CSUN has plenty of Curb appeal.
Byline: Sandra Barrera, Staff Writer
Mike Curb remembers the days when songwriting paid the rent.
But in the Internet age, being compensated for one's art can be hard to come by, and that has the college dropout turned Nashville-based music executive behind Curb Records thinking a lot about the future of his chosen industry.
"Do we want to live in a country where creative people are forced to make art as a hobby while holding down another job?" Curb says.
Protecting artists from copyright infringement is just one of those things that comes up when talking to Curb, founder of the longest-running independent-owned label and onetime California lieutenant governor. In fact, he would speak just as passionately about the history of recorded music, '60s-era civil rights and California politics during a recent phone call from his home in Nashville.
His varied interests add up to a lifetime of experience.
The son of an FBI agent, Curb remembers when his family moved from Savannah, Ga., to Compton, where he discovered the piano and took a crack at playing the violin. In the 1950s the city was a vibrant place for music, which could be heard from street-corner quartets to the church choir.
But Curb didn't start thinking seriously about music until his family relocated to the San Fernando Valley several years later. By the time he entered what would become California State University, Northridge - where on Tuesday he addresses graduates and receives an honorary doctorate of fine arts - he had decided to start his own label.
So, in 1963 he dropped out of San Fernando Valley State College, as CSUN was known in those days. He may have never completed his four years but Curb never forgot the university.
He gave the school a $10 million gift in 2006. As a thank-you for the largest cash contribution in the history of the university, CSUN renamed its College of Arts, Media and Communication after Curb.
Some of the money he contributed to the university is also helping to fund the construction of the Valley Performing Arts Center at CSUN, scheduled to open in late 2010.
"It's going to be a tremendous tool for the students because they'll have incredible places not only to perform but high-tech rooms to learn in," he says. "When I was a student the most I can remember was a music room with tape recorders in it.
"A very nice professor used to let me use one to record my band," he says. "In fact, the first record I released I recorded at Cal State on those little recorders back in 1962."
Called "Speedway," the record featured auto racing sounds. With that record in hand, Curb shopped it to some of the hundreds of small independent labels that had popped up along the Sunset Strip during the time.
He laughs as he says, "The label that released it was called Titanic, which is what happened to the record, it kind of sunk."
A year later Curb and his sister, a UCLA student, were sharing the janitor section of a building where he rented office space for his own upstart label.
"I had plans and dreams and goals and a lot of tenacity," Curb says, adding he regretfully also had just dropped out of CSUN after two years. "I had no safety net. So, when my business didn't take off like I thought it would, I lost my apartment.
"I don't know how much longer I could have lasted," he says. "Fortunately, we made some money on a song I wrote for a commercial."
You meet the nicest people on a Honda bike.
It's the world's biggest seller, and I know you'll like
Fifteen Honda models and the rugged 4-stroke
From the mighty Super 90 to the super Hulk.
Go little Honda, go little Honda
You meet the nicest people on a Honda.
That jingle, titled "You Meet the Nicest People on a Honda (Go Little Honda)," became a hit for the company's national motorcycle ad campaign and netted Curb $3,000.
It was enough for rent on an apartment and his office.
Curb went on to enjoy a long, successful career in the music business. He worked with the Stone Poneys, the Osmonds and LeAnn Rimes as songwriter, producer and label head.
In 1979, he served four years as California lieutenant governor, including nearly a year as acting governor when then-Gov. Jerry Brown was out of state. Looking back, he only hopes the next generation of songwriters will be as lucky.
"Forget about me," he says. "But young people of today, if they want a career in anything creative, they need to think about what kind of laws they want. If they don't figure it out, I guarantee what will happen is you'll have people unable to make a living who may be brilliant."
Sandra Barrera, 818-713-3728
(1) Mike Curb
John Russell/The Associated Press
(2 -- color) Record company executive Mike Curb, who attended what would become California State University, Northridge, gave the school a $10 million gift in 2006. He will address graduates and receive an honorary doctorate of fine arts Monday.