By Jake Brown
Lava Records founder and CEO Jason Flom has a “spidey-sense” of sorts for musical talent; throughout his career he’s successfully discovered unknown artists who have gone on to be superstars. Flom spent time as the CEO of both Atlantic Records and Virgin Records as well as the Capitol Music Group, and helped to break artists such as Kid Rock, Katy Perry and Lorde.
How has he done it?
“It’s called ‘instinct.’ It’s a strange talent to have,” Flom told me on the Brown and Scoop podcast on CBS Radio’s Play.it. “Music is an emotion. It’s magic. You can’t see it, hold it…you can feel it inside. When I first heard Lorde, I said, ‘What in the world am I listening to? This is incredible.’ It’s a strange skill to have. I don’t take it lightly. I always think there’s a lot of luck in A&R. You have to be in the right place at the right time. You have to be in the right mood. There’s a lot of coincidence involved. You have to be lucky.”
One of his more fortuitous signings was Katy Perry. But he passed on her when he first heard her, before coming to his senses about a month later. Here’s the entire story:
“So I met her at the Polo Lounge in LA. She walks in and sat down and I was like, ‘This girl’s a star.’ It was just obvious to me. She sat and opened her mouth and I was like she’s going places.”
She hadn’t “gone places” yet, but Flom knew there was something about her. “A real star walks and talks and wears clothes differently than other people do. My ‘spidey senses’ tell me that. She’s one of those people. Back then, she didn’t have a dime. She can still dress in a way that somebody else may dress and look like a normal schloob. But she lights it up. That’s how it started.”
“I got her music that she had made for Columbia,” he says, referring to unreleased recordings he did for that label. “And I went back to the office and played it for a bunch of my top people there. They were like ‘This f—ing sucks, this is terrible.’ The only one of the songs on the CD that became a hit was ‘Waking Up In Vegas.’ Even still, I loved it and everybody was like, ‘Please don’t sign this. We’re turning this company around, don’t weigh us down with this nonsense.’ I was like, ‘Maybe I’m wrong, I don’t know.'”
“Then a month or so later I’m working out in the gym and I was listening to Katy in my headphones and I was like, ‘This is ridiculous, she’s great. I’m so dumb. How could I have slept on this?’ I always loved it, but I was listening to other people’s opinions and I was letting those sway me. So I called her up. She was doing a lot of nothing. I don’t think she had a car. She might have not even had a phone. I think I called her at work. She was working at a place called Taxi making $10 an hour. It’s a demo listening service. It’s a place where you can send in your demo and supposedly professionals will listen to it. That’s where she was working, so I called her there. I said, ‘I wanna sign you,’ and she said, ‘Great,’ and that’s how the whole thing started. That was about eight years ago. 2008 maybe.”
Another pop sensation and part of Flom’s Lava Records is Jessie J. Although he’s learned his lesson regarding not letting his opinion be swayed too much by other people, a pretty major star shared his opinion of her.
“Justin Timberlake told me Jessie J is the best singer in the world,” Flom says. “I think he told me not to tell anybody that.”
The music industry legend will be starting up a podcast of his own in September…one that has absolutely nothing to do with music. His new podcast is titled “Wrongful Conviction” and will deliver episodes based on actual case files of The Innocence Project. Flom will talk with people who were in jail for crimes they did not commit. More info on the show can be found at WrongfulConvictionPodcast.com.