Corner Office: Maroon 5 Manager Jordan Feldstein on Adam Levine's Aspirations and Losing Sara Bareilles
Nearly a year after his dust-up at the Clive Davis party, the Maroon 5 and Robin Thicke manager makes amends: "I was arrogant."
Jordan Feldstein's industry bona fides date back to childhood. Long before Maroon 5's Adam Levine could even conceive of having moves like Mick Jagger or kissing Keira Knightley in Begin Again, the singer and his manager, both natives of west Los Angeles, shared a common bond in their best-friend dads -- Feldstein's father Richard a respected business manager who handles the finances of such stars as Dr. Dre and Lenny Kravitz, and Levine's dad Fred the owner of Southern California clothing chain M. Fredric. The younger Feldstein began networking in elementary school, when veteran music attorney Don Passman, author of the book All You Need to Know About the Music Business, was his carpool driver for a time (Passman's kids were classmates), and then through college internships (Rap-a-Lot Records and Warner Bros.) and early jobs at ICM and Bill Leopold Management. (Also worth noting: Feldstein's younger brother is Oscar-nominated actor Jonah Hill.)
The aggregate of these experiences has resulted in a formidable, well-versed and, yes, powerful 37-year-old manager who oversees 16 clients -- among them: Maroon 5, which has sold 12.4 million albums and 48 million digital songs in the United States, according to Nielsen Music; Robin Thicke; Big Boi; Rick Springfield; and Damian Marley -- and a staff of 24 at his own Beverly Hills-based Career Artist Management (CAM). Feldstein also can lay claim to a piece of Levine's professional fortune, valued at $35 million.
It hasn't always been a walk in the park -- early success led to excess and even a couple of scandalous moments for Feldstein, most recently a messy fracas involving Sharon Osbourne at Clive Davis' 2014 pre-Grammy party, which cost him Sara Bareilles as a client. Today, a more humbled Feldstein, a divorced father of two boys, says he's "still learning" years after "thinking I knew it all."
Can you recall the first time you heard Maroon 5's music?
Adam, who I'd known forever, invited me to the studio. Of course, he was two hours late so I sat with the engineer who played me a song called "Not Coming Home" and I was, like, "Holy shit!" To be honest, I never liked Adam's previous band, Kara's Flowers, which was this white, poppy, punky kind of thing. But when I heard what ended up becoming Songs About Jane, it had a distinct urban influence that really spoke to me.
How did you come to manage Maroon 5?
I started pursuing them. They were rightfully scared of having a 21-year-old just out of college as their manager but I kept setting things up, taking care of them, taking them to meals -- which, at that point, going to Houston's was a big deal. Eventually I convinced them. Then, we started shopping the band... doing showcase after showcase, but no one bit. Finally Octone signed them. I think I made $3,000 on that deal.
That was 2001. Seven years later, Irving Azoff's Front Line Management bought a stake in CAM. Why was that the right move for you then?
Initially, I was hesitant because once Maroon started to happen, I got approached by a whole bunch of [management companies] to come in with them, but I wanted to try it on my own and see how that felt. When Irving presented the idea of retaining a piece of my company and my name and identity, that was appealing. It was the first offer that made sense, where I'm not just another cog in a big wheel. And I get to learn from Irving, which was really the most enticing thing.
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What has he taught you?
Return every phone call, reply to every email... That's an edict throughout this company. And I really admire that he's so powerful but still able to maintain relationships and treat people with a level of respect. Everyone is his friend, everyone comes to his house for dinner and looks to him for advice. He's tough, and protects his clients like I've never seen, but he seems to do it in a way where everyone wins.
What's an obstacle you've had to overcome during your career?
Getting catapulted at such an early age, I think I failed in how I dealt with that success -- having a level of power managing a band of Maroon 5's stature. I wasn't a team player. I was arrogant. Now, being older and realizing that not every record is going to be a [Songs About Jane], I have better perspective. I'm much more willing to listen to what a client wants as opposed to dictating what I want.
Maroon 5's sales have really picked up since Levine let go of the songwriting reins. Are those co-writers to credit? And what does it mean for the bandmembers?
Here's the problem: Adam is so busy. The fact that we shot [Begin Again] is a f--ing miracle. Him sitting in the room [writing] with bandmembers is not going to work. Also, I think the band realized that having outside songwriters takes pressure off, because for Adam, writing all the lyrics on an album was a very stressful process. Finally, I think you come to a point in your life where you're like, "I'm not 20 and I may not know how to write songs for teenagers anymore."
Adam stars in Begin Again, which just landed a nomination for best original song for "Lost Stars." Are there plans for Adam to dive further into acting?
When he has time and it's the right thing. We're not just taking whatever comes across our desk. We're trying to figure out if there is a supporting role in a comedy because the dude is really funny.
The Voice's ratings have fallen in recent years. What does he get out of it at this point, eight seasons in?
He loves doing it. And there is so much good that has come out of The Voice. NBC got him to host Saturday Night Live, present at the Golden Globes. We have a production company at NBC... They've done things for him that have been really rewarding from a business perspective. And obviously the money doesn't hurt.
That said, music sales have declined drastically while streaming has ballooned. Have you seen the impact on your artists' P&L statements?
Yes. And I worry about record labels. I'm in the business of being one and I have an amazing partner in Interscope Records. I want to do everything I can to get that P&L upward again. But from my own perspective, I just want everyone to hear the record. Because when they do, they buy tickets, T-shirts, Adam's clothing line, his fragrance... whatever it is we're trying to sell to subsidize where records used to be.
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Robin Thicke is another client who has seen his share of highs and lows. How do you view his career path?
Was Paula the best commercial move? Obviously not. But it was something Robin had to say. And for better or worse, it's not often that an artist has something to say anymore. I respect his decision to put out the record at that point. And I love Robin, both personally and professionally. I think he is an incredible, undervalued artist in the marketplace ... And now, we're in the middle of making a record that is more like the one before. I think it's got monster hits on it. And the guy is in a great place.
Are there plans to expand CAM?
If something comes, it comes. I'm not aggressive in that sense. I love the clients that I have now, and I don't really need to f-- with that just to add more pieces.
The company has lost a couple of clients too, namely Sara Bareilles.
No one likes to get fired. It's not a fun experience. [Losing] Sara Bareilles -- someone I was with when she was playing little clubs in Westwood -- hurt. Sometimes it's not the right fit though, particularly with me, because I like to speak my mind. You get an honest opinion from me and a lot of people in this business don't want that.
Your brother is a movie star, your dad handles money for stars, and one of your closest friends is a global celebrity. What is your take on fame?
It's not for me. (Laughs.) I hate any sort of attention, and I admire how well they handle it. But I love that I get to be around it and get the perks of it. So in a way, I have the most enviable position because I get 90 percent of what they get, but I don't have to actually deal with it.
An version of this article first appeared in the Jan. 24 issue of Billboard.