Ronny Vance is the former president of Geffen Music and Interscope Music. Vance has over 40 years of experience in the music industry. The artists and writers he has signed in that time have had cumulative sales of over 200 million records. Vance has been responsible for the signings of Tupac, New Edition, Stephen Sondheim, Bruce Hornsby, Gwen Stefani, and for the placement of notable songs such as: “Maniac,” “New Attitude,” and Eric Clapton’s two-time 1998 Grammy winning song “Change the World”.
Vance has two-hit writers, Paul Gordon and DK Benjamin. Paul Gordon composed the music and lyrics for the stage musical Jane Eyre which ran on Broadway in 2000–2001, for which he received a nomination for Tony Award for Best Original Score. He also penned the Peter Cetera and Amy Grant #1 hit “Next Time I Fall” and the #1 Pop and Country hit “Friends and Lovers.” DK has written and/or produced for Australia’s Pop star Vanessa Amorosi, England’s #1 hit teen act JLS, as well as 90s R&B legend Jon B, and Rebecca Stella whose song “Give Me That O” earned a #2 position on Sweden’s Overall Music Chart.
Mr. Vance, how did you get started in the music business?
I wound up being a driver and gofer for the summer of 1974, for Joel Dorn, a famous record producer at Atlantic Records. When September rolled around and it was time to head back to College, I didn’t go…and such was the beginning of my career in music. I knew in the blood of me, that I had my foot in the door and did not want to lose momentum. Not as if I had any real momentum but I guess I had a hunch I needed to stick around.
In my driver/gofer role I discovered what the ‘biz’ was about and within less than a year, went to intern for Mitchell Fink at WB music who took a real liking to me. My girlfriend was working at ABC Music and she helped me get my first proper job working as a song plugger at ABC in 1975. I was good at it!
Quickly after landing my first real job at ABC we were informed by a change of regime that they were closing the NY offices however I was offered to move to the offices in LA. It was a pretty good run there but even though I was the boss’ new guy, there was a lot of jealousy and competition and within 6 months I was gone and working on Sunset Strip for 20th Century Fox for three years. It was there that I signed James Ingram and Bruce Hornsby.
After working at 20th Century Fox, what was your next job?
I met David Geffen one afternoon when I brought Bruce Hornsby to his home to audition for him and little did I know that he was forming his own publishing company with publishing legend Chuck Kaye…anyway they grabbed me and we went to the Geffen offices which lasted for less than a year. Chuck was offered to run WB Music and I went with him.
I became a professional music manager at WB in 1981. While I was there at WB, I signed Michael Sembello who wrote with another writer I signed Dennis Matkosky the huge hit “Maniac”. This had sales of over 40 million Flashdance soundtrack albums. It was my first big hit.
In 1983 I moved to Universal where I started my own company called “Unicity”. At Unicity we had tons of hits: Men Without Hats, New Edition which included the solo careers of Belle Biv Devoe, Bobby Brown, and Ralph Tresvant. We had Danny Sembello, and Allee Willis who wrote Neutron Dance for The Pointer Sisters…we had several hits with single song deals: Patti la Belle “New Attitude” Jermaine Jackson (Michael Jackson’s brother) “Do What You Do” and Smoky Robinson’s “Just To See Her”.
At what point did you become the president of Geffen Music?
In 1987 David Geffen called me and offered me the position of President of Geffen Music. When I got there I probably spent the first several months just phone calls to all the lawyers in LA and in New York to say I left Universal to make sure everybody in the music industry know that now David Geffen is serious about being a player in the music publishing business.
At Geffen, I signed Edie Brickell and New Bohemians, The Sundays, Stephen Sondheim, Brenda Russell (The Color Purple,) I signed Sharon Robinson who wrote New Attitude for Patti LaBelle and then began collaborating with Leonard Cohen and wrote songs with him like Waiting for the Miracle.
What is your advice for a beginner songwriter?
It is important to get feedback from music lovers, to meet other young writers and to see what they’re writing. Get involved with workshops at ASCAP and BMI…If you have a sense that you are on the right track, then you have to hang in there.
What is the the biggest change you see today in the music industry that most people wouldn’t deem as obvious?
The music of today is brilliant. It’s on a whole other level than the records we used to make in the 70s, 80’s, and 90’s. If you take a minute and look deeply into what’s going on and listen to the soul of the song…you’ll be blown away.
What wisdom would you give to artists in the 21st Century landscape in order for them to succeed?
Well I’m definitely not going to say the typical things people say like “hang in there”, and “don’t give up”. I have always believed that when something is really brilliant, people will find it. But in the internet era, there are wonderful ways to connect with fans that you could never have reached just a decade ago. If you didn’t have the support of a major record company or major music publishing company, you were out of luck. But there’s a Catch 22. There are millions of other kids putting their materials on the internet so you still have to be brilliant, or brilliant at making yourself seen.
What was the moment where it clicked, and you knew that your place is with MyPart?
The first roadshow we did in the States. We went to California and New York and we saw all these high level executives, that instantly got how the concept of our AI can be a game changer. What I had in mind was that when the guys first came to me saying that “this AI is going to serve as an extension of your ears, and help you find relevant songs”, I was like “No, no, no, you don’t tell me what a relevant song is, I tell YOU!” That’s what I was paid for all these years… And all of a sudden we meet such a willingness to take that leap of faith with us. I was thrilled.
*Ronny Vance is the Head of Publishing at MyPart.
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