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Town Hall Seattle: Arts & Culture Series

Town Hall’s Arts & Culture series elevates the voices of local artists while bringing world-renowned cultural icons to Seattle audiences. The series celebrates music, photography, sculpture, philosophy, heritage, and traditions around the world that enrich our lives.

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May 20, 2021

The roster of Warner Brothers Records and its subsidiary labels reads like a roster of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, James Taylor, Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles, Prince, Van Halen, Madonna, Tom Petty, R.E.M., Red Hot Chili Peppers, and dozens of others. But the most compelling figures in the Warner Bros. story are the sagacious Mo Ostin and the likely crew of hippies, eccentrics, and enlightened execs who were the first in the music business to read the generational writing on the wall in the mid-60s. How did they do it? And what can we learn about the the industry today and to come from these unique operators?

Journalist and music biographer Peter Ames Carlin joined us to celebrate the story of this innovative label, in conversation with musician and Tom Petty biographer Warren Zanes. Contained in his book, Sonic Book: The Impossible Rise of Warner Bros. Records, from Hendrix to Fleetwood Mac to Madonna and Prince, Carlin captured the rollicking story of what is arguably the most successful record label in the history of rock and roll. He explored how newly tapped label president Mo Ostin called his team together in 1967 to share his grand strategy for the struggling company: “We need to stop trying to make hit records. Let’s just make good records and turn those into hits.” He introduced a raucous and inspiring story: of how one prolific company conquered the music business by focusing on the music rather than the business. With the knowledge of that seemingly groundbreaking business model, Carlin and Zanes considered how the label’s history intersects with the role of record companies for artists and music lovers of today and tomorrow.

Peter Ames Carlin is a writer and the bestselling author of several books, including Homeward Bound: The Life of Paul Simon and Bruce, the biography of Bruce Springsteen. Carlin has also been a free-lance journalist, a senior writer at People in New York City, and a television columnist and feature writer at The Oregonian in Portland. A regular speaker on music, writing, and popular culture, Carlin lives in Portland, Oregon.

Warren Zanes is a bestselling author and Grammy-nominated documentary producer. The former Executive Director of Steven Van Zandt’s Rock and Roll Forever Foundation and VP of Education and Programs at The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, Zanes has taught at several American universities and is presently teaching at New York University. His writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Rolling Stone, the Oxford American, and more. He is the editor of collections on Jimmie Rodgers and Tom Petty, and has written books including Dusty in Memphis, Revolutions in Sound: Fifty Years of Warner Bros. Records, and Petty: The Biography.

Buy the Books

Sonic Book: The Impossible Rise of Warner Bros. Records, from Hendrix to Fleetwood Mac to Madonna and Prince

Petty: The Biography

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