As manager of seminal rock band the Doors and head of the Doors Music Company, Jeff Jampol, 35 years after the death of singer Jim Morrison, works with surviving members Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger and John Densmore (as well as the Jim Morrison and Pamela Courson estates) to both safeguard the band's legacy and chart new uses for its catalog, image, songs and other assets.
Succeeding the late Danny Sugerman, who worked with the group for most of his life and had managed them since the '80s, Jampol – Sugerman's partner starting in 2003 – is charged with maintaining one of the most familiar brands in popular music. He has made it his mission to expand that brand's visibility for younger consumers and protect the boundary-breaking group's impeccable credibility. We asked him to discuss that balancing act, branding's place in rock history and the fate of shamanistic pop art in the contemporary marketplace.
What's your perspective on branding, from an artist-management point of view?
The word brand is sometimes seen as a nasty word, because bands and art are pure, and brand is seen as the most whorish kind of word to a lot of musicians. There's a lot of truth to that – art is pure, but when you take that precious child and try to get a check for it, you're not a pure artist anymore. Art and commerce do mix, however, and that's where managers and artist-development people come in. That's where I see my nexus.
You can see how different products have branded themselves over the years: for Maytag washers, it's the lonely repairman, because they never break down. For a while, a backwards red baseball cap meant Limp Bizkit. Bands develop images that are part of the brand. But the brand itself is a
Since the Doors are timeless and relevant, and to this generation of kids music is completely relevant, there are these two islands. I have to find a bridge to connect these two islands.statement, definition, ethos or vibe that goes beyond the surface product. The Doors have songs, but it goes way beyond that. The brand of the Doors is dark and edgy, a little bit dangerous. It's the underbelly. They represent freedom and the questioning of authority – the questioning of everything. They never gave the answers, and that leaves it very open.
Jim Morrison was a poet. They called him the Electric Poet. The band was called four sides of a diamond, because they brought together four different elements with jazz, blues, slide guitar, and rock 'n' roll. They had a very unique sonic signature and iconic hit songs. They seem to take root with fans in every generation.
Where did things stand when you arrived?
[Keyboardist] Ray Manzarek said, "Look, there's the Beatles, the Stones, the Who, Led Zeppelin, arguably the Beach Boys and Pink Floyd, and us. We might not be #1 or #2, but we're definitely Top Five." I had to agree. So you had this all-time-great rock band who had hundreds of millions of fans all over the world, and they had superserved that fan base for years. But that base was aging and shrinking through attrition and finding other means of entertainment. I saw a quote in an article that said, "If you rely on history, you become history." That really resonated for me. The Doors had always relied on history. Pop culture tends to compress time. Broadcast TV, music and movies used to be it for entertainment. Now we have the Net, video games, 400 channels, text messages, IMs – there are a hundred different ways to be entertained or to communicate. So the Doors start to shrink.
Yet here's a whole new generation of kids for whom this music is vital. The poetry is vital. The message of questioning authority is vital. If you're a 14-year-old kid, you have the same age-old questions. You detest your parents and want to break free; you think you've got it all figured out. Or you don't have anything figured out and you feel completely lost. You look for a guide, something that gives meaning and context to feelings you think no one understands – and you find the Doors. Since the Doors are artistically valid and certainly timeless and relevant, and to this generation of kids music is completely relevant, there are these two islands. I have to find a bridge to connect these two islands, and for me it has to be elemental in its validity and in its context for kids today.
So how do you do that?
It's not enough to do a big billboard; that's old school. Maybe it's ringtones, iChat, podcasts or remixes. In our case it's all those things. We want to get to kids through film, through radio, through the Internet, through their phones, through other artists with covers, remixes and duets. We're working on some interesting concepts with some possible duets, coupling Morrison's vocals with some important modern artists. We're working on a project with Perry Farrell, taking some poetry and spoken material and adding original music that he, [New Order's] Peter Hook and Flea have written. It's a project called Satellite Party. When a kid goes to see them and suddenly hears Jim Morrison's voice, that's a portal, a bridge, that's very relevant. When you hear Adam Freeland remixing "Hello I Love You," or other electronica acts like Crystal Method or Paul Oakenfold remixing Doors songs, that's a bridge that's relevant.
The other tricky part is that you have to continue to serve your existing fan base. You can't abandon them. The more you move into a modern context, the more you're going to leave old fans behind; so you really have to minimize the old-school loss.
Was there a backlash among those fans?
There's always going to be a backlash among certain fans who are used to a certain sound. Bands have been going through that for 40 years. There was a big backlash when the Beatles' Revolver came out. I'm sure there was a big backlash when [the Beach Boys'] Pet Sounds came out from people who were used to hearing "Fun, Fun, Fun." When Dylan went electric, he was booed, called "Judas." You get what I call "demo love"; you listen to a song 10,000 times and when you hear it done differently, it rubs you the wrong way. People are used to Jim Morrison and the Doors a certain way; it's fixed in their landscape. When you alter that, it's grating to them. But if you're open-minded, it's cool.
It's about finding that line between an innovative new take on something and Fred Astaire dancing with a vacuum cleaner.
Absolutely. Here's how I look at it: The major asset of the Doors Music company – we own our own publishing and we work with Rhino/Warner Music Group on the master recordings – is the brand of the Doors. To me, that's a half-billion to $1 billion asset. Every time we do something with that brand we put a half-billion-dollars-worth of chips on the table. So the question is: I may not lose my half billion, or I might. But what if I eviscerate the brand to the tune of $100 million? What if I do something that really screws up this brand, for the sake of something experimental or very narrow in its focus? This is something every brand faces.
Especially when it comes to participating in commercials, if you're a band like the Doors.
We've been hit up for commercials since 1967. You can't say what Jim would do or say. You have to go by what happened. The context of pop image has changed in 40 years. Has it changed enough for someone to behave differently now than they would have then? You can't say. You just have to respect what happened. In July of 1967 "Light My Fire" became the biggest song in the world. Morrison happened to be off, I think in Europe somewhere, and GM approached the band to use "Light My Fire" for a commercial introducing the Buick Opel to America. They were offering $75,000, which at the time was huge. [Guitarist] Robby Krieger wrote that song. They couldn't find Jim; the three Doors signed the deal.
Commercials were always uncool for bands to do. If they did them they were considered sellouts like the Cowsills or the Partridge Family. That thinking changed sometime around 10 years ago.Jim came back and was apoplectic. They made the commercial and I'm told it aired a few times, but Morrison demanded it be taken off the air. GM said, it's too late; you signed the contract and cashed the check. Jim said, "If you don't take it off the air I'm going to smash a Buick Opel at every concert I do." They pulled it, and since that time we've never done a commercial.
Jim really wasn't in it to be a rock star. He was a poet. Ray turned him into a singer. In the beginning, Jim wouldn't face the audience, but performing was a great way to get his poetry heard. For him, seeing that song advertising the Opel had to be sacrilege. Commercials were always uncool for bands to do. If they did them they were considered sellouts like the Cowsills or the Partridge Family. That thinking changed sometime around 10 years ago. I think the sea change came with a one-two punch: Microsoft used "Start Me Up" and Nike used "Revolution." The Stones already broke ground with co-branding and co-promotion in '75, with Jovan Musk's name on tickets and a banner. Then they used "Start Me Up," which wasn't an iconic song. And the Stones were all alive to make the decision. Lennon, by the way, wasn't alive to say it was okay to use "Revolution," a song that spoke to everything this commercial wasn't. But at some point a lot of bands lost this knee-jerk reaction to doing commercials.
And fans' perceptions changed – they became less stringent about it.
Absolutely. Music has become a background soundtrack for what people do. In the '60s and '70s it was a clarion call for social revolution. If you walked down the street and saw a guy with long hair, you knew: he's one of us. If you heard him blasting Cream or Janis Joplin or Hendrix or the Doors out of his car as he drove by, you knew he was playing on your team. Now it's a background. [Drummer] John Densmore said the Doors' music is sacred because people died in Vietnam listening to it. It gave context and meaning to soldiers who were completely alienated and disenfranchised by society coming back from Vietnam; they were blamed for the war. It was a call for the hippies and yippies in '68 in Chicago at the Democratic Convention. People did a lot of important stuff while listening to the Doors, and that is sacred to the band, like "Light My Fire" was sacred to Jim.
We were approached a few years ago by Cadillac to use "Break on Through" and they were offering millions and millions of dollars. Some of the band members wanted to do it and some didn't, and they've always had a unanimity agreement, so they passed on it. In hindsight, an argument can be made on both sides. I was not involved with the Doors when this issue came up. But if one was going to do a commercial, I'm not sure Cadillac would be the right choice for the Doors. Maybe for their older fans, but certainly not for the newer fans. [Editor's note: Cadillac went on to use Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll" for its "Break Through" campaign.]
There's an old saying in poker that there's a sucker at every table – and if you can't spot the sucker in eight to 10 seconds, it's you. I believe that when you put two brands together, one of them will suck cred from the other. You make sure you're not the suckee. You have to get as close as you can. There are brands that are seen as cool and cutting-edge, though. Apple comes to mind.
I'm not saying we should or shouldn't do a commercial, but if we do couple with another brand, it has to be cool and cutting-edge. Another great category is brands that promote the communication of entertainment to consumers. If somebody like Sprint or Cingular is promoting a service that allows you to download songs to your phone, they're promoting a service that gives consumers access to entertainment. New technology – we'd be open to looking at that.
We just did a big event – we shut down the Sunset Strip and took over the Whisky, the Cat Club and Book Soup, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame designated the Whisky a historically significant place; we celebrated the release of a new book, The Doors by the Doors, and the new box set, Perception.
We don't want it to seem like the Doors are endorsing a product, especially a mundane or trivial, non-meaningful product like toothpaste or deodorant. If you're using a Doors song straight up in a TV commercial, you have to be careful how you do it.
But if the song's appearance just advertises the availability of the Doors catalog, that's different.
Right. With any commercial, even though the payoff is $10 million, you might eviscerate your brand to the tune of $200 million. Was it worth it? I got a great piece of advice from a label chairman: "What you do will kill you. What you don't do, nobody will care about." Every time you're in the hand, you're risking your pot. On the other hand, you can't get ahead without taking a risk. Hence my hairline recession.
Your collaboration with Shepard Fairey of Obey Giant seems to reflect a willingness to revamp the Doors' imagery.
We worked with him on iconography to freshen their image, to recreate it in a modern context. There's also the book I mentioned, The Doors by the Doors, which was written with [esteemed rock journalist] Ben Fong-Torres; it tells their story and has a lot of graphics that really pop. We hired a very cutting-edge design team, Melanie Paykos Design, to lay out the book, got forewords by Chester Bennington from Linkin Park, Henry Rollins and Perry Farrell. In the last chapter of the book, we talk about the Doors' impact on modern musicians; we interviewed former members of Rage Against the Machine, System of a Down, Eminem, Snoop and a lot of other artists who were really affected by the Doors. Hopefully a lot of kids who admire those artists will want to explore what they've found. We're doing a theatrical documentary on the Doors and we're even playing with the idea of using all remixes in the soundtrack.
We wanted to minimize alienating our existing fan base and maximize our attraction to new fans. And to do the latter we had to approach fans on their turf.
Every 10 or 12 years there's been a big Doors resurgence based on a signal event. Jim's death in '71, Apocalypse Now in '79 [featuring the band's "The End" in a climactic sequence, one of the few film licensing requests the group granted until recently], Oliver Stone's Doors movie in '91. Instead of those big events, we've chosen to do myriad smaller events in the hope that the whole will be bigger than the sum of its parts. I wanted to infiltrate pop culture in a stealthy way. We started out doing remixes of the Doors, but we didn't do a remix record. Instead, we released the remixes on the remixers' records, to pick up their fans. We did a version of "Riders on the Storm" with Snoop and put it in the Need for Speed Underground: 2 game. That's the only place you can get it.
So the older fans aren't even necessarily aware of these developments.
No. And of the ones who are, some like it; some don't.
The other interesting thing about the Doors is that they sound completely current. If we were having this discussion about Styx or REO Speedwagon, it would be very different. I'm blessed to manage a band that sounds completely timeless. On this forthcoming box set, we restored the original tracks – there's a lot of cussing on there, things that were kept out at the time because of social dictates. It's amazing how fresh those original tracks sound.
So in a way, time has caught up with the records.
That's right. And next year the Doors are going to be the major exposition at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We're also doing a Jim Morrison Treasures© book, which is a coffee-table book with little souvenirs, cards and things in rice-paper envelopes. There's not a lot of money to be made on things like that because they're expensive to make, but they're so cool. So once again, you're serving the brand. In so doing, the brand will serve our pocketbook in the long run. We're playing long ball. We could take some huge advance and cash out, do some big book and make a lot of money, but we didn't. We're now digitizing and digitally editing and enhancing all the Doors footage – we have thousands of reels of footage. I just saw some that this team of expert restoration guys at DTS worked on. They took a two-minute strip of the Doors live at the Hollywood Bowl, and it looks like it was shot yesterday. So we're going to do a complete Doors video box set to get that imagery out there again and present it all in Blu-Ray or HD-DVD, the brand new DVD formats, which offer unbelievable quality, clarity and depth of picture.
We're doing a lot of work in film and TV, which we never did. Once again, you have to serve the brand with cool shows. Entourage we were into from the very beginning. We saw the pilot and thought it would be a hit. We guessed right, fortunately, and we've used one or two Doors songs every season, usually end titles. Matt Groening loves the Doors, so we always had the Doors in The Simpsons. "The End" is sacred to the guys, so we don't use it a lot, but we gave it to The Simpsons. We did stuff on Alias and Cold Case, and we talked to several new shows about doing some kind of theme song, as well as several different movies.
Right now we're doing something interesting, which is an Infected Mushroom remix of "People Are Strange." It'll be a duet with Fiona Apple and Jim Morrison for the end title of a movie. She's perfect to sing that song with Jim.
You've approached music supervisors in a unique way.
We did a special project last year called Love, Death, Travel. The Doors had never been in a lot of movies; they turned down about 90 percent of the film and TV that was offered. And because of their iconic status, the music is not cheap to license. The music supervisor community is small, and over the years there were these misconceptions that the Doors won't clear music for TV, and even if they do, you can't afford it. So the supervisors stopped considering the Doors.
We wanted to open that up and start being considered for some cool projects, so we needed to overcome two problems: (1) Dispel the myth that we won't clear music and (2) Dispel the myth that the Doors are unaffordable. And these supes get CDs all day; their desks are piled high with them. So we wanted to make this really elegant box set to present to them, almost like a treasure chest, to set the Doors apart, to illustrate their special status and that they might be worth more than another band.
So we did this beautiful faux-lizard-skin, slipcased, four-disc set with a letter from the Doors and Rhino/Elektra and management saying, hey, if you want songs like "Break on Through" or "Light My Fire," be prepared to pay the price. However, there are lots of other songs that have that sound and imagery and poetry that maybe you haven't considered in a while. We remastered all the songs, and in the letter we said, we'll work with you and help you get this music cleared and we definitely want to do film and TV. Don't be afraid to call us.
Each box set was individually numbered and we sent 2,500 to music supervisors and sold 2,500 to hardcore collectors. It came out beautifully; the photos were stunning and the paper was of the highest quality. We're now following up and finding that a lot of the assistants took the boxes home! Some of the supervisors never got them. But the response has been phenomenal. We're working with Bud Carr and Nora Felder from PictureTunes Music, who work with [entertainment management company] The Firm and us on film and TV. We're in negotiations on a lot of big projects right now. We're also talking about doing remixes of entire Doors albums – song by song, with different remixers.
The other thing is you don't want to overdo it. The Doors have been in business for 39 years and we'd like to be in business for another 39; you don't want to front-load everything into '07.
What about the different members and their own projects?
I think the surviving members treat their projects separately from the brand of the Doors. Ray and Robby have a band with Ian Astbury [of the Cult] called Riders on the Storm; they go out and play Doors music, and it's an amazing show. They're Doors, you know? You hear Ray's fingers on those keys, and Robby hits that bottleneck and, my God – it's that sound. And Ian's a great singer. John Densmore has a project called Tribaljazz; their album came out Oct. 17 on Hidden Beach Records, home of Jill Scott, and it's a multicultural jazz/world beat/fusion band.
I think the surviving members treat their projects separately from the brand of the Doors.In addition to Densmore it has three African percussionists and keyboards, reeds and bass. It's really cool; Alfre Woodard and Michael Franti are guest vocalists on the record. Robby goes out and plays with the band Particle; he's on their new DVD doing covers of "Roadhouse Blues" and "L.A. Woman." Ray will occasionally sit in with other artists; he's got a new solo album with an artist named Bal called Atonal Head. He also has a new book out, Snake Moon, which is set during the Civil War. The story is very well told. Densmore's working on a new book, an essay on modern politics and culture called The Greed Gene. John is one of the most soulful, liberal, charitable guys around. He tithes, gives a big portion of his income to charity every year. And as his income went up he found his hand shaking when he wrote the checks. That gave him the idea for the book.
What have you done with TheDoors.com?
I'm really focusing on the Doors' site right now, to make it a portal for everything Doors. I want to train consumers who are looking for music or imagery or anything Doors-related to check the site first. We just completed a deal to offer our own merchandise. We deleted 134 designs and got rid of a bunch of products. You don't see Doors keychains or ceramic mugs. We make deals with what we think are the coolest clothing companies, like Junk Food, Trunk, Buddhist Punk, to do really cool designs. We're talking to Shepard Fairey about doing a limited-edition line of shirts that say "Obey the Doors."
The Doors recently completed a deal to offer not only all of our merchandise – and about 165 new designs – but all of our CDs, DVDs and books on the site, serviced and fulfilled by us. We'll have direct links to video and news, a complete discography, a historical timeline, an extensive picture gallery. Fans can go there to find anything they want to know and whatever products they want, and we'll also lead them with links to find out more about the Doors. This generation is trained to go to the Web anyway.
What about digital music sales?
We've also got a complete Doors page on iTunes, and we're doing something interesting: December is "The World of the Doors Month" on iTunes, and we're offering a chance for consumers to build their own virtual box sets. In addition to that, we have a new collection, Set The Night On Fire - The Doors Bright Midnight Archives Concerts; it's basically a "suitcase" of all the live Doors songs ever released on Bright Midnight – 99 tracks for $59.95. iTunes announced it in their "New Music Tuesdays" e-mail. We're also going to sell downloads directly from the Doors' site of a bunch of unreleased live concert recordings. The Doors' production team, Bruce Botnick and Paul Rothchild, went on the road with them in 1969-70 and recorded many live songs on multitrack, using the highest-quality audio gear and engineering. We have all those multitracks. Most of them have never been heard. We're going to let our fans build their own virtual box sets of live recordings.
So this month we've got a huge promotion on iTunes, the Doors book and the box set; in Feb. '07, they'll receive their star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame; in April, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's Main Exhibit, a couple of live concert releases (on Bright Midnight, the Doors' joint-venture label with Rhino/Elektra) available at retail, via the site and via Rhino; in November, the Jim Morrison Treasures© book; in '08, two companion volumes of Jim Morrison's writing, Things Known and Things Unknown. Things Known will be a compendium of all his published poetry and iconic photos. Things Unknown will be unpublished lyrics and poetry, as well as drawings and paintings by Jim that no one's ever seen.
The Doors' vault is an astonishing cache of tape, photos and who knows what else.
We're still excavating. It's going to be a multi-year process. All of it has to be digitized and stored on optical media; scientists don't even know if DVDs will store archivally. It might cost $1 million to do it. Can you imagine the guy who spent $1 million to convert a film library to VHS?
We found out in the late '80s or early '90s that when Elektra was moving back to New York, they went in their vaults here and threw out all kinds of unreleased Doors songs and outtakes just to save the reels, which were worth $2-3 apiece. That stuff's just gone forever.
Is that traditional record-company logic in a nutshell?
Credits: The "Obey the Doors" image was created by Obey Giant; the Doors flower graphic was created by HiP Design.