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"Ultimately, it was Mr. Child's gift for crafting mainstream pop records that persuaded Mr. Raize to join the label."
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Miami Herald article announcing Deston Entertainment

The Wall Street Journal (New York, NY)
New Record Label Aims to Put Miami On the Pop Charts: Mainstream-Hit Writer Believes He and the City Can Make Beautiful Music Together
by Rafer Guzman
October 14, 1998





MIAMI BEACH -- A billion-dollar Latin music industry has thrived in the tropical heat here, but is the climate right for mainstream pop?

Desmond Child thinks so. He is getting set to announce -- perhaps as early as today -- the formation of a Miami-based, independent record label called Deston Entertainment. With the financial backing of Seagram Co.'s Universal Music Group unit, Deston Entertainment hopes to become a key force in the mainstream pop music scene.

The key question: Is Miami up to the task?

Although the city is home base for the Latin or international divisions of the Big Six record companies -- the major players in the world-wide $2.5 billion Latin music market -- it has never been the kind of place that mainstream bands go to break into the music business.

"It's not really a player," says Joe Fleischer, senior editor of the musical trade magazine Hits. "There aren't too many artists you can point to as driving the city. Certainly there's Gloria Estefan, but it's not really what people typically think of as a hotbed of musical activity."

Miami hardly makes a dent in the American market, says Ivan Bernstein, executive director of the Florida branch of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences in Miami Beach. "The entire focus of the {Latin music} industry has been to locate themselves here, and then their focus has been beyond our borders," he says. "There's been no impact on the local music community. All the record companies are here and everyone comes here to record, so shouldn't we have 15 places to see hot young acts and people who are just beginning? But no, we don't."

"If it's Latin music," adds Dennis Leyva, entertainment industry liaison for the city of Miami Beach, "it's going out of the country."

That's why some in the local music community are hopeful that Mr. Child and his label could represent a new page in the city's development. "You can grow a domestic music business right here," says Mr. Bernstein. "One success just breeds so much more. The industry likes to follow success."

Mr. Child is convinced he is the one to lead the way. Dressed in a button-down shirt and dark wool slacks on a sweltering October day, the 44-year-old songwriter and record producer is overseeing construction of a recording studio in an affluent section of Miami Beach, just around the corner from one of his several homes in the area. This is where Mr. Child hopes to persuade an eclectic mix of pop, alternative rock and perhaps country artists to sign and record with his label, which expects to issue its first recording by March.

Pointing to his new office, decorated with wrought-iron light fixtures and paintings of soldiers on horseback, Mr. Child says: "This is the War Room. This is where I do battle, where I think and plan and strategize."

Though Deston Entertainment will have a core staff of less than a dozen people, Universal Music Group will supply it with enough money to sign artists and to cover operating expenses, both parties say. Publicity, marketing and distribution will be handled by Universal, which, after completing its purchase of PolyGram NV next month, will be the largest record company in the world.

Neither Universal nor Deston Entertainment will reveal the exact terms of the deal. But Mr. Child says funding for the label will be substantial. "I might have to sign somebody who can cost me $10 million to $12 million," he says, taking a break on a couch in his sprawling South Beach villa.

Of course, none of this would be happening if Mr. Child hadn't already proved himself as a songwriter many times over. He has co-written at least two dozen Top 40 hits over the past 15 years, including Aerosmith's "Dude (Looks Like a Lady)" and Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer." He has written songs for Cher, the rock band Kiss and teen rockers Hanson. Artists as diverse as the country singer Trisha Yearwood and the speed-metal band Megadeth have benefited from his pen as well.

Mr. Child says he moved back to Miami several years ago to be closer to home and to enjoy more of the fruits of his labor. Tired of spending his days in far-off recording studios from New York to Nashville to Los Angeles, he says, "I can go out on my boat, I can take a swim in my pool, and I can have a life."

Mr. Child has two houses here, one for himself and one for guests. On the lot with his villa sits his recording studio known as the Gentlemen's Club, where artists such as Aerosmith, Carole King and Hanson have recorded, and where rates for just one piece of equipment can reach $1,750 per day. A third home with another studio attached is still under construction. Recently, he rented a nearby apartment for a young artist he discovered, an Australian singer who goes by the name Gyan. Mr. Child travels between his properties on bicycle. Asked what people here call this neighborhood, he replies, "Rich."

Not far away is the middle-class neighborhood where Mr. Child, the son of a Cuban mother and a Hungarian father, spent his childhood. His relatives worked as waiters in the South Beach hotels, he says, while he wrote pop songs on his mother's piano. After moving to New York as a teenager, he formed the band Desmond Child and Rouge, signed with Capital Records and appeared on "Saturday Night Live." Meanwhile, Mr. Child made an unlikely fan: Paul Stanley, guitarist for the rock band Kiss.

The two collaborated on "I Was Made for Lovin' You," a 1979 song that became a Top 20 hit for Kiss. Mr. Child's band broke up the next year, but he was already on his way to becoming a hit songwriter. Mr. Child, who calls himself a "custom-tailor" songwriter, quickly became known for his ability to adapt to any artist's style.

The rock singer Jon Bon Jovi, whose biggest hits have come from co-writing with Mr. Child, adds, "I think his musical tastes have broadened even more in the '90s than in the '80s."

In 1992, Mr. Child and his manager, Winston Simone, formed Deston Entertainment as an artist-management company. They approached Doug Morris, chairman of Universal Music, about turning Deston Entertainment into a label last year, and Mr. Morris handed them a recently discovered British singer named Billie Myers to work with as a trial run. Mr. Child produced and co-wrote songs for her, one of which, "Kiss the Rain," became a Top 40 hit late last year. Ms. Myers's debut album, "Growing, Pains," has since gone gold, selling more than 500,000 copies.

"That's when I asked him to join," Mr. Morris says in a telephone interview from his office in New York. "I decided I wanted to get this guy exclusively." He adds that Mr. Child's decision to set up shop in Miami Beach didn't bother him: "Location doesn't matter. It's all about where he feels the most comfortable."

Mr. Child already is building a reputation for supporting Miami talent. He discovered Tami Hert singing in a South Beach restaurant and led her to a deal with Sony's 550 Music. He recently began working with an alternative rock band from Miami called Eve to Adam, which may eventually sign with his label. He also helped form Songwriters in the Round, a monthly showcase where local performers can rub elbows with established songwriters such as Eric Bazilian (who's worked with Joan Osborne) and Glen Ballard (the producer and songwriter behind Alanis Morissette).

"There's this burgeoning talent pool down here that, unfortunately, no one's plugged into," says the National Academy's Mr. Bernstein. "We need someone to make a significant commitment here and take advantage not only of the real estate and the weather, but to take advantage of Miami as a place where there's talent."

Mr. Child says he's doing exactly that. "I'm always looking," he says. "A lot of R&B stuff is happening here, a lot of dance music happens here. There are a lot of alternative bands playing around." He adds, "When people realize how great it is down here and how much fun it is, more and more people will move down here."

But Mr. Child admits he had to send the young members of Eve to Adam to New York City to "live the life" of a rock `n' roll band. In New York, he says, "there's more of an audience for what they're doing. They had gotten to the level where they needed to be playing out every night, and here it's more of a weekend thing."

Even one of Mr. Child's own artists, 22-year-old Jason Raize, who lives in New York and has the starring role in the Broadway production of "The Lion King," says he "wrestled with" the idea of Deston Entertainment's off-the-path location.

"Why is it in Miami?" Mr. Raize recalls wondering. "Why are we going to be there instead of in some high-quality studio in New York with a name that people know?"

Ultimately, it was Mr. Child's gift for crafting mainstream pop records that persuaded Mr. Raize to join the label.

Mr. Child is betting that he can attract many others. "I've had hits," he says. "I know how to write them. I know what works and what doesn't."

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