It’s an entrepreneurial business.
Remember when Matsushita bought MCA? They left David Geffen out of the loop, despite his huge stockholdings. Because Geffen plays by his own rules, he could cock up a deal, make it turn out in his favor. Best to leave wildcatters out of corporate business.
The same goes for Irving Azoff.
To think Irving Azoff could work for a public company is to believe Kim Kardashian could marry a white guy. He doesn’t believe in any controls that he doesn’t impose upon others. That’s what the Front Line rollup was about to begin with. It may be hard to recollect, but there was a time, at the turn of the last decade, that the major labels held all the power in the music business (and if you still believe that, you work for one!) Irving would call them and ask for something and some lawyer would refuse, saying it was “corporate policy.” It was then that Irving decided to gather all the artists and tell the labels that they had their own policy. Then the record companies failed and the artists gained all the power. Musical artists have more power than ever since the Beatles, if you don’t believe this you’re never going to make it, you’re too busy looking for a sugar daddy, someone to tell you what to do. But today you make your own decisions. And you want someone in your corner to advise you. And that’s Irving Azoff.
A better artist representative has never existed. Acts don’t leave Irving, even though every once in a while he fires one. Because Irving extracts what no one else can. And if you look up the word “loyalty” you see his picture. If you’re on his team, Irving will do anything for you, literally anything, even carry your dope. Ask him to tell you that story, how he was willing to take the fall for…
But a guy like that can’t work for the man.
Could Steve Jobs work for the man?
No, he got fired.
If you haven’t been fired by the man, or walked in frustration, then you’re not an entrepreneur. An entrepreneur makes things happen. A corporate citizen plays politics, wins for himself, not others. Whereas when an entrepreneur wins, cash rains down on many.
So Irving had fourteen months left on his contract, had no intention of renewing and didn’t want to be a lame duck. So he ankled Live Nation. Why now? THE FISCAL CLIFF! And everybody’s happy. He walks with twenty acts, the ones you think, but his goal is not to stick it in the side of Live Nation but to do something new. To go back to his natural skill. Of artist representation.
But you may have heard that the music business is challenged.
So Irving’s not limiting himself to music, but is kicking the tires at sports, fashion, tech…
But what about power?
It all comes down to contacts. And the only person with a better rolodex than Irving Azoff is Barack Obama.
So where does this leave us?
With a whole new music business.
The progenitors, those who constructed the modern music business, they’re gone. Not even Doug Morris was there at the beginning. As for Lucian Grainge and Jimmy Iovine… Business was booming when they got in. Whereas Irving Azoff got started representing WLS deejays and dealing with Morris Levy
Michael Rapino is forty four. He’s the last man standing at Live Nation. Everybody else walked or was killed. It’s his company to run. And he’s not beholden to the past, he can’t remember it because he wasn’t there.
Over at AEG… Irving gave Randy Phillips his job.
So what happens now?
You take over.
You young ‘uns who are Internet savvy who don’t even remember when MTV played videos. It’s your sandbox. Record at home, distribute online and ignore the old farts lamenting the way it used to be, those days are never coming back.
Music has been a second class citizen for this entire decade. Sure, it was the canary in the coal mine for technology, but it’s become a football kicked around by fat cats and is peopled by lowest common denominator denizens. Music can’t drive the culture, because the people in it know little about data and think that you win through intimidation.
No, you win through ideas.
That’s what songs are.
One great one can change the world.
Rihanna can’t change the world. There’s no there there. Hell, Kendrick Lamar sold more albums in the first week and he didn’t even have a radio hit!
And if you write a great song, Live Nation and AEG are there to write you a big check to perform live.
But music will only really count when it recaptures the ethos of Irving Azoff. Isn’t it interesting that the most powerful person in music can’t work for the man and everybody in the business is looking to sell out to the man! You can’t go anywhere without someone talking about a payment from the Fortune 500 or a TV network or…
Music must stand by itself. The acts must be beholden to no one but themselves.
Irving’s been unleashed. Will he re-emerge as the most powerful person in the media landscape, will he become a household name, or will he retire with his riches like David Geffen or be an almost powerless blowhard like Barry Diller who owns a ragtag bunch of almost worthless companies but has the dying press at his beck and call?
I don’t know.
But nature abhors a vacuum. Someone always comes in to fill the space.
It’s not Lyor Cohen. What he did best was extract money from others. He’s not a builder, he’s a stealer.
Nor Jimmy Iovine, who doesn’t have the balls to walk from Interscope, despite building Beats. I mean if he’s so good at signing and breaking talent why does he need Universal again? Isn’t that like someone too afraid to leave Microsoft?
The future of entertainment is not selling out. Art is not widgets. It makes people uncomfortable, angry, it’s frequently banned. But art always emerges triumphant. It’s no different from Warner caving to pressure and getting rid of Interscope and Death Row. Rap only went on to become more successful! The man never understands the game.
Everything’s intertwined now. From music to the Internet to mobile handsets to politics. Without the shenanigans in D.C., Irving’s exit never would have happened today.
Can you manage all this data? Can you be emotional in your art but cold-hearted in your business? Can you forget the past and look to the future?
That’s what Irving Azoff did today.
Look to him for direction.