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Music + Technology + Random Nonsense from the Music Industry by Ethan Kaplan, VP Product, Live Nation

Leaving Warner Music Group

It was April of 1996, during my Junior year of high school when I decided to create a web site. Since a local newspaper employed me at the time as their webmaster, I figured it judicious to engage in my occupational activity after hours in order to solidify my area of expertise in a context other than work. As well, the Internet just seemed “cool,” having only risen to any form of prominence within the last year and a half.

At that point, having a website was novel enough, having your own domain name was just extreme. Now, with the predicate situation of desire for a website, I had to choose a subject. Being that I was only passionate about two things in life – computers and the band R.E.M. – I chose the later, and named the site Murmurs.com, a pluralized form of their first record Murmur (1983). Reckoning.com and Fables.com were taken. As was Murmur.com.

On April 25, 1996, Murmurs.com launched. It featured a running chronological news page, and little else. Over time, it grew to include lyrics, a feedback page, some stories from me. Murmurs took on a life of its own: death, marriage, love, betrayal, fights and resolutions. It became a true home for R.E.M. fans.

Parallel to this, in 1999 the band R.E.M, realizing that Murmurs.com was not going away, extended the hand of friendship. I accepted. Instead of being the fan waiting by the exit for an autograph, I was now the fan in the green-room. Still that guy, but with a fancy after-show pass on his shirt. As the site grew, that relationship likewise shifted. In 2001, I lost my job, and the site and I went up to Santa Barbara to attempt to contextualize what really was just a discussion board at its core into an art context in a art/technology masters program.

The week before I graduated, I got a job at Warner Bros. Records. June 20, 2005 I joined the company.

And Friday, January 28, 2011, I will leave the company.

I applied to WBR on a whim. I was browsing Craigslist between classes at UCSB and saw the advertisement. At this point I was debating whether to get a PhD or enter the workforce again. I sent in my application, with a cover letter that read pretty much like the paragraphs above. I received a phone call within 15 minutes. I drove down the next day to interview.

The moment I walked into the building known as the Ski Lodge, I knew that what I wanted more than anything was to work there. The building had the collective weight of everything that informed it. Fleetwood Mac, Metallica, R.E.M., an angry Frank Zappa. Everyone that passed through those glass doors left an imprint. It felt like a building full of passion for music, something I created a site to find, and now had found in the real world.

I joined the company as Director of Technology for Warner Bros. Records. I’m leaving the company as the SVP of Emerging Technology for Warner Music Group.

The years in between were filled with some of the most amazing times I have ever had. I worked on the campaign for Madonna, Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Muse, White Stripes, Green Day, Linkin Park and more. I was at the table with the R.E.M. family when the band was inducted into the Hall of Fame. I worked with legends, met legends, tried to make legendary things.

When I joined, websites were made using Flash and a janky CMS that plugged content into it. My team and I introduced Drupal, dynamic publishing, community based websites and “experience sites” like Mission Metallica. We rode the technology waves from Zune to ringtones, Motorolla to Nokia, iPhone to iPad, MySpace to Facebook.

And now its time to move on.

This was not a decision that I made lightly, nor one that I don’t constantly second guess. I’m leaving dear friends, projects, technologies and a company that has been part of my life since right before my first anniversary to now, with a 19 month old baby. Warner Bros. Records and Warner Music Group was more than a place of work, it was home. The people there were family. The artists entrusted us with the representations of their lives work, and everyone treated it with the respect it deserved.

The management has changed, as things do. People left and people joined. As they do. But it never ceased to be family, and never will cease to be one. I now join the very wide group of WBR/WMG alumni and look forward to watching from the side as they continue to do amazing things.

This business is changing, and one of the things that has always remained constant for five years is the entropy inherent to half century old company having its very foundations seismically shift. Not a day went by when we at WBR weren’t cognizant of that change. We worked to predict where things were going, call BS on things that were wrong, and orient the company toward things that were right. We succeeded a lot, we missed a lot.

Leaving, I’m proud of the work that I did as a part of this team. Times like these are not easy for record companies, nor anyone who has an economic model tied to things that are non-corporeal where they once were. The next years won’t be easy either, but I think the trajectory is sound if executed well. The team I’m leaving will do so, I’m confident of that.

As for me, I’m leaving but not far. The music business is where I grew up, I feel. I’ve worked with REM since I was a teenager and will continue doing so, and when I figure out the next step, it will seem logical and cool. I hope.

In the meantime, I’m going to spend some time doing nothing, working on the R.E.M. project, finishing the furnishing of my new home and in general enjoying the first time since I was 16 that I have not been tied to servers. And maybe take the time to learn some new technology.

My email now reverts to the same one it was since I was 16: ethankap [at] murmurs.com

And I’ll see everyone in Austin.

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17 Responses

  1. Brendan says:

    Best of luck to you and congratulations!

    I’ll see you in Austin

  2. Patrick van Halderen says:

    Wow. Amazing read, and quite a shocker to see you leaving a -from what I’ve read- great company. Quite interested in where you’ll continue your career some day.

  3. Jordan Stepp says:

    Well done Mr. Kaplan. Well done. :)

  4. I wish you well on current and future projects. Thank you, as I’ve said before, for Murmurs. It is more than the sum of its parts. Take a bow.
    =)
    Mark (mrocks7)

  5. Alex says:

    Congratulations on everything you accomplished – you’ve left a great foundation for whoever picks up the reins. I look forward to seeing what’s next for you.

    See you in Austin.

  6. Jason says:

    Congratulations on all that you’ve done, Ethan! Here’s to the great future that I know is in store for you. (…and we should run a marathon together sometime)

  7. Marc Brown says:

    Congratulations on the big step! and good luck.

    _ marc

  8. Devin Reams says:

    Congratulations on everything thus far and best of luck on what comes next… perhaps more blogging? ;)

  9. Ethan Kaplan says:

    Oh yes, blogging more will certainly be in order.

  10. Frances Young says:

    Thanks for all the past, present and future work you have done, and will do for and with R.E.M.
    You are a shining example of what you can achieve by hard work and determination.
    I wish you the very best. Enjoy your time off.

  11. Rich says:

    Congrats on a great run at WB and best of luck in all future endeavors, Ethan.

  12. ian c rogers says:

    Congrats, Ethan. I know how it is to leave a post after a long-ish tenure: bittersweet. Enjoy the time off. See you in just a few days. And in Austin!

    ian

  13. Congrats Ethan – this is the right move. There’s a larger pie out here. Cheers! Gerd

  14. Congratulations and best wishes.

    George

  15. Can’t believe it’s been more than 10 years since I was active on Murmurs. Have enjoyed your blog over the last couple of years too. I’ve been a silent admirer.

    Best of luck with whatever is next! Enjoy!

    And yes, more blogging would be nice!

  16. Frank says:

    Just wondering if this has anything to do with REM’s contract ending at Warners? Maybe the REM team – you included – is working on something in term of releasing their music?

  17. Will Witt says:

    Just as everyone has said before me, good luck with your endeavors. As an avid reader of your blog I have no reason to believe that your great actions will cease.

    Looking forward to what the next page has written for you.