Chris Gero is not someone whose name is likely known to many, even among hardcore music fans. But within the industry, he is widely recognized as a world-class image-maker, as the founder and Vice President of Yamaha Entertainment Group of America. That brand's roster includes over 3,600 artists, including Elton John, Alicia Keys, Paul McCartney, Norah Jones, Josh Groban, Sarah Mclachlan, Sheryl Crow, and more.
Gero not only oversees the development and branding of this roster through numerous artist related activities around the world: he is also a GRAMMY-nominated, Emmy Award winning record producer, concert producer, film director, and the founder and Vice President of Yamaha Entertainment Group of America.
Gero has been with Yamaha since the start of his career. ”I started very young as an endorsed artist with Yamaha,” he explained. “I was a singer-songwriter, but I wasn’t very comfortable in that role. I was so shy! I was never really comfortable on stage, and at some point I grew out of wanting to do that.”
His work, however, did allow him to develop a lot of contacts. “I did work with a lot of artists, and I was endorsed by Yamaha,” he added. “Their artists program was sort of disassembled at the time, and I was brought in as a consultant to help with productions and build relationships, increase talent and branding for Yamaha products.”
That role grew rapidly, and culminated in Gero founding Yamaha Corporate Artist Affairs in 2001. “After I started working, it was a very interesting progression: the artist program grew considerably, as did how we told our story about our product through large concert development, recording, and films. Over that course of time we really started to change from a service oriented industry to developing partnerships and more successfully telling the Yamaha story. That program in 2001 became Yamaha Corporate Artist Affairs.“
What did that change look like? Gero reflected, “Well, for instance, when Elton and I started working together—we have been friends for over twenty years—we featured him playing Yamaha pianos in concert. Now we develop huge concerts and films that highlight our relationship between our artists and the Yamaha brand.”
In 2012, Gero’s vision and driving force led to the formation Yamaha Entertainment Group of America, the boutique, one stop shop record label designed to give artists a voice with the backing of the largest music manufacturer in the world.
“Now we are much more into record- and film-oriented productions, much more partnership driven,” he added. “Our roster is extraordinary. We work with a significant amount of talent. It has really been a fantastic ride, and it’s been very successful.”
Like Yamaha Corporate Artist Affair before it, is based in Franklin. “Nashville didn’t really feel right for us,” Gero explained. “Most of our work is below the waterline. Most people don’t really understand the work we do: it’s really kind of quietly done business that has global impact every single day, it’s kind of fun to able to be below the waterline and still kind of do what we do. But that’s not Music Row.”
Since Gero's unit was founded, its influence has grown rapidly in a number of fields. Projects include Gero’s 2014 production of the Grammy-nominated solo debut album for master bassist Nathan East, featuring collaborations with Eric Clapton, Sara Bareilles, Stevie Wonder, and Michael McDonald, among others.
Gero has also produced and directed both the live performance and making-of DVDs for Elton John's Las Vegas-based show, "The Million Dollar Piano." His latest film endeavor is a critically acclaimed piece titled "The Gift." The short film chronicles the legacy of music across familial generations. Since its release in February 2015, the film has gone on to win more than a dozen international awards, including an Emmy for Gero's original music composition and arrangement. In 2016, Gero and his team were commissioned to create and film the production of the famous purple Yamaha piano which would have been the centerpiece of Prince's Piano & A Microphone tour.
Countless Yamaha concerts and events have been produced under Gero's direction, including last year's UNITE To Face Addiction concert, featuring Steven Tyler, Sheryl Crow, The Fray, Joe Walsh, Jason Isbell, and Johnny Rzeznik. Gero also produced Yamaha's historic 125th Anniversary NAMM concert featuring Amy Grant, Chaka Kahn, Earth, Wind & Fire, Sarah Mclachlan, Toto, and Elton John.
Gero has also been committed to finding non-traditional ways to showcase Yamaha artists and their beloved products, while also supporting a variety of charitable causes, such as Elton John AIDS Foundation and the TJ Martell Foundation, among many others. In 2015, Gero was elected as President of the Sarah Mclachlan School of Music Board of Directors.
For a more in-depth interview with Gero on the state of the Nashville music scene and its treatment of LGBT artists and industry insiders, get a copy of the December print edition. For more, visit yamahaentertainmentgroup.com.