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interviews: david gottlieb
If you're launching a large-scale release like a Velvet Revolver, if it didn't start the way you wanted it to, you're going to know in two months whether or not it's going to turn around.

… Give me a snapshot of [the music business when you first started.] Was it an up time, a down time?

It was an up time. It was the end of the '80s. It was probably two-thirds, three-quarters of the way through some really amazing growth that had started in about '82 or '83. It was the moment when record companies, who had always been part of bigger corporations, but had always really been bastard children in those corporations -- they were just this entity that was kind of sexy, but nobody knew how it operated, and as long as it generated profit, OK. And to the late '80s, when it was something that people looked at as -- you know, I think they envisioned technology moving ahead, and more importantly, corporations looked at it and said, "Wow, that's a business you can get a lot of cash from quickly." Because we're a liquid business. We're a business that's about cash transactions. That's how the company is operated.

And so it was certainly a very exciting time. I think the year or two after I started working at the record label, as an industry, we put out 6,000 releases. I think last year it was about 35,000. So in 12, 14 years, it expanded 600 percent. The marketplace didn't expand 600 percent, just what we threw out into the marketplace. So it was exciting. It was very different. As a record company, you turned a profit at a lot lower level. You didn't spend what you spend now. Your return was easier to gauge. And you could actually develop artists over the course of two, three, four, maybe five albums, which doesn't happen at all now. Never. And that's what made it exciting.

There were simple, different genres of music. Whereas now I think if you look at a genre of music, there's three or four sub-genres within that genre. The marketplace, in that sense, is more fragmented.

Why did all the things that have happened in the music business happen in the music business?

I think a number of things. I think human nature of that almost 15-year cycle of upward success. I think a lot of people that ran record companies viewed themselves [as] more important than the artists. So I think there's a dichotomy of kind of a have/have nots mentality of who's really supposed to be steering the boat, whether it's the art that you're marketing and giving to the public, or whether it's the people who choose the art. I think that's one reason why that difference in the '90s, of going from releasing a small amount of records to everybody wanting to have a record label and own a record label and put out records, putting out 36,000 albums -- just because there's 200 channels available to you on your satellite dish doesn't mean that it's better. It just means that it's more. So I think that impacted the quality of the music over time, especially in the 90s. ...

photo of gottlieb

David Gottlieb was a senior vice president of marketing and artist development at RCA Music Group until late March 2003. In this interview, he describes how the music industry has grown since he entered it in the 1980s. "I think the year or two after I started working at the record label, as an industry, we put out 6,000 releases," he recalls. "I think last year it was about 35,000. So in 12, 14 years, it expanded 600 percent. The marketplace didn't expand 600 percent, just what we threw out into the marketplace." Gottlieb explains the challenges of trying to market Velvet Revolver in this changed landscape and the stakes for RCA in trying to make the band a success. He also describes the lengths to which RCA is going to keep Velvet Revolver's music from being illegally put on the Internet. This transcript is drawn from two interviews, conducted on March 3 and May 7, 2004.

And I think in the late '90s, the music business got into a habit of putting out inferior records, and charging $15 for them. People would get them, and find that there was only one good song. And at the end of the day, any form of successful art that transfers commercially has got to be great. It's got to be identifiable as great.

… When you arrived, how important was MTV in this business?

MTV was huge. I mean, it was probably still number two to radio, only because at the time, in the late '80s, early '90s, you could break a record from radio, without ever having MTV. That's not really as possible now. And that speaks as much to the way radio operated 15 years ago to the way it operates today.

But MTV was literally neck and neck with radio, and if you got a video on MTV, it was cause for big celebration. It defined that you had a cool artist, or a cool project, at that time. It was frustrating when you had something on MTV and it didn't click with the consumer, and it didn't click with the public. And that happened. That happened all the time.

If the definition of cool was MTV, did that also control who made records, who made videos?

Absolutely. As much as I think the music business wants to think of itself as being on the cusp and being leaders, the minute there's one thing that's successful, it's amazing how quickly we try to recreate that in 10 different colors. And that's a perfect example. If MTV is playing pop music, you're making videos for pop bands. You're not making videos for rock bands. If MTV is playing hip-hop and rap and R&B like they are now, you have to really think about whether it's worthwhile to invest in making a video for a rock band.

And, you know, in MTV's defense, they're playing what they believe their viewers want, and what their viewers tell them they want. And it's worked well for them for 20 years now, 20-plus years. …

Is it different to pitch MTV than radio stations?

Not on a base level. I think the only difference is that at the end of the day, you can work radio to a point from a regional basis, meaning, "Hey, I have a band coming to Detroit, and they sold out St. Andrews." That means something to the marketplace. You can't really say that to MTV. MTV wants to know what your national radio picture is. They want to know what your national press picture is. And they want to know what the artist is going to do to weave themselves into the fabric of MTV and what MTV programs.


Meaning, MTV has half a dozen special events they do every year, from the "Movie Awards" to the "Video Music Awards" to "Spring Break" to whatever. And if you have an artist that's on the acceleration tip, they're going to ask for that artist to participate in something, which may not be comfortable for that artist, but MTV is kind of like, "Well, do they want to be on MTV? Because if they want to be on MTV, it's not just about their video being played on MTV. It's about them being part of the things that MTV identifies as important parts of their programming." …

Can it make a hit?

Doing those sorts of things? Absolutely, absolutely.

Let's talk a little bit about this new band, Velvet Revolver. Tell me about how you first heard of these guys, what happened, how they found themselves coming to this label, what was up with Clive [Davis].

I don't know the full back story but I know good parts of it. The musicians in Velvet Revolver are three-quarters of the musicians who were in Guns N' Roses, who were one of the biggest bands between 1987 and '94, probably the biggest rock band in the world at the time. So here's four musicians who are hungry, and looking to create fresh, unique, contemporary, competitive music. And they were looking for a singer. They actually went through an extremely exhausting nine-month process, 10-month process of trying to find a singer.

Through mutual friends, they hooked up with Scott Weiland from Stone Temple Pilots, and they clicked. They wrote one song, and then they wrote two songs, and they started working together more. I think in this case, because you were dealing with two already established artists, that for them to be able to get the attention of the record industry was not a difficult thing. They had the resources to find managers, and to take music to record labels and say, "This is where we want to go." I know that when they first played music for us, we were interested, but wanted to see where it was going to go. And after the band wrote quite a few songs together, and started to play it for people, you could identify that there was something special going on. I think that's about the time that Clive Davis got in, and said, "This is something we need to be involved with."

And since then, I think the band has really gelled into a band. And when you do this for a long time, you know when that je ne sais quoi exists, and when it doesn't. And this is one of those cases where it does. And when you first hear about it, given these two artists' histories, there's immediate cause for skepticism.


Well, Guns N' Roses has basically been out of the mix for almost 10 years. And because of the other half of Guns N' Roses, the Axl Rose half, a brand that was once indestructible is now like a beat-up garbage can on the street, because it's not the same thing. So, there's immediate skepticism about what guys who were great at this 15 years ago, what they can contribute now. And you combine it with Scott Weiland, who was in Stone Temple Pilots and was at the top of the world, but has also lived a roller coaster, both professionally and personally.

So there's immediately people going, "Well, how can it be relevant in 2004?" And the positive that comes out of all that is, at the end of the day, they're musicians. They create art. And when they created it, you went, "Wow. That's how." Because they made a record that, the minute you listen to it, you say, "This is dynamic. This is different. This is special." You can tell. And as much as you feel it, when you start playing it for people who are as skeptical, or not as expectant of it being good, and they have the same reaction, you know that it's absolutely on.

It's a funny thing. It's like it cuts both ways that they are who they are. On the one level, they get attention when they raise their hand and say, "We'd like to do it again," everybody says, "That's kind of a cool idea." On another level, some people we've interviewed say, "Come on, it's a hybrid. It's a genetically-engineered band, and the critics are going to kill them."

Absolutely right. And those are the things that we have to think about as we market and present the band to the general public. And how do you make it so that people don't think that they're a genetically-created band? Because they're not. They knew each other.

It's funny. If they were two unknown bands who lived in L.A. and had never had success, and they got together and created this, people would be going, "Wow, this is unbelievable." But because there is a history, it's great … but it's also not great, because people go, "Well, but it's not real." But it is real.

I think for the most part, most rock bands tend to be real. Most successful music tends to be real -- rock bands, hip-hop bands, pop artists. There's enough of a reality that otherwise, it wouldn't come through. I think the general public now is way too savvy, media-washed, that they know when something's real.

What kind of stakes are there for RCA in pushing this band forward?

There's a lot of stakes. I mean, obviously, there's the financial ones, because winning the competition to be able to release a record like Velvet Revolver isn't an inexpensive endeavor, even in this environment. You're betting that the return, based on the musical potential, is going to make that investment worthwhile. And if you're successful at it, it's a magnet to continue attracting other fantastic artists, whether they're new or whether they're established and looking for new homes. It gives you a nice big gold star, that you've been able to create a place for something with this artist that people might not have expected or anticipated or believed could have happened. …

Of the 65,000 records that will go out this year, what are you guys going to do to give some juice to Velvet Revolver? What actually is the plan?

Well, the first plan is to get people to hear the music. We've been spending about the last two months telling people what Velvet Revolver is, and who they are, and preparing our work and packaging, and things like that. While we're doing that, we're telling key taste-makers, key media people. We're playing them the record, because they're involved in the process of this with every artist. They're the skeptics. They're the people who are doling out the first report card. And we're completely confident that playing them the music, they go, "Wow, this is important. This is worth waving a flag about, or talking about, or devoting coverage to." So that's the first step, and that's usually the first step with almost anything.

The next thing we have to do after that is we have to show that they aren't a manufactured band, that they are real. And that's going to happen by touring. In about six or eight weeks time, the band is going to go out on the road. I think people are going to be curious to see what they're like, and they're going to probably be blown away when they see Velvet Revolver step onstage.

And in the course of doing all that, it's in the imaging that we put out, you know, what the album artwork looks like, what the video will look like, the song that you pick to take to radio for the first single, how their story is presented by the press. The band's already been doing interviews for two months, so when stuff starts coming out about them in early May and June, it's stuff that people read and go, "Okay, I want to know more." It's doing all those things. It's figuring out how to take them overseas, and garner success there. Because Guns N' Roses, obviously, biggest rock band in the world. There's an upside to doing that. And there's a market there that's fairly untapped and unfed at the moment, outside the U.S. That's a huge place for us to succeed, and for the band to succeed.

So we have to be conscious that they're two bands, that they're the melding of two artists, and bands that have had success and have had a lot of success. So we have to figure out how to find their audience that maybe may not be the most active music audience at the moment, because they're rarely stimulated. And at the same time, we have to get kids. We have to get people who are under the age of 24, and under the age of 20, that maybe they know the name Guns N' Roses. Maybe they know the name Stone Temple Pilots. But that doesn't really matter, because we want them to know the name Velvet Revolver, that they'll learn about the other two by liking this. And that's interesting, because we rarely have to market on that level.

You're going 35 and older, and 25 and younger.


Help me with the economics of the marketing of Velvet Revolver.

It will be expensive. It will cost us $2 million for the first six months of the project, strictly in marketing.

How do you spend that?

It's a combination of video, video production costs, promotion at radio, advertising, especially retail advertising at record stores, any type of record store, whether it's Wal-Mart or Best Buy or Virgin, or the small mom-and-pop shop. All of that will require a monetary advertising investment on our part, which is one of the biggest differences between now and 12 years ago. It used to be maybe it would fall between number five and 10 on your expenditure list, and now it's generally one or two. That's just marketing. That's not counting whatever the cost of making the record is.


Because of the way that record retailers operate in this day and age. The Tower Records, the Virgin, the Sam Goodys of the world, those stores are having an impossible time trying to survive. So if you want a record on sale there, you pay to be involved in their external advertising campaigns and in-store advertising campaigns, which are extremely pricey. And when you're talking about certain mall stores, that's what helps them cover their margin and pay the rent, is the record labels putting that kind of money in.

For the big stores -- the Best Buys, the Targets, the Wal-Marts -- who are the bulk of our business -- those three accounts alone are 50 percent of our sales -- we're nothing to them. There's a great stat that music is one-tenth of 1 percent of all of Wal-Mart's gross revenues. So we're the smallest tadpole in the Wal-Mart pond, yet they're the most important thing in the world to us. And Best Buy is not much different. I think we're 3 to 5 percent of their overall revenue.

So if music disappeared out of some of these stores, they're not really going to feel it. But if we disappeared out of their stores, we would feel it. So that's why that dynamic exists.

These guys were sitting in a meeting that we shot, some of the Velvet Revolver guys, and they said that they had heard that day that because of Wal-Mart and Best Buy, they had to have clean versions of their songs. And they were all looking at each other like, "a clean version of one of our songs?" What are the implications of that?

The implications are you won't be in Wal-Mart. And you potentially could not be in Best Buy. But if the band didn't create a clean version, an edited version of the album, you could walk into a Wal-Mart and not be able to buy a Velvet Revolver record. And then, you've got to figure that in large chunks of the United States, the only place that a kid, somebody who's 20 years old, and maybe at the community college or not in college at all, just working, or the person who's over 30 and has a 9-to-5 day job but wants a great rock record, the only place they can buy a record is Wal-Mart. That's the only place they can buy a CD. And if Wal-Mart's not stocking it, I don't think they're going to be driving 30 miles to find a record store. …

And 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. And they are carrying maybe 600 titles at a time, 700 titles at a time.

Out of the 60,000--

Out of the 30,000 records that get released every year, they probably have 750 titles.

How do they decide?

They decide based on what's going to sell.

Who knows that?

They have a good gauge. They have a good idea. You know, Wal-Mart looks at the radio charts a lot, and sees what's on the radio. They play very close attention. A lot of times, you're not selling your record in huge chunks at Wal-Mart until you're two or three months into the project and a song is exploding on Top 40 radio. Wal-Mart is really only your biggest contributor market share-wise first week, if you're a country artist or a well-established pop artist, like a Christina or a Britney or a Justin or something. Otherwise, if you're a rock band or another type of artist that's developing, you're not feeling Wal-Mart until three to six months into the project.

Are you worried you won't get Wal-Mart?

On Velvet Revolver? No. No. Not at all.

And that's why Velvet Revolver if there is such a thing as a nearly sure, that is a sure bet.

Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. That's one of the extra things that makes it exciting to market it. Because you have enough knowledge to know where to start. And that kind of makes the field wide open for you, as opposed to some brand new artist or developing artist, where sometimes the hardest thing is figuring out where you're going to start from, and then surveying the field and saying, "Can I actually go there with that?" With Velvet Revolver, you know where you can go.

And where can you go?

You know, you can go anywhere. I mean, we look at the Velvet Revolver audience as being 12-, 14-year-old kids, on up to 40, 45 -- people who, 10, 15 years ago were at every hard rock/heavy metal concert, to kids now who are probably just dying for a great rock band in the classic, timeless sense of what a great rock band is.

How do you get airplay for a rock band nowadays? Radio is basically Clear Channel, Cox, and Infinity. It's three formats, nationwide. Is there room for a rock band on the radio?

Yeah. I mean, Clear Channel and Cox and Infinity, they all have X number of stations that handle just certain formats or genres of music, be it R&B or pop or rock. Infinity is extremely strong in the modern rock market, where we're going to live. Clear Channel is strong there. They're also strong in the rock market. So going to radio is a very rote thing, in that we know how to do that. There's a pretty standard science and checklist of how to do it. So that's a known entity. It's more how you're going to create opportunities at radio, and seize the opportunities you get with radio to exploit and market something like Velvet Revolver.

What does that mean?

A lot of radio stations do big festivals two or three times a year, and it's important that you have the artist playing at those a lot of times. The places where Infinity and Clear Channel approach you from a national level is if you have an artist like Velvet Revolver that's going to be an instant addition to the playlist, and they want you to invest in some of the on-air programs that they have, that they think is going to help you sell records.

So you have to look at those things, and you have to monitor those. And you kind of have to make sure that you're choosing the right thing for your financial investment, that you're going to get return, and that it's going to also solidify and reinforce the airplay that you're getting and hope to get. It's about building relationships, partnerships.

How involved are the guys from Velvet Revolver? We heard them talking about, "It's going to be this very cool video, and we ask for it to be this and that. It's really cool cover art. It's really cool this and that." Are these guys, who are professionals now, are they sticking their noses in a lot of marketing side of it?

They are most involved when it has to do with how they're presented, meaning the video, meaning the artwork and packaging, meaning when they go on the road. When it comes to creating what poster might go up in the store, we're creating an image that they've already endorsed. When it comes to how one of our guys walks it into a radio station, the Velvet Revolver guys really aren't involved in that. The best thing that they do is they explain to people like me what the music's about, and how they got to where they got, so that that becomes part of our story and presentation to radio or to MTV or the press. …

How important to RCA is it for Velvet Revolver to be [a hit]?

It's very important. It's very important. 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.

Out of how many releases?

We'll put out 15 to 20 records this year.

How will you know? What do you look for? Do you know before the single is dropped whether these guys are going to be a hit or not?

In the case of Velvet Revolver, no. 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. You really can't judge it being a hit, so to speak, probably until you're about two or three weeks from the record being in the store.

That's when you just kind of have the feel or the vibe for it. And what's giving you that is how radio is doing, how MTV has reacted to the video, how the rest of the world and the press are reacting, and how many records you're shipping out to record stores, because that tells you too. Internet activity, all of it. You get a sense and a feeling.

When do you know if it's a dud? When do you really give up on it?

Well, you don't tend to give up on records until you're probably six or nine months into working the project, and you haven't gotten the right sparks. If you're launching a large-scale release like a Velvet Revolver, if it didn't start the way you wanted it to, you're going to know in two months whether or not it's going to turn around. …

How do you keep the kids from stealing the record?

We have developed our methods over the last four years. We have figured out ways. We're extremely cautious and protective about any advance music that we send out. It generally has to be in some pretty secure hands. There's technologies out there that allow us to trace a CD if it gets put on the Internet.


Watermarks, which we utilize. You can limit the number of times a CD can get copied, or if it can be turned into a file on a computer that can be shared somewhere. So we utilize that. And we have some other measures that we use in case there's a hole in one of those. And we've already been on that one, and it's -- what's the best way to describe it? We confuse the downloader.

What do you mean?

We confuse the downloader into thinking they're getting something that perhaps they're not.

This is spoofing?


What is spoofing?

If you were to go on the Internet tonight, you could probably find files for all of the Velvet Revolver song titles. Whether or not they'd be the actual Velvet Revolver songs, you'd have to find out for yourself.

What would they be if they weren't?

If they weren't? Some other sort of computer file, non-harmful computer file.

But not something I really want.


Will it hurt me?

Only if you probably have the volume on, like, 12, and go to play it.

But of course, once the CD is for sale?

Yeah, but, you know, the fact that there may be a number of other files already out there, it may be too hard for somebody to wade through the morass of seaweed to find the one gem. … [We've] got to protect ourselves somehow. We only own the copyright. We only own the master recording.

Does it feel like a war in that sense?

I don't want to say it's a war, because I'm one of the few people in the record business that I don't think downloading is a cause of our problems. I think it's an effect. I think our problems were not putting out great music, charging too much money for it.

You know, the year that Napster was at its peak, so were we. I think people were using Napster and other file-sharing sites like that as listening stations, as a place to test whether they like something, the same way you might read four different reviews of a movie before you decide to go see it, the same way that now I think the Apple iTunes store is serving us. People are downloading a couple of tracks for 99 cents, and they're like, "OK, I'll go buy the whole physical piece."

But we kind of reacted to Napster in the wrong way and the people that we really nailed with that was that generation of people between 15 and 25, who was a new generation of computer-savvy, literate, technology-driven kids who maybe didn't have all that much money. Whatever the Internet boom was doing, they still were stepping out in the real world, and may not have had that much disposable income. And we shut down their filter. … So I don't want to say that what we're doing now is a war. I think what we're doing now is protecting our territory. …

» Second Interview, May 7, 2004

What's the buzz on Velvet Revolver? What's going on?

It's very strong right now. The record is, after about four weeks, is already top five on the alternative modern rock radio charts. It's top five on the regular active rock radio charts. Those are the two types of radio formats that play rock music. Which means the record is doing outstanding, for it to have that kind of growth in a one-month period of time. That literally puts it in the superstar echelon of artists, despite the fact that this is, for all intents and purposes, a new band.

They're going on a tour that starts in about two weeks. Going to 14 cities across the country, and they're playing 2,000- to 3,000-seat venues and they've sold them all out. Generally in about 10 minutes time they sold all the tickets, which shows there's a real pent-up demand for the record and the group and that the marketing efforts that put in, and the word of mouth has gotten out there. And that people were excited when they heard the song, and are interested in seeing us live.

So what's really sort of at the core of this? Is it their name, is it the one song, is it really great promotional? Why is the buzz so good right now?

I think the first thing is it's the names of who's involved. And I think the second thing is a real desire and curiosity from people to experience what this might be. And then I think the third thing is that the song just backs it all up. The song comes on the radio, and I'm guessing that the regular consumer immediately feels an identification and attachment to it. When I've heard it on the radio it sounds fresh and it sounds like it belongs. And it's the business thing of, it just feels right, and feels like a hit.

So I think it's all those things. The promotional effort is what it is, but it also means that we got the word out to people, that we let them know who Velvet Revolver actually is.

In just very specific terms, for the novice out there that doesn't understand this, how many cities, how much play, what do these numbers mean?

In a given week, there's going to between 2,500 and 3,000 spins of the record across the country. You're probably talking about 150 cities across the country. Probably the heaviest airplay is going to be about 25 to 30 times a week on any one given radio station. So that's the numbers that you're talking about. You're talking about a measured audience reach of about 15 to 20 million. But, you know, that's measured by Arbitron so you knock it down a little bit, and adjust for the statistical qualities to it. But that's how many people you're informing. And good marketing people will kind of say, "Okay if I can reach 10 percent of those 15 million, I'm in great shape." Right now all those signs are there. …

Money-wise, what's this mean to the label?

Well, right now the initial shipments that are going to be in store in June is going to be over 600,000. So that's going to be an immediate top-line revenue shot of about $6 or $7 million dollars. Take away what you pay the band and what you spent marketing, and it's probably going to create an instant profit situation for the record label.

People are smiling.

Yeah. And combine overseas sales, and the smile probably shows some teeth.

What's it mean to the group, money-wise?

What it means to the group money-wise is going to be more on the ancillary side, on touring income, merchandising income, and how they can fuel that. The way the record company contracts are built, the group's gotten their advance, and now a lot of those sales go against the advance that's gone out. Throw in the video and other expenses that record companies charge back to artists, and it'll take awhile before the group sees a check from the record company again.

Downloading. We talked a little bit about this last time and you gave me your opinion, but give me the record company's opinion of downloading. Why are they so nuts on illegal downloading?

Because in essence technology has allowed for music to become free in the minds of a lot of consumers. So the record companies have the right thought. If somebody's giving out free bread on the street you're only going to take it if it's fresh, but you don't get to walk into the bakery and just take it out of the bin. You've got to pay for it.

I think the record company worries that it just devalues music. Which it does. But the record companies don't do a very good job of announcing it in that fashion. They make it seem more like the average Joe is a crook for stealing it. … And the reason I say "devalue music" is because you don't want a whole generation of people growing up thinking that music is just free. That it just is out there.

And, you know, again, the music industry isn't filled with Rhodes Scholars, so at many different points along the way in the music business, whether it's giving free records to radio, giving videos to MTV for free, the record business has always given away stuff for free. This time they're not in control, so it's harder to accept that somebody has taken the control and is taking the music.

We talked to somebody last night who said, but the other side of it is, you know, you go into a supermarket and they're giving away free cheese, and everybody tries the free cheese. Most people don't buy the cheese, but then again you get a good percentage who do, and so therefore it makes sense. It's a way of going about it. But the record industry doesn't see it that way. They're very intense about this. Why are they so intense?

Well, I guess the difference is that if you're giving away a piece of free cheese at the supermarket, you're giving away a piece. The way that illegal downloading works, you can take the whole block of cheese. And if the cheese industry was giving away blocks of cheese for free, there wouldn't be a cheese industry. The dairy industry would be drastically different.

So one song may not seem like much, but it's the tip of the iceberg. And the smallest crack can create the biggest flood. And on some levels that happened, but I mean it wasn't, you know, it wasn't a biblical type flood. But it was halfway there. …

The industry and sort of the paranoia of the industry at this point -- how great is it? Is there an attitude within the hallways of the major record labels, of trying to keep your head down so you don't get noticed by the bean counters, because of fears that you're going to be out the door?

You know, I'm sure that if you're in a middle management position at a record company, there is a definitely a tenuous feeling about how secure your job is at the moment. And having been in a lot of record company hallways recently, there's not many people smiling. And that's sad because most people get into the record business because they love music and it's a fun place to work, a fun industry to work in.

But it's difficult right now, and I think it's difficult because those people in the middle who are the ones who put their head down and fight in the trenches everyday, so to speak. They're not really being given information or vision as to where any of these major labels want to go.

And I think that's where the paranoia stems from, is that there's no leadership in the industry right now that's saying, "We need to go march in this direction, and if we do we're going to find our grail."

Why is that?

There's two reasons. All the record labels are controlled by major corporations now, which they weren't 15-20 years ago, or they weren't in the same way. So that's the first reason, because that immediately changes you. When you're caring about Wall Street quarterly earnings and stock prices and stuff, that's not how the music business was created. And it's hard to sustain that sort of thing when you're dealing with an artistic medium that you're trying to sell.

The other problem is most of the people who run the record companies have been around for so long, in some cases 40 years, 45 years, they don't really want to give up their throne. Having a succession plan isn't on their list. Coca Cola meets and they try to figure out what their succession plan is going to be. McDonald's meets, they try to figure out what their plan is going to be.

Doesn't really happen in record companies. It's a business of personal business between the label and the artist. People that are up there are vain and strong and have personalities and characters. And they want to stay where they are. They're happy. They're not going to do something else at this point in their career. …

Lastly, consolidation of radio. The playlists we talked about a little bit. Has that hurt the industry? I mean has that killed off the ability of new artists? What has been the overall effect?

I think it's hurt. I'm not going to say killed. But it's certainly harmed it because I think it's made the consumer, the radio listener, numb and unaware of what might be out there. Because you can talk to people and say, "Okay do you listen to radio?" And they're like, "Yeah, but they just play the same songs." And then you kind of say, "Well, what do you do to change that? And they're like, "Well what do you mean?" "Do you ever call them up and tell them to play some cool record that you found? A cool artist, or if they call you to research songs, do you like really take notice of it? What do you do to make it so that they don't play the same songs?"

And that's the thing, it's made the consumer, the listener lazy for the most part. And that's how they get numb, and they just accept it.

But has it made the record industry lazy?

Well, yeah, of course. Because you know, the record industry still relies on radio mostly to have the biggest exposure and broadest appeal for a record. And that can make the industry lazy marketers, and that can limit how an artist gets exposed.

You know one of the reasons for "American Idol"'s success is it bypassed radio. And radio is more forced to deal with "American Idol" because it's a cultural phenomenon. And, you know, I think if most of the "American Idol" winners had been just randomly signed as artists, found and signed and records produced, I don't think you'd see them having the success they have. I don't think you'd see them having one-tenth of the success they've had.

Radio's a medium but it's no longer the platform it used to be. Part of that's technology and the way the world's changed, and we as human beings have changed from 15-20 years ago, but part of that is radio's reaction to it. Which has been, you know, it's not just the consolidation of the industry, it's the way they view they need to program.

What is it? A lot of people say it's just completely wrongheaded. The fact is, you've got these 150 or 300 songs or whatever the hell gets played all everywhere, and you don't have some disc jockey in Philadelphia who finds something and makes it, plays it, and it just grows and that's the birth of this new phenomenon. They're hurting themselves in a way. I mean why hasn't the record industry revolted against that?

Because I don't think they know how. I don't think the record industry knows how to revolt against radio because it relies on it so bad. I mean radio over the last 10 years has completely adopted the attitude that they're not around to play music, they're around to sell advertising. That's what drives them. And they've narrowed it down so that they play the music that they think is going to appeal to the people who are going to react to their advertisers. …

So, you know, hopefully radio adapts and morphs into something. It certainly doesn't feel like it's going to right now. But if the record companies truly want to survive they need to find other ways to establish artists. And there are those out there that get through it without radio, and without MTV, and have successful careers.

And there's a lot that don't.

And there's a lot that don't. …


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posted may 27, 2004

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