Mo Ostin Useless: Longtime Warner Bros. Data Chief Was 95
Mo Ostin, who presided as a prime government at Warner Bros.-Reprise Data for greater than three many years, throughout which the artist-friendly firm loved a glittering, hit-making run, has died of pure causes. He was 95.
In 1960, Ostin was employed away from Norman Granz’s imprint Verve Data by Frank Sinatra, who, whereas he did not buy Verve, was impressed by the savvy of the label’s 33-year-old controller and introduced him on board as his basic supervisor.
Ostin weathered three years of humdrum gross sales by Reprise’s roster of old-school pop stars and jazz musicians, and moved into a bigger government position after the label was purchased by Warner Bros., the label arm of the Burbank studio.
He shortly started to maneuver Warner-Reprise into step with the occasions, personally signing the Kinks, already successful in England, in 1964, and inking the Jimi Hendrix Expertise, then making noise within the U.Ok., in 1967. (He was unafraid to convey on extra eccentric skills as properly, bringing in performers such because the freewheeling Greenwich Village band the Fugs and the trilling, ukulele-strumming singer Tiny Tim.)
Within the wake of these signings, Warner-Reprise collected essentially the most envied expertise roster within the music enterprise. Within the late ‘60s and ‘70s it numbered amongst its acts Randy Newman, Neil Younger, Van Morrison, Fleetwood Mac, the Grateful Useless, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Paul Simon and Rod Stewart.
In later years, these top-selling artists have been joined by Van Halen, Prince, the Who, Dire Straits, R.E.M., Steely Dan, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the Pink Scorching Chili Peppers and Inexperienced Day, and, through a distribution cope with Sire Data, Madonna and Speaking Heads.
Ostin was promoted to the presidency of Warner-Reprise in 1970 and assumed the publish of chairman/CEO two years later; he would maintain the latter title till his exit from the corporate amid company tumult in 1994.
Following the 1969 buy of Warner-Reprise, Atlantic Data and Elektra Data by parking magnate Steve Ross’ Kinney Nationwide Companies and Ostin’s ascent, the allied labels, beforehand offered by a community of impartial regional wholesalers, established their very own nationwide department distribution agency, in the end generally known as WEA.
Inside 5 years, WEA commanded almost 1 / 4 of the U.S. music market, and Warner-Reprise was the highest label within the nation. In 1977, the exclamation level within the label’s historical past got here with the discharge of Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours,” which spent 31 weeks at No. 1 domestically and in the end shifted 20 million copies within the U.S.
Ostin witnessed each the document enterprise’ most devastating low (the industry-wide gross sales crash of 1979) and its skyrocketing excessive (the gross sales explosion spurred by the business introduction of the compact disc within the early ‘80s). Nonetheless, the finalization of Warner Communications’ merger with Time Inc. in 1990 led to a protracted interval of company intrigue and government adjustments that led to Ostin’s departure in 1994.
Together with his son Michael, a Warner A&R government, and former Warner A&R chief and president Lenny Waronker, Ostin joined DreamWorks Data – the label arm of the diversified leisure firm based by David Geffen, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg – in 1995.
There the ex-Warner execs tried to construct a brand new roster of cutting-edge expertise, and their signings included Elliott Smith, Eels, Morphine, Rufus Wainwright and Nelly Furtado and, within the label’s Nashville division, Toby Keith and Tracy Lawrence. Such Warner customary bearers as Randy Newman and Randy Travis adopted them to the label.
Nonetheless, declining gross sales led to the sale of the DreamWorks label to distributor Common Music Group in 2003, and the next yr Ostin exited the corporate. He quietly returned to Warner Bros. Data in a consulting capability in 2006, holding the title of chairman emeritus.
Ostin was inducted into the Rock and Roll Corridor of Fame in 2003. In 2006, he obtained the Icon Award from the Recording Academy, “in honor of his contribution to the panorama of recent music.”
He was born Morris Meyer Ostrofsky on March 27, 1927, in New York. In 1941 his household moved to Los Angeles, the place he attended Fairfax Excessive and headed the college’s music society. He studied economics at UCLA, and, through an acquaintance with Norman Granz’s brother Irving, landed a finance job at Verve in 1953.
He was nonetheless with the corporate when Frank Sinatra misplaced out to MGM Data in a bid to buy Verve. After beginning up Reprise, Sinatra took lawyer Mickey Rudin’s recommendation and employed Ostin to move day-to-day enterprise for the brand new imprint.
Although Reprise scored few main hits underneath Sinatra’s aegis in addition to the singer’s personal albums, Ostin believed that his boss’ imaginative and prescient of a musician-friendly operation was the wave of the long run.
“He divined that the thrust of the corporate ought to be its artists,” Ostin mentioned in “Exploding,” Stan Cornyn’s 2002 company historical past of Warner Music Group. “All of it appears logical at the moment, however again then it was actually revolutionary.”
It was an concept that Ostin embraced all through his tenure on the prime of Warner. The corporate’s artistic, typically dangerous signings (lots of them made by Waronker, who was put in as president of the label in 1981) have been supported by good, hip advertising (a lot of it concocted by Cornyn, the agency’s longtime head of artistic companies) and a strong distribution arm (operated by execs Joel Friedman and Henry Droz).
Beneath Ostin, for many years employment at Warner was thought of a job for all times, however a collection of company dominoes started falling following Steve Ross’ loss of life from most cancers in 1992.
Ostin, who had beforehand reported on to Ross, got here into battle with the newly anointed Warner Music chairman/CEO Robert Morgado. Inside months of Morgado’s appointment of former Atlantic Data chief Doug Morris to move Warner Music’s U.S. operations in July 1994, Ostin introduced he wouldn’t renew his contract with the corporate, and exited on the finish of the yr.
The next August, he, his son and Waronker, who had rejected a proposal of Ostin’s job, had joined the start-up Dreamworks. Sarcastically, that MCA-distributed label would quickly be joined by imprints operated by former Warner Music execs Bob Krasnow and Morris, who grew to become head of the newly minted Common Music Group in 1995.
On the finish of his tenure at Warner, Ostin instructed firm historian Cornyn, “On this enterprise, the corporate ought to by no means underestimate the facility of its artists. However…whereas artists are what a music firm is made up of, administration has some actual worth – and it ought to by no means be underestimated.”
In 2011, Ostin donated $10 million for the development of UCLA’s music facility, the Evelyn and Mo Ostin Music Heart. He contributed one other $10 million in 2015 to the college’s basketball coaching facility, the Mo Ostin Basketball Heart.
Spouse Evelyn Ostin died in 2005; his son Randall, an exec in Elektra’s promotion division, died in of most cancers at 60 in 2005. He’s survived by sons Michael and Kenny.