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Great Music Publishing Story: John Alexander and Alanis Morissette

By Dale Kawashima
John Alexander, Alanis Morissette & Glen Ballard
(l-r) John Alexander, Alanis Morissette & Glen Ballard.

During the past two decades, John Alexander (who is now Senior Vice President of Membership for ASCAP) has been a lead singer in a band, an artist manager, and a top A&R and publishing executive. He has enjoyed success at each stage of his career, but his landmark achievement has been his long-term, publishing and A&R relationship with Grammy-winning artist, Alanis Morissette. Alexander signed Morissette to her first publishing and label deals when she was 14-years-old, and then helped guide her career from her early Canadian success to her multi-platinum, artistic breakthrough, Jagged Little Pill.

"Alanis now had a team to help shop the songs that she and Glen had recorded," explained Alexander. "There were her attorneys Fred Goldring and Ken Hertz, Glen Ballard, Scott Welch and myself. We all got interest from different labels, but it was Ken Hertz who gave the material to Guy Oseary (A&R executive) at Maverick Records. Soonafter, Oseary and Freddy DeMann (Label President) came to Glen's studio to meet with Alanis and hear her sing. Alanis made a great impression, and DeMann immediately wanted to sign her."

Morissette signed with Maverick, and then she and Ballard completed recording of the Jagged Little Pill album. Everyone involved was quietly confident that the album would be successful, although certainly no one could predict the magnitude of the album's eventual impact.

"Prior to the album's release, our thought was that Jagged would hopefully sell 250,000 units, which would give the label and everyone incentive to have Alanis make the next record," said Alexander. "But when (L.A. radio station) KROQ started playing 'You Oughta Know,' it was a breakthrough that no one had anticipated."

Jagged Little Pill ultimately became Billboard magazine's "Album Of The Decade," and has now sold nearly 30 million units worldwide. Five single releases ("You Oughta Know," "Hand In My Pocket," "Ironic," "You Learn" and "Head Over Feet") were major hits. Morissette also won four Grammy Awards, for "Album Of The Year," "Best Rock Album," "Best Rock Song," and "Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female."

"It was very gratifying to attend the Grammy Awards that year," recalled Alexander. "When Alanis went to the podium to accept one of her awards, she personally thanked me and MCA Publishing. As most publishers will tell you, it's very rare when an artist will thank their publisher at such an event."

Morissette eventually followed up this success with her hit "Uninvited" (from the City Of Angels soundtrack), which won Grammy Awards for "Best Rock Song" and "Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female," and her multi-platinum Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie album. She has written, produced and is currently mixing her new album, which will be released later this year.

Alexander left MCA Publishing a few years ago to become a senior executive at ASCAP, but he has maintained his close relationship with Morissette. "Alanis and I continue to be close friends and supporters of each other," said Alexander. "We've been friends for 14 years now, and I've also been friends with her family. I'm pleased that I can offer her support, creative input and friendship."

"We have worked together for many years, and she has continued to evolve," said Alexander. "We have done everything we promised to do, which was to do our best for each other. And looking ahead, I am excited about watching Alanis grow as a songwriter, producer, artist, and in her many other interests."

John Alexander
John Alexander

In 1991, Alexander was named Vice President of Talent Acquisition, East Coast, for MCA Publishing. He moved to New York, and started working with U.S. writers, artists and producers. A year later, Alexander was promoted to the position of Senior Vice President of A&R, North America.

For Morissette, following her second album, she started to evaluate her musical and artistic direction. "I remember having a conversation with Alanis," said Alexander. "She told me, 'I want to be in an environment where I can write without any regard for what I should be writing, based on a preconceived notion of who I was as an artist.' She definitely had a desire to develop her songwriting, to further express herself as an artist."

It was also during this period that Morissette was seeking a manager to work with. Based on a referral by MCA Creative Manager Sherry Orson, Alexander met with Scott Welch, and after hearing Morissette's two albums and seeing her videos, Welch told Alexander that he really wanted to work with her, and soonafter, Alexander introduced Welch to Morissette.

"Scott became her manager, and this was one was of the best moves she and I ever made," said Alexander. "He's become a trusted friend and adviser."

Morissette initiated several, new writing collaborations. She started working with different collaborators in New York, Toronto and Vancouver. Alexander assisted Morissette in this process, helping to set up collaborations for her. Morissette then told Alexander that she planned to come to Los Angeles to write.

"I told my creative staff that Alanis was coming to L.A., and asked them to find some ideal collaborators for her," said Alexander. "Glen Ballard, who was also signed with MCA Publishing, was contacted, and they started writing together."

Ballard was already established as a top writer/producer in Los Angeles. He had produced and co-written hits for Wilson Phillips, Curtis Stigers and Jack Wagner, and had co-written the classic "Man In The Mirror" for Michael Jackson.

Alexander called Ballard to ask how the writing sessions with Morissette were coming along. "I called Glen, and he said things were going very well," said Alexander. "Glen said that Alanis was an amazing songwriter, and he was very excited about their collaborations."

"When she hooked up with Glen, the songwriting process became very prolific," added Alexander. "Their inspiration and chemistry led to writing many songs and recording them as demos, the better part of which became Jagged Little Pill."

John Alexander, Alanis Morissette & Ringo Starr
John Alexander, Alanis Morissette & Ringo Starr.

"Alanis now had a team to help shop the songs that she and Glen had recorded," explained Alexander. "There were her attorneys Fred Goldring and Ken Hertz, Glen Ballard, Scott Welch and myself. We all got interest from different labels, but it was Ken Hertz who gave the material to Guy Oseary (A&R executive) at Maverick Records. Soonafter, Oseary and Freddy DeMann (Label President) came to Glen's studio to meet with Alanis and hear her sing. Alanis made a great impression, and DeMann immediately wanted to sign her."

Morissette signed with Maverick, and then she and Ballard completed recording of the Jagged Little Pill album. Everyone involved was quietly confident that the album would be successful, although certainly no one could predict the magnitude of the album's eventual impact.

"Prior to the album's release, our thought was that Jagged would hopefully sell 250,000 units, which would give the label and everyone incentive to have Alanis make the next record," said Alexander. "But when (L.A. radio station) KROQ started playing 'You Oughta Know,' it was a breakthrough that no one had anticipated."

Jagged Little Pill ultimately became Billboard magazine's "Album Of The Decade," and has now sold nearly 30 million units worldwide. Five single releases ("You Oughta Know," "Hand In My Pocket," "Ironic," "You Learn" and "Head Over Feet") were major hits. Morissette also won four Grammy Awards, for "Album Of The Year," "Best Rock Album," "Best Rock Song," and "Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female."

"It was very gratifying to attend the Grammy Awards that year," recalled Alexander. "When Alanis went to the podium to accept one of her awards, she personally thanked me and MCA Publishing. As most publishers will tell you, it's very rare when an artist will thank their publisher at such an event."

Morissette eventually followed up this success with her hit "Uninvited" (from the City Of Angels soundtrack), which won Grammy Awards for "Best Rock Song" and "Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female," and her multi-platinum Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie album. She has written, produced and is currently mixing her new album, which will be released later this year.

Alexander left MCA Publishing a few years ago to become a senior executive at ASCAP, but he has maintained his close relationship with Morissette. "Alanis and I continue to be close friends and supporters of each other," said Alexander. "We've been friends for 14 years now, and I've also been friends with her family. I'm pleased that I can offer her support, creative input and friendship."

"We have worked together for many years, and she has continued to evolve," said Alexander. "We have done everything we promised to do, which was to do our best for each other. And looking ahead, I am excited about watching Alanis grow as a songwriter, producer, artist, and in her many other interests."

     
   
 
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