Posted: August 22, 2008
By Jane Cohen and Bob Grossweiner
Emmy Award-winning producer J. B. Miller is like a whirling dervish in non-stop motion, producing hundreds of events each year. As the co-founder of Empire Entertainment, a full-service New York City and Tokyo-based event and entertainment production company, he has more than two decades of experience as a producer in all areas of the entertainment industries.
Since starting Empire Entertainment with his business partner David Yamner in 1993, J.B. has served as co-president of the firm. In this capacity he has personally created, produced and overseen production on thousands of major corporate, not-for-profit and private events on six continents for clients that include Microsoft, The Walt Disney Company, Goldman, Sachs & Co., Mercedes-Benz, PepsiCo, IBM, Time Warner, Toyota, Samsung, SONY, American Express and hundreds of others. He is currently involved with fundraising events for The Ross School in East Hampton, N.Y., which kicked off with an afternoon Jonas Brothers concert, and includes an upcoming Aretha Franklin show, lifestyle events and evenings of theatre and comedy. While this is the second year of social @Ross, J.B. was not involved in last year's highly controversial debut season, where the Warner Music Group bought out the promoter and ultimately took an $18 million impairment.
Among the musical artists Empire Entertainment has booked/presented are: Aerosmith, Bono, Gwen Stefani, Stevie Wonder, Janet Jackson, Phil Collins, Sheryl Crow, Lenny Kravitz, Andrea Bocelli, The Pretenders, Pink and The Blues Brothers; comedians such as Jerry Seinfeld, Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Bill Cosby, Ray Romano, Jay Leno and Jon Stewart; and speakers such as Bill Clinton, George Lucas, Bill Gates, His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama, General Colin Powell, Muhammad Yunus, Rudy Giuliani and Al Gore.
J.B. has also produced major theatrical productions with artists including Blue Man Group, David Copperfield and Riverdance, and major corporate meetings, film premieres, parties, product launches and grand openings; festivals including the TriBeCa Film Festival and World Science Festival, and he has produced award programs including the Webby Awards, Clinton Global Initiative Global Citizen Awards and Ten Awards, and special events at venues around the world.
In 1995, J.B. co-founded Industrial Artist Management, a management and booking firm that he is co-president of. It exclusively represents various performing artists with special appeal to the corporate and special event market such as aerial troupe Antigravity, martial arts performance ensemble Go!/Art of War, Mass Ensemble, "Movin' Out" star Michael Cavanaugh, Australian physical comedy team The Umbilical Brothers, and Technology Magician Marco Tempest, among others.
J.B. has also worked extensively as a producer and executive producer in television and movies. In 2005 he contributed to the Academy Award-winning feature film "Capote," which was directed by his brother, Bennett Miller. In 1998 Miller served as executive producer for the critically-acclaimed feature documentary motion picture, "The Cruise," which was distributed by Artisan Entertainment, and televised by HBO/Cinemax. Miller received an Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in News / Documentary programming for his work on "The Cruise." He is executive producer of the forthcoming documentary feature, "On The Path," on the subject of Buddhist teacher S. N. Goenka. Miller also produced a series of music videos for Japanese singer Miwako Fujitani on the SONY Music Japan label in 1995 as well as many industrial video projects.
Before creating Empire with Yamner, J.B. worked at Overland Entertainment for five years. As vice president of Sales & Marketing, he developed and directed major corporate accounts and produced events for such companies as SONY Electronics, American Express, Estée Lauder and Time Warner, presenting such artists as Harry Connick Jr., Liza Minnelli, Kenny Rogers and Bill Cosby. At Overland, Miller was responsible for all aspects of account management, creative program development, talent relations & negotiations and onsite production management.
Prior to 1988, J.B. was associate director of On-Air Talent for MTV: Music Television, booking and working with Howard Stern and Penn & Teller and helping to develop new MTV programs such as "Remote Control."
J.B. got his start in the music business in 1985, when he was hired by Ron Delsener to assist Jonathan Scharer in booking what was then Pier 84, Jones Beach and the Garden State Arts Center. During his time at Ron Delsener Enterprises, J.B. was involved with the booking and production of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Mike and The Mechanics and The Monkees, among others. While still in college, J.B. interned at NBC-TV in the talent department of "Late Night With David Letterman," where he booked acts like Dennis Hopper, Allan Havey and helped to screen and pitch guests for that program.
A native New Yorker, J.B. has lived in New York, Boston, London and Paris and has traveled extensively in over 90 countries. He holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Television & Film from New York University's Tisch School For The Arts (also earning the distinction of University Honors Scholar) and an MBA in International Marketing & Negotiation from the New York University Stern School of Business. He is also a graduate of the Advanced Negotiation program at Harvard Law School.
J.B. lives in Manhattan and is training for a third degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do. He is a licensed aircraft pilot, an experienced sailor and drummer. An apparent adventurist and sports enthusiast, in his down time, J.B. enjoys skiing, paragliding, scuba diving and traveling the globe.
How did you become involved with @ Ross 2008?
I helped to produce Courtney Ross' wedding in Florence, Italy in 2000. It was an amazing production. After that we stayed in touch, and she has called me from time to time to help out with Ross School-related events, including the graduation party for the first graduating class. When she decided that the Ross School would present the series in Summer 2008, we were a natural choice to serve as consulting producers. We weren't involved in last year's concert series billed as the Hampton Social.
What are you hoping to accomplish this year by including a broader range of events and attractions?
The Ross School hoped to bring a broad range of programming to the Hampton's community that reflected the diversity of its educational offerings. For my own personal reasons, I like producing and promoting a wide diversity of programming so this very much appealed to me.
How have talent tastes changed in the corporate buying market in the past few years?
When I started buying talent for corporations in 1988 at Overland Entertainment as head talent buyer, we were booking very few rock acts an d mostly established, non-controversial attractions like Liza Minnelli, Bill Cosby, Sammy Davis Jr., Ray Charles and the like. Now we're presenting music from every genre from hard rock and hip hop to reggae, new wave and even punk. Looking back at the lineups, it's amazing that we now book acts like Aerosmith, The Black Crowes, Wyclef Jean, the Pretenders, Jet and Lenny Kravitz for corporate audiences. Most of this has to do with changing demographics and generational tastes, but some of it's because some corporations have embraced the kind of bold risk taking that rock has always represented.
What sets Empire Entertainment apart from the many companies specializing in the corporate and special events industry?
We're incredibly versatile, and we relish new challenges and opportunities to do things we've never tried before or even thing s that haven't been tried before. A lot of event companies find one or two things that they do well or acts that they're comfortable working with and then they repeat the same events over and over for different clients until it becomes stale. Empire always tries to break new ground on everything we do to keep things fresh and innovative. That might mean working with different talent or different genres of talent, but it might also means focusing on presenting events in a different part of the world, trying out different kinds of events for an industry accustomed to the same old forms or trying things that haven't been done before.
What has been your most challenging event?
There's a very good chance that it’s the @Ross series. The program has been through many changes and designs, involved many rescheduling and postponements, and been evolved in real time even as we move forward with production and marketing. We much prefer to plan first and then produce. In this case we pretty much had to do both processes simultaneously.
What are some of the biggest industry changes that you've observed the past five years?
Budgets have risen certainly. There are more events and more companies using events for a wider variety of reasons than ever before. Also, special events have shifted from the domain of internal corporate parties and closed door customer events to becoming a central weapon in the event marketing arsenal so the budgets being accessed are true advertising and marketing dollars - not corporate picnic or holiday party discretionary spending. It used to be that if you acquired an account with a major corporation, they might do no more than 10 or 20 events a year that utilized entertainment or talent. Now many of the major corporations we work with are producing hundreds of events a year for a wide variety of purposes - from press and product launch to client entertainment and employee communications and incentives - and the budgets vary widely.
Why did you decide to open a management company?
We saw that there were a special class of artists in the market who had a special appeal in the global corporate and special events market and yet no one was focused on directing them or marketing them to the buying community. We saw a niche and built a company that specialized in serving that need. Today we're still the only company truly dedicated to representing and developing these types of artists for this market, and we have to pass on most of the artists who ask us to represent them.
What did you learn from attending the Advance Negotiation program at Harvard Law School?
That negotiation isn't about getting a bigger slice of the pie than the other guy. It's about working with the other guy to enlarge the pie so that you both get more.
First concert attended
Yes at Madison Square Garden, around 1980. I probably still have the concert T-shirt.
First concert worked
Stevie Ray Vaughan at Pier 84, Aug. 1, 1984. He let me wear his hat.
First industry job
Ron Delsener Enterprises: assistant to Jonathan Scharer. He interviewed me for three minutes, told me to sit down and pick up the phone to call the William Morris Agency. I've been on the phone with them ever since.Career highlights
Major corporate events for hundreds of corporations in over 40 countries around the world. Also, the TriBeCa Film Festival, Clinton Global Initiative, World Science Festival and our work with many, many not-for-profits. I've really enjoyed playing a role in the broad currents of contemporary culture these past 24 years. Although I love concerts and music, I find that my role as a producer of a wide variety of projects gives me access to many more worlds, industries, perspectives and dimensions than I would otherwise have had if I only produced concerts.
Not having opened a management company earlier and not considering traditional contemporary artist management. When I look at the number of artists we’ve presented over the years from Blue Man Group and Harry Connick Jr. to Sheryl Crow who were up-and-coming at the time and might have been good signing prospects, I kick myself for not having tried. Also, not having invested in NYC real estate.
Finding time to enjoy life while managing a growing operation with staff as far away as Japan, keeping on top of hundreds of demanding projects, and trying to stay creative and innovative.
How do you stay creative and innovative?
I travel a lot and meet and work with a very diverse group of people from around the world and every kind of background. I am open to new ideas and experiences, and I find myself often turned on to new ideas and concepts by colleagues around the world. I don’t think that New York or the U. S. has a monopoly on culture and some of my greatest discoveries whether music, ideas, art, performers or inspirations have come from tips from clients, creative colleagues and friends from Russia, China and Japan to South Africa, India and Brazil. Also, I try to read a lot of newspapers and magazines and keep up with what is happening in the world.
Best business decision
Starting my own company with my business partner and co-president David Yamner. It was scary at the time, I was only 28, but it was exhilarating.
Best advice you received
Winning in a negotiation is when everyone benefits. We all co-exist in this industry, and we all work more efficiently, happily and profitably when we collaborate and work with, not against each other. Actually caring about the other side achieving their objectives is hugely important and something I always try to do. These are the foundations of principled negotiation as outlined in the book Getting to Yes. I recommend that everyone in business read it.
Mistakes that you have learned from
I've been too trusting on occasion. I usually assume the best in people. Not all people are deserving. No need for scenarios, you know who you are...
Most memorable industry experience
Way too many to pick one but possibly standing offstage at Hammerstein Ballroom in New York at last year's Keep a Child Alive "Black Ball" while Bono & Alicia Keys sang a world premiere duet of "Don't Give Up (Africa)."
What friends would be surprised to learn about you
I'm pretty relaxed when I'm not working. No, really.
Industry pet peeve
Greed. Selfishness. Disregard for the interests and needs of others. Also, agents and managers that are too insecure in their relationship with their clients to actually talk to an artist to see what they are and are not willing to do without having an offer in hand.
If I wasn't doing this, I would be...
…a scientist or engineer, working on technical solutions for global sustainability issues like water & food supply, energy, healthcare and poverty eradication.
The late Jonathan Scharer. I learned more about what not to do than what to do when we worked together, but it was a great learning experience, and he brought me into the industry. Plus he always had a great, dark sense of humor.
J.B. can be reached at 343-1645 x 225; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org