He Walks the Line

Rick Krim makes sweet music by balancing the needs of art and commerce
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On the day before the MTV Video Music Awards in 1992, featured performers Pearl Jam told then-MTV executive Rick Krim they were not going to play their megahit "Jeremy" on the show, subbing in an obscure cover song to pump up their rep as rock rebels. It took all of Krim's powers of persuasion, acquired through years of dealing with artists, agents, record labels and network brass, to convince the group to stick to the script.

Of course, payback followed. "That was the last we saw of Pearl Jam for a very long time," Krim recalls with a laugh. The band refused to make any more videos and abandoned MTV, which had helped make them one of the biggest groups in the world.

Krim took the grunge gods' snub in stride and worked hard to keep their relationship alive. When he later joined VH1 as executive VP of talent and music programming, Krim was able to bring Pearl Jam back for a celebrated appearance on Storytellers. "What we went through together paid off, because there was always a trust they had in me," Krim says. "Dealing with music talent, you always try to strike a balance. You need to do what's best for the channel, but also be sensitive to the artist's needs. You're not going to ask Eddie Vedder to do a reality show."

"Rick is the exception to the rule in the music industry," says singer/guitarist Grace Potter of Grace Potter & the Nocturnals ("Paris [Ooh La La]"). "He has a real respect for a well-written song, and for the history of rock ‘n' roll. For Rick, it always comes back to whether something is going to matter in the long run, which is not typical."

Krim's interest in the music biz got jump-started as a high school junior, at a 1975 show on Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run tour. "I had always been a music fan, but after that concert, I became obsessed," he says. After graduating from Bucknell with an accounting degree, he spent a year at Price Waterhouse before joining year-old MTV in 1982 as business manager. He moved into to talent and artist relations, successfully pushing the network to add videos by quirky bands like They Might Be Giants and Faith No More-no easy feat in the hair-band era. Along with the job came an added sweetener: Krim met his wife of 25 years, Elaine, when she worked as an intern for his boss, MTV cofounder John Sykes.

When Sykes later left EMI Publishing to return to MTV Networks as VH1 president in 1994, he encouraged Krim to succeed him at EMI. "I had always wanted to sign artists," Krim says of his decision to move. "I knew nothing about music publishing, but I learned it real quick." In addition to signing acts to song publishing deals, Krim wrangled marketing and promotion budgets for bands that supplemented their support from record labels-making EMI very popular with artists during Krim's seven-year run there. "To work in another side of the music business and develop a different set of relationships was invaluable," he says.

Krim returned to MTV Nets in 2001, recruited once again by his mentor, Sykes. As the VH1 executive in charge of talent and label relations, Krim expanded production of franchises including Storytellers and Behind the Music and oversaw the launches of Hip Hop Honors and You Oughta Know, VH1's showcase for under-the-radar artists.

But after hundreds of episodes over 15 years, new installments of Storytellers and BTM had slowed to a trickle when VH1 decided to give both faltering shows a major reboot in 2009. Krim and his team ditched Storytellers' big-production sets and returned the program to its roots as an intimate performance in a small studio. BTM retired its tragic rise-and-fall shtick to focus on contemporary artists like Adam Lambert.

"We have reinvented these franchises as series, not a bunch of one-offs like they had become," Krim says. BTM's just-completed summer season featured seven episodes; Krim hopes to air a set of four or five new Storytellers before the end of the year. Also making a comeback this fall: a retooled Pop Up Video and a 10th anniversary airing of the post-9/11 benefit The Concert for New York City (Krim calls The Who's set in the show "the greatest 20 minutes of rock ‘n' roll I've ever seen.")

Looking to rebound from sharp ratings declines last year, VH1 has been busy adding new reality and talk shows and even its first scripted series, Single Ladies. But center stage in the retooling strategy is the fresh focus on the channel's core music programming.

"When we look at our competitors, we still feel that music is a defining factor for the channel," says Krim, glancing at the keyboard he keeps in his office. "Whether it gets big ratings or not, music is embedded into this brand."

E-mail comments to bmoran@nbmedia.com

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