Rhino President Mark Pinkus: Executive of the Week
Here, Rhino’s resident Deadhead talks about the longstanding string of archive releases, how the collection has grown over time, future opportunities in streaming, and why Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir are songwriters alongside more conventional pop culture legends. But above all, this project is a work of love. “People ask me, ‘Is working with the Grateful Dead a dream?'” He says. “It’s so overwhelming that it’s more than a dream – it’s spectacular. It is the high point of my career. “
Dave’s Picks Vol. 40 is the highest-charted Grateful Dead album since 1987. What important decision did you make to contribute?
It’s an interesting question because it’s Vol 40. As with every release of the Grateful Dead, we went for a Kickass show, and this band is a perfect example of how the Grateful Dead play at its best.
After 40 volumes, this book broke Dave’s Picks record for the highest charting edition, Vol. 39, suggesting they are becoming increasingly popular. Why do you think this is?
I think the Grateful Dead are gaining popularity. I just spent three nights at the Hollywood Bowl with Dead and Co. last week and this band is growing in popularity, the music is growing, and the age group that falls in love with them is getting younger and younger. [I think that’s the case] because these songs – these Garcia / Hunter songs, the Weir / Barlow songs – are as good as Lennon / McCartney songs. It only took 55 years to find out.
If you do post these, will you have to be marketing or are they effectively selling themselves given the fan base?
Dick’s Picks are exclusive to Dead.net, the website of the band we run, and all we have to do is notify fans that the latest version is available and it’s up. And rightly so. We’re in the process of selling the new Dave’s Picks subscriptions – we’re allowing people to sign up during the months of November, December, and early January where you can subscribe to the Dave’s Picks range which gives you four volumes, one all three months, plus a bonus disc that only subscribers get, so these are practically all sold out in subscriptions.
Do you have input with the archivist of the dead, Dave Lemieux, or do you just trust his instincts when it comes to the shows?
David Lemieux is like my younger Canadian brother. He and I talk all the time, but as the band’s archivist, David ultimately picks the show.
What about this particular case resonated the most?
It hits a lot of people my age who were on the show based on the year, 1990 – if you are in your 50s, you were in high school or college on the show, and this group is still very fond of buying CDs. And this was such a famous show from that era that people were quickly drawn to it.
Why do you make these as limited edition box sets?
When Dave’s Picks started it started with 12,000 units and now, 10 years later, it’s 25,000 units – for those who say the physical business is shrinking, I believe the Grateful Dead are showing exactly the opposite. So we find a number that feels like the right number and then stick with it until next year.
Do you have plans for these to be streamed everywhere?
Streaming options are under discussion. We just started with vinyl – Dave’s Picks Vol. 1 will be out on vinyl in a few months. No immediate plans [for streaming] although.
How many of these shows do you still have in the vault?
Probably, I don’t know, at least a thousand? This band is very, very good – and consistently good. We want the quality of our releases to always be high, but we have years of shows to work with. And think back to your marketing question – yes, we do notify the fans, but we have built a very strong relationship with the fans, with deadheads both casual and tough, and therefore we are constantly communicating with them via email and social media , through all possible avenues, and it is this direct relationship we have with this very dedicated fan base that enables us to sell the amount of units we sell.
I know this is a passion project for you too. What do you love most about being involved in something like this?
People ask me, “Is working with the Grateful Dead a dream?” It’s so mind-blowing that it’s more than just a dream – it’s spectacular. It’s the high point of my career. I just make the decisions with David and the management based on, “Hey, as Deadhead, would I want this? Would I want to listen to this? Would I buy this?” So we just keep things authentic by filtering them through our own deadhead-ness.