When Jon Platt travels back “home” to Denver it is usually to meet his friends.
And so he visits Jay-Z before a concert in Colorado or sits in the court to cheer on the Nuggets and his close friend Chauncey Billups. Sometimes Platt takes time to meet with Denver Public School officials to introduce youth programs.
None of his Denver affairs are what would be called routine: imagine Platt having a private dinner after the performance at Frasca in Boulder with Beyonce, Jay-Z, and their entourage last March – then hop along at 3am am on her private plane back to Los Angeles
“We didn’t land in LA until 4:20 am,” said Platt, the former Denver DJ and music publishing director who is transforming the music business and making it a more profitable place for artists and songwriters.
“(When we landed in LA) I went home and lay down for a couple of hours, and then I worked out with my trainer before going to the office. It was fun because Puffy was with the trainer – he asked me who my trainers are in LA and New York and he now trains with both of them. “
A name dropper? Perhaps, but Platt follows it with considerable humility.
“And this is my life. It’s a Dream. It doesn’t get much better than that. “
Today he may work with Usher, one of his biggest clients. Tomorrow he’ll say the name Drake 50 times as Platt was one of the first to hit the industry in the budding R&B star’s corner. The next day could be all about Kanye West. Or Young Jeezy. Or Jay-Z. Or Beyoncé.
Platt signed them all to publishing contracts and developed new ways to save them license fees.
“He moved the envelope and changed the game,” said Shawn Carter aka Jay-Z, who sat on the edge of a leather couch in the green room backstage prior to a Pepsi Center show.
The traditional model in hip-hop publishing was for the producer and songwriter of a song to share the licensing costs, known as a split, for all of the samples used in a song.
Platt developed a system where producers pay the entire bill for the samples they use in his clients’ work.
“There are a lot of samples used in rap music, and those samples can perfect your balancing act as an artist,” said Jay-Z, rocking a crisp white t-shirt and Yankees hat.
“But I’m also a writer and I wrote my material while the producer selected the sample. And we got the producer to stand behind these divisions. It was something people said would never fly, it would never happen, but it really revolutionized the business. “
But Platt’s work goes beyond the traditional role of music publisher. He actively connects artists with new sounds and is very successful in doing so.
Jay-Z credits Platt for giving him Empire State of Mind, the rapper’s first No. 1 hit and one of 2010’s biggest singles. Two songwriters Platt works with, Angela Hunte and Janet Sewell -Ulepic, played the song for him. And after Platt emailed Jay the tracks, the platinum-selling MC immediately emailed him to get the ProTools files. They both knew it was a hit.
Understanding Platt means understanding your business – and your employer, who dominates music publishing. A publisher works with the songwriters and protects them to make sure they are paid for their work. Sometimes Platt associates a song with an artist, as he did with Jay-Z and “Empire” and Beyonce and their song “Ego,” which was written by EMI writers Harold Lilly Jr. and Elvis Williams.
Sometimes he negotiates with the publishers of other songwriters / producers. EMI has been named Billboard Publisher of the Year for the past 12 years and its catalog of more than 1.3 million songs – including those from Colorado hitmakers 3OH! 3 – is a giant.
“He has amazing hearing and an incredible sense of knowledge because publishing isn’t just a business, it’s an art,” said Sean Combs, aka Puff Daddy, of his pal Platt. “Finding the right writer and knowing who to match them with and how to maximize their brand – they have a gift, a natural talent for it. He knows how to build relationships. He built relationships with me and many of the guys who are the future of music. “
Platt rules the business by understanding that relationships are the foundation of any publisher that can only be as powerful as its artist base.
“Now that I’m getting into my career, Jon and I have conversations about the things that matter and one day he said the strangest thing to me,” said Jay Jenkins, better known as platinum salesman Young Jeezy, one of Platt’s client while he sat in his elaborate tour bus as it was parked in Denver earlier this year.
“I was talking about something serious and he said, ‘It’s your career man.’ Nobody had ever told me that before. I stopped dead in my tracks and said, ‘Yes, I have to do what I have to do.’ It had nothing to do with him or my publications or checks. But he was there for me and that meant a lot to me. “
His heart is in Denver
Platt got off to a humble start at EMI in March 1995 – two years after packing up his life in Denver and haphazardly relocating it to Los Angeles.
“My heart is in Denver,” Platt recently admitted. “That’s where it all started for me. I love this city. I almost envy Chauncey (Billups) that he can be at the height of his career in our hometown. It must be a wonderful feeling. “
Platt’s childhood brought him from Park Hill via Aurora to Montbello, where he ended up solidly at his family home near East 51st Avenue and Quentin Street. As a child, Platt learned to DJ from a friend in the neighborhood whom he met while working at the Dave Cook sports store in Aurora. As a young adult, Platt received a Saturday night residency in 1985 at the old Norman’s Place club near South Parker Road and Havana Street.
“When I was very young, Big Jon was the most popular DJ in all the nightclubs, private parties, and weddings,” recalls Chauncey Billups, a longtime friend of Platt and an all-star guardian of the Denver Nuggets. “If you had Big Jon with you, this was the place.”
Platt made his DJing into a kind of career – and a real reputation as Denver’s point of contact for club music. He started throwing his own parties, and that eventually led to a temporary friendship with Public Enemy front man Chuck D.
“I will never forget it,” recalled Platt. “The first Ice Cube album had just come out and Public Enemy was playing with them.
Ice Cube was doing a sound check while Chuck and I caught up and he asked, ‘What are you going to do with your life?’ I said, ‘I’m good in this city. I have it under control. ‘ He said, “Every time I come to Denver, you are the right man. But if you don’t start dreaming bigger, that’s all you will ever be. ‘ “
“He concluded by saying, ‘I think you have something to offer the music industry.’ And after that conversation, I went to LA, started managing some producers, signed them with EMI – and years later they hired me. And now I’m the President of North America for EMI. “
It’s a big responsibility. But Platt earns his keep.
“Talking about Big Jon in a single sentence is a very difficult thing because he’s one of those guys who has a real understanding of the creative process and what goes with it and how to use the energy of creative people and help leading him in a way that will be successful for him, ”said Roger Faxon, Platt’s boss and CEO of EMI.
“What does that mean for him as a person? He is sensitive to others and is the best friend because as soon as you become his friend, he will do anything for you. “
“Most of the time, the music industry is about me – as opposed to you – and Jon is someone who thinks of you.”
Platt speaks lovingly about his wife Angie and their seven year old son Jonathan. But it’s also clear that Platt sees every song he’s working on – and every artist – as his offspring.
“That’s the beauty of publishing music,” he said. “Everything starts with the song. If we call the song a human being, to be with the child when it is born and watch it grow up – and sometimes you help raise it – then I love it. “
For Platt it is important to be there at the beginning. He likes to remind you that he signed Jay-Z right when he released his epic debut album “Reasonable Doubt” in 1996. He signed to Usher a year later when “My Way” brought him to the masses. He signed Kanye West before releasing his first single. He’s also very proud of his most recent marquee signing, Drake, who has seven songs on Billboard’s current Top 100 R&B / Hip-Hop chart, including Alicia Keys’ “Un-Thinkable (I’m Ready),” the he was taking notes.
“These people have been with me throughout their careers,” said Platt. “That’s the thing about most of the people I sign up to. We started doing business together at the beginning of their careers. “
Long-term relationships also shape his life outside of work.
“He’s like a big brother to me,” said Billups. “I am proud of him and his success. Since we’re both from Denver, climbing through the rows and reaching the top of the mountain, a lot of people don’t have that feeling. “
Although Platt’s high-profile clientele all land in the hip-hop, urban and R&B charts, his spectrum is much wider.
“I love music,” said Platt. “You can’t look at me and put me in a box. I love all music. I don’t just love hip-hop and R&B. For me, this is one of the blessings of growing up in Denver, Colorado. So many things were on the radio in Denver – pop and rock and country. I got a feel for these songs and didn’t know then what it meant, but it taught me that music has no color. A hit is a hit. The only thing that pushes it into one genre or another is the approach to the production of the song. ”
Ricardo Baca: 303-954-1394 or [email protected]; twitter.com/rvrb