Ask Steven Saporta to describe himself and what he does and the words “artistic sensibility” and “communicator” quickly supersede all the other conventional words. They might easily be used to categorize him over the course of his thirty year career as manager, artist confidant and representative, entrepreneur, conceptualizer, producer, deal-maker, negotiator, music business innovator and consultant.
“I know how to get to the essence of a person’s art, whether you’re a musician, painter, or an actor,” is how he explains it. “I have the ability to extract what is special of it and communicate it to other people.”
Though Saporta loved music, he delved into theater studies at University of Buffalo and aspired to becoming an actor. Upon graduation, he found himself fascinated by the underground theater of New York, drawn to legendary troupes like the Living Theater, where he did stints in avant-garde productions. “It was all about exploring human emotions rather than how you read a line,” he elaborates. “That whole New York underground art crowd had an important effect on my sensibility because it taught me how to think differently and look at art differently-in a much less linear way.” When Saporta decided on a career in music, he would bring this point of view along, incorporating it into virtually everything he did. “I decided that if I wasn’t going to be an artist myself, I wanted to breathe their air, help them expand their art. That’s what mattered to me.”
From the outset, Saporta searched for new experimental things. One of them, the guitar synthesizer developed by Chuck Hammer, Lou Reed and David Bowie’s guitarist, never quite caught on; but the other — the crazy notion of a Scottish musician-artist named Jesse Rae to conceptualize music and video together — would turn out to be a different matter entirely. “Jesse would sit in my office and play me music and show me pictures,” he recollects. “This was years before MTV, and it was like the future just staring me in the face, so I moved with it.” Saporta submitted 4 minute productions like “Rusha” to film festivals where it won awards as a short film, but the piece was soon to break ground commercially as well when Sony, then just breaking into the software market, released it as the first kickoff Video 45. As Jesse Rae was signed to Columbia as a recording artist, Saporta was able to craft a marketing campaign for the 45 that integrated both Sony Video and Columbia Records-an innovation which presaged the role that video would soon play in promoting music. By the time the fledgling MTV network made its debut, Saporta found himself being interviewed on ABC’s “Nightline” among the first wave of leading figures in a new art form destined to transform the music industry. Saporta became a founding member of the Music Video Producer’s Association.
In the following years, he and music business impresario Peter Casperson partnered to create the full service entertainment company Invasion Group, Ltd., now in its 30th year.
Additionally, Saporta served as Executive Producer of over 100 clips and five major television specials, virtually pioneering that role in the industry while launching or re-inventing the careers of Whitney Houston, Anita Baker, Van Morrison, Rod Stewart, Run DMC, Aerosmith, Reba McEntire, Billy Joel, Garth Brooks, and Sting, among countless others. “That was the time of most rapid growth for me,” he recognizes. “I was creatively involved with everything from concept on, getting the job, being the liaison with the artist, interfacing with the record companies and their marketing strategies. It brought me directly inside the biggest marketing campaigns of the biggest artists.”
As a manager of talent and musical entrepreneur, Saporta found that a certain kind of artist seemed to gravitate towards him naturally — “original innovators who tended to be more rebellious,” as he puts it. The relationship that most personifies Saporta’s regard for musical innovators is his seventeen year association with the internationally renowned musician and producer, Bill Laswell. “He’s one of those truly brilliant, visionary people, years ahead of everybody else, always pushing the envelope, no different than originators like Julian Beck, Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, or William Burroughs. To be an artistic confidant to somebody like that and be trusted to handle his business affairs is an honor.” Good taste, keen business acumen, a sense of fair play, consistency of style and philosophy, a real love for the deal-making and negotiating aspect of the business-all of these are among the reasons why Saporta has become a trusted counselor not only to artists but executives seeking his advise. Companies like eMusic and Liquid Audio have asked him to consult and help them develop relationships. For these reasons, Saporta has long since stopped calling himself merely a manager. He really plays the role of the custodian of a particular sensibility.
“I like to think that I represent not only the artists, but an artistic point of view in the business at a time when it’s becoming more about the accountants and numbers. At the end of the day, I believe that a consciousness for art to move forward in a progressive way will always make the best business in the long run.”
In the past several years, Saporta has served as a guest lecturer at New York University’s prestigious Clive Davis School of Music.