Richard Gottehrer on Songwriting, Receiving SESAC’s Visionary Award

(Photo: Courtesy of SESAC)

There may be no person better suited for this year’s SESAC Visionary Award then Richard Gotterher whose bona fides over the past five decades seem almost Forrest-Gump-like in both scope and importance. The songwriter, producer, manager and digital music entrepreneur, who will receive the honor at this Monday’s (May 5) SESAC 2014 Pop Awards, has participated in and had front row seats to some of music history’s most iconic moments.

“As I get older my vision is actually improving,” Gottehrer cracks about the Visionary Award. That may or may not be true, but certainly his perspective on the music industry has only gotten keener with time. Few if any music executives can rival Gottehrer’s breadth, depth and longevity of music industry experience, which includes: working as a songwriter in the landmark Brill Building, co-writing classic pop songs like “My Boyfriend’s Back” “I Want Candy” and “Hang on Sloopy” with his FFG Productions company; performing with his pseudo-pop faux Australian band the Strangeloves; producing albums by everyone from Richard Hell, Blondie and The Go-Gos to working with more contemporary bands the Ravonettes, Dum Dum Girls and Au Revoir Simone; co-founding Sire Records with Seymour Stien (whose roster came to include the Ramones, Madonna, Talking Heads); and launching the digital music distribution company The Orchard in 1997 with Scott Cohen. (See the full-video on Gottehrer's career below.)

Central to Gottehrer’s many successes, however, is not some grandiloquent concept. “When you get to what the real value is in our music business,” he says, “it’s a song. The song is where it all starts. If someone were to consider me a ‘visionary,’ I would say ‘consider me a songwriter,' because songwriters are visionaries. They are the people who imagine the things that a producer, a musician, an arranger can do something with. The song is the most important element.”

Born in the Bronx in 1940, Gottehrer studied classical piano with an “old world” teacher who rapped him on his hands with a ruler when he made mistakes—which almost entirely turned him off to music. But in his teenage years, he got bitten by the R&B and blues bug listening to “stuff played on the Alan Freed show and WINS and Jerry Lee Lewis” (whom he later penned a song for “called “I’m on Fire,” which he wrote at the age of 16.). “When I heard that music,” Gottehrer says, “it carried me through the Brill Building, through Sire and even the early days of The Orchard.” 

In addition to Gottehrer’s honor, the SESAC Pop Awards will feature performances by American Authors and Rico Love. The event will be held at the New York City Public Library.