President, Smile Media Group
Under the rubric of Smile Media Group, Tony Valenziano has united a host of entities he has been involved with for over 20 years––Smile Records, Swingtone Records, Something Music and TKO Entertainment. A musician himself with A&M Records’ act, the Stand, he has recently decided to return to his creative roots by expanding his role as a producer.
A Model Employee
I was in a band and working at a studio, so I knew what time slots were open. We started doing demos and I recorded other people. In this town, if you want to be a producer, you should have your own label.
I had a deal through Universal at the time. When that all went bye bye, there was interest at Image Entertainment in a family-owned catalog. It’s run by my father and he’s had it since 1991. That built up into my getting the Smile bands––the Wondermints, the Knack, Carla Olson, Supremium and more. Through the years, I started dealing with dinosaur heritage acts and managers. They were all looking for outlets. They liked the infrastructure of what we were doing, so Smile Records morphed into Model Music Group.
An Expensive Lesson
Before Model Music Group, I was President of a Sony label called Icon Music. We were handling their legacy artists. Beautiful offices in Culver City and Sony was next door. We were there for six or seven months and the owner said, “Hey, we’re moving to Beverly Hills. Why? I got a better place. Come get your stuff.” The guy took all our money and fled to Mexico. He took a monster chunk of all our cash and never paid us.
Bringing It Together
Model Music Group started at Fontana/Universal and I signed John Waite and the Bangles. There were other artists in our group, like Al Jardine and Micky Dolenz. One of the guys I got involved with was John Waite’s manager Ron Stone. Model Music was the remnants of another thing on its way out, so we formed Something Music. I had to come up with an entity [to put it all under] and that’s how Smile Media Group became a thing. It was just an aggregator to be able to have a distribution deal at all times, access to artists, access to songs. This was an outlet for all that.
Skyrocket Taking Off
I knew Kevin Day from before, especially at Icon. We were going to use his Rocket Science marketing company. When things started rolling with Something Music, we wanted Kevin to work with us, so he and I started working hardcore together. He and I have now developed Skyrocket, which is a marketing services company that complements all the labels we do.
Fans Who Like Physical
When dealing with a Berlin, Dave Mason, Rickie Lee Jones, Bangles or John Waite, their fans are pretty established. I don’t have to build that up and their fans still love tangible [media]. Digital is catching up, but it hasn’t really caught on 100 percent. So with our releases, I always put out LPs, because I know my target market is a crowd that enjoys having a physical piece.
Serving All Artists
I always look for different artists and we have a smorgasbord of places to go. It starts from brand new bands to the Hall & Oates of the world. It’s our job to build artists and take them from ground zero to where they want to be. If we’re a stepping stone, that’s great. We work with and for each other and a lot of these deals are 50/50. We’re in it for the long haul.
Between Two Worlds
We’re a major-distributed, indie-focused label. We’re not spread out like a major. We handle a manageable amount, so when [our artists] call, we actually speak with them or their management. We’re not too busy to do that. We live in between the guy pushing his own record and the majors; there’s money to be made there. There’s a lot more music, because the majors don’t know what to do with them unless it catches on. I like those artists because they’re hungry and have done the grassroots part. We’re able to help them with the machinery. We have the access that they’re looking for.