For Love Of The Music: Executive Interview With Interscope’s Erika Spieldoch
Erika Spieldoch still loves the music. Having been in (and out of) the music industry for nearly 30 years, the VP of Touring and Special Events at Interscope Records still gets a kick out of seeing artists connect with their audiences and knowing she was a part of that.
The love of music has been there since her youth in St. Louis, although it has taken her to places and jobs she never expected. Along the way she has become an expert in budgeting and logistics through her work with Interscope, Warner Brothers and Mercury Records.
Today Spieldoch oversees a team of seven employees who handle touring and special events budgeting, negotiation, production and logistics. She also works with select clients on the Interscope roster, from U2 to newer acts like BLACKPINK and YUNGBLUD.
She survived the music industry’s tremendous decline in the early aughts and, after a brief foray into television, returned with a vengeance. In an interview conducted prior to the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S., Spieldoch was gracious enough to chat with Pollstar about the places she has been in her career and where she is at today. This interview was included in Pollstar’s Record Company Directory 2020.
So what did your work look like at Mercury in 1994?
It was a little bitty department – it was just two people – Nick Light hired me as the assistant. That was in ’94, and I was in Mercury’s tour department until 1999 when the music business took a crash.
We were looking after the artists’ tour support budgets. As you know, record labels give the artist tour support. When you are a developing artist, you can’t afford to go out on the road and tour for $250 a night. So the label makes an investment as part of our marketing strategy.
Labels have always believed that touring is the best way for fans to get engaged with an artist. Artists, for the most part, make their music so they can go out and play it for audiences and grow, and that takes time and money. We would work closely with the managers to make sure the tour support budgets were reasonable; we would pay that money out.
We were a much smaller company than Interscope is, but we would coordinate all the promotion when the artist was on the road. Every department of the company who would want to make use of the artist’s time, whether that was international, radio promotion, publicity, sales, anything they wanted to do with an artist promotionally, we would coordinate all of that. With the manager, the tour manager, we would put together really comprehensive schedules and game plans of what the artist would do on the road to make sure that they were visiting the right radio stations, doing the right TV shows when they were in market, local television, going to visit in-stores. All of that, and really helping streamline the communication with managers so they didn’t have the whole company coming at them requesting things. It was really anything and everything that helped the touring function.
What were some of the expenses you covered?
The cost of their crew, their bus, the expense of physically moving around in the beginning of your career significantly exceeds what you are getting paid. That’s where the label makes that investment.
Then and now, we would look at what is needed. Is this the right tour? Is this the right opportunity to maximize the artist’s visibility? We certainly had a significant investment in that. Depending on the type of artist we would work very closely with the head of marketing and with radio to make sure the investment was in line with what was happening with the project.
Did we feel the artist needs more time on the road? Did we need to continue investing to grow their career or, sometimes, on occasion, not? Sometimes when a campaign is winding down, it’s time to say “We’ve done all we can do, and maybe it’s time to make a new record.”
Who were some of the artists you were working with?
At that time I was working with Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Joan Osborne, Rusted Root – I’m really dating myself here (laughs). Fantastic artists. I worked really closely with Joan Osborne, she had that hit with “One Of Us” and it was like a rocket ship, it was such a great experience.
I hear things have developed a lot since those days.
I was faxing schedules to tour managers at hotels. I was faxing requests to managers. I was walking around the company and hand-distributing itineraries. 1996 was really when email got popular and that just changed the business completely. Back in the day, if you had a request for an artist after hours, if you couldn’t get ahold of them, that was the end of it. Whereas now, we are texting, emailing and calling at all hours of the night. The business never stops.
The volume was able to grow, the speed, the pace, the competitiveness of it really changed with technology. I miss being able to not worry about work after 6:00 p.m.
You’d wake up in the morning, and the tour manager would call you, and you’d hear about how it went. Whereas now, if there’s a problem at a box office, I’m hearing about it in real time.
How did you learn about touring?
Nick himself had been a tour manager, so when he had been brought into Mercury, they wanted someone who really knew the road, knew what it meant to be an artist on the road, the realities of the economics behind it.
Back in the day, you would get tour budgets that were very padded with a lot of fiction. Rightly so, they chose a tour manager who would really know what was real and what wasn’t real. And he trained me in all that. He taught me how to read a budget and understand what was real, how to look through financials and realize if a manager added two more days to a budget, how that could significantly change the financials.
So he sent me out on the road with some of our artists to see what it was like, to understand what it meant. After an artist has played a show and driven eight hours, you wake up in the morning in 20 degree weather in Minneapolis, it’s not all that fun to sing on the radio live at 8 a.m.
It’s really important that people at record labels understand that. We’re here to support our artists’ careers and make sure they put forward the best vision of themselves, and we need to make sure we make reasonable asks of our artists. If they’ve had four shows in a row and are tired, maybe we don’t ask them to sing at 8 a.m. We’re here to help them in that aspect.
The business in general went into decline around 1999. Take me to that moment specifically.
It was a tough time. In 1999 there was a merger, Universal bought Polygram. It was the largest layoff in the history of the music business. Most people lost their jobs. It was funny, I was talking with my counterparts at Island and we figured they would blend the two companies together. We would joke, “Who’s gonna stay and who’s gonna go?” “Will we work together?” The truth of the matter was they let us all go and they rebuilt the company from zero.
I was just networking for quite some time, I was out of work nearly a year, looking. And I wound up at VH1 as a talent booker for their series and specials department, using both sides of my experience. At that point I was 27. And it was great. I spent two years there booking talent, pitching network shows to the artists, convincing them to be on the show, but also working with production managers at the network to book the shoot, all that. I was doing pre-interviews with artists, figuring out why their story was interesting.
I didn’t know if I was ever going to have another job at a record label. Music in general was not in a great place.
In 2001 the network froze all the programming and decided to reassess the landscape for what the network was going to do. Ironically, what they were finding was that music programs weren’t really boosting ratings and where they were seeing all their success was with reality TV. So a lot of us were laid off. And I just decided, “If I am going to work in an industry that is going to be this volatile, I would rather do it in better weather.” So I took my unemployment check and moved to LA.
Coincidentally, Nick, my former boss, we always stayed friends, but he had left Mercury years prior. He was negotiating to go to Warner Bros and run the tour department. He said, “I think this is all going to come together. If it does, I would love for you to come in and be my No. 2.”
Nick did wind up joining Warner Bros and in the fall of 2001 I went to Warner Bros. Records.
Had the landscape changed much when you re-entered the music industry?
The landscape had changed a lot. It was several years later, the volume and pace of it was much more significant. It was an interesting time at Warner, because we were really involved in doing all the promotion scheduling for the artist, and we were really an artist development-heavy label at the time.
We worked with Josh Groban and Michael Bublé who, on the face of things, when they were first signed, you might have wondered if, sonically, those artists had a place in pop music. Certainly they leaned classical and heavy jazz, but we all saw their talent, they are both amazing vocalists, so we were very involved in helping them hire their bands, put together tour budgets, we worked very closely with publicity – we were involved in everything, from flying them to New York to put them on the “Today Show,” to hiring the strings, coordinating wardrobe. We worked with management to bring their vision to life, and in both of those cases they were big undertakings.
Warner had a great roster, we had Green Day, My Chemical Romance, Chris Isaak, Linkin Park.
– Universally Lauded
Nicole Bilzerian and Erika Spieldoch walk the red carpet at the IGA X BET Awards Party on June 24, 2017, in West Hollywood, Calif.
So working with so many artists, big and small, would you consider your role as one of a “contrarian,” where you have to convince them what they don’t need?
I wouldn’t say it’s contrarian. In any business there is a finite marketing budget that you can spend. We’re there, of course, looking after the label’s interests, making sure the budget is in line with it ought to be and what’s sustainable for a marketing campaign.
But very often I did, and still do, look at a budget, and on the face of it the numbers might seem really expensive, even astronomical. But sometimes that’s the right thing to do for the artist or the look.
Whether it’s deciding “this is a really big moment, and the artist ought to have an orchestra,” that’s gonna cost a lot of money, but we should support it. Or oftentimes we would have developing artists, it would be early days for them, and the manager might not have experience, and they might turn in a budget that would be missing something. If I see an artist has under-budgeted for something, I will point that out to them. I will tell them “Your hotels are too low,” “you’re cutting yourself short here.” You don’t want to budget to a number you can’t actually hit.
So it’s all part of the conversation that happens throughout the arc of a record cycle and an artist’s career. Sometimes they turn in a budget that they feel very strongly is what they need to do something, and, unfortunately, where the project is in the process, the current reality might not support that.
Sometimes we do have to have tough conversations. And sometimes it does get a little tense. You’re having to explain why we can’t spend like that. But I try to look at solutions. I try to tell an artist, “Right now, we can’t afford to tour support at ‘that’ level but what if you were to do this with a keyboard player and cellist?” “What if we don’t take the full band?” “Why don’t we try other solutions, think about what can we do to support them so it is still financially viable.”
How have budgets changed through the decades?
When I first started, it was a very different time. If there was something the label wanted to do, if the marketing director drummed up an idea or a stunt – we used to do a lot of those big, expensive ideas, like closing down a street, and playing – but as long as we had the blessing of the head of marketing, they signed a check and that was it, we were off to the races.
And that definitely changed. When I came out to L.A. and started at Warner, things were much more budget conscious. We now had quarterly budgets, we were projecting what the quarterly budgets were going to be and managing it, it was night and day from the late ’90s to the early 2000s.
What goes into deciding when to spend big bucks and when to get conservative?
We are always looking for ways to do something new, different and special that all the other labels haven’t done before. We have all seen the same-old showcases at the same clubs. We are looking to do more interesting things, so we definitely look into our marketing budgets’ money for those types of experiences.
For modern record labels, certainly Interscope, it’s important to have an eye for what is the right level of spend for a project. “How can we maximize the lifespan of a campaign?” is an important question.
There is certainly not an open checkbook. It’s about doing the right thing at the right time for the right spend. We have a great brand partnership team here who we work really closely with. They are always pitching opportunities for our artists. They are helping fund these events and bringing to the table the right partnerships that can help underwrite it. It’s often a mix: our contribution and bringing in the right partner that can help elevate their brand across their socials, advertising, etc. Whether its Apple or Jeep, those are important partnerships that help us maximize our dollars.
Do you work with AEG and Live Nation on your artists’ tours?
Absolutely. We work with Live Nation and AEG as part of marketing campaigns. We always work very closely with them and the agencies to line up the timeline, so, in an ideal world, the album or the first single comes with the tour announce. We’re working hand-in-hand, maximizing that exposure. Oftentimes they will come to the table with us and if we have big, creative ideas that are going to be expensive, often it’s a partnership, and they will come in with us to help fund those looks.
What’s something you have done recently?
Thirty Seconds To Mars did a big campaign stunt called Mars Across America, where they wanted to cross the United States in five days, leading up to the release day of the album. Certainly, we worked really closely with CAA to pull that stunt off and we definitely had brands involved in that.
They stopped in Dallas at Texas Motor Speedway and did a NASCAR hit. They were in New York at Penn Station, singing in the subway station with a choir. It was sort of all these pop-up moments, and you would wonder “Where will Thirty Seconds To Mars be next?”
On that we partnered with an experiential marketing agency, Red Rock, because it blew up really fast, so I brought them in to help us execute it on the ground. Our role was kind of “executive producer,” making sure we were bringing the band’s vision to life and working with the agency to come up with concepts. With our marketing we basically set up a war room in our conference room, and it was all hands on deck with marketing, publicity and a digital team, being on countless calls with Allison McGregor over at CAA, figuring out how we were going to execute this thing, get them across the U.S. in five days and get the media exposure around the launch of the album. That was an undertaking we were all really proud of. It was a big, joint venture between the label, everyone here and CAA.
As far as some examples of what my department does day-to-day, it can really be as simple as bringing YUNGBLUD who’s from the UK into L.A. to play the Viper Room for his first show so Interscope staff and partners could see what he’s all about and what a galvanizing show he puts on.
We also did the complicated budgeting, executed all the U.S. travel and scheduled logistics for BLACKPINK for their U.S. television debut last year on Colbert and “Good Morning America.”
Jerritt Clark / Getty Images / Interscope Records – The A-Team
Erika Spieldoch with Interscope’s Steve Berman and Dennis Dennehy (now with AEG) celebrate at the Interscope Geffen A&M Holiday Party at Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles Dec. 14, 2016.
How has your role changed as you moved to Interscope? Has your work been the same or have you taken on more responsibility?
Certainly the role has grown. Now I lead a team. I have a team of seven, amazing people who I could not do this without. They each look after a roster of 25-30 artists, we have a very large roster here, spanning all genres. They are doing, in essence, what I was doing for many years. My role is now to guide and advise them in what they are doing. They are all in different places in their career, but they are on the frontlines with our artists and managers every day. I am there to help troubleshoot.
Oftentimes they will be working on a campaign and I, having done this for so many years, am able to zoom out and from the 30,000-foot point of view, understand where the trouble spots might be.
I’ve probably seen every movie that they are going though, so I sort of have a sense of how things are going to work themselves out. I’m there as a resource for them, to champion their efforts and back them up. If they need me to jump in and help with issues, I do. If not, I like to give my team a lot of leeway to run their own projects, to have accountability and be the face of the project.
I really, now, look after the big picture. I report to our CFO, and because what we do is largely financial. I make sure we are projecting accurate, quarterly budgets for what we are going to need to do for everything live, whether that be experiential, promotional, tour support.
We also work as advisers to our publicity department. While they certainly determine what are the right TV looks for our artists, because they are our artists, we look after those budgets and make sure they are in line. My role has become much more managerial, financial, I’m dealing with the senior executives of the company to make sure I have a pulse on what are our priority situations, where we need to focus, and keeping my team focused on those things.
But I also still, personally, really love working with artists. In this job I look after a roster of 15 artists who I work hand-in-hand with every day because I still like doing it. I tend to look after some of the superstars and heritage artists. Occasionally there will be the developing artist who I want to just roll up my sleeves and do, and I really enjoy that a lot. Like I said, these artists make music so they can go out and perform it for their fans. There’s nothing more rewarding than being close to that and helping them grow, from club to theater to arena and watching that.
Who are some of the artists who you work with directly?
U2, and I’ve been working a lot with Elton John on the Rocketman campaign.
And what we do with these artists varies widely from artist to artist and where they are in the trajectory of their career. When it comes to the big heritage superstars, they definitely don’t need my input as to what they ought to do with their live and touring careers.
We deal with all the ticketing for the label, we buy tickets for all of our artists, all of the tours in the U.S. In those aspects, it’s more about ticketing and when the shows are in L.A. and N.Y., making sure that our executives are escorted backstage, and if there are meet & greets with the artists, that those go off smoothly.
The Rolling Stones, when they have frontline albums, go through Interscope. I work with YUNGBLUD, he’s fantastic. I work with Lady Gaga. Kris Wu. I’m working with Inhaler, a great alternative band from Ireland. I work really closely with BLACKPINK.
How many artists are on the Interscope roster?
About 150, though they’re not all active at the same time. But because the nature of what we do is very operational, logistics, touring and moving the artist about, even if it were an artist only working a single versus a full album campaign, they need promotion, travel needs to be booked, arrangement needs to be made. So the volume of work is significant.
We probably had 1,000 ticketed shows last year, across the United States. In L.A., probably 150-160 shows. Obviously, this being home base, we’re always at those to make sure everyone has the tickets they need, that meet & greets are facilitated. So we keep busy.
Have you seen more female executives taking the reins in your time in the music industry? Is that something that still needs to be worked on?
I think there is always room for more smart women at the table. I think there are a lot of fantastic, smart women in the music business right now; I’m lucky to work with a lot of them. I could just go on-and-on about who they are. Allison McGregor, Michelle Bernstein, Carole Kinzel, Jenna Adler, Cara Lewis, Corrie Christopher Martin, Christine Cao, Sara Bollwinkel, Sara Newkirk Simon, Caroline Yim, Shirin Nury, Lesley Olenik, Susan Rosenbluth, Susan Rosenburg, Amanda Gray, Amanda Moore.
But I’m also really encouraged by the fact that I’m seeing a lot of young up-and-coming female agents now. I get a lot of emails from new agents who I haven’t met yet and I’m always really interested in meeting with them and getting to know them because they are definitely the future of our business.
I think it will change in time, but, traditionally touring and anything to do with it is a really time consuming end of the business – whether you are out on the road as a tour manager, or at the facility. And it really colors your personal life.
I think that historically it was an area where men tended to gravitate to, and it’s a mix, but for various reasons, women may not have chosen this. I, personally, am out at two or three shows a week all year round. When something comes up, I have to drop my plans, whether it’s a birthday party [or something else], and I have to address that. It’s a lifestyle choice to work on this end of the business. For some women, especially when you want to have children and a family, it’s intrusive and it’s very tough to juggle.
But there certainly are great women who do it. Cindy Chapman, Angie Warner, Marguerite Nguyen, who are out there tour managing. Esther Collins over there at Capitol, she’s fantastic. I do think it’s changing and I feel good about that.
I have four women on my team and they love what they do. So we’re getting there. Is there more work to be done? Certainly. But we all need to keep chipping away at it.
It seems like men definitely do have a role to play. For example, it seems like Nick Light really helped you out through the years.
It’s true. He’s always been a big supporter of mine, and he’s a big supporter of women in general. I had other female counterparts who worked with us over [at Warner Bros.], and he was always just sort of gender-blind.
He always believed in the right person to do the job. I was lucky that, when the opportunity to come over here popped up, they actually called him to see if he was interested or if he knew anybody that was interested.
He, selflessly, said Erika is ready for the next step in her career. He put me forward, and I’m really very grateful for that. He didn’t have to do that. A lot of people have someone on their team who they rely on and they hang on to them, they don’t want to lose them.
But he said, “You gotta take the next step in your career, I think you’re ready for it.”
I wasn’t so sure, but he said, “No, go interview.” And I feel that way about my team. I’m a big believer in job karma. I think it’s important if you have stars on your team to support them and promote them when you can. If they want to grow and go somewhere else, sometimes you’ve got to support that step too.
What do you think is the role of the label today?
I think in general record labels are a really vital part of the process. We find the talent and we give them a home. We bring a team that can amplify their vision, support them and grow that creative vision and help market them to a world stage.
In terms of artist development, we are the beginning of that, working with them to grow that. We really believe in growing artists who are interesting and have a point of view, who have something unique to say, and who can go out and perform live and grow an audience. We believe that’s really important and vital in the industry. We think touring is really important to that.
Any reflections on the role of touring?
Touring has always been a crucial part of artist development. It certainly was at Mercury and Warner Bros., and Interscope is a label that has really built a legacy on developing new and diverse artists who shape culture. Touring was as important to building artist careers way back then as it is today. Touring, of course has become an even more important revenue source for artists today compared to when I started out. But it was always important for building fan bases and with them long term careers.
What do you wish people better understood about labels?
I think it’s important to know that people at record labels, we all really work here because we love music. We all work here because we couldn’t imagine getting up and doing something with our lives that wasn’t music every single day. Working at a label is a lifestyle;
it is a way of life. We care very deeply about our artists and their success, and we all really, as a team, whether it’s radio, digital, international, publicity. Certainly, at Interscope, we bring everything to the table to help artists develop.
All we want is to see the very best for them and we do everything we can to make that happen. We consider ourselves a part of their family and we very much have the same goal as agents, promoters, venues. There is absolutely no question: We take what we do seriously and we want to see our artists win.