Iovine is the co-chairman of Interscope Records which started as a
small alternative label in 1989 and grew into a powerful international music
company. Its roster includes Eminem, Limp Bizkit and Marilyn Manson.
Let's start with Farm Club. Why base a record company on the internet?
Well, it's funny. It worked out kind of backwards. The record company came
after the idea. We wanted to create a vehicle. Because of the way young
people are communicating with each other now, it looked very evident to us that
there were people online and watching television that wanted to communicate
with record companies and with people and musicians and make their presence
known. So Doug and I came up with this concept of a TV show, plugging into the
internet, driving each other with musicians. . . . And from that, musicians'
friends, then fans of music, people that love music, and into the general
public. So when you start with the musician, it is easy to reach the rest of
the general public. Of course, usually the musician in every neighborhood is
the guy who has the Nirvana album first. That's usually what I found, in my
So in a way, Farm Club on the net is almost like market research for you. I
gather you can monitor how kids are responding to the different kinds of music,
to the different bands, by how much they're uploading, downloading and so
Absolutely. They're also talking to us all the time and telling who their
favorites are or who their favorite bands aren't--what they like, what they
thought about the show, what they think about the site, what they thought about
another show on television, what they thought about a concert they saw in
another area. We have 100,000 musicians on the site that are just looking for
each other, like bands that are looking for a bass player. We hope to bring
this into other countries and really expand it--go to Japan and go in the UK
and France and Germany first.
So this is giving you intelligence on the way that the mind of the consumer
Absolutely. You don't program stuff for people. We don't really do that in
music as much. That's not the way the music business works. Only the music
works. Usually, musicians have the best sense of where the culture is moving,
rather than the producers. It's a very different thing than the TV business or
the movie business. So we listen to the musicians a lot.
Who is that consumer? As consumers, are they harder to reach? Are they
harder to keep because of all the clutter of media out there? Do you find it
more of a challenge to tap into that consumer now than before?
Well, I don't know how everyone feels about this. But I personally really like
what happened in the last four or five years in music, because I feel that we
were losing the kids below 10 years old. And what's happened with the
Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera and 'N Sync, is to
have kids comfortable that are six and seven years old and using music again.
Whereas, for a while, music wasn't the first, second or third on their
My 12-year old wasn't interested in music when he was six or seven. He just
got interested in it now. But my six-year old now is interested in music,
because there's music for her. So I'm sort of really happy about where the
music business stands right now. There's a whole generation of kids that are
growing up wanting CD players, wanting to play on the internet with music,
wanting to experiment with it. So I think it's a fabulous opportunity for the
You talked about the girl and boy band phenomenon. What about this other
phenomenon--the rap metal phenomenon--how big is it?
I think it's really big. Remember, there's an entire generation of young kids
that were brought up on hip hop. And yet they like rock music from their older
brother or their friend. So hip hop does a few things. Rap music. But one of
the main things it does is the beats are extraordinary. . . . If you were a
rock band with this sense of beat, with the sense of feel or the sense of
tempo, you infiltrate their world. So what happened was a lot of these bands
are coming at you with a hip hop feel, with rock instrumentals, and are really
connecting in a big way. One reason is the beat.
The second reason is the attitude, the overall look of it and the feel of it.
And it's meant a lot to young black America and white America. It's brought
black and white together in our in our young communities. I see I see it
literally every day. I see it in my house. I see it in my sister's house. I
see it everywhere. For the young kid, it isn't like music in the 1960s and the
1950s, where you listened to the music, but it was a separate culture. These
cultures are merging now through our young people.
If you look at hip hop as the music of the ghetto--essentially as an
expression of angst of their real lives--you can understand why hip hop is big
in a black community. But why is it big in the white community? White kids
are living through a period of great prosperity. Things are good. They don't
have the same kind of cultural roots. Why is hip hop making such inroads
None of us have the answer to any of these things--why things connect and why
they influence people or they don't influence people. But first of all, it's
not about money. What someone is saying something, expressing themselves and
expressing an emotion and a feeling, whether you have money or you don't have
money, you can relate to it or not relate to it. So because someone's parents
are prosperous doesn't mean that they're not sitting at home miserable or
feeling some pain. That's the biggest mistake you can make. . . .
For the time during the late 1980s and early 1990s, outside of one or two rock
bands, hip hop was the most potent message and the most true message that was
being delivered in this country. And I think it really connected, obviously,
with a very big audience, and it influenced a generation. And I think somebody
like Tupac Shakur was an extraordinary artist. DMX is an extraordinary
artist. Dr. Dre is one of the great producers in all of popular music for the
last 30 years. One of the best that ever lived is Dr. Dre. . . .
We put out thousands of records by thousands of different types of musicians.
And hip hop was music of the kids. They demanded it, believe me. The
industry did not want it to happen. The industry did not state, "Let's get
into the hip hop business or the rap business." That was absolutely not the
case. The kids drove that movement.
And you listened?
Absolutely. Absolutely, we listened. Because not only that, it's great.
There are truly some innovative people in this hip hop business. There are
some really great artists. I always try to go where the excitement is, where
the best music is. I don't care what kind of music it is. I go with the best
artist we can find.
If you listen to the message in the music, it's so driven by anger-- Eminem,
Limp Bizkit, Korn--these big acts out there right now. Is that
connecting with the real feeling in kids, or is it some kind of fantasy that
they're responding to?
I don't think Eminem is any more pissed off than Pete Townsend was. I really
don't. I think Eminem is one of the true great artists this industry has seen
since Kurt Cobain. I think he's an incredible artist. But throughout all of
our histories, we've seen musicians that are in pain or that are expressing
pain and anger. And I don't think Eminem is any different than any of those
other musicians. I don't. I know that everyone would like to tie some kind
of attitude in these bands together with what is going on in America right now.
And I don't really know. I don't have a feel for that. I don't think that is
necessarily the case, because I've been through five generations of music
To what extent do you executives worry about lyrical content in this suite
of offices? Do you see it as your role to worry about where to draw lines, to
rein people in? Or are these artists, and your job is simply to present
It's probably somewhere in the middle. I think we're doing everything we can.
I don't know why records are treated different than movies. I don't know why
records are treated different than books. I don't know why an Eminem record is
different than a Stephen King movie. So it's hard for me to answer the
question when I don't understand the premise of it. I don't see the
difference. If I read an Eminem song or a DMX song and I read a Stephen King
book, I don't know why there's a difference, why it's treated differently than
books and movies. It seems like it is, and I don't really understand it.
And yet I've been through John Lennon trying to be deported out of the country.
I've been there. I was making his album when Nixon was trying to deport him.
He used to go to court every day. So I've seen this many times
You're saying it's a lightening rod, in a way?
It is. And I just don't quite understand it. I know that it gets people great
visibility. And everybody has a job. And everybody needs visibility for that
job, whether you're just a politician or a musician. It's a very, very
difficult thing, and there are no easy answers to this.
There was a moment in your career . . . after Tupac Shakur's
album . . . It was that moment when Warner Brothers said, "Okay, we're
cutting the strings. We can't deal with the pressure." Did that moment affect
No. It had nothing to do with the records we were putting out. It had to do
with that a cable bill going through Congress at the time, and Time Warner is a
gigantic corporation and needed to do something. At that moment, there was an
executive at Time Warner, very high up, whose son was using hip hop music to
teach in school. One of the executives that made this decision said to me,
"Look, it's got nothing to do with how I feel about this. It's got to do with
something that we're working on in a much bigger field." It's all at that
level where there's a lot of horse-trading going on. Did I feel personal about
that? No. No.
You meet and talk to these artists frequently. Do you ever talk to them
about the taste level of their music? What are they saying?
You're worried like someone from another generation. If you're looking for
what young people's reaction is and why they tick and what's going on in
popular culture, you're barking up the wrong tree. That is not what the
conversation should be.
There's an emotional thing going on. It's not as if I'm an artist, and am I
pushing my lyrics too far? Am I making a movie that is too hard? Am I making
writing a book that's too explicit? That's not how you find out what's going
on in popular culture. That's the tail wagging the dog. That's not where you
should look. Yes, it makes a great visual thing. It makes a great sound bite,
because people like to hear if record companies think they're being
irresponsible with lyrics, or film companies are being irresponsible with
movies. We've all used the examples hundreds of times. And there's no
interview that can solve any of these any of these issues, right?
Where is the right place to look?
The right place to look is with the kids. I would interview kids before I'd
interview me. They can answer any of your questions. I'd interview the
parents. A record in the record industry doesn't have anywhere near the
answers that people think they have. . . . I don't think people are
committing crimes because of these songs or the lyrics. I think we all feel
that crime has gone down in most of the major urban cities in the last five
years. Rap music has been selling record numbers of records. So what does
that mean? Do we give the Nobel Peace Prize to rappers? I don't know if
anyone's going to give them the credit for that. So where do we start? It's
very difficult, because I've been asked the question so many times. . . . I
try to be frank, but I find it's just too difficult to go there.
If I understand you correctly, you respect the kids' culture. You do try to
understand it, but you don't try to moralize about it from the adult
perspective. You sort of accept it and try to get to the bottom of it and
service it as a record company.
We do a lot of things here. And I do a lot of things personally. There's just
no way to stop a movement in popular culture. It's going to happen, with or
without you. There's absolutely no way to stop that train. Now, having said
that, do I think that everything is for kids of all ages? Absolutely not. I
don't believe that. I think that we need parental supervision. I think people
should watch their kids. I think they should watch what they eat, watch what
they drink, watch what they watch on TV, watch what they listen to--absolutely.
People that work in stores or in theaters should pay attention to parental
advisories and to ratings. Absolutely. They should pay attention. They
should follow what the rules are. And if someone doesn't like the rules, they
should change the rules. They should raise the bar or lower the bar, whatever
suits their fancy.
You said there's no way to stop the train. But are you the caboose on the
train, or are you the engine of the train?
We're absolutely not the engine. Absolutely not. If we were the engine, we'd
have a lot easier job. We're not the engine. The engine is the kids, what's
going on in the country, what they see on television, what they see on the
news, what they see in their homes. And then one of them can sing. And one of
them can write. And one of them can make a college film. And then he's
plugged into the nerve. Bob Dylan was maybe different than every kid that he
grew up with. But he wasn't that different, you know. John Lennon was
different than other kids in England at the time. But he wasn't that
There are thousands of Eminems. Just listen to a song. There are thousands
of them. It's just that he had the talent. It's like someone with a talent
to hit a baseball. He had the talent to write lyrics.
Is the record business doing well, in part, because kids are better
consumers now? Teenagers have more money to spend, and more independence than
ever. And yet, at the same time, they're very fickle, because they have so
I think that the record industry has been working very hard to find the right
music, make it accessible to people. The biggest movement in music has been
the boy bands. These teenage groups. It's been enormous. And there was a big
hole there. . . . That's where the internet has been extraordinary for music,
as people communicate to other people what they like. It's been great for
entertainment in general.
As a parent--not as a chairman of Interscope or president of Farm Club--does
the state of the culture worry you in any respect?
Well, no more than it worried my mother and my father, who were Italian and
lived in Brooklyn. My father was a longshoreman. . . . It worried them when I
wanted to go to the Village to see Sly and the Family Stone or the Doors. They
were scared stiff; they didn't relate to it. They didn't know what to do with
it. I don't know how other people feel, but the more they put it down, the
more I stood up. It's a bit like fishing. You have to let the line out
occasionally on your kids, or else they're going to snap it, right? They'll
break the line on it. And to be very frank with you, it is really not
different. They could say it was it was a better America in 1950 or a better
America in 1960 and it was lousy in the 1970s. I don't think every home is
perfect. So you have to really navigate your kids and navigate with them.
Is that a harder job now?
I don't think it is. I think it was really hard when my parents were bringing
me up in the 1960s, when that explosion happened. And I thought it was much
more difficult then. We have much more communication now, so it's more
evident now. There are 60 channels with nothing on now. There's all this TV
and media. If the president has a problem, there isn't a soul in America who
doesn't know it. My kids ask me more about that than they did about any Eminem
record or any DMX record. They wanted to know about that, because they were
interested in that.
We have a lot of things going on in the country in media that are frightening.
I have to watch my kids every day . . . with the television and the remote
control. . . . It's impossible to watch them 24 hours a day. . . . You can
try to legislate control over the popular media. And everybody will obey the
laws and whatever the laws are, the laws are. But it's nearly impossible.
So, in the end, it's about the parents?
I think it's about your community. I think it's about parenting. It's about
parents talking to each other. I learn more from my kids and from my kids'
friends' parents about what was going on. And I do the best I can to give them
the best information I can. There are too many examples of people that were
brought up in super-religious households that weren't allowed to watch TV
that turned out to be all screwed up. And the most bizarre situation can turn
out a great kid. I don't know where the line is drawn.
It's too easy to forget that, in the early 1990s, when hip hop was being aggressively attacked like that, there was a lot of racism involved.
There was a lot of, "Hey, not only is this music scary--look who's making it."
That was the undertone of the thing. If anybody denied that, it's just
So, I don't know. I don't see why it's worse than when I grew up as a teenager
in the 1960s. I think that was really scary. Of course we were we were
looking at a country that was exploding, with the Vietnam War and all. . . .
It was a much crazier time than it is right now.
It's interesting that you say that, because people say that now the rage is
undirected. It doesn't have a focus, and therefore there's something more
illegitimate about it--that it's spoiled kids mouthing off.
I've not done that kind of research. And I'd be really stepping out of my area
to speak about that. But every generation runs the risk that we both would
like to become our parents and, at the same time, are scared stiff of becoming
them. . . . A lot of my friends felt the same way. It's amazing. Every time
something new comes up, as much as you try to resist it, you say, "Oh, my God,
the 'The Simpsons.' I hate 'The Simpsons.'" And they say, "Oops. I sound
like my father." "The Simpsons" is harmless. It is what it is, and it's
Do you do you let your kids listen to Marilyn Manson, Eminem, Limp
I draw the line on everything with my kids. I talk to my kids about
everything. And if they're too young at the time and I think something is not
for them . . . they don't have it. I read the parental advisory. I take it
literally. I look at ratings on movies. I take them literally. And I try to
do what's in the best interest of my kid. . . .
Television is being interrupted continually. There are incredibly
intelligent ways that commercials are getting to the kids. . . . Big corporate
America is circumventing parents. . . .
I know what you're talking about. . . . If I use the television as a
babysitter, I'm asking for it, right? What do you expect someone to do? What
do you think they're doing with everything from religion to candy to politics?
It's all sold in the same way, or with the same amount of force, enthusiasm,
sound, and subliminal effects. It's the same amount of indirect or direct
assault. It's all sold the same way.
So I'm not offended by it. I believe that you are in control of your family.
You have to cast you wife right. You have to cast your life right. You have
to be in control of your family as much as you can be, and do the best you can.
Not everyone has that luxury--not a luxury--but even has the will to do it.
But why should the culture be on the opposite side of the parent? Why should
you need to fight against that culture?
It's not like that. Young people are always going to want to pull away from
their parents. It's nature. And one of the ways they express that is through
popular culture. They express it in a lot of different ways. The way they
dress, comb their hair, dance--it's all different ways that they express it.
Like, if you have a young daughter and you really like sports and athletes,
there's a chance that she's going to like an artist. There's just that pull
that's been going on, I assume, for a very long time. . . .
Before there was television, there were always going to be people that can't
handle their own lives, let alone help their kids. And I really do believe in
the community aspect of childrearing. My wife and I are very involved with our
Well, what happens if the community . . .
It's got nothing to do with what songs they hear. They're escaping from
something. . . . You're not going to fix the problem through legislation. You
could try it.
You're saying the culture can't raise your kids. . . .
It doesn't try to. Your kids are creating the culture, actually. It's not the
other way around. The question you pose is a very interesting question,
because I don't know the answer. I don't think anyone knows the answer.
Entire civilizations that were pretty horrible came about without any public
television or any commercials. To look at what commercials are doing to our
kids isn't the way to look for the answer. Whatever your thing is--whether
it's religion or family or whatever your base is--you've got to lean on that
and fight and fight and fight. . . . Things need to be properly rated. I
think as long as they're rated properly and we have put the parental advisory
on our records, that's what our industry accepted before I was even in the
record side of it.
. . . Where do you start? People have tried to influence our kids through
television. Well, how do you get that genie back in the bottle? What do you
do? Legislate it to death? We could do that. We can create a law that says
no subliminal messages on television. Okay. What is a subliminal message?
What isn't? What are lyrics? How do you interpret lyrics? What do they mean?
What don't they mean? If somebody's screaming, does it mean one thing?
It's a great question. What do you do? The genie is out of the
I remember being a kid in 1973. I remember being very impressionable. I
remember how much John Lennon meant to me, because I got the chance to work
with him every day for three years. And I remember specifically how
frightened he was that Richard Nixon wanted to throw him out of this country.
Nixon wanted to take away his green card. I remember the fight. He'd come to
the studio in a suit and change his clothes before he got there. . . .
I was brought up to think that the president of the United States was the most
honest and great person that could possibly exist. I went to Catholic school.
. . . And I asked Lennon, "Why does the president of the United States want to
throw you out of the country?" And he looked at me like I had three heads,
because he realized that I didn't get it. And it was almost like, "Where do I
start with you?"
But there was nothing wrong with what John Lennon was doing. And I don't think
there's a person in the world right now that wouldn't want him to be around
making music and look back on his influences as just extraordinary.
One man's improper lyrics are other man's political message.
Or another man's sense of humor . . . remember Lenny Bruce. Eminem is not that
different from Lenny Bruce. He may have pushed the envelope a little bit one
way or the other, but Red Foxx, Lenny Bruce . . . Eminem is a great lyricist
and a serious artist, but he does have a sense of humor. And he uses it the
way he uses it. I don't know. It's a very, very, very, complicated maze.
Everyone has self-interest. The artist has self-interest. The record company
has self-interest. The politicians have self-interest.
It's not a simple question, and we're not here to oversimplify it.
By the way, off the record, I'd like to know what music Hitler listened to,
okay? If that influenced him. . .
Wagner, I'm sure. . . .
And it was Wagner. But what I'm saying is, where do you draw the line with
this shit? I don't know what influences and what doesn't influence. You
should pull the FBI report, which I have done. . . . The crime rate in the
last five years in teenage crime, in hard crime, has been down. Do the
politicians want the credit for that? But the musicians get the blame for
home · watch the program · what teens think · themes · interviews · media giants · discussion
landscape · inside trl · getting close · cool hunting · eminem
synopsis · douglas rushkoff · producers · tapes & transcripts · press · credits
FRONTLINE · wgbh · pbs online
some photos ©joel page
web site copyright 1995-2014
WGBH educational foundation