Amy Birnbaum – Marketing Manager for Round Hill Music
Interview by Jennifer Boylen and Steven Paul
You began working in Broadway and now work with Round Hill (and others) in the music-publishing world. Was that a difficult transition? Or was the switch between industries pretty simple?
Transitioning into a new working environment typically poses new challenges. Figuring out how to cater to the individualized needs of the respective executives is always a challenge. These are two vastly different businesses. I feel like I’m learning an entirely new language, a new database of people, practices, and standards. But even though our day-to-day functionalities in the publishing world are different from those in the Broadway world, the people in both industries share the same thing: We. Live. For. Music.
You have a degree in vocal performance, and have performed many huge events such as Bonnaroo and SXSW as well as other venues and continue to perform. What made you decide to work both as a performer and in the business side of music? Was it a personal choice or something that was necessary for your career?
I love the stage. Being on it, close to it– don’t get me wrong. I’ve been extremely lucky to sing in an amazing gospel/soul band on Daptone Records called Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens. It’s a total high and has allowed me to travel across the world and sing for thousands of people, but I can’t quite describe the unparalleled feeling I get when I see someone else with whom I’ve worked have that opportunity to share their gift with an audience. I realized very early on that my greatest happiness lay in creating platforms for other artists to expose their talent. When they hit that stage, man, they set it ablaze. I work with singers who literally have a gift so profound that not a day goes by where I don’t think to myself “How can I get their sound out there? What can I do to help them?”
How did you become a part of Round Hill Music?
Hard work and luck.
What’s your favorite part about the job you do?
I work in an environment that harbors creativity and allows me to bring talent into RHM. How many places allow you to do that?! I love what I do, and I am constantly in awe of each and every one of my co-workers. We’re the hardest workin’ publishing company in show business (sorry, bad James Brown riff…).
The other day I was writing a blurb for our social media site about RHM’s late, great composer/producer Arif Mardin. The first sentence was a quote from Aretha Franklin about Mardin: “Amazing was an understatement. He was brilliant.” Then I grab some more quotes from other artists who spoke of Mr. Mardin’s gifts, like Ahmet Ertegun, Dr. John, Chaka Kahn, Daryl Hall, etc. Heroes of mine are singing his praises—and I get to work with his music! Unreal.
You have had the chance to book for some of the biggest music festivals in the world. How fun was it to be able to talk and meet so many huge acts from all over the world? Did you find that the work aspect of it took away from the fun?
My band isn’t your typical band. Our organ player is 82 and blind. Our lead singer is a woman in her seventies…besides advancing shows, and coordinating travel, my biggest concerns on the road are ensuring that they are literally eating well, getting from the hotel to the stage with relative ease, and sleeping comfortably (if there is such a thing on the road). But at the end of the day, nothing takes away from a good backstage beer tent.
Jujamcyn is a very well known name in Broadway. After 6 years there, how often are you able to enjoy the “bright lights” now that you are in a more white-collar position?
Round Hill and Jujamcyn have similar work ethics and work environments. We work feverishly, and passionately, and make sure we take a good part of each day to laugh a lot. It’s funny that the world of publishing seems like a relatively unfamiliar concept to so many artists, as it is something all artists should be very much aware of. Last night I was invited into my old Broadway Theater where they have the show “Let It Be” running in previews. Curtain rises, drum roll, then the song “I Saw Her Standing There” opens the show—Round Hill Music owns and publishes that song. I’m loving how these worlds are colliding. I don’t think there will ever be a day where I don’t enjoy the bright lights, but, then again, I watch a lot of live sports to switch things up.
You’ve kind of been all over the place as far as the music industry goes. What has been the most memorable/enjoyable experience for you?
I had the wonderful opportunity to be asked by Lincoln Center to produce a concert for black history month. I’ll never forget standing in the back of the house at the Allen Room with that glass backdrop overlooking Columbus Circle and knowing as a producer that I couldn’t run around in a panic because whatever was going to go down at the point, well, it was gonna go down. Watching the audience’s faces as the horn section started blaring and the singers tore the house down was unforgettable.
What would you say has been the most difficult part of your career for you all personally and collectively?
The greatest difficulties lie in finding how to calmly, yet expediently and effectively problem solve if and when mistakes occur. Because mistakes will always occur — how we deal with them, well, therein lies the challenge.
How did you, or do you continue to, overcome these struggles?
I like to admit I made a mistake and not attempt to cover it up. Nip it. Goes down a lot smoother.
What is the ‘highlight’ of your career so far?
I get mini highlights throughout the day. Hearing a new track that blows my mind, listening to our President Neil Gillis talk about working with everyone from Johnny Mercer to Phil Ramone, hearing Josh Gruss, the owner of RHM, shredding on his guitars in the office at the end of a long day– these little things make me excited to come to work each day.
What is the one dream the moment at which point either personally or collectively you would be able to say yes I’ve achieved this, I’m living my dreams?
I have been working on developing a Broadway show for 6 years. They say it takes long, and they aren’t kidding. It’s finally coming to fruition. Check it out here: http://souldeepproductions.