Grammy Week Dispatch: Don Was' Star Turn with Al Pacino; Us The Duo on A&R; Midem at Soho House

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(Photo by Michael Buckner/WireImage)
Us the Duo's Michael Alvarado (L) and Carissa Rae Alvarado perform at GRAMMY Connect's "The New A&R" panel as part of the 57th Annual GRAMMY Awards at YouTube Space LA on February 4, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.

Grammy Week in Los Angeles would seem to resemble nothing so much as a fancier middle-aged SXSW. While there are dozens of worthy music events and hundreds of powerful music execs, it is only but a fraction the size of Austin's annual confab and of course far more spread out.

Grammys 2015: All Our Coverage

The distance Wednesday night (Feb. 2) between "the New A&R" panel at the YouTube Space in Playa Vista, a party for the European music business conference Midem at the Soho House in West Hollywood and then a Blue Note party at the Capitol Records building with Q-Tip and Robert Glasper was 16 miles. If it were a weekend or rush hour, that drive could take hours; but thankfully on this February Wednesday evening the Southland was traffic free (cue SNL's Californians: "Take Jefferson to the 405 to Wilshire to Whittier to Sunset...")



Here at the cavernous high tech YouTube Space, complete with open patio, food trucks and live social media feed on a large overhead screen, were performances by adorable Vine sensations Us the Duo and YouTube's popular kids Pentatonix. Execs amongst the crowd included Roc Nation's David Wander, Live Nation's Tim Carr, CAA's Kelly Duroncelet, WBR's Jeremy Holley and IGA's Chris Mortimer and the outspoken violinist Lindsey Sterling.

Us the Duo's Vine Videos Lead to Label Deal, Film & Road Tour With Oprah

Us the Duo also anchored the Grammy-sponsored "New A&R" panel with moderator DJ Skee, a YouTube phenom himself, who kicked off the discussion's main theme by asking "what are the misconceptions of A&R?" While many seemed to believe that A&R starts and ends with signing bands, the panelists Margaret Hart of YouTube Music, Alex Wilhelm, Sr. director of A&R at Capitol (and former Germany-based Crazed Hits blogger), the CMO of SB Projects Brad Haugen and Jonathan Kalter of The MGMT Co. couldn't have disagreed more. Each explained how A&R is a multifaceted and ever-expanding job with responsibilities that can range from the dark art of discovering and signing bands to working as a creative director, a label advocate, a marketing executive, a digital strategist and even a psychologist.

"We'll call them and say, "What do you think about this idea,' and they'll give us advice and next thing you know we've had a therapy session for an hour," said Michael Alvarado of Us the Duo who signed with Republic last year. "They actually develop you from the ground-up and it goes beyond just finding you."

Across town at the swanky Soho House, Bruno Crolot, the director of the annual Midem festival in Cannes, France, held court. The cocktail event served as something of a reminder to the music business that this year's annual European confab has moved its dates from late-January and early-February, which conflicted with the Grammys, to the warmer climes of June. Already named for this year's Midem is Sony Music CEO Doug Morris, Epic chief Antonio "L.A." Reid and Pepsi marketing officer Frank Cooper .

Seen and heard here were Bill Wilson, of Dubset Media Holdings, Rebekah Alperin and David Kokakis of UMPG, Red Light Managment's Jonathan Azu, Deezer's Julien Simon, music lawyers Joel Katz, Eric Greenspan and Elizabeth Moody, Ellen Healy of Pepsi, Midem's Virginie Sautter and Sirius' (and former Billboard employee) George White.

Studios A and B in the basement of the iconic Capitol Records building, symbolically bathed in blue on this night, were brimming with history as everyone from Frank Sinatra to Nat King Cole to the Beach Boys recorded here. Hosted by Blue Note Records and Sonos, who have teamed up on a speaker called the Sonos PLAY:1 Blue Note Limited Edition, the evening featured performances by Robert Glasper Experiment, Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest (who did three songs, including "Bonita Applebum) and Lalah Hathaway and Malcolm Jamal Warner (who sang their current Grammy-nominated song from Glasper's Grammy-nominated album "Black Radio 2").

Don Was Named Chief Creative Officer of Blue Note Records

Blue Note CEO Don Was told Billboard how much things had fallen off at his label before his tenure. "There was a point about four years ago when the company was owned by EMI and there was a lot of talk about closing down all new music and turning Blue Note into a website that sold catalog and blue t-shirts," Was recalled. "It's kind of why I was hired [laughs]."

Was noted that he is hugely excited by the Blue Note roster that he said is "more robust than at any time in the 75-year history" and also "made money last year [laughs]." In the new year is a possible Norah Jones album in the fall, Ryan Adams at Carnegie Hall in the spring, new recordings by Kandace Springs (who is recording with DJ Khalil, Dan Wilson and Rodney Jerkins), and a rather surprisingly, a Blue Note cruise with Cunard aboard the Queen Mary II.

When asked about playing a cruise, Robert Glasper recalled playing with Nicholas Payton and the strange music he heard aboard the boat.. "I'll go as long as they don't play Titanic over and over again," the musician said. "They did that on the cruise I went on. There was a channel devoted to Titanic. I swear to God. And they just played it over and over again. I thought are you kidding me?

More surprising than the cruise, however, was learning about Was' star-turn in the film "Danny Collins," starring Al Paccino.  "[Pacino] plays rock and roll singer. And I'm in the movie and I produced him singing two songs," says Was, who co-wrote a song for the movie with Ryan Adams. "It was a trip. Pacino's good. I love the guy and he's really good in the movie. And he really put his heart into singing these songs."