Peter Asher has seen every side of the music business, as an artist (with ’60s pop duo Peter & Gordon), as head of A&R for the Beatles’ Apple Records, and as a producer for everyone from James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt to 10,000 Maniacs. His lengthy resume includes senior VP of Sony Music Entertainment, the presidency of Sanctuary Artist Management, and currently partner in Strategic Artist Management. Founded by Simon Renshaw, the company is home to the Dixie Chicks, as well as “American Idol” alums Clay Aiken and Bo Bice, to name a few.
Though he still has a light British accent, Asher calls Los Angeles home and has been instrumental (along with 19 Entertainment president Nigel Lythgoe) in organizing BritWeek, a celebration of Britain’s decades-long trade relationship with-and contribution to-the Los Angeles economy, particularly the entertainment industries. A Duran Duran concert, showcases at the Virgin Megastore, the MUSEXPO trade conference and a British comedy film festival are part of the April 26 – May 10 lineup, which can be found at britweek.org.
At a time when British imports “American Idol,” “The Office,” Leona Lewis and Amy Winehouse are topping people’s entertainment choices stateside, Asher spoke to Billboard about culture crossing the pond and the state of the music business.
What is your role at Strategic Artist Management?
Assisting with the clients they already have, obviously, contributing everything I can in that regard, and signing some new clients-of whom the newest, we just signed her and are about to announce, [is] Pamela Anderson, which is an interesting one. We’ve been friends and neighbors for a long time and we just signed her…for everything, for whatever she has. She’s obviously so famous in so many areas and there’s a lot of different stuff we can do…does that mean she’s going to make a record? No comment. If I said, ‘no, we never would do that,’ we might be wrong. We’re just starting, exploring everything.
What business interest is there in mounting BritWeek? I would imagine that the British could continue being a force in Hollywood without holding a festival.
The occasion for it is the 50th anniversary of the consular residence opening [in Los Angeles]. It seemed like a good occasion in the minds of the British consulate and trade people here to remind everyone of the role Britain had played in the last 50 years and beyond. While I thought I knew a lot of stuff, there’s a lot I didn’t know, the actual size of Britain’s presence here, Britain being the largest investor in Southern California of any country in the world-and vice versa, with companies like AEG having a huge presence in the UK with the O2 arena and everything.
You’ve seen tremendous changes in the music industry over your career. What do you think of the 360 deals that Madonna and U2 have signed?
Some of them make sense I think. There’s different kinds of deals that you’re talking about, [one] where it’s a big artist putting all their affairs in one place. The other aspect is with new artists, where record companies are trying to get in on that angle and own everything themselves. I think everyone is in the process of feeling out exactly where all these changes will end up. Each deal has to be looked at on its own merits. There isn’t a “what do you think about those deals” answer as such. It’s what deal makes sense to what artist at what time. Certainly the flexibility now in some respects is greater because you don’t necessarily have to have a major label, if you’ve established a reputation without one. Even with a new band, if there is enough going on without a label, maybe you can proceed without one. It’s become very much an open field and you look at each artist’s case separately.
With the artists that you manage, do you have any artists that are interested in not going with a label anymore or going out on their own or going with Live Nation?
I think everyone considers that option at this point. You’d be mad not to. Whether you are a new artist or a major artist…it used to be that you knew you had to make a label deal before you could possibly make it. That is no longer true. So the answer is yes, on behalf of any client one would explore those options.
So you have artists right now that are looking into that?
I’m not going to name anyone specifically, but if an artist doesn’t have a label deal, either because they had one and they are a big artist and it’s expired or they’re a new artist, you can certainly be confident that they would be exploring both ways of doing business, with a label and without.
Do you guys encourage them either way?
Honestly, it’s case by case. There is no generalization. We explore every option on behalf of our artists, of course, and try to make the deal that is going to be best for them. There are no overall guidelines, no.
Do you see the trend continuing of management firms taking more and more of a role in setting up marketing plans around albums?
Yes, I do. There are less people at the record companies. They are busier, they have less money to spend. For all those reasons, I think that is certainly the case. Some things that you used to confidently leave in the hands of the label, now we have to worry about more.
Considering that Sanctuary was a main proponent of the 360 business model, do you think it is ironic that everyone is embracing that business model now after Sanctuary was bought out?
I think there is a difference with what Sanctuary was trying to do, but I don’t think it necessarily makes a difference whether the management company owns or does not own a merchandising company or an agency or all the things that Sanctuary tried to roll into one part. I don’t think that’s exactly what we are talking about here. But I think management has to be involved in all those issues. I think the reason Sanctuary was bought out was a whole different thing. They were trying to be a record company as well.
Musically, do you think we’re poised for a new British invasion, or are people always talking about what the next British invasion is going to be?
It does come in waves. Things are certainly going well – there was a period when yes, you’d be hard-pressed to find a British record on the charts except for Sting or a couple of stalwarts who kept going. I don’t think we’ll ever see anything quite as dramatic as what the Beatles spearheaded…but we’re in a very productive and fruitful period at the moment.
Right now is there anyone you’re really excited about, any new artists you’re managing?
I just signed a pair of girls called the Webb Sisters, who are brilliant, who are British. One plays the guitar and one plays the harp and they both sing like angels and write their own songs, and they are great in the sort of singer-songwriter mold…they were on Universal at one point but they are no longer. We got them off Universal. We haven’t decided what to do about signing them. Right now they are playing with Leonard Cohen on his tour, accompanying him, so they are rehearsing feverishly with Leonard as we speak. I’m going to be producing their record too.