September 5, 2009
Private Music is a United States record company founded in 1984 by experimental musician Peter Baumann, as a home for instrumental music. Initially signing such artists as Yanni,Suzanne Ciani, Patrick O’Hearn, and Baumann’s former bandmates Tangerine Dream, the record label specialized in New Age music. Its releases were distributed by then-emerging BMG which bought Private Music in 1996.
In 1989, Baumann hired veteran Warner Bros. Records‘ music executive Ron Goldstein. As Private Music’s President & CEO, Goldstein moved the offices from New York City to Los Angeles, and expanded the staff to include former publicist for U2, Tony Bennett and Warners’ “Musicians for Life”, Karen Johnson. Together, they expanded the label’s image. Baumann recruited the well-respected mainstream A&R executive Jamie Cohen, also a painter, while Goldstein directed Johnson’s artist re-development efforts, with such eclectic veteran-artist signings as Taj Mahal, Etta James, Ringo Starr, Jennifer Warnes, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Toots Thielemans, Jimmy Witherspoon, Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Eliza Gilkyson, Joy Askew, The Pahinui Brothers, Kenny Rankin, while expanding the catalogs of Yanni, Leo Kottke, Andy Summers, Ravi Shankar, with debuts from A.J. Croce, Susan Werner, etc. An international marketing department was added, helmed by longtime Sony Music executive JP Bommel. Goldstein also entered into a joint venture with House of Blues‘ record label (Cissy Houston, John Mooney). Visual image was important to Goldstein who handpicked exquisite art director Melanie Penny, previously of Virgin Records, as VP, Creative Services, through the life of Private Music.
Private Music’s recordings earned multiple Grammy awards and nominations, and achieved high recognition on national television, with numerous artist appearances on The Late Show With David Letterman, The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson and Jay Leno, Late Night With Conan O’Brien, The Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, Entertainment Tonight, etc. The label’s recordings by Taj Mahal, produced by John Porter, spawned the Phantom Blues Band which continues as a mainstay in blues recordings and concerts. Late in 1997, Private Music traded its vibe as a music “home” to a corporate “unit” (BMG).
In 2001, Private Music became part of the short-lived Arista Associated Labels which also included Windham Hill, but by 2004, after Sony and BMG merged, the label’s releases switched to RCA and currently, no reissues have been set. Like its mentor (Warner Bros. Records), Private Music’s business model leaves an example for indie artists who exemplify (Goldstein’s A&R criteria of) “quality and excellence.”
- Karen Johnson 2009
(Pictured Top: Karen Johnson; the late great Jamie Cohen)
(Pictured Bottom: the late great Melanie Penny)