The Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development’s Music Business program presented its Visionary Award to Jac Holzman, the founder of Elektra Records and Nonesuch Records, on March 12.
Judy Collins, the Doors, the Stooges, Love and Queen are among many bands Holzman has managed during his career. In celebration of the award, Holzman sat down with Phil Gladston, faculty songwriter-in-residence and master teacher in songwriting, in front of a group of students and faculty. Gladston’s lecture included discussing the process of launching Elektra records from his dorm room at St. John’s College and the history of artists he signed. Gladston supplemented the discussion with music clips and visuals from Elektra album artwork.
A large part of the discussion focused on how Holzman found and approached his artists — he mentioned attending multiple shows by the Doors to assess their talent and predict their potential. He was especially interested in whether groups had the ability to deliver more than one album and how long they could last in the industry.
In founding Elektra, Holzman sought to create a label that would produce the kind of music he wanted to listen to.
“I thought if I did it right, the business would happen,” Holzman said.
The sentiment sums up his philosophy that music comes first. Holzman said knowing how to align himself with the interests of the artist was crucial to the success of his label. Artists represented by Elektra would receive personal oversight from Holzman, who would be involved in the process of producing their records.
Holzman is personally concerned with the interests of the artists and how he could be involved with them. When artists were offered contracts by other record companies, Holzman said he would meet with them to convince them of the benefits of staying with Elektra. The kind of personal oversight and interest Holzman offered was essential to Elektra’s success, and it was the key point of his lecture.
Steinhardt junior Nick Kohler, a music business major, said Holzman displays an important side of the industry.
“It was great to hear from an executive who cared more about the artist and less about the business,” Kohler said.
Holzman also discussed the importance of recommendations by colleagues in finding bands. Holzman used the Stooges as an example of a band of which he did not immediately see the appeal but signed on a recommendation. He said it took years for him to finally appreciate their sound, emphasizing the importance of variety on a label for those interested in working in the music industry.
Holzman was humble in receiving his award, yet the crowd provided multiple standing ovations. His work is appreciated by all generations in the music industry. Perhaps his advice on the importance of multiple tastes and personal involvement is even more crucial now, with the innumerable digital channels for new music. Holzman’s discussion was a reminder not to forget the impact made from personalized investment, even in this digital age.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, March 24 print edition. Sam Del Rowe is a staff writer. Email him at email@example.com.