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The origin of TSO
#1
This is a blast from the past.  Career entertainment lawyer and music industry consultant Bob Lefsetz has been writing a blog for decades.  In 2006, he wrote about the origin of TSO while spending time with record company exec Jason Flom:

https://lefsetz.com/wordpress/2006/12/13/tso/


Dinner With Jason

TSO

So Jason’s all coked up.  And not being able to look at the four walls, knowing he’s going to be up all night, he goes miles to a friend’s house, to do more blow, to get him to the sunshine, until he has to show up at Atlantic for work.

And this guy, he keeps pitching Jason this AWFUL band.  Heavy metal noise.  Every night, while they’re doing coke, this drug buddy says you’ve got to sign SAVATAGE!  Finally, to get the guy off his back, Jason offers him a deal, under one condition, the guy doesn’t harangue him about the act ANY MORE!

And it’s not like Savatage is doing well.  After a couple of albums, the deal is the band delivers a record, that THEY pay for, and Atlantic puts it out.  The relationship has run its course.  But then Jason gets a call saying Scott Shannon is ALL OVER THE RECORD!

Jason protests that this is impossible, that Savatage is a horrible heavy metal band, their record is NEVER gonna appear on Top Forty radio.  But then the report comes in that Scott Shannon is TALKING ABOUT THE RECORD, how fucking GREAT IT IS!

Turns out, at the end of the last album, there’s a Christmas track, and THAT’S garnering all the action.  So Jason gets Savatage’s producer, Paul O’Neill, on the phone, and tells him to make a whole ALBUM of Christmas music, to come up with a new name, that they’ve got a GOLD MINE!  Soon Paul calls back and says he’s got it, "Trans-Siberian Orchestra", what does Jason think?

Jason says he’s clueless, after all he’s a Jew, but it seems fine to him.

But what breaks the record big, after it’s finally recorded, is the appearance on Rosie O’Donnell.  Jason calls Bob Daly, who at the time oversees both music and TV, and the TV division produces Rosie’s show.  Jason leans on him.  And Bob goes around the bookers and gets TSO on the show.

And then all hell breaks loose.  A platinum album.  Then another.

So some things that start poorly end well.  Jason was in rehab when Savatage recorded their debut, he was not heavily invested.  He stayed with the band as long as possible, until it no longer made financial sense.  And then, when confronted with a moment, a seeming accident of fate, he CAPITALIZED ON IT!

Oh, at first it was difficult.  Not working the Savatage album with the Christmas track, there were no PROMOS!  Atlantic had to ship sales copies, of which there were very few.  But the true genius was in recognizing that this was not an anomaly, that there was a nugget here that was representative of an entire GOLD MINE!

So every Christmas since, for ten years now, Trans-Siberian Orchestra sells hundreds of thousands of albums.  And goes on tour, to the point where there are now TWO touring companies, playing ARENAS!  Cash is thrown off, people get rich, THIS is why you’re sitting there and Jason’s up in Aspen.

It’s not only about hard work.  It’s about insight.  It’s about seizing the moment.  It’s about understanding the reaction and envisioning the FUTURE!



TSO's manager at the time, David Krebs, responded to this blog with how he helped transform TSO once the initial release had subsided:

David Krebs
Comment by David Krebs | 2006/12/18 at 14:59:40
Hi Bob

Jason and Paul had the vision to create the record. But a record is just a record. It takes years to create an entertainment superstar like TSO. Here’s what really happened. By 1998, Atlantic wasn’t getting enough records out and Christmas Eve and Other Stories’ sales fell by a third, as did radio spins on the single "Christmas Eve Sarajevo 12/24". Atlantic wasn’t promoting TSO to radio because it was felt to be some old fashioned sound put out by Jason for his buddy with 8 failed Savatage albums, and also, it was just a seasonal album. They weren’t yet seeing the long term franchise potential. I decided to fight the decline by switching strategy, which I did with the support of Jason, Ron Shapiro, Vickie Germaise, Lou Plaia and others, so that TSO would be show driven, not record driven.

In 1999 in order to mount the show, I had to co-promote it in three out of the five initial markets. It was so successful, selling out four out of eight shows, that I decided that we could launch two touring companies in 2000. We could do this because TSO was not actually a band. In 2003, at the end of my tenth year representing O’Neill and TSO, the two companies toured 70 cities doing 84 shows. I’ve always believed in building superstar attractions by developing deep roots and fan loyalty through touring. That the strategy has worked is evidenced by the long term ongoing success of these bands
and attractions.


Regards

David
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#2
I believe this is the Rosie O'Donnell appearance that is referred to:

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#3
Interesting take.

From what I remember reading many years ago, it was Paul himself who felt like the band should be renamed and repackaged since radio stations would not touch the song. After all, Savatage was a washed up 80s metal band.

Through his genius, TSO would put out an album of all Christmas songs with a hard rock edge and tour with amazing visuals. Savatage fans would know the secret. If you watch the video for "When the Crowds Are Gone", it has some TSO elements.
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#4
(12-09-2019, 04:51 AM)admin Wrote: Interesting take.

From what I remember reading many years ago, it was Paul himself who felt like the band should be renamed and repackaged since radio stations would not touch the song.  After all, Savatage was a washed up 80s metal band. 

Through his genius, TSO would put out an album of all Christmas songs with a hard rock edge and tour with amazing visuals.  Savatage fans would know the secret.  If you watch the video for "When the Crowds Are Gone", it has some TSO elements.

It’s a take told from the industry point of view (record label/management). It makes a better story if it is marketed as Paul’s idea and genius, I suppose. Just from my own experience, I know many of the elements mentioned in the above essays are true. The TSO PR machine has always spun this as Paul’s idea from day one, and they wrote Krebs out of their history once he and Paul sued each other in 2004. Krebs and his significant other (producer Taro Meyer) were very very involved and key to the early TSO success.
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#5
Thanks for the inside scoop. I love the gossip.
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#6
That is some interesting reading. The reality of the record business is always like a cold glass of water thrown in your face. It was (and still is, I suppose) such a cold hearted , bottom line, who-ya-know business. Sure makes mincemeat out of the romantic way that it has always been spun. Thank goodness the label reacted as swiftly as they could, demanding a full Christmas album to take advantage of the "hit". Thanks for sharing that.
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