Record company executive
Music mogul David Geffen proclaimed in The Los Angeles Times in 1994, “Bob Krasnow is one of the smartest and most talented executives working in the music business these days.… His track record as a talent scout is impeccable.” Indeed, with over 30 years of experience in the record industry, Bob Krasnow is renowned for his keen ear, bold decision making, and eclectic tastes. In 1994, after a 20-year stint with the Warner Bros, family of labels, Krasnow began his own company, Krasnow Entertainment, with plans to tackle film and television as well music. The entertainment industry expected great things from this man renowned for discovering and developing new artists.
Robert Krasnow dropped out of high school at age 17 to join the navy. Constantly on the lookout for new educational experiences, he gravitated toward the record industry. In 1957 he took a job as a sales representative for Decca Records. A year later he landed the position of branch manager for King Records in San Francisco. There Krasnow was exposed to legends of rhythm and blues like Little Willie John, Hank Ballard, the Five Royales, and James Brown. Fascinated by the innovations developed by these artists, Krasnow began producing their records. His first project, for which he shared production credit with Brown, resulted in the monumental breakthrough hit “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.” With a string of successes under his belt, Krasnow moved to Los Angeles in 1964 to form his own R&B label, Loma, which would be distributed by Warner Bros. Records.
In 1966 Krasnow went on to become vice-president of Kama Sutra Records and later helped found Buddha Records. He left Buddha in 1968 to create the highly adventurous Blue Thumb Label, which he sold in 1974 to return to the Warner Bros. fold. There he accepted the post of vice-president of talent, which was created especially for him. In 1983 Krasnow took command of the Elektra/Asylum/Nonesuch record labels—all distributed by Warners—where he reigned until his sudden departure in 1994.
As chairman of what eventually became the Time Warner corporation’s Elektra Entertainment, Krasnow made crucial decisions regarding both mainstream and underground music. In 1984 Elektra was the first record company to publicly acknowledge an exclusive arrangement to supply videos to cable television’s music video channel MTV. Krasnow agonized over the decision, but he believed it was in the industry’s best interest to support MTV. Quoted in Billboard, Krasnow said he felt that MTV had “an almost fanatical sympathy to the music industry,” suggesting that the network’s commitment to music video surpassed that of other video outlets. To strengthen his support of music video, Krasnow
Born Robert A. Krasnow, c. 1935, in Rochester, NY; wife’s name is Sandy; children: three.
Sales representative, Decca Records, 1957–58; branch manager, King Records, 1958–64; founded, and directed Loma Records, 1964–66; vice-president, Kama Sutra Records, c. 1966–67; helped found, and headed Buddha Records, c. 1967–68; created Blue Thumb Label, and served as director, 1968–74; vice-president/talent, Warner Bros. Records, 1974–83; chairman, Elektra/Asylum/Nonesuch Records (name later changed to Elektra Entertainment), 1983–94; created Krasnow Entertainment, 1994.
Member: Member of board of directors of City Center (New York City theater for independent choreography); member of board of directors and president’s council, Brooklyn Academy of Music; co-president, French Music Office; national committee member, March of Dimes; executive vice-president, Paul Taylor Dance Company; member of board of directors, Wadleigh School (New York).
Selected awards: Winner of March of Dimes Personality Cook-Off, 1981; named T. J. Martell Cancer Research Man of the Year, 1984, 1989; Nordoff Rob-bins Music Therapy honoree, 1989; Ellis Island Medal of Honor, 1992.
created a home video wing at Elektra, developing new markets for the then-fledgling art form.
Krasnow further expanded Elektra by developing its classical music sector. By adding Germany’s Teldec and France’s Erato labels to the Nonesuch imprint, Elektra Entertainment’s International Classics became a major force within the genre. Krasnow also entered into a distribution pact with a new Disney label, Hollywood Records, which would expand the Elektra catalog with releases ranging from soundtracks to rock albums.
Krasnow effectively rescued Elektra from a decline into which it had fallen during the early 1980s. “The first eighteen months were the hardest,” he told Rolling Stone’s Fred Goodman. Krasnow spent over ten million dollars buying out artists’ contracts and moving the company’s headquarters back to New York City, where it had been born in the 1950s. Krasnow followed a “small but beautiful” philosophy as he reduced the label’s roster from 120 to 46 acts. Goodman asserted that this downsizing of talent “made Elektra the only major record company that can approach such disparate acts as [urban folksinger Tracy] Chapman, [heavy metal giants] Metallica, and [flamenco group] the Gypsy Kings with the same intensity and dedication.” By following this tack, Elektra became famous for its eclecticism and reputation as “the artist’s label.”
While at Elektra Krasnow oversaw the release of music by such creative visionaries as the Icelandic alternative rock group the Sugarcubes, British socialist/punk troubadour Billy Bragg, and Latin activist bandleader Rubén Blades, as well as major moneymakers like alternative pop band 10,000 Maniacs, R&B chanteuse Anita Baker, and pop singer Natalie Cole. As he told Goodman, “There’s a big difference between being a record label and a record company. Anybody can have a hit record. You stay in this business long enough, you have deep enough pockets, and you put out enough records, you’re going to have hit records. But that’s a mercurial way of trying to make a living and build something.”
Krasnow took the art of developing talent seriously and preached his beliefs widely. At the 1991 New Music Seminar in New York City he warned in his keynote address, as reported by Billboard, “The record business finds itself dangerously close to creative stagnation. There’s so much money lying around the corporate bank accounts that it’s seemingly easier to buy a band or label than it is to take the time and let something develop.” Worrying that the industry’s profits had made executives lazy, he counseled, “Your goal must be to seek out and promote great innovation. Your challenge is to do so in spite of the difficulties and temptations offered by an over-prosperous industry.”
In 1994 Krasnow abruptly stepped down as chairman and CEO of Elektra Entertainment. Warner Music Group had just announced a corporate realignment that required Krasnow to report to former Atlantic Group chairman Doug Morris, who was elevated to the top spot of Time Warner’s new domestic music division (of which both Elektra and Atlantic Records were part). Sources for the Los Angeles Times said that Krasnow blamed his departure on his exclusion from the new corporate inner circle. Others suggested that he regarded himself as a more seasoned executive than Morris and was simply smarting at being passed over for promotion. Some pointed out that Krasnow had recently been dogged by Elektra’s lackluster chart and fiscal performance. As the Los Angeles Times put it, “Once the toast of the industry, the eclectic New York label has been sorely lagging behind its sister companies, Atlantic Group and Warner Bros. Records.”
Krasnow immediately began negotiations to start a new label at rival MCA Music Entertainment Group. In December of 1994 MCA and Krasnow’s recently developed entertainment company, Krasnow Entertainment, confirmed an arrangement to jointly create a new record label under the MCA Records banner. “I am delighted to be in business with Bob Krasnow,” MCA Entertainment head Al Teller stated in a press release announcing the deal. “He is one of the rare executives in the music business with the unique ability to attract topflight artists and to discover the best new talent.” With his start-up company preparing to make waves in film and television, as well as the music industry, Krasnow told Billboard he had no plans to amend his basic operating methods: “I’ve had a low-volume, high-quality philosophy for the last 20 years, and I’m not changing.”
Though not absent from the music scene for long, Krasnow said to Chuck Philips in the Los Angeles Times, “I’m back and I’m ready to do business. What I’m selling is specialized individual attention and dedicated commitment to each act I sign.” Krasnow has always backed such sentiment with substance, so much so that some artists pledged their allegiance to him personally and not to the company for which they recorded. When he summarily departed Elektra, superstars Metallica, one of the Time Warner family’s most profitable bands, filed a lawsuit severing their decade-long association with the label, citing their strong relationship with the departed Krasnow as a factor in the move (the lawsuit was later settled, with Metallica remaining at Elektra).
The man who signed soul diva Chaka Khan, jazz guitarist George Benson, funk pioneer George Clinton, and pop powerhouse the Cure, among a host of others throughout his years in the industry, has always put the artist first. As he insisted in MCA press materials, “I am committed to nurturing and shepherding the careers of influential artists from both the mainstream and the underground, and to identifying and cultivating changing musical tastes from one generation to the next.”
Billboard, August 25, 1984; January 11, 1986; July 27, 1991; July 23, 1994; July 30, 1994; September 25, 1994; December 10, 1994; June 3, 1995.
Entertainment Weekly, October 30, 1992.
Los Angeles Times, July 13, 1994; August 2, 1994; October 21, 1994; December 2, 1994.
New York Times, December 2, 1994.
Rolling Stone, February 9, 1989; September 25, 1994.
Variety, January 19, 1983; November 4, 1991; July 25, 1994.
Wall Street Journal, July 13, 1994; July 20, 1994; November 1, 1994; December 2, 1994.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from publicity materials provided by Elektra Entertainment, 1990 and 1992, and MCA Music Entertainment Group, 1994.
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