Bubbler Executives of the Week
Scott Ziel and Doug Johnson head the Yellow Phone Music Conference, a four-year-old conference that brings together up-and-coming music artists and industry professionals and also features a series of live shows. This year's conference is scheduled to run Sept. 4-7 at venues in downtown Milwaukee.
Scott Ziel, producer at Yellow Phone Music Conference
Company address: 309 N. Water St., Suite 635, Milwaukee, WI 53202
Seasonal staff of employees of volunteers: 20-30
Family: Wife, Andrea. Children: Charlie, 1 1/2 years old.
Doug Johnson, producer at Yellow Phone Music Conference
Family: Wife, Aine. Children: Elijah and Siobhan, 3 1/2-year-old twins.
What drew you to the music industry?
Ziel: “My brother played in bands when we were in high school, and I used to help coordinate his shows. We both loved music and spent all of our money at the local record shop — Doctor Freud’s Institute of Fine Recordings — buying LPs.:
Johnson: “I started playing the trumpet at 7 years old.”
What does Milwaukee’s music scene have that the scenes in other cities don’t?
Johnson: “Our music scene here has vibrancy.”
Ziel: “I moved to Milwaukee right out of college and have always felt a sense of community within the music scene here — one that accepted me right away. This sense of community fosters creative energy that is harder to find in other cities.”
Explain the premise of the Yellow Phone Music Conference. Why is it a conference worth continuing in Milwaukee?
Ziel: “The premise is back to basics — a grassroots and hands-on music conference that offers artists the access to industry influencers they need. Yellow Phone is for working musicians who want access to people in the music business who care and who attend the conference because they want to help. Milwaukee is the perfect backdrop for YPMC. The city is growing, and guests who attend from throughout the region and the world always fall in love with our great city.”
Johnson: “Exactly. There was no such entity in the Midwest. Addressing a music education concern was intriguing, and we believe that it should be continued.”
What new features will you showcase at this year’s Yellow Phone Music Conference? What will be the highlights?
Ziel: “We are thrilled to be hosting a large outdoor stage/presence in my favorite part of the Third Ward. We are closing down Broadway Street between St. Paul and Buffalo in front of Café Benelux and running a stage for two days. It’s going to be an exciting area with a beer garden and some of our favorite new bands. The concerts will run throughout the afternoon and into the evenings. Plus, they are all free!”
What have been the conference’s top success stories? Have any artists been signed through the conference?
Johnson: “We have had five artists signed to major record, agent or a management contracts over the last three years. That is a vital metric for us.”
Ziel: “The great thing about YPMC is that business is getting done every year. Artists are getting signed with agents, managers and record labels. Many musicians have secured deals to land their music on TV shows, in movies and in other placements. Due to the small group nature of the conference, artists have the opportunity to meet face-to-face with key influencers and to share more about what they do.”
What other music projects keep you busy throughout the year?
Ziel: “I book artists for Summerfest, colleges, universities and corporate events during the year.”
Johnson: “Scott and I put on the Pablove Foundation benefit every January, which benefits childhood cancer research. I also mentor young people who want to be music business professionals.”
What challenges does your company face in the music industry?
Johnson: “The music business is not the challenge. Getting people outside of our business to realize the economic and social aspect of our conference is the challenge.”
Ziel: “Like every industry right now, the music business is changing all the time. We follow trends and new business models to stay in the game.”
Do you have a business mantra?
Ziel: “I’ve always worked hard and treated other people with respect.”
What was the best advice you ever received?
Ziel: “Have long-term goals in small business. Those that hang in the longest and focus on those goals will succeed.”
What’s the funniest thing that ever happened to you in your career?
Johnson: “There are too many to count. The music business is a culture all on its own.”
Ziel: “As you can imagine, working with bands makes for some unusual and funny situations. My business partner, Doug Johnson, and I signed Little Richard one year, and unfortunately he refused to go onstage because we were withholding six percent in tax for the state of Wisconsin. He asked us if we ‘understood that he was the architect of rock ’n’ roll?’ In an effort to get him onstage, we promised to split the tax burden with him to which he responded, ‘I knew it. I knew it the moment you walked in the door that you two are good men.’”
What do you like to do in your free time?
Johnson: “Spending quality time with my wife and children and also rehabbing our house.”
Ziel: “I have a great wife and an 18-month-old son, so I’m all about family right now. We’ve been able to travel a bunch with him and do all of the fun summer stuff.”