Author Kent Hartman On His New ‘Goodnight, L.A.’ Book, Surviving The Music Industry, And Podcasts’ Greatness

Winner of the 2013 Frances Fuller Victor Award for General Nonfiction, Kent Hartman is a best-selling author widely-known for his book The Wrecking Crew for St. Martin’s Press. Aside from his writing, Hartman is a veteran entrepreneur within the music industry and his clients have included Elvis Presley Enterprises, Hall & Oates, Pat Benatar, Three Dog Night, Eddie Money, and Kool & The Gang. Hartman has also worked as an adjunct music business college professor and the producer of nationally-syndicated radio shows.

Truly a survivor within the music world, Kent Hartman’s latest book is Goodnight, L.A.: The Rise and Fall of Classic Rock. Focused upon the 1970s and 1980s, as centered in Los Angeles, Hartman looks at what really happened during what many look at as “the” golden age of rock music. Well-researched and full of personality, Hartman’s book is based on interviews with people who were truly there — producer Keith Olsen and guitarist Waddy Wachtel as two examples — and is full of previously-untold stories.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Mr. Hartman for the Inquisitr. Our Q&A may seem pessimistic with regards to the future of music and its related industry, but Hartman himself is inspirational, as his professional journey shows how a passionate music fan can make a living long-term working on projects that are satisfying and intriguing. More on Kent Hartman can be found online at www.kenthartman.com.

Beyond being an author, you are a known music industry entrepreneur. How did you get started in the music business?

Kent Hartman: My entry into the music biz came via a person I worked with at an L.A.-area college. Through her, I got to know some of the guys in the band Tower Of Power. Being entrepreneurially-inclined, one thing led to another and as a side gig, I ended up making a bunch of tour merchandise for them. Since that seemed to go pretty well, I aimed for client number two, Edgar Winter, which was purely a cold call.

From there it kind of snowballed and I found myself doing all kinds of marketing and merchandising projects for a slew of other well-known acts, including Little River Band, Burton Cummings, Three Dog Night, America, Eddie Money, Lyle Lovett, Kenny Loggins, The Knack, Hall & Oates, Kool & the Gang, Bread, Steppenwolf, Garbage, Counting Crows, Stone Temple Pilots, and countless more. I even co-owned a restaurant for a spell with Mark Lindsay, the one-time hit-making lead singer of Paul Revere & the Raiders.

And how did you wind up as a college professor?

Kent Hartman: Having earned a couple of master’s degrees along the way — an M.B.A. and also an M.A. in international relations — I thought maybe trying my hand at teaching marketing and entrepreneurship at the collegiate level might be a lot of fun. So I pitched the idea to a couple of universities and it just went from there. And the students seemed to enjoy the music biz stories from my days in the trenches as much as I did in telling them. At least that’s what I tell myself.

The Wrecking Crew: The Inside Story Of Rock And Roll’s Best-Kept Secret was an award-winning book and a best-seller. How long did it take to write that book?

Kent Hartman: The Wrecking Crew took about two years to research and write, though a virtual lifetime — from the age of seven on — of me being certifiably bananas over music surely helped as a background.

Did the success of The Wrecking Crew inspire Goodnight L.A.? Or is it a coincidence you wrote two studio-inspired books?

Kent Hartman: Nope, not a coincidence. But not exactly because of the success of The Wrecking Crew either. The stories in Goodnight, L.A. just seemed like they desperately needed to be told by someone. So I elected myself. They were too good to pass up. Every nonfiction author thrills over uncovering juicy tales. And this new book is no exception. There is also a natural evolution in that the Wrecking Crew musicians were hired less and less by the dawn of the seventies as what we now call “classic rock” began taking over.

New bands on the scene such as the Eagles, Chicago, and the Doobie Brothers were adamant about playing their own instruments, so the way songs and albums were recorded in L.A. changed dramatically. As did the money at stake and the drugs. Things got heavy. Fast. So, really, The Wrecking Crew and Goodnight, L.A. are companion pieces; they are the bookends of a rock and roll era in Los Angeles that sadly no longer exists.

Goodnight L.A. is subtitled “The Rise And Fall Of Classic Rock–The Untold Story From Inside The Legendary Recording Studios.” Do you remember the first major recording studio you ever visited?

Kent Hartman: You bet I do! It was Sound City in Van Nuys, California, a studio that is mentioned quite a bit in my new book. It was a glorious moment for me, too. Though pretty rundown when I ventured in there with a friend back in 1991, it was still a shrine, at least to me. A lot of all-time classic rock albums came out of that place — Damn The Torpedoes, Terrapin Station, the first Fleetwood Mac album with Lindsey and Stevie, etc.

Unfortunately, like so many studios from that time, it’s now defunct and is operated instead as a private facility for a producer’s personal projects. But if those hallowed halls and walls could only talk…

To most outsiders, the music business seems to be doomed between declining royalties, studios closing, corporate mergers and a lack of new superstars. Does it feel that way to you as a business veteran? Or are there a lot of good things happening that a lot of people may not be focusing on?

Kent Hartman: The classic rock-era “evergreens,” as they are called, still thrive. This includes acts such as Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, the re-populated Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Chicago, America, Cheap Trick, James Taylor, REO Speedwagon, you name it — the list goes on and on. These musicians will probably be able to play before large crowds until they just don’t want to do it anymore. A nice problem to have.

As for music from new artists, that’s a different story. Ooh, man… There are so many bands and solo acts around in 2017 — some good ones, too — with precious few ways to cut through all the sonic clutter we are bombarded with daily on terrestrial radio, satellite radio, YouTube, Spotify, and Pandora, among many other outlets.

There is no real revenue to be had from music sales anymore either. Vinyl is a niche market, downloads are slowing to a crawl, and CDs are practically extinct. There’s a trickle of dough from streaming, yes. But live shows are the real moneymakers — if you can manage to book one, that is. Most clubs these days just hire DJs to “spin” or mash-up existing tracks. But who will create the stellar future songs, or tracks, for those DJs to tinker with? Who will be our next Beatles or Led Zeppelin or Stevie Wonder? It doesn’t look promising, I’m sorry to say.

With all apologies to the fans of superstars such as Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, and Drake, I keep looking for a silver lining on the horizon that says popular music with deeply-satisfying — dare I even say “sophisticated” — combinations of melodies, lyrics, arrangements, and instrumentation will be making a nifty comeback somehow, some way, someday. But the clouds appear to be thickening. Or maybe I’m just an out-of-touch dude with my head in the proverbial sand. I’d love to be proven wrong, by the way.

Goodnight L.A. aside, what are you working on?

Kent Hartman: Book three. But my agent will choke me out if I divulge any of the details. And, believe me, she’s got a heck of a grip on her.

As someone who has experienced success with syndicated radio programs, where do you stand on podcasts? Are you a fan? Are they the second-coming of radio?

Kent Hartman: Podcasts are awesome. Now we’re talking; did you see what I did there? (laughs) The on-demand nature of a podcast is a technological advancement I can, and do, get behind. Everybody likes to learn new things, so what’s not to like? Well, almost everybody… I wonder if a podcast about podcasts would fly? The entrepreneur in me wants to know.

When not busy with work, how do you like to spend your free time?

Kent Hartman: So much comes to mind. But let’s just say a thimble, a package of saltine crackers, and a crescent wrench are vital parts of the equation.

What was the last concert you attended for fun?

Kent Hartman: Garbage and Blondie, a co-bill, in July of 2017. A crazy-good show. To me, the band Garbage is — are? — the alt-Beatles.

Do you have a favorite album of 2017?

Kent Hartman: Be Myself by Sheryl Crow. A delightfully unexpected return to form. There’s a place waiting for her in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, just so’s ya know.

Finally, Kent, any last words for the kids?

Kent Hartman: If making music is truly in your bones — and I so hope that it is — be uniquely you, keep the faith, persevere like your pants are on fire, and as Captain Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation would say, “Make it so!”

[Featured Image by Dan Pred]