the way the music died [home]

homewatch onlineartistsperfect stormdiscussion
transcript

The Way the Music Died
Written, Produced & Directed by Michael Kirk
Co-Produced and Reported by Jim Gilmore

 

MATT SORUM, Drums, Guns N' Roses: Here's my red Corvette. Thanks to rock-and-roll, I bought me that car.

We made millions and millions of dollars.

MARK HUDSON, Songwriter: Now you have an album and a single, and if the single doesn't work, you're working at Starbucks.

JEFF LEEDS, Los Angeles Times: Today is a tough time to be getting into the record business.

MELINDA NEWMAN, Billboard: It's a big moment.

MICHAEL "BLUE" WILLIAMS, Manager, OutKast: It is the perfect storm out there.

MELINDA NEWMAN: Everything is breaking.

LEONARD J. BEER, Hits Magazine: It's apocalyptic.

EXPERT: There's a tremendous sense of hysteria.

JEFF LEEDS: The sky is falling. The sky is falling.

LEONARD J. BEER: Things are bleak right now.

MELINDA NEWMAN: There are about 30,000 albums released a year, maybe 100 are hits.

DAVID CODIKOW, Pres., Immortal Ent.: Eighty-five percent of all records fail.

MELINDA NEWMAN: Sales have fallen from $40 billion to $28 billion.

LEONARD J. BEER: It's about the bean counters being in control.

DAVE MARSH, Music Writer: Financiers are wagging everybody's tail.

LEONARD J. BEER: It's about short-term profit.

DAVID CROSBY, Singer/Songwriter: The people who run record companies now wouldn't know a song if it flew up their nose and died.

LEONARD J. BEER: All of a sudden, then the corporations came in, took the artists, burned them out, used them and abused them and then threw them away.

NIC HARCOURT, Music Director, KCRW: It's the classic example of art and commerce colliding and nobody wins because it's just a train wreck.

 

DAVID CROSBY: I started singing in coffeehouses when I was still in high school. It was simply a need to sing. Of course, I didn't get paid, but for me, it was the big time.

DANNY GOLDBERG, CEO, Artemis Records: I think David Crosby's one of the most amazing careers of anybody in my lifetime. He forms Crosby, Stills & Nash. They become the biggest group in America at that time and do their third or second gig at Woodstock festival and become one of the, you know, key emblematic moments of that.

DAVID CROSBY: It was when everybody became really aware of Crosby, Stills & Nash. We had the top album in the country, but Woodstock really pushed it over the top.

[Woodstock, August 1969]

STEPHEN STILLS: Thank you. We needed that.

DAVID CROSBY: This is our second gig.

STEPHEN STILLS: This is the second time we've ever played in front of people, man. We're scared [expletive]

[B.B. King's, NYC, March 4, 2004]

DAVID CROSBY: Now, as advertised, we will attempt to do something you've heard before.

You know, when I was making a million bucks on an album, that I would make any money at all was, like, marvelous. I thought it was fantastic, a gift from God, wonderful, you know?

When it all started, record companies -- and there were many of them, and this was a good thing -- were run by people who loved records, people like Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun, who ran Atlantic Records, who were record collectors. They got in it because they loved music.

That's how it works, buddy. And I'm happy. You know, cash is groovy. It's a great tool. I don't let it run my life. It's not why I do things. And I'm happy with that. I will, as we say in rock-and-roll, run it 'till the wheels come off because I love what I do. I love creating music. I love it that I can sing. I think it's a hugely wonderful gift, and I am truly grateful for it. And I love doing it.

MICHAEL GUIDO, Music Attorney: My experience with artists, the ones that become successful, is that for them, doing this is the equivalent of breathing air or eating food. There is no choice for them. They have to do this. There's nothing else they can do.

DANNY GOLDBERG: I don't think the music business was ever available to everyone who dreamed of being in it. In the movie A Star Is Born, the woman gets to Hollywood and they say, "You know, only one out of a million make it in Hollywood." And she says, "But I might be that one." But that means 990,000, and so forth, didn't make it. It's always been that way.

DAVID SIMONÉ, Artist Manager: We went into business with a gentleman called Mark Hudson, who used to be in a group called the Hudson Brothers. And Mark started to come up to our office, as we started to develop the relationship, and play us songs that he'd written.

MARK HUDSON, Songwriter: Played the song, and they went, "The song is OK. But who is the singer?"

DAVID SIMONÉ: On some of them, there was a young girl singing. And we kept saying, "Who's the girl on this demo?"

MARK HUDSON: And it was, like, one of those sort of things, like, you know, St. Peter denying Jesus. I went, "It's just this girl that I use a lot."

DAVID SIMONÉ: And the next time he was in, he played us another demo. This time my partner, Desmond Child, who's a very successful songwriter-producer, was in another room, in the office. Heard the demo, came in and made the mistake again of saying, "Who's the singer?"

MARK HUDSON: And I was afraid to say that that was my daughter.

DAVID SIMONÉ: And three or four weeks later, Mark comes up to our office with his daughter, a very pretty young lady, and says, "You guys have asked me a million times who's the singer on the demo. Well, this is who it is, my daughter."

MARK HUDSON: So I'll set this up. She's 2 years old. I'm writing a song at the piano, and she's and coming up to bother me, and I had my cassette player going. And she's virtually 2 years old. And while she was there, the cassette is on, and I do-- and I've kept it all these years. And we have it here. So listen to this. It's so adorable.

[audiotape] [singing]

MARK HUDSON: Someone's knocking at the door--

SARAH HUDSON: Knocking at the door--

MARK HUDSON: Somebody's ringing the bell--

SARAH HUDSON: Ringing the bell--

MARK HUDSON: Oh, oh, oh! And so then, 22 years later--

SARAH HUDSON: [singing] Someone's knocking at the door, somebody's ringing the bell--

MARK HUDSON: My daughter Sarah was either blessed and/or cursed with a piece of me. She came to me and told me-- I wished she was going to go, "Dad--" and I'm waiting -- "Please, Sarah, say it's a veterinarian. Please get into accounting. Please." And it was, "I've got to sing and write songs." And every bone in my body went "Oh, no!"

SARAH HUDSON: It's really important. It's what I want more than anything, mostly to get the music out there and to get what I have to say and my beliefs and that kind of stuff just out there and out to, you know, the kids.

DAVID SIMONÉ: We said to her, "Sarah, you know, this is really a horrible business.

MARK HUDSON: And that was me being a dad again, but I kept it all those years.

DAVID SIMONÉ: "And in fact, if you wanted the first piece of advice from us, it would be don't do this" because it is a horrible, nasty business. And Sarah's immediate answer was, "Listen, I grew up with this. I know that. This is all I want to do."

MARK HUDSON: It just surrounds her whole family, her cousin being Kate Hudson and her aunt being Goldie, Cher being her friend and my friend. And it's sort of, like, been her-- it's all she really kind of knew.

I've become a chick magnet since I got my close-up on the Grammys. I just want you to know.

SARAH HUDSON: My dad is a record producer/songwriter, and I've just seen his ups and downs. And there was months or years where he didn't have a job.

MARK HUDSON: Now they're all calling out of the woodwork-- Madonna, Juliet Lewis.

SARAH HUDSON: He kept at it, and then all of a sudden, he had, like, a number one single. It's just perseverance, I think.

MARK HUDSON: And I've said this to Sarah, that I wanted her to learn by my mistakes. And I also said to her that the best thing about being an artist is to have freedom. And my freedom was taken away from me as an artist because I was a Hudson Brother on television.

ANNOUNCER: And here they are, the Hudson Brothers!

MARK HUDSON: We were guys starving, and they said, "You want to-- you're having your own television show starting next month."

HUDSON BROTHERS: [singing] --razzle-dazzle--

MARK HUDSON: What? Money? Fame? TV? Instant recognition. We'd been working seven or eight years to try to get that, and it was handed to us, with one guy going, "Here you go. It's right in your-- in your hands." Tough to say no to.

[showing photograph] Oh, this is kind of cool. The rock-and-roll Hudson Brothers, which is this -- that's our back of our manes -- with all of these zany fans attacking us at a signing. And that was during the rock part and the lines that go around the block and da, da, da, da, da, da, da. And then, all of a sudden, you start to see this. I mean, we were still cute. But it-- you know, you wouldn't look at this and go, "Wow, I can't wait to get their next album." I mean, he looks like Valerie Harper. Who I love.

ANNOUNCER: The Hudson Brothers!

MARK HUDSON: The comedic television part of us destroyed the music part because no one was looking at us as credible or as real musicians. And then the TV people thought we were rock-and-roll guys that were trying to act. So it sort of, like, canceled the whole thing out.

This was the epitome of what I turned into, OK? Bob Mackey, a Cher outfit.

I dreamed of it being John Lennon. I dreamed of me being credible and this guy that would sit here, like I'm sitting right now, but with my guitar, singing these songs. Instead, I was on the cover of TV Guide as "the zany Hudson Brothers." And even though I enjoyed the money and I enjoyed the fame, I never really liked what it was necessarily doing to my soul.

DANNY GOLDBERG, CEO, Artemis Records: There was a down moment in the business in the late '70s. There was a terrible crisis. The Baby Boomers got older and they started buying less music. And also, it was a time when the music business had what I consider to have been its worst format, whatever you-- which was prerecorded cassettes. But the business was saved by the introduction of the compact disc, the CD.

MICHAEL GUIDO, Music Attorney: People replaced their old vinyls with CDs. They had old, scratchy copies of The White Album, now they could get a new digitally remastered copy of The White Album.

MELINDA NEWMAN, Billboard: And so you have a rush of money coming into the labels because people are buying things that they already had on vinyl. They want to buy them on CD. And in a way, it's great for the industry, but it's not reflective of selling new artists. It's kind of a false indicator.

JEFF LEEDS, Los Angeles Times: That provided this enormous boom for a number of years that covered up a lot of problems starting to emerge within the business.

TOURÉ, Rolling Stone: When the record business is making a lot of money, the international conglomerates swoop in, and they say, "Hey, you guys are making a lot of money, and there's a lot of turnover here. We're going to buy you."

JEFF LEEDS: These independent entrepreneurs who had been just kind of going along, they were-- you know, had small, sort of private companies that were having good years and bad years, were suddenly, you know, sort of in a system where they were counted on for quarterly profits, quarterly targets they had to hit.

TOURÉ: So what does that mean? That means that we can't just give Mick Jagger, $500,000 and tell him, "Come back when you're done." You got to have this record done by this day, so that we can get it out by this day, so we can have, you know, most of your earnings in our second quarterly statement, so that we don't get fired when the Germans call and say, "How much did you make this semester?" Mick Jagger does not want to finish his album by August 12th! He is inspired, or Kurt Cobain, or Eminem, or whoever. So now-- but if he's racing to finish it by August 12th because they're told that they have to, is that going to make for good art? I don't think so. I mean, clearly it's not.

DAVID CROSBY, Singer/Songwriter: You know, you'd go to a meeting with a record company, and it wouldn't be a guy there who knew that you had written a new song and thought that was cool. It would be a guy who knew that he had moved 40,000 pieces out of Dallas this month, and he had no idea pieces of what. None.

LEONARD J. BEER, Hits Magazine: The last great influx of art that we saw was, you know, when rap music happened. And rap music happened outside the corporate system.

TOURÉ: You saw guys who came from public parks or came from street corners, and they just wanted to, you know, get out there, you know, and spit their rhymes and get fame so they could go back on the block and get the hottest girl on the block.

MICHAEL "BLUE" WILLIAMS, Manager, OutKast: Hip-hop was starting. And so that was when I first started going out, going to block parties and seeing Africa Bamm Bada and the original PJ's and Full Force and Cold Crush Brothers. So I was in the streets when it was swelling.

DANNY GOLDBERG: Hip-hop was not endorsed by any of the big radio stations, by MTV or by the big record companies. They all hated it for the first 10 years of hip-hop. So Hip-hop emerges from clubs, from street promotion, from underground media that you can't-- that those of us who weren't in it couldn't even quantify.

TOURÉ, Rolling Stone: Russell Simmons made a lot of the money from hip-hop in those first few years, and he talks about how he became rich because of the arrogance of white men who were, like, "Oh, no, no, no. We don't want to be involved with that." And Russell said, "Good. I'll take your money."

MICHAEL "BLUE" WILLIAMS: I can understand how my mother and them felt when rock-and-roll was around. It was something that their parents didn't get, and it was theirs. This was something that was ours. People didn't get it. It wasn't mainstream, yet it was exciting, it was energy, it was fresh. It was just a real fresh feeling.

TOURÉ: In the '80s, the record industry didn't really know how to market hip-hop, didn't know how to control it. So there really seemed to be, like, this sort of creativity that was allowed. You could do whatever you wanted because it was, like, "We don't know why this succeeds and that doesn't, so y'all just, you know, record and go, and we'll figure it out later."

But then by the late '80s, early '90s, it started to be, like, "Hey, we kind of know how to shape this and mold this." You really started getting really packaged and processed people and, you know, corporate things. And now you have-- you know, in the 2000s, you have lots of really sort of corporatized, slick things. And you know, the old-school fans are, like, "Eww. It's not hip-hop."

LEONARD J. BEER, Hits Magazine: And then all of a sudden, the corporations came in and ate them all up, bought up all the little companies, took the artists and burned them out, and used them and abused them and then threw them away.

DUFF McKAGAN, Bass, Guns N' Roses: It all goes in cycles. There was Milli Vanilli one week. There was Paula Abdul the next week. It was, you know, Khaja Goo Goo the next week. It was, you know, Flock of Seagulls, whatever, and all these-corporate made bands. And then the real deal came out. We came out. And it was, like-- it just took everything by storm.

DAVID CODIKOW, Pres., Immortal Ent.: The guys have sold 70 million albums around the world. Guns N' Roses at the time was too big for stadiums in Europe and South America. They played speedways.

DUFF McKAGAN: You know, we played Colombia once, and we were more powerful than the government at that point. If we would've said up on stage-- I mean, we had-- there was guys with submachine guns on the side of the stage. If Axl, our singer, or one of us would have said, "Revolution now!" you know, these kids would have done it.

MATT SORUM, Drums, Guns N' Roses: I don't want to sound pretentious or whatever, but we were the real deal. I mean, we were out there doing it. It definitely changed my life. I mean, everything just changed drastically.

MELINDA NEWMAN: There was a new wave of rock excess in the late '80s, early '90s that they were part of, where they were selling records like they, you know, fell off the back of the truck. I mean, they were really doing very, very well.

MATT SORUM: Millions and millions of dollars, yes. And we spent a lot of money.

[www.pbs.org: Read the whole interview]

DUFF McKAGAN: I mean, we had our own plane, MGM Grand plane, with our own stewardesses. You know, we could do whatever we wanted. We could smoke crack on the plane, whatever. It was a 727 with a bar and a whole movie theater and everything.

And then, you know, the first award we got was the American Music Award. We went, and we didn't have girlfriends. Like, they-- we got, like, these stunt girlfriends. Like, they got model girls for us. And they just were disgusted with us, you now, these two girls, you know, prim, proper girls. We were drunk and we're smoking in the Shrine auditorium. These fire marshals kept coming down, "You can't smoke."

And we're-- got all this booze we snuck in. And all of a sudden, they announce our name. We weren't even listening to what they were saying. They just announced our name, and everybody just stands up around us and claps. We're, like, "What-- what did"-- "You guys won! Get up there! Get up there!"

So we get up there, and it was fed live to the East Coast-- was, until this incident. And so it was "expletive this," "expletive that." You know, I'd like to, you know, [expletive] thank this-- well, [expletive] This is [expletive] great, you know? Well, what the [expletive ] do you say, you know? [expletive] And so--

MATT SORUM: Dick Clark had a hissy.

DUFF McKAGAN: Yeah, he-- yeah. He-- you know, he-- he really didn't come down on us at all, Dick Clark, but whoever it was at ABC got, like, a million calls from the East Coast, you know? Yeah, so now there's-- there's-- since then, there's a seven-second delay. True story.

MELINDA NEWMAN, Billboard: Being number one on the charts does not get you a free pass at all. They're probably wondering, if they sold X million records, how come they only have X in their bank accounts?

MATT SORUM: This business, man, you just don't know. I mean, it's just so crazy. I mean, with GNR, I mean, we were out on the road, and then it was just over. You know, we didn't-- you kind of-- you never think it's just going to be over. You just never know what's going to happen. But in those days, it seemed like it was never-ending. But it did end, and it always does.

JEFF LEEDS, Los Angeles Times: The truth is, this is a very difficult business. It's tougher now than it ever has been. There are companies that are, you know, investing a tremendous of amount of money in untested talent. And nine times out of ten, they're going to fail

MARK HUDSON: Like, she does Cher better than anyone could ever do her. Has she done you Cher yet? Come on, you got to just give it a twinge.

SARAH HUDSON; Oh, yeah. I have to be-- but you have to, like, close your eyes to really think that it's-- you know, Cher is in the room.

MARK HUDSON: OK. OK. Just listen-- listen to the voice.

SARAH HUDSON: Wait, I need to prepare.

MARK HUDSON: Oh. Motive-- motivation. Yeah.

SARAH HUDSON: [singing] Do you believe in life after love? I can feel something inside me say I really don't think you're strong enough, no--

MARK HUDSON: Wow!

JOANNA IFRAH, V.P., S-Curve Records: There was something so inviting about Sarah to me, that was, I thought, the Everygirl. Do you know what I mean? I thought she was, like-- as opposed to, you know, Britney Spears, who's perfect and beautiful. And Jessica Simpson is perfect and-- you know, all these girls. And I just thought to myself, like, where are the cool chicks who look strange, dress strange, like, didn't really get all the guys and, you know, had all this parental problems and whatever? And I thought Sarah was that girl.

MICHAEL GUIDO, Music Attorney: Joanna's her A&R person. The reason that Joanna does what she does is to feel this way about an artist. So that connection has happened. You don't question that chemistry. You sort of go with it."

SARAH HUDSON: I like the yellow.

JOANNA IFRAH: Oh, I don't like them. I mean, I love the shoe but--

SARAH HUDSON: You don't like them.

JOANNA IFRAH: Yeah, it's too bland.

Everything is, like, partner in crime, mentor, sister, best friend. The lines are all very blurred.

SARAH HUDSON: She connected me with, you know, amazing songwriters everywhere-- in L.A., New York, London, everywhere. And I just wrote-- I just wrote and wrote and wrote and kind of found my own voice and, you know, what I wanted to say as an artist.

The songs are about growing up and all of the kind of baggage and emotions that come along with coming into adulthood.

JOANNA IFRAH: I mean, she took a lot from me. Seriously. I mean, I put her through hell. Every day, she'd hand me, like, five songs. I'd be, like, "They suck. They suck. They suck. Keep going. Keep going." I mean, you know-- the boyfriend, and I'm crying. I'm, like, "Nobody wants to hear it." Every girl writes the same song-- "You broke my heart, you broke my heart, don't break my heart, blah, blah, blah." You know what I mean?

SARAH HUDSON: We definitely had a handful of really good songs, but I felt like there wasn't that-- that one that, you know, you could hear on the radio or it could get people interested right away.

JOANNA IFRAH: At the time, she had written another song called "Naked Truth," which is the title of the album. And I thought, for sure, this was the single. But basically, we finished up the record and I thought to myself, "You know what? We need, like, a Cyndi Lauper 'Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.' This is what we need. This is what this record is missing. It's kind of deep. It's kind of heavy. You know, I need something that shows, like, that fun side of her."

SARAH HUDSON: So I kept writing, and I wrote a song called "Girl on the Verge," which is the single. And I felt it then. I was, like, "This is it. This is the single. This is the song."

[singing] I'm a girl on the verge of another breakdown--

DAVID SIMONÉ, Artist Manager: "Girl on the Verge" always sounded like a smash, from the first time I heard it. And I think it's important to go with your instincts. I think the song is an anthem for women of all ages. I really, really believe that.

JOANNA IFRAH: Well, here's the thing. I mean, you know, now you're going to play, like, the music business game, right, you know? Do you actually listen to "Naked Truth" and think that it's a better song? Yeah, probably. It's a better lyric. It's a better melody. It's a better production. It's a better all those things. The thing about "Girl on the Verge" is, it's, I guess what you're going to call a commercial record. It's a radio-friendly record. It's an attention-getting record.

DAVID CODIKOW, Manager, Velvet Revolver: We all think this could be huge. And knock on wood, it will be. Duff McKagan, bass player Guns N' Roses, Matt Sorum, drummer, he joined Guns N' Roses from '91 to '97. I think Velvet Revolver could be lightning in a bottle.

I always thought that, you know, if several of the guys from Guns N' Roses, the biggest band in the world for a period of time, got back together and they found their, quote, "new singer," it could be amazing. It could be unbelievably huge.

DAVID GOTTLIEB, V.P. Marketing, RCA Music Group: Through mutual friends, they hooked up with Scott Weiland from Stone Temple Pilots, and it clicked.

DANNY GOLDBERG, CEO, Artemis Records: I'm a big Scott Weiland fan. There is no more authentic and personal artist that I've ever met than Scott Weiland. He is really in his own world. He really comes from the heart in everything he does. And if he believes in this band, I believe in it.

MICHAEL GUIDO: I saw the one show they have done to date, and people were sitting there, going, "Is this hype? Is this"-- you know, "It's a bunch of retreads." And they came out and they played six songs, and people's jaws were dropped. It was, "Oh, yeah. This is what it's about. I forgot."

DAVID CODIKOW: At that time, a number of record labels came down. And the buzz started to get-- heat up, and several labels made offers, and we ended up going with Clive Davis at BMG and RCA.

JEFF LEEDS, Los Angeles Times: There was sort of a bidding war, and I think that that was partly fueled by almost a sort of nostalgia on the part of some of the record executives because they think back to the era when Guns N' Roses was-- you know, was a big band. It was one of the biggest bands in the world. They think back to when Stone Temple Pilots was really, you know, a powerful force and was selling millions and millions of albums. And they're thinking, "Wow, if we could," you know, "somehow recapture that-- the momentum from," you know, "the early and mid-90's, we'd be"-- you know, "we'd be in really good shape."

MELINDA NEWMAN, Billboard: Well, the pressure's on for a group like Velvet Revolver because the industry's being hit, and sales have fallen from $40 billion to $28 billion in the last three years, which is staggering,

They're coming back into this in a completely different economy. They're also coming back into it older and probably a lot smarter. They're looking at the budgets. They're looking at things and going, "Maybe we needed a catering budget of X in 1991. Now we're all doing Atkins. We don't need that." You know, we're all watching our waistlines. We only need X."

DAVID CODIKOW: Well, they've made records for millions and millions of dollars in the past. This record was made for much, much less. They're brilliant musicians. They do a lot of pre-production. They rehearse. They know what they want.

DUFF McKAGAN: We know how much it costs to make a record, and it's not $2 or $3 million dollars. And it's good for the whole band to know we're aware of the value of a dollar and how far you can make that go.

DAVID GOTTLIEB, V.P. Marketing, RCA Music Group: In the first six months of the year, it's probably our single most important release. For the entire year of 2004, it's probably one of our two or three most important releases. It'll cost us $2 million for the first six months of the project, strictly in marketing.

These are-- we're-- we have three different album covers. It's definitely got a James Bond meets classic rock-and-roll feel. It's a silhouette of a woman. You can tell that she's scantily dressed and she's got a weapon on her hip. And this is the artwork for the single, the first single, which is called "Slither."

DAVID GOTTLIEB: The record store -- the Tower Records, the Virgin -- those stores are having an impossible time trying to survive. The big stores -- the Best Buys, the Targets, the Wal-Marts -- who are the bulk of our business-- you know, those three accounts alone are 50 percent of our sales -- we're nothing to them. The music section at Wal-Mart is, you know, a third of the size of this office, maybe half the size of this office. It's tiny. Out of the 30,000 records that get released every year, they're probably-- they probably have 750 titles.

DAVE MARSH, Music Writer: The big difference with Wal-Mart is, they are very content-restrictive about what they will and won't carry. But it's the only path you have if what you're after is the kind of success that the big corporations need to drive the pop side of their division.

[meeting at Michael Guido's office]

MATT SORUM, Drums, Velvet Revolver: Today they hit us up with this thing, "Hey, you guys got to make a clean version of the album because there's, you know, 15 explenatives in the first song," you know? And we're, like, "OK." We didn't even know.

DAVID CODIKOW, Manager, Velvet Revolver: But if you make a clean version, again, we'll possibly ship more than 20 percent of what we would otherwise ship if we didn't have a clean version.

MATT SORUM: Twenty percent. Yeah.

DAVID CODIKOW: And in this market, it's about the shipping. It's about making a statement. It's about getting records into retail.

DUFF McKAGAN: So there'll be one record that just goes, "bleeeeep."

[www.pbs.org: More on the Wal-Mart effect]

DAVID GOTTLIEB: You got to figure that in large chunks of the United States, if Wal-Mart's not stocking it, I don't think they're going to be driving 30 miles to find a record store.

[at RCA offices]

Do you have "Slither" in your office?

RCA EXECUTIVE: I have it in my CD player, I believe.

DAVID GOTTLIEB: Oh. We can actually listen in his office, which is much more comfortable than mine. You'll probably want to come in because we play it loud, so we usually close the door.

I think you get a, "OK, prove it to me" look. And when you play it for people, they go, "OK, you did. You proved it to me. I get it. God, that's great! And we were, like, "Yeah."

DANNY GOLDBERG, CEO, Artemis Records: Business during most of the '90s was great, up until when the Internet phenomenon took hold and alternative ways of getting music, including free music, you know, put a big dent in the sales growth.

JEFF LEEDS, Los Angeles Times: That became, really, the unraveling of the business because those digital files became something that you could take off of that disk, send to a friend or a million friends through the Internet. And that's why the business has the problems that it does right now.

MICHAEL "BLUE" WILLIAMS, Manager, OutKast: In my opinion, it's not downloading that's killing us, it's-- we stopped putting out quality music. We stopped giving the public something to believe in. We started just giving them, "Here, take this, take this, take this." And the public caught up to us, and it was like, "Hey, we don't want to take it no more, and we can get it someplace else."

MICHAEL GUIDO: I would submit to you that anybody that has talked to any kid that is a proponent of downloading will say in the first 30 seconds of his defense some kind of a story about how they bought a CD because they liked a song, and they took it home-- and they paid all this money, and they took it home, and when they got home, the rest of the album was junk. So why should they be forced to buy all this junk to get the one song? That's a result of creating a business that only cared about the, quote, "hit" single."

MICHAEL "BLUE" WILLIAMS: My OutKast record is at eight million records right now. Eminem just sold eight million. 50 Cent sold six. Norah Jones sold six. The public will buy good music when you give them good music to buy. And that's what it should be about. We should get back to putting out good music.

NIC HARCOURT, Music Director, KCRW: Los Angeles is a town where a lot of people are stuck in their cars. People want to hear a local radio station. But what we do, which is a little unusual from a lot of other public radio stations, is we also run a lot of contemporary music. We live in a town where there's a lot of influential people, producers, directors of movies, A&R executives of record companies.

LEONARD J. BEER, Hits Magazine: Nic Harcourt can help start a career. It can-- it can help explode a career. I remember when no one wanted to play the first Fiona Apple album, and they thought it was bizarre and weird. And KCRW played it, and the album went to number one in sales in Los Angeles just from them. Again, magic.

NIC HARCOURT: This was where Coldplay did their first ever American performance. Norah Jones-- we were the first people to play Norah Jones anywhere. She performed here, as well, before her record came out.

But in the commercial world, it's a very narrow field of music that comes in. Every week, the guy who's the music director might have 20 or 30 CDs to listen to. And those decisions are, you know, really made on what's-- what needs to be on now because-- what's hot and what's going to be hot. And it's hype.

JOANNA IFRAH, V.P., S-Curve Records: Every publicist goes out there with all these new artists, you know, to be. And they pitch everyone, you know? They pitch-- I mean even Sarah's publicist pitches like, you know, 20 people a day to the same thing. So it's hard. It's really hard to get something. And you've got to hope that you do something that makes them respond more than, I think, just the music.

NIC HARCOURT: Well, you've got to build a story. You've got to have something that you can then, when you pitch me or pitch another guy at a radio station with this artist, you can say, "This artist," you know, "is selling 10,000 records a week," or "This artist is on an ABC radio station," or maybe they're on an MTV or whatever. You take whatever information you have that people will respond to.

LEONARD J. BEER: Well, they need a hit. They need a story. They need a hit. The story helps them become bigger, if they have the hit. You know, Britney Spears gets married for 24 hours and is on the front page of every magazine and newspaper in the world. Then her album gets released. Janet Jackson takes off her clothes on national television, and then her album gets released. Jennifer Lopez gets married, engaged, every other time she has a movie coming out, and she's on the front page of everywhere. So everybody's looking for the story.

NIC HARCOURT: Usually, you have to be able to get airplay on the radio. And if it's somebody like this, who doesn't have a touring fan base and it really does come down to, "I've made this record, can we get somebody to play it on the radio," then she's got to have the right song. Does she have the right song that is going to get played on the radio?

SARAH HUDSON, Singer/Songwriter: The single that we're going with is the most light and fun and fluffy song. So what we're hoping is to put out this single and get, you know, people interested, and then to kind of hit them with, you know, the deeper stuff, to show them, like, I am a real artist. I'm not just, you know, manufactured or kind of put together, that I do actually have something to say.

MATT SORUM, Drums, Velvet Revolver: I think, going into it, we didn't, like, go, "OK, we need to write a song that's going to be on the radio." But we did have an idea that we needed to put a stamp that says contemporary. And, by doing that, we picked a certain producer. Like, we tried a couple producers. We went with a younger producer who's done current record. And we knew that we needed to kind of put the sizzle of whatever that is, the sprinkling of the fairy dust of, like, "This is new." And I think we achieved that.

DUFF McKAGAN, Bass, Velvet Revolver: There might be some skepticism, but the music is going to-- you know, old adage, "The music will do the talking."

NIC HARCOURT: It's too obvious. It's too obvious, isn't it, you know? It's like, "Well, Guns N' Roses were huge and Stone Temple Pilots were huge, so let's put those guys together, and it's going to be huge," you know? And you know, it may well be, but I guess what I'm saying is, like, that's such an old way of thinking. It's so boring. It's so stale. The thinking is just uninspired.

DAVID CROSBY, Singer/Songwriter: "Get me a lead singer. He's got sort of androgynous blond hair, very pretty. We need a guitar player, sort of hatchet-faced, wears a hat, plays very fast, very dramatic. He must be very dramatic. Get me a pound of bass player, a pound of drummer. I don't think he needs keyboards. I think we look good. And we'll call them, "The, mmmmm, Bosco Bombers. No. The Bad Dogs. That's good! I like that!"

And then they sell it. They sell the hell out of it. They spend five hundred thousand dollars a record promoting it. And they make a lot more. But they're making little cardboard cut-outs.

NIC HARCOURT: The inspired thinking would be, "Let's go scour the clubs in," you know, "various cities, and let's find the next Rolling Stones or the next Guns N' Roses. Let's find a band that is doing that now, that is going to speak to their generation." I mean, that's what these guys should be doing. And there are A&R executives out there trying to do that, but they're being, you know, hampered by the directions from up on top, which is, like, "Give me something obvious. I want it now. These guys will do. That's a hit. Let's do it."

DAVID CODIKOW, Manager, Velvet Revolver: It's still all about the kids. If the kids want to request it, it gets played more and more. The more it gets played, the more people buy. The more people buy, the more records they sell. The more records they sell, shazzam, you're a rock star, you know? It's not-- it's not, you know, Euclidian geometry, but it's-- but it definitely can work. And with these guys, you feel that undertow. They made an amazing record. And the radio department already told us they've been playing the single for a lot of people, and they're feeling really good about it. It's much better than not feeling good about it.

JEFF LEEDS, Los Angeles Times: But the radio business in the early '90s had really started to suffer. The broadcast lobby, which is a very powerful lobby in Washington, successfully lobbied Congress to raise the limits on station ownership. And suddenly, a company that once owned, you know, three dozen stations could suddenly own a thousand. And so you just had forces emerge that-- that couldn't have legally existed before because of this change, and that's-- that's really revolutionized the music business.

TOURÉ, Rolling Stone: By any normal standard, it's a monopoly. So instead of having lots of program directors and, you know, maybe the guy in Philadelphia's a little crazy and he'll play a record nobody else would play, and people start hearing it and requesting it, and the record takes off by itself. No more. Clear Channel is in control. If they don't want it played, it doesn't get played.

DAVE MARSH, Music Writer: It's the single narrowest opening into success. There are very, very few-- you know, it is the eye of a needle, you know, where you're trying to squeeze 32,000 records a year through a needle that will accommodate about four or five new ones a week. And most of those are going to go to established performers.

[www.pbs.org: More on radio consolidation]

JOANNA IFRAH, V.P., S-Curve Records: Well, I mean, you know, on a daily basis, I will be getting updates-- for good or for bad. As soon as it starts to play anywhere, you start to-- you know, a few weeks, you start to get some response.

MELINDA NEWMAN, Billboard: The chances of you having a hit are just almost infinitesimal. There are about 30,000 albums released a year. There may be a hundred that are hits, or certified hits.

DAVID GOTTLIEB, V.P. Marketing, RCA Music Group: From what I know, from what I've seen, from the way the marketplace is now, my experience tells me that we're 80 percent of the way of feeling that it's going to be a hit. And the last 20 percent is going to be it getting on the radio and the video being seen and the record eventually getting out there. So it feels right.

LEONARD J. BEER, Hits Magazine: They're going to get a shot on the radio right away. And the music that I've heard so far, I liked a lot. So they're going to get a run. You know, and we hope Scott stays healthy.

MICHAEL GUIDO, Music Attorney: The bad thing that can happen to them is the bad thing that can happen and has happened to a variety of people in music-- drugs, self-destruction, trouble. That is the flip side of the coin. That's the flip side of the danger. Hopefully, because these guys have survived as long as they have and come out the other side, they have within themselves the ability to not self-destruct.

I think that's the case, including the one person that continues to have a problem. He's also kept himself alive for all these years, too, and I believe that he has a safety net within him that's going to keep himself alive. And plus, the music he's making is so important. It's what he does. I think that's what's going to keep him alive, as well.

DAVID GOTTLIEB: The way I feel right now is if everything keeps going along as it is, we're going to have a very successful project, an extremely successful project. But you could talk to me seven weeks from now and one thing may have gone wrong, and I may be not as confident about that. But right now, everything feels very, very solid.

MARK HUDSON, Songwriter: What's going to happen now is, it gets out of her hands. Is she going to get a video? Is the budget going to be big enough and the director going to be good enough that it becomes a video that could make it to the next level, so that when VH1 or MTV looks at it they go, "Wow, isn't that stimulating?"

JOANNA IFRAH: That's the whole sell on Sarah, you know? She's this mainstream artist, and MTV is crazy exposure. If your video is on MTV a few times a day-- I mean, imagine all those kids who watch it every day. It suddenly becomes cool. It becomes the thing to have, that everybody has to know about, the record you have to go buy, you know?

LEONARD J. BEER: MTV is the most powerful force that's probably ever happened in the music business. You know, you can make a star overnight, if they make the right video and if the right magic happens, you know.

TOURÉ: I think you can look at MTV as the most powerful radio station in America, you know, so if you can get 30, 40 spins a week on MTV, it's just as good as getting it on a hundred radio stations in America.

MICHAEL GUIDO: But I think MTV was sort of the beginning of the end for the recorded music business, in that it solidified a mindset that exalted marketing over substance. It made the record industry a one-trick pony. It became only about a three-minute single and a visual image. And if you didn't have the three minutes, you were over.

DAVID CROSBY: It changed it from being about the music to being about what you look like. And that was a terrible blow to music because now you've got all these people who look great and can't write, sing or play. It doesn't matter that Britney Spears has nothing to say and is about as deep as a birdbath.

TOURÉ: In an era where MTV is dominant, you get artists who are visually appealing. So much more is put on how you look, versus just how you sound, which in the music industry does not spell good music.

JOANNA IFRAH: So of course, we need MTV. And what you do is, you hope that you make this unbelievable video. I think the video is, like, going to be a difficult thing. But I think for Sarah, it's going to be such a key role because, again, the visual on Sarah is as important as the music.

[www.pbs.org: More on MTV's effect]

JEFF LEEDS, Los Angeles Times: The odds are against, you know, every new person, every new band, every new singer, every new rapper that comes out because, you know, radio stations are only going to add so many songs a week to their playlists and MTV is going to sort of do the same thing.

LEONARD J. BEER: She's up against that. She's up against everything. And that's why it's so hard. Plus, the record labels only have so much time to spend and so much money to spend on a new artist. And they're looking for one that goes boom. At some point, if she doesn't go boom, she just gets pushed aside. And it's bad and it's hard and it's awful and it's-- the closer you are to anybody that's trying to do this, the more torturous it feels.

ANNOUNCER: Sarah Hudson's first single, "Girl on the Verge," was released to radio on May 3rd. It has not yet appeared on any of Billboard's national radio charts. Velvet Revolver's single, "Slither," has moved to the top of those charts. They are selling out in every city on their current tour of the United States.

 

The Way The Music Died

WRITTEN, PRODUCED AND DIRECTED BY
Michael Kirk

CO-PRODUCER AND REPORTER
Jim Gilmore

EDITOR
Steve Audette

DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY
Ben McCoy

SOUND
Steve Lederer

ASSOCIATE PRODUCERS
Corey Ford
Mike Wiser

PRODUCTION COORDINATOR
Callie Taintor

ONLINE EDITOR
Michael H. Amundson

SOUND MIX
Jim Sullivan

For FRONTLINE

PRODUCTION MANAGER
Tim Mangini

ON AIR PROMOTION
PRODUCER
Missy Frederick

SENIOR EDITOR
Steve Audette

AVID EDITORS
Michael H. Amundson
John MacGibbon
Michael Simollari

POST PRODUCTION
SUPERVISOR
Chris Fournelle

POST PRODUCTION
ASSISTANT
Chetin Chabuk

SERIES MUSIC
Mason Daring
Martin Brody

COMMUNICATIONS
MANAGER
Erin Martin Kane

SENIOR PUBLICIST
Christopher Kelly

PUBLICIST
Jessica Smith

PROMOTION WRITER
Jennifer McCauley

PROMOTION DESIGNER
Dennis O'Reilly

ASSOCIATE PUBLICIST
Jenna Lowe

FOUNDATION GRANT MANAGER
Jessica Cashdan

SECRETARY
Robert Chung

ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT
Danielle Gillis

COMPLIANCE MANAGER
Lisa Palone-Clarke

LEGAL
Eric Brass
Jay Fialkov

CONTRACTS MANAGER
Adrienne Armor

UNIT MANAGER
Mary Sullivan

BUSINESS MANAGER
Tobee Phipps

WEBSITE EDITORIAL ASSISTANTS
Kate Cohen

WEBSITE PRODUCER
Sarah Moughty

WEBSITE PRODUCER/
DESIGNER
Sam Bailey

EDITORIAL RESEARCHER
Catherine Wright

COORDINATING PRODUCER
Robin Parmelee

SERIES EDITOR
Ken Dornstein

SENIOR PRODUCER
SPECIAL PROJECTS
Sharon Tiller

EXECUTIVE PRODUCER
SPECIAL PROJECTS
Michael Sullivan

EDITORIAL DIRECTOR
Marrie Campbell

SERIES MANAGER
Jim Bracciale

EXECUTIVE EDITOR
Louis Wiley Jr.

EXECUTIVE PRODUCER
David Fanning

A FRONTLINE Co-Production with Kirk Documentary Group, Ltd.

(c) 2004
WGBH EDUCATIONAL FOUNDATION
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

FRONTLINE is a production of WGBH Boston, which is solely responsible for its content.

 

FRONTLINE's report continues on its Web site, where you can explore extended interviews with music artists, industry insiders and others, further analysis of the crisis that's hit the record business and led to the loss of billions of dollars and thousands of jobs, a closer look at the music industry's future, plus streaming video of the full program and more. Then join the discussion at pbs.org.

 

Next time on FRONTLINE: The client--

JOE JACOBONI, Entrepreneur:   I trusted one of the largest accounting firms in the world.

ANNOUNCER: --the pitch--

JOE JACOBONI: They told me this was a bulletproof deal.

ANNOUNCER: --the firm--

MIKE HAMERSLEY, Former KPMG Tax Attorney: The penalties paled in comparison to the revenues that would be generated by this tax shelter.

ANNOUNCER: --the payoff--

EXPERT: They can create these products for thousands of dollars and sell them for millions.

ANNOUNCER: --the problem--

BOB McINTYRE, Dir., Inst. on Taxation and Economic Policy: Corporations saved billions in taxes, and the rest of us are picking up the tab for it.

ANNOUNCER: Tax Me If You Can next time on FRONTLINE.

To order FRONTLINE's The Way the Music Died on videocassette or DVD, call PBS Home Video at 1-800-PLAY PBS. [$29.98 plus s&h]

 

Support for FRONTLINE is provided by U.S. News & World Report.

Trust. For over 70 years, a commitment to playing it straight, getting it right. U.S. News & World Report. Trust matters.

FRONTLINE is made possible by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.

 

home · introduction · artists' stories · interviews · perfect storm · inside the music business
poll: how do you get your music? · discussion · producer's chat · press reaction · tapes & transcripts
credits · privacy policy · FRONTLINE home · wgbh · pbsi

posted june 8, 2004

FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of wgbh educational foundation.
headphone photo copyright © corbis
web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation

 

SUPPORT PROVIDED BY

FRONTLINE on

ShopPBS