James Friedman (pictured, top) is a partner in two small, electronic music labels (Throne of Blood Recordings and Kingdoms) and a co-owner of a boutique publishing and sync business (Passé Publishing). He also DJs once in a while, and works for brands and agencies as a strategist.
How did you get into the industry?
Like just about everyone I’ve ever connected with in the music business, I first got involved as a fan. I was a compulsive music consumer from a young age, buying and listening to albums, reading magazines, and watching a lot of Yo! MTV Raps. By high school, I was also playing in bands, helping to organize all ages shows, and recording some music with friends. In college I spent a couple of years hosting a show on student radio, and got my first internship in the promo department at Astralwerks/Caroline Distribution. After a couple years of school, I took some time off and started writing for music magazines, which was something I continued doing for many many years.
When I graduated, a friend from one of the magazines hired me as the assistant label manager at !K7 Records in New York. I spent a couple of years there before leaving to help Trevor Jackson open a US office for his now-shuttered Output Recordings label. I negotiated a distribution deal for Output with Caroline, enlisted Windish Agency to book our live acts, retained PR and sync partners, and essentially reinvented my 24 year-old self as a label executive. The pay was modest at best so I cultivated a bunch of side hustles to keep the lights on, helping other small European electronic music labels access Caroline’s distribution network, doing some A&R consulting for major labels, and working with brands like Diesel, Adidas, Puma, and Nike on music projects.
After a couple of years I started Throne of Blood with the members of the Rapture in an unusual arrangement that enabled us to release their sophomore full length Pieces of the People We Love on vinyl, while Motown handled CD and digital. When they went on tour and then a multi-year hiatus, Throne of Blood sort of took on a life of its own as a passion project driven by my tastes and network of contacts across the dance music world. One of those contacts, Rachel Graham (currently at Infiné Publishing in Paris) invited me to become her partner in a small publishing business, and Passé was born.
We currently represent a few dozen wonderfully creative songwriters and label catalogs for publishing and sync and have had managed to create some incredible opportunities for some of our artists along the way. There have been a couple short-lived projects over the past decade, but currently I’m most engaged with Passé, Throne of Blood, and Kingdoms, an impossible to categorize imprint spanning everything from leftfield techno to contemporary composition, ambient, and beyond. My partners in Kingdoms include Francis Harris and Shane Davis, owners of Brooklyn’s listening bar/experimental club/vegan restaurant/record shop, Public Records.
What does your current job entail?
My day to day work shifts a lot since I freelance as my primary source of income. Currently I’m helping a wonderful independent agency work on a number of really remarkable technology projects, many of which have a sonic or musical component at their core. The most exciting of these projects is an immersive experience that will partner some really exciting musical artists with visual artists and technologists. I can’t really get into specifics, but I think it will be an incredible, game-changing venture that also has some really exciting progressive causes baked into its core. Something eye opening that will hopefully do some good in a world that needs all the help it can get.
What does a typical day look like for you?
My days are very straightforward. I try to give eight hours to work and I fill all the time remaining with my two kids, my wife, keeping in touch with friends and family… While I cook most meals anyways, during lockdown I’ve made a point of trying to put at least one real meal on the table for us to tuck into together. I know it can’t make us any safer, but I feel better going through the motions of that routine. To the extent that my kids don’t complain to much, I also try to listen to a few records every day. There’s constantly music playing while I work, but I’m not actually tuned in to it very much.
“Having spent so much of my career either in the traditional recording industry or working in somewhat conventional advertising agency settings, I’m really excited by the rising interest in sound as a medium for communication and interaction.”
What do you think are the most interesting developments in your area of the industry?
What’s been the most unexpected thing about your job?
My professional life has been a wild hodge-podge of projects, jobs, roles, and opportunities for so long that very little surprises me at this point. Given all that’s been happening, the thing that surprises me the most is that I’m as busy as I am right now.
What’s the coolest project you’ve ever done?
There have been a few that I’m really really proud to have been a part of. One was a project I did with IBM when I worked at Ogilvy New York in 2014 called the IBM Sessions. We partnered with James Murphy from LCD Soundsystem, putting him together with a brilliant software developer from a shop called Tool in order to translate data feeds captured at every match of the US Open tennis tournament into generative soundscapes. Each match ended up with its own unique musical score, influenced by the pace of play, the weather, and social sentiment.
Generated in real-time with every stroke, we ended up with over 400 hours of ambient music made from tennis data. James took his favorite matches and remixed them as well. The project was such a bugged out collision of worlds for me, my day job, an artist that I deeply respect and count as a friend, one of the most venerable blue chip technology brands on earth doing something completely unexpected and weird. It was challenging, frustrating, and also immensely gratifying to be a part of that.
“My dad likes to tell me that we have one mouth and two ears, so we should try to listen twice as much as we speak.”
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten?
It’s the advice I think I’ve struggled the most to actually live in my day to day life, but my dad likes to tell me that we have one mouth and two ears, so we should try to listen twice as much as we speak. I’m a bit of a know-it-all and a blabbermouth despite him drilling that one into me since childhood. But hopefully it’s not too late for me to learn the lesson…
What’s on your playlist at the moment?
I’m all over the shop these days. Been playing stuff like Pierre Morlan’s Gong, Johnny Nash, Jim Sullivan, and Panda Bear on the turntable after the kids go to bed. February Montaine, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Peaking Lights, James Righton, Masumi Hara, and the Blue Nile are all recent listens in the home office.
What’s getting you through lockdown?
Do you have any predictions or hopes for the future of the industry?
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