Jonnie Forster on a Life in Music and a Detour Into Children's Books
Music executive and first-time author Jonnie Forster is embarking on the release of The Bird and the Bee, a children's book inspired by his wedding that brought together his Jewish New York family and his wife's Native American and African American family. The book follows Herbie the Hummingbird and Bree the Princess Bee as they change the world, all while teaching lessons of acceptance, teamwork, open-mindedness, environmental consciousness and love.
Forster started his career at A&M/Tuff Break Records, implementing marketing plans for its hip-hop roster before moving to Capitol Records. As a marketing executive, he was instrumental in campaigns for the Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Jimi Hendrix, the Beach Boys, Tina Turner, Pink Floyd and a host of others. His first break came as executive producer for George Clinton's Greatest Funkin' Hits album. Jonnie went on to produce the first-ever online concert with George Clinton and Macromedia, blowing up Internet servers all over the globe. At 23 years old, he was promoted to director of A&R/new business development.
Seeking more entrepreneurial freedom, Jonnie and his brothers established the premier music supervision company for the video game industry with clients including EA Sports, Sony Computer Entertainment America, and Activision. The company continued to develop recording artists and entered into joint venture deals with Warner Bros Music, BMG Music, and then a full distribution deal with EMI. Forster Bros. opened a business consulting division for entertainment projects most noteworthy representing the Palms Casino and Resort, the Gallo Winery, and The Bob Marley Estate to launch Marley Coffee. The management side of the business has seen clients ranging from global icons including Lauryn Hill, platinum rapper Lil Zane to current country cross-over star Willie Jones.
In 2020, Forster's entertainment company 4 SOUND rebranded to The Penthouse, inspired by its one-of-a-kind creative hub. The Penthouse includes recording studios, offices for film and TV, management companies and cannabis ventures, plus a legendary 2,500-square-foot patio overlooking the Hollywood Hills where all are invited to collaborate and celebrate
We caught up with Jonnie for our Liner Notes series to learn more about his musical tastes and journey through the years, as well as recent work he's proud of and admired.
Jonnie, tell us...
Where you grew up, and where you live now.
Born in Huntington, Long Island, grew up in Westlake Village, California, and now live in Santa Monica.
Your earliest musical memory.
My dad playing "Rhinestone Cowboy" on a reel-to-reel in our living room. He'd always tell me when I began working in the music business, sign a country artist.
Your first concert.
My first concert was Oingo Boingo. They played in our hometown for some reason, in Westlake. I remember thinking this guy's voice scares the shit out of me.
Your favorite band/musician.
Frank Sinatra—because his name personifies top shelf, his voice was not from this planet. His views on friendship and loyalty resonate with me. And when I worked at Capitol Records at my first real job, I did something no one at the label knew about that promoted Frank and the NFL. Frank saw it and called the label—I guess he didn't call there for over 20 years—and said whoever did that, that was the best thing the Friggin Tower ever did.
How you get your music these days.
Text messages, email links, drop boxes, WeTransfers, and Spotify and Apple.
Your favorite place to see a concert.
Most recently, one of our artists performed in San Diego at Humphreys on the Bay—it was an awesome evening and reminded me why I love the business.
Your favorite music video.
Blind Melon, "No Rain." I was at the label when that came out. I didn't get it until I got it. It's so simple, meaningful and something all of us can identify with—belonging somewhere.
Your favorite music-focused TV show and/or podcast.
Songland. Even though it got canceled. I love the process of creating a song and to get that fly-on-the-wall moment over and over again, it was entertaining and educational.
A recent project you're proud of.
The Bird and the Bee, of course. It was not forced and it continues to grow without heavy lifting. What started off as an idea for a movie became an idea to write a children's book to build out the story and protect my intellectual property. I never thought it was going to be a real thing. Now my friends, family and peers are encouraging me to see this all the way through, which has spawned original music, music videos ideas for a animated episodic television show, and to hopefully one day, bring full circle and do the movie I originally envisioned. Tell the story of the Birds and the Bees in a Shrek like movie adults and kids can enjoy, with Seinfeld meets Coming to America cultural anecdotes.
Someone else's project that you admired recently.
Musically, Post Malone. His songs get me immediately, the songwriting and production are perfectly married to each other.
How musicians should approach working with brands.
Musicians should put out great work, consistently, and build their own audience. Let the brands come to you so you're not selling yourself. It's hard for me to see artists making something to fit a brand—art should come first.
How brands should approach working with musicians.
Brands should be scouring new releases every week, or the executive kids should be on Spotify or Apple Music, to find artists who have a voice that aligns with them. They should want long-term relationships during the beginning of the artist's life cycle so it's more of symbiotic relationship and not just a cash transaction.
What music can do that nothing else can.
Immediately change your mood, with a full spectrum of emotions, so be careful what you feed your ears with.
What you'd be doing if you weren't in the music world.
Liner Notes is our weekly interview series, publishing every Monday, where we chat with folks in the music industry about their creative inspirations, their favorite bands and musicians, and generally what music means to them. For more about Liner Notes, and our Clio Music program, please get in touch.