Pete Ganbarg '88: The Man behind the Music

July 20, 2016

Music is Pete Ganbarg’s passion.

“When I was growing up, if you wanted to hear a song, you had to listen to the radio. And if the radio didn’t play a song you wanted to hear, you had to go out and buy it,” says Ganbarg ’88, executive vice president and head of A&R (Artists & Repertoire) for Atlantic Records. “As a kid, I listened to anything I could get my hands on. I didn’t have a favorite band or a favorite song—I liked everything.”

Fast forward to today. Now Ganbarg is turning his lifelong passion for music into a solid gold opportunity for Wesleyan students interested in a career in music. “We all need help achieving our goals and getting a foot in the door to where we want to be,” says Ganbarg. “Wesleyan made my dream come true. Now I want to give back, in some small way, to help other interested students start off on their path towards a life in music.”

Ganbarg is giving back with the Ganbarg Internship Program—an endowed internship he established three years ago to help Wesleyan students explore and begin their careers in music. The program’s goal: to empower students who have a passion for music, in whatever form that passion may take. “You don’t have to be a future record company employee or a future A&R executive to be eligible,” says Ganbarg. “If you want to teach music therapy in a developing country or run a community music program, you can qualify. The only thing you need to have is a crazy, insane passion for music.” 


Ganbarg’s own passion for music was nurtured during his years at Wesleyan, where he took full advantage of opportunities to get involved by serving as music director at WESU, booking the annual Fall Ball and Spring Fling concerts, and managing campus bands, all while majoring in English and Educational Studies.  The crucial role his Wesleyan experience played and continues to play in his life and his career is something for which Ganbarg is forever grateful. “Wesleyan gave me the opportunity to pursue my future. I was able to study things that really interested me and get my hands dirty in the music business—even if it was a micro version of where I am now,” says Ganbarg. “Wesleyan also made it possible for me to meet people who later ended up making introductions that changed my life. Any other school, and it would have been a different future for me.”

In more than 25 years in the music business, working in A&R at Arista, Epic, and, since 2008, Atlantic Records, Ganbarg has helped artists from Santana and Train to Daughtry and Christina Perri achieve multi-platinum success.  “I’ve spent my whole life studying songs and trying to figure out why people like something or why people don’t like something,” says Ganbarg. “Any time I work with an artist, we have the same conversation: We have to find out what they want to accomplish creatively and who their audience is. My job is to connect the dots between the artist and the audience by finding the right songs and the right producer and understanding what the audience will want to hear.”

Over the years, Ganbarg has maintained a front-row seat in an ever-changing industry. “It’s an exciting time in the music business, because of how the future is evolving,” says Ganbarg. “Today you can hear any song you want to hear within seconds. The question is: How will that be properly monetized for the content creators: for the artists, the songwriters, the musicians, the publishers, and the labels? Once that’s sorted out, the future isn’t just bright, it could actually be a new golden age for the music business.”

If Ganbarg has his way, Wesleyan students chosen for the Ganbarg Internship Program will help usher in that new golden age. “The future of music relies on the next generation of music leaders helping to maintain and push the boundaries of exciting and innovative music, from both the creative and business perspectives,” says Ganbarg. “I owe my music career to Wesleyan. To be able to give back and to help students get started in a career focused on music will hopefully help transform the future of what we listen to and how we listen to it.”

Pete Ganbarg ’88 is executive vice president and head of A&R for Atlantic Records in New York. During his more than 25 years in the music business, Ganbarg has worked with artists including Santana, Run DMC, Kelly Clarkson, Train, Halestorm, Daughtry, Christina Perri, Twenty One Pilots, Donna Summer, Chaka Khan, and Aaron Neville, at SBK/EMI, Arista, Epic, his own A&R consulting business, Pure Tone Music, and, since 2008, at Atlantic Records.