Zach Horowitz Remembers Sid Sheinberg as a ‘Towering Presence’ Whose Word Was His Bond


The former Universal Music Group exec recollects working with Sheinberg, who died March 7 at age 84, for greater than a decade.

Sid Sheinberg, the leisure trade titan, died on March 7 at age 84. The obituaries give attention to his almost 4 a long time working with Lew Wasserman to construct MCA and Universal Pictures into a worldwide leisure energy. They spotlight his discovery of Steven Spielberg, his growth of the Universal theme parks, his stint working Universal's TV division and his charitable work.

What isn't talked about in any respect was his ardour for the music aspect of MCA/Universal. I had the privilege of working with Sid at MCA/Universal's music firm for over a decade -- and I noticed that keenness first hand. 

I used to be a part of the Irving Azoff workforce that got here to run MCA Records within the '80s. The firm was then the smallest of the trade's six majors. In actuality, it was a "main" in identify solely. It owned no file corporations exterior North America and the UK. Some joked that its initials, MCA, stood for Music Cemetery of America: the corporate the place bands went to die. Irving had even sued the corporate to get out of an album supply dedication using a novel declare. He stated that MCA Records was in breach of the settlement as a result of it was too inept to be thought-about an actual file firm. He misplaced. But his level wasn't. 


Although Irving was a profitable artist supervisor on the time he was introduced in to run MCA Records, he was a extremely unconventional and radical selection for his new function. He had no expertise working a file firm. He was not "company." But he was daring, entrepreneurial and disruptive. And that's precisely what Sid Sheinberg needed.

Make no mistake, Irving was Sid's selection. As was the need to spend MCA/Universal's assets to construct MCA Records right into a aggressive drive within the trade.  

For Lew Wasserman, Sid's boss and enterprise associate in working MCA Inc., the file firm had by no means been a precedence. Yes, he was the one who first acquired MCA into the file enterprise within the first place. In 1962 he purchased Decca Records, a label that featured stars of the time like Bing Crosby, Count Basie, Louis Jordan, Judy Garland and Bill Haley. But Lew wasn't occupied with Decca for its file firm. Decca owned Universal Pictures and that's what Lew considered as the true prize.   

Lew was at all times skeptical concerning the enterprise aspect of the file enterprise. He thought it was ridiculous that the trade "bought" albums to retailers on consignment, giving them the proper to return the product each time they appreciated, even years later. It was so completely different than the film enterprise or the theme parks, the place as soon as somebody purchased a ticket or walked via the turnstiles, Lew may e book the cash. 

He used to ask me repeatedly, "What sort of enterprise is that this the place you by no means know if a sale is definitely a sale?" In reality, after shopping for Decca he tried to vary the trade observe, sending a letter to all of the retail accounts saying a brand new coverage that the shops would have a brief interval to return an album after which lose that proper. Decca was instantly inundated with returns of albums from the '30s, '40s and '50s. Lew shortly needed to reverse the brand new coverage and it left a long-lasting impression on him. This was not a enterprise that was going to be his focus.

But Sid was completely different. He cared. His selection of Irving was a sign of that. 

Irving fully modified the tradition at MCA Records -- and achieved actual success. Under his management, MCA Records turned the market chief in nation music, the market chief in R&B and had large hits with soundtrack albums. Multi-platinum albums poured via the system by New Edition, Tom Petty, George Strait, Reba McEntire, Fine Young Cannibals and others. 


By 1990 it was clear that, regardless of MCA's success, natural development was not going to be sufficient to make the corporate really aggressive. So, in one of the vital costly offers to accumulate a file label within the historical past of the music enterprise, Sid orchestrated the acquisition of Geffen Records for $550 million in MCA inventory. The buy was transformative for MCA's music division. It confirmed the trade that there was in actual fact an actual dedication at MCA to the music enterprise. It dropped at the corporate superstars with large world attraction like Guns N' Roses, Nirvana, and Aerosmith. And, in fact, it introduced David Geffen as nicely. It supplied the important mass for MCA to open its personal file corporations around the globe. David gave us seven days to finish the deal. 

But the more durable problem was for Sid to persuade Lew that he ought to give David extra inventory in MCA than Lew owned himself. 

When I turned chief working officer of the music group in 1994, I needed to make a giant push into Latin music. It was a style we had by no means invested in earlier than. One of my strongest supporters was Sid. His first foray into the leisure enterprise -- when he was nonetheless in his teenagers in Corpus Christi, Texas -- was as a DJ and English/Spanish newscaster at an area radio station. He by no means forgot the ability of Latin music.

There have been so many different issues that Sid approved that helped us to construct the music group; corporations he agreed we may buy, catalogs he allowed us to accumulate. Many of these offers are nonetheless contributing to Universal Music's backside line immediately. 

Sid was powerful, demanding and combative, even along with his personal folks. He had sturdy opinions and wasn't shy about expressing them -- usually loudly. If you weren't fully ready, he took it personally and there could be hell to pay. You may problem him and he would respect that, when you knew your stuff. But you needed to be able to battle. He made us all higher executives in consequence.  

He might be cussed, significantly when he felt somebody had taken benefit of the corporate. I bear in mind spending over a yr making an attempt to persuade him to permit us to settle a lawsuit that I assumed was too time consuming and distracting for our executives. I used to be able to settle even when meant forgoing a much bigger payday by ready. Sid refused. He felt the opposite occasion within the lawsuit had wronged us and, on precept, believed they wanted to be taught their lesson so "justice may prevail." We lastly settled on the eve of the trial. And, sure, we acquired extra money because of ready. 

Sid was essentially the most honorable and moral enterprise government I ever met. As powerful as he might be in a negotiator, as soon as he gave his phrase, it was his bond. Whether there was a signed contract or not, if Sid advised you he was going to do one thing, you could possibly rely on it. Behind all of the gruffness, was a person of deep conviction and compassion. 

Sid was at all times a towering presence. When I final noticed him just a few months in the past for lunch, his physique was failing him. It annoyed him. His roving mind was nonetheless in full drive that day. He reminisced about how a lot the file firm had meant to him. He took nice pleasure in the truth that little MCA Records had develop into Universal Music Group, the most important music firm on this planet. He knew he had paved the best way.

Zach Horowitz is the previous chairman and CEO of Universal Music Publishing Group and the previous president and COO of Universal Music Group.