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The Secret To Music Success? Just Ask Leonia Music Guru Jerry Lembo

Jerry Lembo
Jerry Lembo Photo Credit: Facebook/Jerry Lembo

LEONIA, N.J. -- Music executive Jerry Lembo of Leonia remembers watching the Beatles being introduced on the Ed Sullivan show, thinking 'I could do that.'

Not sing like the Beatles, but perhaps do Ed's job, or Dick Clark's gig on "American Bandstand."

"I always wanted to be a disc jockey or an emcee," says Lembo, a music consultant for over 40 years. "I tried to get there; I auditioned a lot."

His big break came when disco fever hit in the '70s and he was emcee under the lights at Studio 54 in Manhattan.

He also also disc jockey at several NJ clubs including the Windjammer (Saddle Brook), Strawberry Patch (Wayne), Harper's (Union), Christie's Flagship (Edgewater), Reggie's (Englewood Cliffs) and others.

"It wasn’t American Bandstand but it provided valuable insight about music trends and how people discovered music," he says. "As I networked and met people I was told what a great promoter I was … it came to me that this was an occupation. So I formed my own company."

Since the days of his first firm, Platinum Promotions, he went on to promote dance music at Chrysalis Records and was later recruited to Columbia Records, in charge of Top 40s and radio airplay.

"Then the entrepreneurial bug bit again," he says of leaving Columbia in 1997 to form the Leonia-based Jerry Lembo Entertainment Group, which he still runs today.

When it comes to music, there isn't anything Lembo hasn't heard or seen. But despite all the change --from vinyl to downloads, from print to social media -- there is one thing all musicians need to have any success at all, and that's passion.

"If you're in it for the money, it's the wrong reason. It has to be for the love of the art, a passion for what you're doing ... and you need an incredible work ethic."

Rare is the talent, he says, who can sing, play music and write songs. He points to Taylor Swift as one of today's anomalies. 

"She does it all and she knows how to connect to her audience."

He also admires Tony Bennett, someone he worked with at Columbia. "He's still out there at 90, not slowing down."

Everyone wants to be "the next big thing," Lembo says. "It’s hard even when you do have everything going for you. It’s like a horse race; the longshot can win on any given day."

The music business is also an emotional rollercoaster, and even the most talented sometimes can't handle the ups and downs.

"It's extremely rewarding, but also extremely frustrating. Everyone loves you when you're on top and then when you're not, it's hard to take."

Before he takes on a new client, he looks for those aspects: passion, work ethic and, of course, good music.

Having been in the business so long, most of Lembo's clients come to him through referrals, and right now, it's the holiday season.

"Everyone is doing their Christmas tracks," he says, noting he's working with Cyndi Lauper on a Christmas single from her country album "Detour," called "Hard Candy Christmas," with Alison Krauss.

He also just finished a Christmas album with Frankie Valli, "Tis The Seasons" coming out Oct., 21. "At 82, he's still going strong."

Country singer Brett Eldredge is teaming up with Meghan Trainor for a rendition of "Baby it's Cold Outside," he says.

Aside from newbies "who want to be on the radio" a bigger part of his business are the artists seeking new audiences.

Russell Watson, known for classical music, just finished a crossover record with pop songs, Lembo says. 

"He (Watson) did a cover of 'Sometimes Love Just Ain't Enough' and he’s being introduced to a whole new audience."

"Today you almost live and die by every single," Lembo says. "The business is not as vested in longtime careers as they used to be. You don't get a seven record deal and time to grow with a fan base and hone your craft."

That's why it's extremely difficult today to even think about becoming a career artist, he says.

"We live in a disposable society. With so much available out there, you can create your own greatest hit list. When something new comes out, we want it," Lembo says.

His secret to longevity in this business is changing with the times. "There's a certain ease to it now with social media. ... Anyone can be out there easily. I keep my ear to the ground. There are tens of thousands of musicians but it doesn't necessarily mean there's more talent, just more to filter."

Lembo's schedule is always busy, and right now it's with 16-Grammy Award nominee Brian McKnight, who will perform Monday on "Good Day New York" as well as other shows throughout the city.

"I feel very fortunate and blessed to have been able to make a living and follow my passion," Lembo says. "I didn’t have a plan B so I’m glad this worked out."

Click here for more information about Lembo Entertainment Group. 

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