On a sunny morning in early May, Josh Rabinowitz is in Brooklyn, where he grew up and where he still lives, walking his dog before heading into his ofﬁce in the Flatiron district of New York. It’s a long way, and 30-odd years, from Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street where he used to busk before he became, as he describes it, “a strug-gling musician” – or leader and trombonist for funk band The Second Step, described by one music writer as a “pulsating force” of which Rabinowitz was the “incorrigible pillar of groove”.
He had spent his ‘junior year’ (the penultimate year) of an American university course, in Edinburgh; a peer of composer Max Richter. “When I ﬁnished my course, I went back. I had a girlfriend, from Kirkintilloch – she was still at university in Edinburgh – and I spent a good four or ﬁve months living in Edinburgh, busking there and in Glasgow, in Sauchiehall Street. I wanted to play music. I found that I didn’t have a lot of time to play, because I was always looking for work – and I thought, ‘why not just play’. It was fun. I met so many crazy people.”
After years of “struggling, starving if you will” as a band musician, in 1996 he moved into the world of composing and producing music for brands, ﬁrst at JSM Music, then tomandandy and Young and Rubicam. Now he is executive vice-president and director of music at Townhouse/WPP in New York. He has written and/or produced more than 8,500 tracks for brands, cinema, recording labels and television, and worked with artists such as Cyndi Lauper, Rihanna, Queen Lati-fah, the Black Eyed Peas, Run DMC, Smokey Robinson and Macy Gray.
XpoNorth 2017: The Growing Importance of Brands in Today’s Creative Industries, 4.15pm, Thursday 8 June – Studio 2, Eden Court, Inverness.
“It’s kept me interested, every day, for the past 20 years,” said Rabinowitz. “It’s an all-encompassing job. There’s the left side of the brain; bud-gets, negotiating, dealing with talent, licensing. And there’s the right side; the creative side, the ideas, helping to bring those ideas to realisation. Connecting people with a brand a meaningful way, connecting it with their lifestyle. Music is such an important part of culture. Sound stays with you in way that surpasses even taste, smell; it kind of tattoos itself on your brain. Done properly, it’s great, done improperly, it can be a disaster.”
Do artists not feel conﬂicted, though, about selling their creativity to promote a brand? Rabinowitz said that he had experienced how difﬁcult it was to sustain yourself as a musician. And if you are passionate about music, and if the traditional routes of recording or touring are not sufﬁcient, then artists need to ﬁnd different ways of connecting with, and growing, their fan base, of continuing to be able to make music.
This will be his third year at XpoNorth: “I made a lot of friends during my time in Edinburgh and I have a real afﬁnity with Scottish culture. When I met Amanda [Millen, the festival director] at a conference in the US and she told me about XpoNorth, I was excited. It has grown so much and my favourite thing about it is meeting new people.”
Rabinowitz also created, in 2007, the now renowned Grey Music Semi-nar at the Cannes Lions International Festival, where in its ﬁrst year he presented John Legend and Donovan. Subsequent years have featured a roster of greats, including Tony Bennett, E Street Band guitarist Steven Van Zandt, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Marilyn Manson, Courtney Love, Yoko Ono and Patti Smith. “This year we are bringing over Pussy Riot,” said Rabinowitz, during a telephone interview, before catching the train into his ofﬁce to review work on campaigns for clients such as Häagen-Dazs, Marriot Hotels, Volvo and Gillette. “It’s the 100th anniversary of Grey. We wanted to do something a little, how would you put it, left ﬁeld.”