissing my knight in shining armor. I knew right then and there I was star struck for life and this was the only career for me. And for the record, I haven't kissed a rock star of that type of status since.
What friends would be surprised to learn about you
That once you break down the protective shield around me - the "wall" if you will - I am all "moosh" on the inside. Very sensitive, but it takes an army to break down that wall, hence the reason it's my protective shield.
Industry pet peeves
First, the famous line from what some assume is considered to be an "industry executive" because he or she boasts a platinum record on the wall while sitting in a meeting playing a song you are told, " I just don't hear a hit." I would love to know what it means to hear a hit. Most songs that hit radio and are driven down our throats are songs for which major financial backing occurred to get that hit played again and again and again.
My revenge: Sitting in a meeting with an industry executive, whose name will remain on the "DL," and playing a song for this executive that currently was in the Top 10 on the charts, only to share it with the executive as a "new song" that I was interested in placing, and being told those famous words - " I just don't hear a hit" to my reply, " Really, you really don't hear the hit? Well perhaps you should open up this week's Billboard because that hit is making its way to #1 on the charts already!" Hmmmm!
Also, when asked, "Who produced that album? What has he or she done before?" And I must ask, "Why do you care?" Perhaps because the thought of working with something new and original would require "work" and where did all the hard workers with fresh ears go? Not too sure myself, but I'm on the search and will let you know as soon as I get any leads!
How come A&R reps always ask when they can see the band live and then when you make the effort to pull the showcase together and bring the band into town usually miles and miles away from where the band lives and you even book the show at a reasonable time slot so the A&R rep can come straight from work and the show is very well publicized in all the media trades, the A&R person doesn't show. I think we need to go back to basics - first defining the role of an A&R exec which does include talent scouting for a band meeting specific checklist requirements of a label - I rarely see many A&R people in a room anymore scouting talent - but I believe they should be out three nights a week at least or they should have a contingency of people who scout for them that can report back with detailed notes of their reaction to a show both pros and cons!
A scuba diving tank and life preserver for the days I feel like drowning! Some Madonna pictures and articles to inspire me to reach the top and carefully maneuver around those who try and stand in the way. A picture of a pimped out Hummer and villa in Bali for the days I feel like dreaming and a picture of my grandmother, my parents and my brother on my laptop screensaver to remind me of the realities of life and that I constantly have unconditional support to help balance me and keep me sane during the peaks and valleys I encounter.
If I wasn't doing this, I would be...
...playing professional tennis because it was at Penn State University that I laid down my tennis rackets and ran to the nearest retail chain for music and started reading label copy and decided I would never turn back. I no longer needed to be the "star" on centre court. And if that was the case I guess I would have to go back to listening to "Eye of the Tiger" by Survivor. It was a ritual before matches.
Shirley Cohen, my grandmother, one of the owners of the infamous Peppermint Lounge in New York and Wagon Wheel in New York, and whose legacy I will continue to celebrate and share with those around me.
Aimee can be reached at: 212-842-8478; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org