By Hans Ebert
Of course, every music company is different, and some actually veer towards the positive side of being good. But, good grief, people, there are some real shysters in positions of power, especially in this region, that makes one go, How on earth did this Tool- it’s the only appropriate word- get his job? The evolution of The Tool has not exactly been a new development. The Tool came into existence in music companies decades ago, and when with those other Tools running radio and television stations controlled what music fans could watch and hear and jumped the queue to setup, first, music cassette manufacturing plants and then DVD manufacturing plants.
Artists were signed, and sure, they made money for music companies with their tedious Canto and Mando-Pop recordings, but even here, The Tools got together, and it was all about more control over who wrote- and owned- the songs, and who had a slice of artist management companies. If you weren’t Chinese, you might have worked for The Tools, but only as a well-paid running dog who knew that to survive, it came down to obeying master and being Nipper, His Master’s Voice.
What you have today are Tools, but smaller Tools and with a very misconstrued sense of their “power”. Being an “executive” in a music or music-related company means nothing today. Other than being an ineffective Tool who’s lucky to have a gig.
Tools are different to Fools who go for the ride happy in knowing they have a gig by keeping their heads down and doing nothing. Tools are continuously looking for “escape clauses” for everything they haven’t done other than feathering their own nests, and having fine-tuned the art of fawning, also known as shoe shining, and avoiding all responsibility for anything. They have The Fools for that. This frees them up to setup their own companies, which are then highly recommended to Head Office, who buy into this scam and take a minority interest in the new venture. The Tool, meanwhile, gets his own company for free.
My great regret when at Universal Music, and then Every Mistake Imaginable aka EMI, is that is that I missed out on so many opportunities to make millions by ripping off Head Office, which was run by, yes, The Fools. I helped others to bedazzle Head Office, but never got round to fleecing the company myself and setting myself for an early retirement. I guess I was too busy trying to do my job while also on some meaningless journey to expose the music industry’s flim flam men and drive the whores and gamblers from the temple. Call it a Jesus complex.
The music industry in Asia is, and has always been, one of the worst managed and most corrupt. It’s why so many over so many decades got rich. How? Why? Because Head Office never ever took this region seriously. They took the eye off the ball and backed the wrong horses. Plus, when the going was good for the music industry, this region constituted for only 2.7 percent of global sales. It was chump change and left to its own accord with a few Key Men Clauses in charge. This region was a token gesture. It was part of the corporate map to show shareholders and business partners that Head Office had a “presence in Asia”. It was also an exotic location for those tiresome worldwide conferences where much was discussed, millions wasted on travel and dinners and staying at the latest five-star hotels and nights out with five-star escorts, but with those of us who’d been to a few of these tribal gatherings before knowing full well that these were nothing more than well-paid holidays for a privileged few. They still continue today though the excessive spending has been curbed, but with the same results: No results.
The Fools at Head Office never questioned the hires, they never questioned investing millions into projects- always online projects to find new talent during what were still the early days of the Internet- that never saw the light of day, and were sitting Peking ducks a million miles away and being sold on the Mainland China potentially being, “the world’s largest music market”. Yeah, the counterfeit capital of the world where one could buy a 5-CD Beatles box set at any street corner in Beijing for US$2 was going to potentially be “the biggest music market in the world”. And this scam is still being peddled with more money pimped and pumped into streaming companies etc in China. Pass me some extra plum sauce for the Peking Duck.
Looking back, I have to wonder how the tail was able to wag the dog so many times without the dog even giving a tiny yelp? Could it possibly have meant that the Big Poohbahs in Head Office were actually stupidly naive, or else were too busy feathering their own nests to care? And in the case of one extremely senior executive with one of the majors I worked with, well, he was only too happy to invest millions into the China music market as this gave him a “legitimate” reason to visit Shanghai regularly, see his young mistress, and use company money to purchase a huge five-bedroom room house under her name for the rest of her life.
I met the lucky recipient of all this good fortune a few months ago. She’s now a socialite in Shanghai, who spoke to me in bibs and bobs of un petit French. She sold the house in Shanghai for hundreds of millions years ago, and is now married to a Frenchman who owns a number of vineyards in Bordeaux. She’s come a long way from being a secretary in a music company, who could barely string two sentences together. Do I blame her? Of course not. She saw an old Tool and banged away as quickly as she could so she could further her career and bank account.
As wretched as all of the above is along with there being a thin line between being a well-executed scam with a certain Robin Hood twist to it, and downright fraud, this is still more palatable than the fakirs in music companies and music publishing houses who dangle contracts in front of those musicians desperate for something to happen to their careers. Sorry, but this is screwing with people’s lives- and unacceptable.
Desperation is when people are at their most vulnerable, and seeing how many new and unknown artists have been signed to deals with no advances, and are then shackled and kept in chains with nothing being done to fast-forward their careers, is not only unprofessional and vindictive, it’s ugly and fugly.
More on this later. But first, let’s look at the opportunities that many in music companies simply detonate by just not bothering to look beyond keeping one’s head down and hope no will notice that they’re hanging in there being busy doing nothing.
Universal Music, for instance, signed a Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) with the powerful Hong Kong Jockey Club. Truth be known, the HKJC can buy every music company. With an average turnover of HK$1.2 BILLION at EVERY race meeting, and two racecourses and a Charities Trust division, you think think they can’t?
As for the MOU, this was initiated by me, and apart from a very nice press release two years ago, nothing has happened. What can happen when there’s been no discussion? Last week, there was a message from someone at UMG about “revisiting” this so-called MOU. It’s still to be “revisited” as those on the UMG side have been “busy” in meetings. Please. I worked for you Tools and Fools. I know the game.
On the subject of Tools and Fools, artists, too, have their Rights, and, more than anything, they have the court of public appeal on their side. Artists and their management can no longer err on the side of caution and get screwed, or roll over and play nice. Those days are over. They need to grow some balls and not talk from both sides of their mouths. That’s when you lose support right at Hello. An artist-led paradigm shift is way overdue. Now, pass me my cape, Robin, and close the Bat Cave. I need to rid this region of some Tools.