By Hans Ebert
It’s reached a point where it’s not even a case of Them versus Us. It’s finally come around to how to get around legalese that were questionable from the start, but which many were too timid to question, especially at those tribal gatherings of wannabe big swinging dicks who would waltz in and out of those ubiquitous music conferences where nothing was ever achieved and everyone left mumbling that music mattered when they were as confused about everything as someone trying to understand the relevance of a blog by The Bobster.
Sitting on the fence and swearing a great deal just for effect ended in the Eighties when one thought it was cool to enter the music industry and be David Munns. Lovely guy. But as a music industry supremo who used his Cockney accent to swear a great deal? Nah, especially when he and joint CEO Alain Levy, below, were blindsided by The Biscuit Bungler and then-Chairman Eric Nicoli who had them clean out their offers before selling EMI Music to Guy Hands and his Terrarists and made a swift exit with his golden parachute. But the industry was and is littered with poor men’s versions of Munns. But the bark has been muted and there’s no bite. There aren’t even any teeth.
Today, while the spin doctors go into overdrive to keep the decrepit Mariah Carey brand relevant by leaking bibs and bobs and airing appallingly dirty laundry to do with money being “the other woman” in her crass breakup with bimbo Aussie billionaire James Packer, where Kim Kardashian’s “hostage drama” and robbery in Paris is given- please- all the solemn “respect” it deserves, and, dear gawd no, news that Taylor Swift might have netted a Drake, the head of an independent label was advising me how to get around the numbing and crippling stupidity of those who run music companies and publishing houses and hold everything back through archaic approval processes. All this new technology and one still has to jump through loops to get to even record the cover of a song recorded and released. Covering a song by Miss Adele is completely out of bounds. Then again, waiting for approval to cover anything is akin to waiting for that last train to Nowhereville.
How these numb nuts running music companies into the ground today got their jobs says much about what passes itself off today as being the music industry: It only attracts mediocre people who have nowhere else to go. Its nothing to do with music. It’s to do with purchases of companies for very average catalogues, staying afloat for as long as possible while being as irrelevant as having a name card saying you’re a VP of something for MTV. Remember when MTV was all things cool? Where’s it today? What is it today? What’s anything today? Meaningless rules.
In-between all his advice, which, basically, was to plead ignorance if found to have recorded something without permission, and just not wait around for approvals from anyone, my learned friend and, one would guess, is more of an entrepreneur than any executive, insisted that it was time to be Nike and Just Do It. No more trying to do things by the book. Throw the book away along with playing it by the book because no one cares, especially the consumer who has been brought up to believe that everything is a free download. So much for bringing lawyers and finance people to run music companies. They not only got rid of the music, they forgot about the power of the new music fan brought up during a quiet and DIY paradigm shift.
What took me aback was how little money there is in making music today. Money most artists receive in the way of royalty cheques is chump change, yes, but one never knew that it has reached such a depressingly low point. Artists short on grey matter can huff and puff and try to blow the house down, but what can they do when the house is empty? Get real, knuckleheads. Trying to rock the casbah when the casbah isn’t there is just clashing for the sake of making some noise.
Where does one start to unravel all of this? Let’s first say that what once were known as the majors- Warner Music, Sony Music, Universal Music, EMI Music which is now owned by UMG which, in turn is owned by Vivendi- are despised and dismissed as being useless, cheats, and opportunists by all who once worked with them or tried to work with them. That’s the good stuff. It’s now all about playing fire with fire and getting around these corporate blockheads and brick walls that have been created over the years when, during the “digital age”, executives were brought into music companies who, well, had no affinity with music and artists and producing hits. It’s they who created this free-for-all world and placed an unnecessary premium on the word “promotion”.
Promotion has come to mean a buffet table where everything is free. And to think the majors did the dance of a thousand dances by winning that hollow victory against Napster. Even in defeat, Napster caught the majors napping about the future of (illegal) file sharing of music. The doors were opened and they stupidly forgot to close them when celebrating with Kool And The Gang.
The defeat of Napster allowed in the Storm Troopers. Music fans suddenly having access to so much for free, quietly joined the revolution of change without ever being told right from wrong and what it all means to artists- the millions of relatively unknown or new young artists out there just trying to get their music heard, let alone being paid for their art.
Somehow, everything and everyone went overboard on all things digital along with the grossly overrated and downright stupid 360 degree management deal mantra sung by so many music executives because it was a directive from Head Office. Head Office was never wrong, of course. They were the intelligentsia who were the Daddy Warbucks who many in Asia played on a dime to feather their nests and invest in new companies that eventually became their competition. Why use your own money when there are some fools in London and New York who think there’s a market for Western music in Mainland China. Dear gawd, someone stop the stupidity.
The only artist to benefit from a 360 Degree deal was Robbie Williams. Basically, partner EMI funded this, and when his management company realised that they could do better by dealing directly with sponsors and concert promoters, the original angel investor was cut out, 360 degrees deals were dead and buried, and EMI Music was again sucker punched. EMI: It really was Every Mistake Imagineable.
If John Lennon had a Lost Weekend, music companies have been dazed, confused and lost for a very very long time. In the process, they have created a generation of lost lobos artists who believe their thinking is new, and full of ideas, but, as we all should know by now, everyone has ideas. Where’s the beef? Who’s going to invest in any of this to give it the kiss of life? There’s no copyright in having an idea. Hello? Anyone home?
Panic set in along with ageism and while these lost souls were wrestling to come to terms with the reality that, just perhaps, their music was not very good and would never resonate with anyone other than family and friends, the age of celebritydom crept into mainstream consciousness and music was and continues to be pushed further and further into the background.
Social media has brought back the Teen Power of Tiger Beat along with a few surprising realisations- like the popularity of home karaoke and, with it, findings that the biggest purchasers of music- the pop music of Taylor Swift, One Direction, Drake, Ed Sheeran, Katy Perry and that ilk- are largely under fourteen, again the main audience for all those television karaoke competitions along with a more mature female fan club.
It’s the same audience that lives vicariously through reality television series like The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, Keeping Up With The Kardashians and all those mad housewives everywhere with no shame in showing off their materialistic lifestyles warts and all. People watch this crap. And Ryan Seacrest, certainly not stupid, makes a fortune from a world wanting to Keep Up With The Kardashians and their offshoots. It’s about supply and demand.
Those in their twenties and thirties enjoy the convenience of Spotify and creating their own playlists while, here and there, discovering new artists. And then what? For the new record labels that have come on stream, it’s really all about pot luck. Most have no tangible plans. It’s about getting the music out there and seeing if anyone bites. Does their roller deck include partnerships and access to companies involved in sync deals? Kinda, but not really. That takes too much work. That takes people skills and the art of negotiations. And too much time wasted on something that might never happen. Imagine if the pioneers of the music industry were crippled by such negativity.
To cut through the crap, looking at the music landscape, there’s no money in artist management, and the new labels are walking on eggshells and happy to break even. Most running these labels have also been smart enough not given up their day jobs.
One indie label music chief was telling me that most of his time is taken up playing the stock market and making enough to pay off his mortgage. His involvement with music is almost a hobby. What’s worrying is that this person is not an exception to the rule. He is the rule. And if this is the case, it begs the question, And now what and where’s this leading? What’s the point of recording music and then wondering what to do with it? Or getting confused- and angry- and lashing out at the world when there’s no return on time and investment? Have these people stopped to think that time’s up, they’re not good enough, beggar’s can’t afford to be choosers, and play nice, because word gets around and no one is indispensable? Not even Mariah Carey?
There are, of course, those who, when they get a whiff of a paying job, try to milk what they think is a golden cow by coming up with daft ideas where one party pays for the cake and the party favours and the other side comes along for the free ride. All this does is create suspicion and hearing Adios sung in the background.
Fairy godparents like these usually only exist for any great length of time in Macau, Russia, Hong Kong and other money laundering capitals of the world where money is thrown at losing propositions. That dirty money has to be washed somewhere- the restaurant business, the movie business, horse racing, especially in the land down under, and the poor music business. What does this mean? All that glitters is usually fool’s gold and nothing and nobody are quite what they seem.
Bottom line: Don’t be fooled by hype. When opportunities come along, especially to travel and play to new audiences, grab these with both hands. Don’t become a prima donna.There’s a queue waiting to get in. Work with as small a team as possible whom you truly trust. Keep your ideas to yourself. Save the sharing for the next AA meeting. Tough as it might seem, network. Even with the most tedious people. Nothing happens by just sitting there for the world to discover the genius within. DO SOMETHING. KEEP DOING SOMETHING. DON’T KEEP DOING THE SAME THING IF IT’S NOT WORKING. The X Factor and The Voice are nothing to do with music. They’re to do with entertainment at its manipulative worst. Think of yourself as a brand. Market it. Don’t follow leaders and watch your parking meters.