Darien resident Mike Bair leads the Fuse music channel to prominence
Oversees evolution: MSG media boss transforms national music channel
Published 7:35 pm, Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Mike Bair once helped make Jay-Z's vision a reality.
It was August 2009 and Bair, along with a team of executives from Madison Square Garden Inc., met with the rap mogul to discuss plans for a concert at the New York City arena. Jay-Z, whose real name is Shawn Carter, wanted the show to benefit families of 9/11 responders, and to launch his 11th studio album, "The Blueprint 3."
Moreover, Carter didn't only want to perform for the 20,000-plus ticketholders -- he wanted all his fans to be in on the experience.
So, on Sept. 11, 2009, Fuse -- a music network owned by MSG -- aired the concert live for millions of viewers nationwide, along with documentaries, music videos and behind-the-scenes footage of the rap star.
"That night, we turned Fuse into the Jay-Z channel," said Bair, a Darien resident and president of MSG Media, the division of MSG that controls the company's cable TV channels. "For Jay-Z, it was all about the venue, the important cause and the date for his album. Fuse got that message out nationally."
As the boss of TV's most music-centric network, Bair is in the business of breaking down the wall between musician and listener -- by bringing artists to life on screen and connecting them with fans. It is an approach born of his belief in the "shared experience of music.
"We let the musicians showcase their art and their voice," Bair said during an interview last week from his New York City office, which overlooks Madison Square Garden. "And we bring that to the viewers."
Since coming into his position in 2008, Bair has overseen the evolution of Fuse, formerly known as MuchMusic, from an obscure channel for music videos to a network rich with original content, live concerts and films.
Fuse has partnered with many of the biggest events in music, striking a three-year deal to broadcast the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony and the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, among others.
In recent years, the network also has expanded upon its original series. Fuse just began airing "A Different Spin with Mark Hoppus," a talk show hosted by the Blink 182 bassist and vocalist; and "Lay It Down," an interview program presented by singer Cee-Lo Green a la "Inside the Actor's Studio."
According to Bair, Fuse has filled the void left by MTV and VH1, which have "abandoned the music space" in favor of reality shows such as "Jersey Shore" and "Celebrity Fit Club." In 2003, Fuse indirectly bashed MTV with its slogan "Where the music went."
"I just can't figure out MTV's strategy," said Bair, adding, "if we do a reality show, we would do what's real, what's authentic. Something that brings musicians and fans closer together."
A tall, gregarious man who rarely stays in his office, Bair's business philosophy extends to his managerial style. When he's not in meetings, Bair is visiting employees in the office, in the ground-level control room and in the production trucks outside MSG.
On his blog, Friday Notes, Bair writes about professional topics, such as human resources policies; and personal stories, like the time he got sick at a June news conference with Hoppus.
Even the layout of the Fuse office, which is comprised of low-wall cubicles and glass panels, is conducive to the free flow of ideas. The doors of Bair's personal office open like sliding windows for easy access to the high-level executive.
"From all my experience, I know some of the best ideas come from the frontlines," said Bair, wearing a glossy, rose-colored tie that complemented the building's flashy, neon blue marquee.
From the control room to upper management, Fuse staffers expressed fondness for their ubiquitous boss.
"You want to work for somebody who is a leader as opposed to just being a manager and Mike is exactly that," said David Clarke, executive vice president and general manager of Fuse. "He's a very open, transparent and smart leader. He's someone I've learned a lot from, and I think a lot of people feel that way."
Born in 1957 in State College, Pa., Bair moved to Rowayton at 12 and graduated from Brien McMahon High School. He later attended Pennsylvania State University, where he had his first experience with television -- installing cable at local fraternity houses.
In 1990, he landed a job at Cablevision before transferring to MSG in 2004. He lives with his wife Britt, 17-year-old daughter Alex and 16-year-old son Jack.
Reflecting on his stint with MSG, Bair said that the support of his staff has been indispensable to the company's success (Fuse posted a 30 percent jump in ratings over last year). At 53, Bair relies on the younger, tech-savvy staffers for feedback on today's music industry.
"I'm not living in the moment anymore," he said.
However, Bair always stays in tune with the inner workings of MSG Media -- whether its down in the control room or in the world-class arena across the street. Not only is he keeping artists and fans connected, he's staying connected to his business and his employees.
"This is more than just a job," he said. "It's a passion."