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Meet Greg Katz of Slowdance Management, New Professor Music and Defend Music

Today we’d like to introduce you to Greg Katz.

Greg, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
My purpose in life is to help people who make music because I love music and I love the people who make it. I started studying piano as a kid and have played music my whole life, but I began to like the business end of music when I started DJing on college radio.

I went to UCLA (studying philosophy, but working on the student radio station) and interned at KCRW on Morning Becomes Eclectic. Once I graduated, I did a brief stint as a news reporter before I got an A&R job in 2010 at a music startup. The company didn’t last, but I had a good boss there who showed me the ropes of the business because he thought I had potential an A&R and music executive. But this was at the bottom of the recession and the crash of the record industry, so overall it was a really tough time to be working in music.

After I got laid off from that job in 2011, I started my own record label, New Professor. I didn’t have any investors and wasn’t born wealthy, so it was really something where I was on the hook. In retrospect, this was one of the best decisions of my whole life because I had to learn a lot of things fast by trial and error. Some releases on the label have done well, some have not, but when you’re in the label-owner seat, you have to be willing to own the responsibility and the finances and the decisions, which takes courage and vision. I learned how to say, “I made that decision, and it was wrong.”

It’s been freeing to know that despite the mistakes, life goes on, and you can learn something and try to improve the next time. It’s also quite humbling when you think something is going to go well and it doesn’t – and it’s also humbling when you think something won’t go well and it does. You have to be able to admit that, a lot of the time, it’s just really hard to predict what’s going to work, so you always have to do your best.

Anyway, back in late 2014, after I quit my third A&R job, I started managing record producers. I had picked up a few clients by early 2015, and one of them, Rogét Chahayed, quickly established himself as a major force in hip-hop and pop after we started working together. In spring of 2016, he co-wrote and co-produced the song “Broccoli” for DRAM and Lil Yachty, which became a big hit. As I write this, he’s also had hits with Halsey, Miguel and Travis Scott, earned a Grammy nomination for co-writing “Sicko Mode,” and his tunes have sold somewhere around 17 or 18 million copies. Helping Rogét develop his career has been the biggest privilege and accomplishment of my professional life.

Around when I started managing Rogét, I also got hired to do A&R at the boutique music publishing company Defend, where I’ve been working since. Defend has a lot of really unique clients with really unusual sounds and styles. One of the big lessons I’ve learned from Defend is the value of being really great at something that no one else can do, which describes a lot of Defend songwriters. There are a lot of people who are pretty good at writing a pop song or making a rap beat.

But if you’re the best Sudanese folk-pop singer, or the best retro funk band, or something like that, people will have to come to you if they want your sound because it’s so hard to get and you can’t fake it with a computer. At Defend, I’ve signed producer Daniel Lynas (ASAP Rocky, Kanye’s “Monster”), Vulfpeck, Chris Walla of Death Cab for Cutie, and brought in the song “Five Steps” by The Davenports which is the theme song to the TV show Intervention, among many other great songwriters and songs. I’ve also put together songwriting sessions and signed writers that have resulted in tons of songs licensed to TV shows and advertisements.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
I have had plenty of failures. Predicting how things will go in music is very hard. I try to stay close to the things that make me passionate about the work: great songs, unique sounds, the emotional truth of honest lyrics, and most of all the open-hearted and generous musicians who put themselves on the line to create the art.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Slowdance Management, New Professor Music and Defend Music – what should we know?
I guess to sum it all up, I’m a manager and publisher and label owner.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
I would be remiss not to mention Mara Schwartz, who’s been my music publishing mentor. Without Mara, I would not have a career. Thanks, Mara!

Image Credit:
Dog photo: Mara Schwartz
Keep going photo: Shabnam Ferdowsi

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