Charles Koppelman died on Friday at the age of 82. He was a veteran music executive whose career spanned four decades before he became a top executive at Martha Stewart and Steve Madden’s companies. His son Brian, who co-created and runs the Showtime show “Billions,” and his daughter Jenny Koppelman Hutt shared the news on social media. Brian wrote, “He spent his last days surrounded by the people he loved the most.” There was no official cause of death.
Koppelman was one of the most powerful business leaders of the last 50 years. This is not too much of an exaggeration. Koppelman worked in the music business for more than 30 years. During that time, he worked with everyone from Barbra Streisand and the Lovin’ Spoonful to Prince and Vanilla Ice.
He started out as a singer, but he quickly became a top-notch publisher. He worked for Don Kirshner’s Aldon Music, with Clive Davis at CBS Records and with longtime Sony/ATV chief Martin Bandier to start SBK Entertainment. In 1989, EMI bought SBK Entertainment for $300 million.
After he left his job as CEO of EMI in 1997, he worked for Steve Madden and Martha Stewart. In 2011, he started his own music company, C.A.K. Entertainment, where he oversaw branding deals for Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, Nicki Minaj, Adam Levine and many others with Kohl’s, K-Mart and other stores.
Koppelman was born in Brooklyn in 1940. He started his career with a group called the Ivy Three, which had a hit with the novelty song “Hey, Yogi” in 1960. Kirshner then hired Koppelman as a songwriter; Kirshner’s offices were actually across the street from the “Brill Building,” but the name stuck. Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Ellie Greenwich, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann were better at writing songs than he was, so he moved to the other side of the desk and ran Kirshner’s Aldon Music, which eventually merged with Screen Gems/Columbia Music and made early hits for the Monkees and many other artists.
RIP Charles Koppelman, longtime music biz executive who worked with @BarbraStreisand, LovinSpoonful, @billyjoel, @JourneyOfficial, @vanillaice, @JLo, @NICKIMINAJ among others, as well as entertainment adviser to @prince estate.
— Jon Bream (@jonbream) November 26, 2022
In 1971, he started working for what was then CBS’s music division. His job included both records and the April/Blackwood Music publishing division. As the national director of A&R for Davis’s Columbia Records, he signed artists like Billy Joel, Dave Mason, Janis Ian, and Journey or worked closely with them.
In 1975, he started the Entertainment Company with Bandier and Samuel LeFrak, a New York real estate developer who was Bandier’s father-in-law at the time. Over the years, the company bought the catalogues of Fifth Dimension, the Rascals and Neil Sedaka, a veteran of Brill’s and put together hit duets like “Endless Love” by Diana Ross and Lionel Richie and “No More Tears” by Barbra Streisand
Then, he, Bandier and Stephen Swid, a financier, started SBK Entertainment. It started as a publishing company and bought the CBS Songs catalogue for $125 million, which included classics like “Over the Rainbow” and “New York, New York.” SBK Entertainment also oversaw licencing for the ATV Music Group, which handled the Beatles catalogue and was later bought by Michael Jackson (and merged with Sony Music). After helping launch the careers of Tracy Chapman (who was found by Koppelman’s son Brian) and New Kids on the Block, SBK sold its publishing company to Thorn EMI for $300 million in 1988 and started a joint venture called SBK Records.
When the company started up in 1989, it had hits by Katrina and the Waves, Wilson Phillips, Technotronic and even the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles soundtrack album, not to mention Vanilla Ice, who was one of the biggest pop stars of the time. In a recent oral history published by Variety, it was said that Glassnote Records president and founder Daniel Glass, Republic Records co-founder Monte Lipman, Atlantic Records president of A&R Pete Ganbarg, Cornerstone and the Fader cofounders Rob Stone and Jon Cohen, veteran promotion executives Neil Lasher and Ken Lane and Deborah Dugan, who went on to be president of Disney Publishing and CEO of Bono and Bobby Shriver, all got their start at the company.
The company eventually merged with EMI and Koppelman became CEO. He signed Prince’s first album after Warner Bros., “Emancipation,” but he left the company in 1997 because of internal politics. Soon after, he started CAK Entertainment, which he kept running while working at Steve Madden Ltd (2000–2004), where he ran the company while the founder was in jail for securities fraud, and Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (2005–2011), where he was chairman and appeared on NBC’s “The Apprentice” with her.
After Prince died in 2016, Koppelman and Prince’s former manager, L. Londell McMillan, were in charge of the estate’s entertainment business for a short time. Early the next year, when this writer went to CAK’s offices in midtown Manhattan, which were elegant but understated and had sculptures inspired by music and gold or platinum records by everyone from the Lovin’ Spoonful to Streisand to Technotronic, Koppelman told this writer about his time with Prince.
“The first time I met Prince was in 1991 or 1992,” he said, pointing to one of the cigars that had been his trademark for a long time (but was unlit). “Someone called my office, a cold call and said they were calling on behalf of Prince, and we set up a meeting. [At the meeting] Prince said that he was incredibly impressed with SBK and [diversity of the] artists I was signing and how I was marketing them: Technotronic, Wilson Phillips, Tracy Chapman, Vanilla Ice, Jon Secada. He asked if I would be interested in him producing artists for SBK, and I said, ‘Are you kidding? Of course — when can I hear some music?’”
Pioneering music and business exec Charles Koppelman dies at age 82 https://t.co/eLT4SrJTYm pic.twitter.com/eGfGqJd9Jm
— Page Six (@PageSix) November 25, 2022
“He said, ‘You can’t. I’ll deliver it and you’ll put it out.’ I said, ‘Well, it’s my record company, I can’t put something out and market it if I don’t believe in it. I’m gonna have to hear it.’ He stood up, said ‘Thank you very much,’ and walked out the door. I didn’t hear from him again until Londell called,” in 1996, launching the negotiations that led to Prince releasing “Emancipation” through EMI.
When he talked about possible plans for the Prince estate in the future, he also showed how his many years in the entertainment business had given him a long-term view of the business. “Deals have a gestation period: If you’re talking about Broadway or movies, even if you did the deal today, [the product won’t be ready for the marketplace until] two years down the road. And if you did it a year from today, you’re talking three, four years down the road. How relevant will it be then? I’m not sure.”
“The public grows up every day,” he concluded, “and the attention span doesn’t last forever.” Follow us only on Lee Daily for more news like this.