By Hans Ebert
The stories from former and current staff at many of the offices about the politics and mismanagement of one of the major music companies in the region is not only a pity, it’s a bloody disgrace, especially having worked for the company when it was the leading music company in the region when PolyGram and Goliath, and then when taken over by Edgar Bronfman Jr’s music company and being reduced to David.
It’s still probably the “biggest music company in the world”, but what does this even mean anymore? Size matters? Why? It’s as pointless as saying that MTV is still a music channel. Nothing is what it is anymore, and here’s another music company that was a con in the Asia Pacific region when there actually was a music industry by all manner of corruption, shenanigans and creative accounting by those in the good books of those at Head Office, who were way too trusting of those in charge of the region, especially the Greater China region, and believing that Mainland China was “potentially the biggest music market in the world”. Please.
Sadly, it was a mantra mouthed and chanted by even this writer at the worldwide marketing and management wankfests held usually twice a years in locations, where those running Head Office wanted to do some shopping, stay in the penthouse of the latest five star hotel, and, well, get laid if suffering from Yellow Fever.
Despite all the scams going on, and where a handful of passionate and knowledgeable music people tried their best and believed in the business, there were those above them who said the right things to Head Office, and conned their way into millions of dollars through the stupidity of extremely naive and global leadership. These companies actually made money though much of it had to do with flooding Europe with CDs by some of the biggest international artists with much cheaper priced product manufactured in places like Malaysia and Mainland China.
Who owned these CD manufacturing plants? Guess. It was always a numbers game, and each office had to meet their numbers. Somehow. And having to somehow do this meant opening up a can of worms and with the worms having multiplied over the years. And so, there would be the months when an insignificant market like Thailand would ship exactly 50,000 units of, let’s say, a Keith Urban CD, or around 25,000 units of some totally unknown Christian or Rap act. Numbers don’t always add up.
There was then the joke of the Regional Office banging the gong loudly at those corporate wankfests about some local act selling millions of copies of an album in Bahasa from a market like Indonesia. What was never mentioned was that Indonesia and many other markets in Asia were music cassette markets. They were not CD markets, which meant that sales of three million music cassettes sounded good, but did nothing for the bottom line whereas flooding Europe with Malaysian manufactured CDs by Robbie, Coldplay, Norah, Gorillaz etc cannibalised legitimate sales, but no one cared. Let’s not even get into the “million selling” original soundtrack to a Bollywood movie that was never even released.
The emperors fiddled while Rome burned and none of us thought those halcyon days would end. But then came the Digital Revolution, and in undue haste and panic, wrong hires were brought in from then-new social media platforms to be in charge of “digital marketing”. What “digital” marketing? Striking a deal with a music streaming site in China and being paid tuppence and artists being in the dark about it all?
The problem was that these “digital” people knew bugger all about artist rosters, back catalogues and marketing, and clashed with the traditional music marketing people whose roles became less and less important.
Trouble was around the corner when the vastly overpaid “digital” gangs were discovered to be pretty much a waste of space, and many of us escaped before the walls of Jericho came tumbling down and experienced music executives like David Munns, below, and Alain Levy were shown the door.
This was when EMI Chairman and resident Biscuit Bungler Eric Nicoli looked after Number One and sold the one-time home of the Beatles to Terra Firma, the private equity firm owned by the infamous Guy Hands whose biggest success was buying and running German nursing homes and toilets on the Autobahn. And now, here he and his cronies had their grubby little hands on one of the greatest music companies, but clueless what to do with it. What a Guy…
Guy Hands entering the music industry signalled the beginning of the end, and it’s been tits up since then- streaming cannibalising download sales, downloading of music heading into Nowhere Land, 360 Degree deals working only for the savvy management of Robbie Williams who took EMI on a one-sided ride, and, most key, absolutely shocking hires and turning a blind eye to the blatant scams going on at one particular music company in the region managed out of Australia by, let’s be kind and call her Big Bertha. How on earth would someone based in the land of Oz understand one of the most complex regions in the world with its own quirks and prejudices? Tell us, Big Bertha.
Big Bertha reports to George Of The Jungle, a music executive with the personality of a slug, who might have been relevant two decades ago.
Recently, Big Bertha decided on a “restructuring programme” where loyal and longtime staff were given an hour to pack up and leave their offices, a familiar modus operandi of someone new who’s clueless about trying to find answers. It’s the desperate act of someone doing something for the sake of doing something and creating chaos in the process. Great job, Big Bertha.
Like many of the company’s other longtime senior executives, gentle George Of The Jungle keeps his head down, doesn’t reply to emails and busies himself watching the clock for when it will be time to receive his golden handshake. And people wonder why music publishing houses sign up unknown songwriters, but never market their work? They wouldn’t know where to start. Why there’s piss poor marketing of artists from this region to markets outside of this region. Being geographically challenged doesn’t help. Why do very few other industries with the databases and marketing dollars not wish to do business with a music company? Zero respect and really no need for what are needless middle men. That old business model is broken forever.
This is something every Big Bertha and George Of The Jungle should quickly understand and read up on: A music company and music publishing house today is irrelevant. George? Re-read my email. Share it with Bertha and Franz and Heinz Beans in the Regional Office where there’s nothing going on.
When one has the hardware, the customers and the marketing dollars and only needs the software, but don’t even receive the courtesy of a reply, why bother? Why bother with even trying to make nice? Why when we see who are in music companies these days?
These people should also look up the word litigation. Old cases and not so old cases are suddenly being opened up. If, like in Hong Kong, the former Chief Executive of the city, can be hauled up on corruption charges, do former and current music executives think they’ve managed to get off while their former underlings, working in cahoots with their wives and well-known money launderers hiding in Macau to stop being extradited to Hong Kong, are not known, and with the wheels of the law heading towards them? And when these types of business dealings are happening on the watch of the Big Berthas and George Of The Jungles of the so-called music industry, no prizes for guessing how this will all end. And how and where.
Bottom line: If music companies in the Asia Pacific region are seen as token gestures, or only kept ticking to host visiting international artists, why pretend to be something they’re not? It’s not only a stupid business model, it’s one whose time has come and gone.