Neil Portnow 2002 Interview: Heading Jive Records & Zomba Music's West Coast Office

By Dale Kawashima
Richard Blackstone & Neil Portnow
Pictured (l-r): Zomba execs Richard Blackstone, Neil Portnow.

Note: This article was written in early 2002, one year before Neil Portnow became President/CEO of The Recording Academy (NARAS) and the Grammy Awards.

Neil Portnow, Senior Vice President, West Coast Operations, Zomba Group of Companies, has a big job to handle. In addition to heading up the entire West Coast offices of Zomba Music Publishing and Jive Records, he also oversees Zomba's extensive film and TV operations, which he has helped to establish during the past decade.

Since opening the Zomba/Jive office in Los Angeles in 1989, Portnow has seen this operation grow from just two employees (Portnow and an assistant) to seventy employees, now filling two floors of a Sunset Strip building. In particular, the film & TV division has expanded greatly, now encompassing a large, music licensing department, a music editing & supervision firm, a film composers agency, and a leading music library.

The growth of this West Coast office has been simultaneous to the worldwide success and expansion of the Jive and Zomba companies. Jive Records is now home to such major artists as Britney Spears, 'N Sync, the Backstreet Boys and R. Kelly, and Zomba publishes Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, Korn, Macy Gray and top writer/producers such as Robert John "Mutt" Lange, Max Martin and Teddy Riley.

Portnow is a 25-year music business veteran, who has held high-level positions at several labels and publishing companies. He has also been a successful music supervisor and record producer. Originally from New York, Portnow has worked for Arista Records, RCA Records, EMI-America Records, 20th Century-Fox Records and Screen Gems Music. Currently, in addition to his Zomba/Jive duties, he is President of the Entertainment Chapter of The City Of Hope, which raises substantial funds for medical research and patient care.

When Portnow started at Zomba, he worked with Clive Calder (Chairman-CEO of the Zomba Group of Companies) to create a plan to launch the West Coast office. "The first step was obvious, which was to develop a strong film & TV presence, proactively exploiting our master (Jive Records) and song catalogs (Zomba Publishing)," explained Portnow. "We established a new department (called Zomba Music Services) which efficiently handles licensing for both masters and synchronization. We've also hired top staffers to actively promote our music into film & TV."

Neil Portnow
Neil Portnow

Another early move was the purchase and development of an extensive music library, which provided Zomba with a wide range of additional music which could be licensed for film and TV. "Our music library has become a great business for us," said Portnow. 'We're now the market leader in the production music library business, with tens of thousands of copyrights which we publish."

In the early '90s, Zomba continued to expand its film & TV operations, moving into the music editing, supervision and film composers field. "Over time, we built these additional components to our operations, truly creating a one-stop which provides a full range of music services for film & TV," explained Portnow. "We were fortunate to purchase the highly successful Segue Music editing company, and retain the services of Dan Carlin and Jeff Carson to run this business. We then gave them the resources to expand their music supervision business."

"Following this move, we decided to tackle the film composers side," said Portnow. "About five years ago, we started Zomba Screen Music, which was the name of our film & TV composers agency. In 2001, we saw an opportunity to partner up with another entity, so this combined, expanded company has been renamed Ingenuity Entertainment."

In addition to these film & TV operations, Portnow oversees the West Coast, creative activities of Zomba Publishing and Jive Records. He works closely with Richard Blackstone, Senior Vice President of Creative for Zomba Publishing, who is based in New York. Portnow has hired Andrea Torchia to be Senior Creative Director of Zomba Publishing, and she signs and develops new writers and artists, pitching their songs and setting up collaborations. Also, in an unique, dual position, Portnow has hired hit writer/producer Andy Goldmark as both Vice President of A&R for Jive, and as a staff writer for Zomba Publishing.

"I believe we've created a great team here, setting up a wide range of operations which enables the Zomba companies to have a strong, unique West Coast presence," said Portnow. "Our future vision is to keep building and developing this office, further solidifying our operations in the directions we have established."