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“Big” Jon Platt is big in every sense of the word. He is the executive vice president/head of Urban, Creative, West Coast, for EMI Music Publishing. To state it plain and simple, Big Jon is arguably the most influential urban music publisher in the world and without a doubt one of the most important music executives in the industry. Oh, and did I forget to mention he stands at 6’8.
Jay-Z, Beyonce, Kanye West, Usher, Pharrell Williams (Neptunes), Young Jeezy, Snoop Dogg, Fabolous, Omarion, and the Yin Yang Twins all have Big Jon to thank. Someone has to find the artists before they become well-known and Big Jon has consistently been finding and signing some of the biggest names in all of music for over 12 years. Jay-Z has even been quoted as saying, “In a game where people are taking other peoples publishing, he gives you 100% confidence that the business is being handled correctly”.
As his reputation has grown, so have his workload and his responsibilities. In addition to his tenure in publishing, Platt has consulted for EMI Record, LaFace Records, Island Records and Atlantic Records. Platt is also V.P. and a Trustee of the Los Angeles chapter of The Recording Academy. The music executive’s impressive record was recognized by Black Enterprise Magazine, who named him as part of its “Top 50 Black Power Brokers in Entertainment” (December 2002).
So after learning about Big Jon and hearing the massive industry buzz surrounding him, I had to meet the man for myself. After a few missed attempts I finally got a chance to catch up with Big Jon at a restaurant in Beverly Hills for a late afternoon lunch. We sat and talked about the music industry and how Big Jon has grown to become one of the most powerful power brokers in all of music.
(BB) So tell me, where are you originally from and how did you get started in the music business?
(BJ) I’m originally from Denver, Colorado. I grew up in Denver and I became a DJ at a young age. I got a job spinning records at a club and I eventually became the top DJ in Denver doing hip-hop. Through that I became really known and a lot of artists would come to my parties when they were in town. Through a friend of mine I met Chuck D of Public Enemy and it grew into a friendship. One year they were in town for a concert and the equipment the promoter had was kind of bogus so I offered my turntables and mixer for them to use and they used them and that started our relationship. Every time Chuck D came in town we would get together. He came through this one year and it was when Ice Cube’s first album was coming out. So at the sound check that was when he dropped a jewel on me and told me I should try to be in the music business. I thought he was crazy to be honest with you. At that point he planted the seed and I just started researching it after that and I moved to L.A. A friend of mine introduced me to some producers out here in L.A. that he went to college with, they went to USC. I came out here and met them and I loved their music so I started managing them. I eventually got them a publishing deal with EMI. A couple of years later EMI offered me a position. That was in 95 and I’ve been there for 12 years. They hired me for the lowest title which was creative manager and with in like two years I was a VP and another two years I became Senior VP and now I’m executive VP with a staff and everything now.
(BB) Did you recognize it at the time when you got the job that EMI was going to change your life forever? Did you recognize it as a turning point?
(BJ) Well when I was managing and shopping tracks and just having the thirst for being in the game, at the same time I was a student of the game and I would just watch people and I knew. You know how people say to themselves, “If I ever get a shot, man I’m going to take this thing over”. I would always say that in the back of my mind. It wasn’t that the people in the game weren’t talented, I just saw the approach that they took to the game and think people to this day still take it for granted. I just knew. Once they offered me the position I just thought about it and prayed on it. I accepted the job and I knew it was going to be a wrap. The reason why I knew it was because there were people that were at EMI longer and they knew more than me about publishing and the music business in general. So I asked myself a question how can I compete with that. The answer that I came up with is the answer that I still live by to this day and that is they may have been here longer than me but I will never let them out work me. I was just going to out work them. And I figured if I continued to outwork them I would eventually catch up to them and then surpass them.
(BB) What separates you from other music publishers?
(BJ) The publishing game used to be different before I got into it. I used to call it “watching the charts”. They would watch a song come out and see how successful it would be. If the song was successful they would go try to sign the publishing on it. I took a different approach. I just went on things just from the passion of it and do I love it and what I felt I could do to contribute to that person’s career. So I wasn’t waiting for it to climb up the charts, I would sign it because I loved it. Like when I signed Jay-Z, “Reasonable Doubt” had came out not to long before and it was selling ok, it wasn’t blowing through the roof, but I saw the vision and I was just like this dude is incredible. I mean, did I think he would be the number one rapper in the world, the number one hip hop artist in the world, and one of the most influential people in the world? I can’t tell you I saw that. All I saw was an amazing talent and at the end of the day, that’s what you have to go off of. You go off the music, the person, and their drive and you need a little bit of luck sprinkled in and then everything lines up. Every now and then all the planets will line up and that’s what happened with it. But to really answer your question, what separates me, I think it’s trust at the end of the day. It’s a business where it’s easy not to trust. You have to know where you come from to know where you’re going. And I’m a true believer of that because I know that from our people. You know in the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s, even the ‘70s, we were getting taken advantage of for our song writing royalties and I promised myself I would never contribute to that. I always wanted to do fair business with people. I’ve seen this business change people and I’ve always said to myself and continue to say everyday I don’t want the business to change me I want to change the business.
(BB) What advice do you have for upcoming artists?
(BJ) If they approach it in this regard I think it will help a lot of people from making mistakes. You have to look at yourself as a multi-million dollar corporation. You have to look at you career and life that way because who is anyone to say that it isn’t. It may not be that today but you have to look at it in this mindset because one or two hit records can turn you into that. When that happens to you, you will be saying to yourself, I wish I didn’t sign this contract, I wish I wouldn’t have signed that. If you approach it in the context that you are a million dollar cooperation and you have to manage that corporation, you will think a lot clearer before you sign management agreements, you will think a lot clearer before you sign publishing deals, you will think a lot clearer before you sign recording deals, and you will think a lot clearer before you tell your homeboy he can handle your business for you. If you look at yourself as already being there, mentally you will think clearer, in your decisions and that’s the main thing. I think people are in a rush to blow up and there is no rush when no one knows you. So you might as well take a little bit longer and do it right.
(BB) What is the hardest part of your job?
(BJ) There is no hard part because I love it. I see people work hard and I’ve been to where it was hard before and it had nothing to do with the music business. This is easy. There is no hard part. There are challenges but I even love the challenges. Its like golf, you never perfect it. Right when you think you got it something else changes. But I truly love music. I truly love what I do and I feel really blessed to be sitting here even talking you.
(BB) How did you feel when you realized you were one of the most influential figures in the music industry?
(BJ) It started to hit me recently. I was in Black Enterprise for being one of the top 50 in entertainment. I was recently on the cover of Billboard magazine. I know it in the back of my mind but I don’t focus on it. Besides, that is just another person’s view of you. At the end of day I take it all with a grain of salt because the reality is you are never as good they say you are but at the same time, you are never as bad as they say you are either. So I take it all on an even tilt. Like if I focus on all the great things people say about me I would have to respect someone who said something negative about me. So I just choose not to deal with either.
(BB) What advice would you give to youngsters with aspirations of getting into the business side of music?
(BJ) Well, if you want to be in the business you have to be around the business. You can’t just stand on the sidelines talking about this is what I want to do. At some point you have to jump in. Go to an ASCAP showcase, go to a BMI showcase, or go to an Urban Network conference. You have to be around it because you never know who you are going to meet that is going to change your life. You have to be a sponge and soak it all up. And above all else have thick skin because you have people in this business that don’t know how to talk to people. Also, get in the business because you really love it. Get in the business because you really want to contribute something to the business. There are so many people that try to get into the business and try to take from it and make a quick hit from it or a quick lick. If you really want to do this make it be what you really want to do. When you follow your passion it never feels like work. To be honest with you I am truly living a dream. I am living a dream and I don’t ever want to wake up from it because it’s a great dream.