Warren Defends Swift

 

I don’t think Elizabeth Warren is fully-informed here. This is not an LBO, but an investment. Then again, the Carlyle Group benefits from the carried interest rule and…

Private equity is gobbling up Hollywood. Especially in the talent agent sphere. The big three? TPG is the majority owner of CAA. UTA sold shares to Investcorp and PSP. As for WME…Silver Lake wants to cash out, the talent agency carries debt of $4.6 billion, and not only are market conditions unfavorable, it appears they’ve turned for good, WME had to pull its IPO with no cash-out on the horizon.

The Carlyle Group put up the money for Scooter Braun to buy Big Machine.

Now I haven’t understood why the low level agents haven’t left these agencies. They’re not going to get the spoils, they’re just working for the man. They could start all over tomorrow, with the talent, which is also not benefiting, and get a greater piece of the pie to boot. Funny how entertainment is an entrepreneurial business and these agents are not entrepreneurs.

Sure, some agencies sold out to the big three for the cash payment. But this is exactly what happened with Live Nation. They took the check and…most disappeared, the company didn’t fit with their ethos, they’re renegades, they can’t work for the man. Interesting that all these agents can. And managers too. Come on, if you’re any good, you don’t want to work for the consortium, you want to take all the bucks for yourself. But if you sell out, you’ve got not only a payday, but a guaranteed income. Funny how managers play it differently from the acts they manage, who live and die on their hits, their reps, their credibility. There’s no guaranteed income for the entertainers themselves.

Or the writers.

That’s the story in Hollywood this year. The writers firing their agents. They believe there’s a conflict of interest, with the agencies getting packaging fees, with the agencies getting into production, and it’s hard not to sympathize with their cause.

In other words, agencies are the new studios. Come on, do you even know who runs the studios? But you know who Ari Emanuel is.

Same deal with the record companies. This is not the era of Tommy Mottola, of flash and dash. Nor the era of Mo and Joe, the artists’ “friends.” (Well, at least until Prince wrote the word “slave” on his cheek.) Turned out you had to be aligned with the major to play in last century’s music business. Because of distribution. Because otherwise you couldn’t get paid, even if you had a hit. And promotion. On both radio and TV. The labels had the relationships. As for now? It looked like a free-for-all, with the flattening of distribution and the lack of importance of radio and TV, however the labels have an ongoing relationship with the streaming services and…

It’s a big money game. You’ve got to have big money to play. And the Carlyle Group had it and Scooter Braun wanted it, a deal was made.

The Carlyle Group doesn’t care about music, not at all. Oh, all bankers want to hang with the celebrities, but they like private jet travel and the other perks of money more than that.

But it’s Taylor Swift who brought this all to the forefront, to the national stage.

That’s the power of a musician. Because of their rabid fans.

To tell you the truth, I don’t care about Taylor Swift, she lost me when she went pop, when she stopped working with Liz Rose.

But I am interested in business.

I am interested in politics.

The story of now is how the viewers/readers of Fox and other right wing outlets get a completely different view of the news from those on the left. Roger Stone got convicted and it was the twenty fifth article on foxnews.com, today I didn’t even find it on the home page. The story doesn’t square with the narrative. As for the impeachment hearings, did you know they’re a travesty and the Republicans are wiping the floor with the Democrats? The story on the left is David Holmes heard the conversation. But that’s not even a story on the right. But somehow, Taylor Swift has cut through all this. And made music, a sideshow, into the main show, as in today’s politics.

So has private equity screwed the little guy and lined the pockets of fat cats? Absolutely! Private equity has put workers on the street, as it got paid and companies went out of business, all the while being taxed at capital gains rates. Not that the average person can understand this. But the average person is aware they’re losing the rat race, that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, opportunity is fading.

As for the music business…

What is Scooter’s plan here?

One thing is for certain, Carlyle is not in it for the long term, it’s about getting out, private equity doesn’t get in unless there’s an exit strategy. And when the exit occurs, does the money flow down to those who built the company, who did the hard work, in this case the artists? Of course not! They’re just cogs in the wheel! The acts make the records and the companies own them, and roll them up and sell them to the highest bidder, oftentimes a mark…can you say Guy Hands?

Taylor Swift played her cards wrong. But Scooter Braun has gotten in bed with the devil. Trying to emulate his hero/guru David Geffen on his way to billions. But at this late date, despite Geffen’s constant denigrations, who is bigger, he or the Eagles?

It’s no contest.

It’s art we revere, it’s art that changes society, it’s art that makes the world go ’round.

So now Elizabeth Warren weighs in (along with AOC), and it appears she’s on the side of the artists and the people and if you’re sophisticated and you play it out, there have always been banks, shouldn’t entities be able to get loans, take on investments? Once again, this is different from leveraged buyouts. Then again, these loans/investments come with strings. At first it’s just cash, then the investor ends up owning the majority and you’re working for him/her. Suddenly, the biggest power in entertainment is private equity, is that what we want? Of course not! It’s about enriching the few at the cost of the many, who built the asset with their talent.

So now the rank and file have heard of the Carlyle Group, even if they don’t understand it. And one thing’s for sure, money wants no notoriety, it wants no investigation, white collar crime is rampant, or if not illegal, the behavior looks sleazy and untoward under the spotlight.

So is this the end of the line for entertainment? Consolidation and ownership by the banks?

Hopefully not. Anybody can make a record. Anybody can distribute a record. Music was the canary in the coal mine for digital disruption. Maybe it’s the canary in the coal mine for disintermediation of the deep pockets. Then again, few can resist a check, especially in the creative fields, where most people are struggling.

But now we’ve got Elizabeth Warren on our side.

Huh?

Like I said, I never expected music to hit the big top, the story of our age, politics.

But there it is.

Black Crowes At The Troubadour

That’s rock and roll. You know it when you see it, when you feel it, when you hear it.

Now I know why Chris Robinson gets all the girls. In regular life, he’s just a skinny, geeky guy. But when the music starts…

If you lived through the pre-internet era, you know what I’m talking about. The gig was a tribal rite, a once in a lifetime performance which only those in attendance experienced. It wasn’t about those in the audience, but those on the stage. Music drove our lives, we needed to get closer, to excite us, to enlighten us, to make us feel alive!

These players had woodshedded off-screen. They were nobodies before they became somebodies. Kinda like GNR. Or even Poison. Just denizens of the Sunset Strip and then splashed all over the airwaves, eventually even MTV. That was the goal, not to go to Silicon Valley and make a billion, but to go to Hollywood and get everything! Enough money, that’s for sure, but also the adulation and the admiration.

It’s hard to explain the sound. You had to be there, you had to experience it. And the boomers were, they were addicted to the radio in the sixties and seventies too. And there were the Beatles, but also the Stones. The Stones were selling something different, something based in R&B, something sexier, something more dangerous…you wanted to get closer and see if you were burned by the flame.

We were hot last night.

That’s the power of music, the power of performance, it sells itself, you don’t need to implore the audience to pay attention, they just come like lemmings to your feet.

I mean they’re playing James Brown over the sound system, evidencing the Robinsons’ Georgia roots, and it’s just not a snippet, but the whole damn song. At this point, the anticipation is starting to wear off.

And then Chris Robinson strides down the stairs wearing his hat with a feather and Rich Robinson straps on his axe and it’s twice as hard to believe we live in today’s era, when rock is essentially dead.

To the right of Rich there’s a rack of guitars, nearly one for every number. He’s picking a Telecaster at first and then the tech keeps handing him something new. Reminding those of us in attendance when we were fascinated by guitars and amps as opposed to phones. When going to Manny’s, or even Guitar Center, was a pilgrimage to the temple, to the birthplace of the sound.

And everyone can play, but not everyone can build their chops to be world class with their own sound. They make it look so easy, even though we know it’s so hard.

We were jealous again, that they were on stage and we were not. You remember those days, don’t you, when the highest achievement was to be a rock musician, touring the world unrestricted by parents, a boss, doing what you wanted to do, all as a result of the joyous noise you created.

Nobody else could see, and nobody else could see last night. This was not the announcement, this was not the first gig, this was the finale of the celebration of the regrouping, the heat was off, except for a bunch of fans squeezed in on the floor and the creme de la creme of the business in the bleachers.

Scratch that. I don’t think there was anybody under forty there. Maybe fifty. Especially upstairs. We all remembered when. We’ve been passed by, forgotten, it’s about hip-hop, the youth, hell Billie Eilish isn’t even twenty.

Yup talk to anybody with miles on them in this business. It’s weird how the years are passing by, how a new generation has taken over, how it’s all about Scooter and Ariana, never mind Taylor, but even more Drake and an endless parade of youngsters, we don’t know what happened to our business, our music, the elixir that brought us to L.A. It wasn’t the weather, not even the money, it was the music!

Rock music fills up every nook and cranny in the room. Takes your brain hostage. Last night you couldn’t think about your obligations, your problems, you were riveted by the sound, you couldn’t believe it still existed, it was a victory lap, a true hall of fame induction for those who’d been there and knew how to judge.

Now you know what you’re gonna get. “Shake Your Moneymaker” from start to finish. Songs you know by heart. Nobody knows albums by heart these days. They’re overstuffed projects, hoping you forget to click and stop streaming them. Just check the number of plays, they’re not spread evenly, they center on just a few tracks, and even those tracks are known by few, even the biggest of them, but there’s not a soul who didn’t know the Crowes’ version of “Hard To Handle” at the turn of the decade, from the eighties to the nineties. Music ruled, it had power, and it still does, who else can speak to all political persuasions, different viewpoints? The sound knows no boundaries, if it infects you you’ve got no choice but to be sick, to listen to the message, even if today’s acts are abdicating in favor of endorsements, sponsorships, brands. Rock and roll was not about coloring inside the lines, it was about testing the limits, it wasn’t made to alienate parents, it’s just that they didn’t want to come on this ride, they didn’t grow up in an era where kids were king, where you could follow your muse as opposed to the pre-set formula of school, work, family, death.

So Chris is standing at the mic, twirling the mic, stomping the mic, not as acrobatics, not to evidence skill, but because he’s possessed by the music. “Twice As Hard” begins and he can’t hold back, he’s got to be himself, a jitterbug driven by sound, he’s got no choice.

Oh he’s skinny, but that’s only part of it, there’s the way he stomps one leg and then the other, the way he shrugs his shoulder…whatever this guy’s got we want!

How do these musicians win America’s sweethearts? Van Halen with Bertinelli, Robinson with Hudson? Eventually these women discover that’s all there is, that these are not normal people, these are not actors, these are musicians. They’re not three-dimensional, they’ve got flaws, but when they take the stage they’ve got the entire audience in the palm of their hands.

It’s sex. Chris follows the progenitor, Jagger, but he’s less active, jive and feminine. Mick looks like the gym rat he is, you saw that video of him practicing his moves in that dance studio after his surgery, right? About the most exercise Chris gets is lifting the bottle to his lips.

And the Stones play stadiums.

Last night we were up close and personal, they were only a few feet away. We were so close, but we could not be them. We could see the expressions on their faces, but you could not buy your way on stage, that was their domain, while they played money became irrelevant.

Now here’s where the hard core says it’s a fake band, that they didn’t include Gorman, never mind the rest of the players who’ve slid through the door. But that’s not what this tour is about, this tour is about money, and the Robinson brothers don’t want to share it with Gorman the same way Page and Plant didn’t want to share it with John Paul Jones. This is a celebration of what once was, not what is coming down the pike. Furthermore, there are not enough hard core fans to fill the buildings.

But it’s more than that. At this point, the fans own the music, the material. Just go to a Journey show, sans Steve Perry, but the effect is still the same, the hit of those numbers you spun into dust back when.

But let’s be clear, it’s about frontmen (and women!) They’re the ones who gain attention. Which is why Alice Cooper could succeed without the original band. You watch the person at the center, they embody the sound, and the question is whether they can do more than sing, can they sell it! Chris Robinson certainly can.

Not that Rich should be ignored. He’s the essence of the music, his riffs, his picking. And together you get what you want.

As for the Chris Robinson Brotherhood…Chris doesn’t do this act, he plays guitar, it’s jam-bandy.

But last night…

Chris gave credit to Otis and then he started to sing “Hard To Handle.” But the best part of the show was when he got to the chorus and the assembled multitude erupted…

Pretty little thing let me light your candle
‘Cause mama I’m sure hard to handle now

It was spontaneous, unprompted, it’s like there was a mind meld, everybody knew this was their moment to participate, join in, they couldn’t hold back, this is what they did in dorm rooms, frat houses, bedrooms, at dances way back when, they haven’t changed, but the world has.

Once upon a time they said that rock and roll would never die.

Hard to believe, but right now we’re at the end of the line, maybe some acts will go back to the basics and take a different path. Sometimes you’ve got to break it down to start all over again, maybe that’s how you change the world.

I’m not sure if today’s teens and twentysomethings would have gotten it last night, I don’t know if this sound would resonate, whether it would be enough for them in a world with so many distractions, where it’s about I as opposed to you, where everybody thinks they can win, where we put people on pedestals just to tear them down.

But once upon a time these performers were gods.

And it wasn’t only Clapton. There were scores of them. But somehow we lost the formula. In retrospect the Black Crowes were the last gasp.

It was guitars, drums, amps and people. No machines, no robots. Underneath the wall of sound were human beings. All you could do was stomp your feet, thrust your arms in the air and sing along.

Am I acting crazy
Am I just too proud
Am I just plain lazy
Am I, am I, am I, ever

Mama we’re all crazy now. Yup, that’s why Quiet Riot went to the top of the chart.

We were proud of our records, of our knowledge.

My mother couldn’t stop saying I was lazy, to this day, like Bill Murray all I wanted to do was sit around and play my records, albeit not Tito Puente, even though I can listen to “Oye Como Va” all day long.

A girlfriend told me when she moved in with me she didn’t think she was moving in with my records.

But she was. I’m addicted to the sound. I’m a junkie, I’ve got no choice.

And last night I got a hit of pure white heroin. I was high as a kite, and I still haven’t come down.

From the drug they call rock and roll.

The Swift Situation

Rerecords always fail. They just don’t capture the magic of the original. Def Leppard tried this while they were hashing out streaming rights with Universal and…if you were a fan, they were unsatisfying. Kinda like a star who gets plastic surgery…they never look as good as they did before, at best they just look different.

Now the problem with these spats, which never used to get ink in the pre-internet era, is you never know all the facts. So at this point, we’re only privy to Swift’s version. Let’s run with that.

Was Swift really gonna release the AMA performances on streaming services? Probably not, now Scooter and Scott have given her the idea. Then again, maybe she threatened she was gonna do this. However, to restrict the performance of an act’s hits is bad business, it ends up leaving a stink on everyone but the act. How about the Little River Band with no original members? How about Tom Petty fighting MCA over list price? An artist is willing to put everything on the line, to sacrifice, someone beholden to money is not. And let’s be clear, it ain’t Scooter’s money that bought these rights, but those deep-pocketed funders who only care about the bottom line.

But Taylor played her hand wrong here, from start to finish. That’s what happens when you’re too inside, kinda like the Democrats and the press, who can’t see they’re in an echo chamber and their message re-impeachment is not being heard by the Fox News crew. They’ve got to penetrate Fox, the Daily Caller, all of those outlets, but they’re not. Swift believed that Monte could do better. And Monte’s a superstar, he’s the hottest in the business. However, Monte has tons of hit acts, Taylor Swift was the big kahuna on Big Machine. Monte just needs something to hit, it doesn’t have to be Taylor Swift, whereas Big Machine needs Taylor to succeed. It’s kinda like management, you can fire the person who was there for you all along to go to the multi-act superstar manager, but once again, that manager has other acts, and no established history/loyalty. I’m not saying you should stay with the old person if they’re a crook, or if they’re inept or unable to graduate to the top level, but if you think the grass is always greener on the other side…you’re wrong.

So the real story here is the new Swift album is a stiff. The paradigm changed and she didn’t. Now it’s all about constant drops of new material, now it’s mostly about hip-hop. Swift needed to change her methods, be in the public eye with new material on a regular basis, make the music the story, not the shenanigans. But the music already came and went, even though she just released a redo with Shawn Mendes… This is kinda like Lil Nas X enlisting Billy Ray Cyrus for his redo, hoping for some country airplay and more publicity. And right now Shawn Mendes is arguably hotter than Taylor Swift.

Who needed to be a pop star. She coulda stayed in country and been a queen forever. Like Carrie Underwood, but with a weaker voice and more songwriting talent. You live and die by the hit in the pop world.

So there’s no story anymore. Why do you think Swift is even doing the AMAs…the worst excuse of an awards show ever, Dick Clark’s imitation Grammys for the holiday season, this ersatz show has ratings to match, as in the toilet. Superstars pass, superstars go for the Grammys, which up until now blacklisted those who appeared on the AMAs…but Swift has to keep her album alive, or at least try to.

As for a Netflix movie… Anybody who has ever been involved with visual content knows there’s a licensing issue, it’s why so much content couldn’t even make it to DVD or streaming. Just ask for a quote on a song, never mind the track, this is how publishing companies make their money! If they’ve been making this movie for years, Swift’s handlers should have gotten permission in a separation agreement, before she decided to move on to Republic. Then again, maybe they tried and they couldn’t get it.

By fighting this battle in public, Swift is actually losing. She’s becoming known for everything but the music.

As for Scooter and Swift…they’re negotiating, trying to use their leverage to get what they want. But the stakes are not high enough. Not performing a medley on TV, you can forgo that. As for doing a medley…isn’t this the last effort of the has-beens?

Once again, Swift should have stayed at Big Machine and earned her records back. She had the option, she turned it down. Furthermore, her father was on the board and approved the deal, if she was blind-sided…there’s no communication in that family.

As for Scooter and Scott, pick your battles. You don’t want to appear artist-unfriendly, it’s the kiss of death, acts stay away from you, fearful of consequences. Even I’ve been in this situation, turning down deals with those with litigious reputations. As for acts, back when there were many more labels…Warner always got first pick, because of Mo & Joe & Lenny… They’d leave some money on the table, to further your career, whereas the Big Red Machine would wring every last dollar out of your project for short term profits, screw the act, ultimately it’s fungible.

Big Machine should just give Taylor what she wants. Let her perform the old hits, it’s good for Big Machine, which owns all the hit albums anyway. But it’s not like the old days, where distribution is difficult, Swift could put out redos and maybe even get some traction. Then again, Spotify weeds out the crap, the covers by nobodies, to focus on the real deal. And when the real deal sits next to the ersatz, what you gonna play?

But Swift is known for being thin-skinned, and the artist always wins in the eye of the public, hell, ticket buyers hate Ticketmaster, which is just a front for the acts. The fees are there because the promoter gives the act all the money other than the fees! But never underestimate the power of the public to misperceive reality. Look at what’s going on in D.C. right now!

When there’s a conflagration, you let it burn itself out, you don’t pour gasoline on the fire. Let Taylor sing her old songs.

As for the movie…someone’s got to pay.

As for the future… Scooter should have foreseen these problems, reached out to make nice with Taylor before the deal closed. This is far from unheard of. And Concord bought Fantasy and started paying John Fogerty royalties again, even though he’d sold them all to Fantasy years before. Never underestimate good will.

But in the modern music business it’s about the penumbra as opposed to the essence, we’re more interested in the feuds than the tunes. Oftentimes, the feuds are the only interesting thing.

Taylor got what she wanted here, at least in part, more attention, more sympathy.

But times move on. I don’t see the internet lighting up about the incarceration of Kodak Black. You’re in your own vertical today. And the only people who truly care are the Swifties, who Scooter will now hear from until the end of time. You don’t want a celeb to call the dogs on you, they’ve got many more fans than you do.

No one can stay on top forever. You try to make choices that benefit your career. Taylor might have beaten the scalpers, but she beat herself too. Kinda like Madonna playing late…she thinks her audience is still teens and twentysomethings. Who does she think is gonna pay four figures for a ticket? People who flew in, who have babysitters, who have commitments. You’ve got to know your audience.

And Scooter and Scott didn’t know theirs here, they should have foreseen trouble, they should have laid low and just let Swift sing…the medley would have been forgotten almost right after she sang it, that’s today’s world.

And Swift should stop caring about all those who don’t care about her. Now it’s just the Swifties and occasional looky-loos.

But one day you’re swarmed with attention, and the next security is unnecessary, the public moves on to someone new.

But the truth is the public owns every story these days, assuming people care. If you interact with the public, you know its power. Swift does, Scooter and Scott really don’t.

Advantage Swift.

Alan Hamel-This Week’s Podcast

Canadian late night TV host, producer, husband of Suzanne Somers and her career guru, Hamel has been there and done that and has great stories, he holds back nothing!

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