A&R Worldwide Dinner

Diane Warren

Teri Garr says she judges someone’s intelligence by whether they get the jokes.  I judge people’s intelligence by whether they remember meeting me.

I’m not talking about a handshake, but a conversation.  If we spoke for fifteen minutes, how can you not remember me?  I’ve introduced myself over and over to the same people for years.  Feeling insecure.  But last night when Sat Bisla introduced me to Diane Warren she immediately recounted the details of our meeting years ago.  Not only down to the Italian restaurant, but the reason we were all there, to see Jason Flom’s French protege.

There’s a reason she’s so successful.

You may rail against the titans, but I’ve never met a big time entertainment executive that was stupid.  They may be tenacious, they may be political geniuses, but they all possess a high level of intellect.  Which continually pays dividends.

Ron Stone

We were talking about Vail.  And Billy at Gorsuch, our ski guru.

And after catching up on Ron’s bump sensation son Zak, who now runs a restaurant in Edwards, I got Ron to tell me his history.  How he let his old New York buddy Elliot Rabinowitz, er, Elliot Roberts, stay with him in Los Angeles.  How he got David Crosby, who Ron knew from his clothing store on Santa Monica, by the Troubadour, to produce the first Joni Mitchell album, thus getting Crosby a paycheck and out of Ron’s driveway where David was living in his VW Microbus.  This all ended up with Elliot and Ron becoming partners, and managing Crosby, Stills & Nash.  But what fascinated me most was not hearing how Neil Young joined the group (Stephen Stills had played all the instruments on the first album other than drums, and how could they replicate this sound live?), but Ron’s comment about the other David, who at that time was the band’s agent.  Geffen told them they had to do television.  Ron attributes the success of CSN to TV.  He said they did them all, not that he’d defend the shows themselves, but when the next album came out, "Deja Vu", it blew up because everybody had seen them.

This was fascinating, because this was the complete opposite of my take.  There was uptake on CSN in the spring of ’69 because of the members’ history and "Marrakesh Express".  But the build was slow, by today’s terms.  It wasn’t until the fall that the act truly penetrated my high school.  Yet I was shocked with the hoopla surrounding the band’s follow-up when it was released in March.  Why did everybody care?  How did everybody know?

It’s hard to doubt Ron, he was there.  It was interesting to hear how Geffen masterminded the marketing plan.  But it’s completely opposite of how I remember it.  This was before cable, when there were only three networks.

So, does TV always trump?  Is it about exposure?

If I’m saying to stay off TV today because of overexposure and the lack of exposure on those channels that do air you, am I right?

It’s a different era.  It’s easy to get the word out and overload people.  You’ve got to say no more than yes.  But it was fascinating hearing the story from someone who was there.

You learn new things every day.  And contrary to our society, which heaves everybody with a wrinkle in his face over the transom, you learn most from your elders.

Mike Caren

A white Jewish doctor’s son from Beverly Hills who signs hit rappers at Atlantic.  Kind of an oxymoron on steroids.

But Mike’s passionate.  And knowledgeable.

We were in a deep discussion about rap and major labels and…

This is when Ron got into it again.  Ron thinks the major label business died six months or a year ago, and we’re heading straight for a cliff.  I tend to agree.  The major label hype this act to high heaven so we can meet our numbers game doesn’t pay the dividends it used to.  Casual fans might buy a track or two and the hard core have moved on to specialized, indie product.  Meanwhile…

The Swedish Consulate

That’s who paid for this whole shindig at Cravings on Sunset.

What am I going to say to the Swedish consulate?

Turns out the guy was listening and suddenly jumped in.  He said how the majors in Europe had eliminated all the A&R men.  Who was going to shepherd product?  Who was going to decide what product was good?

Mike talked about releases slipping from the fourth quarter to the first.  Like U2 and Eminem.  Used to be there was other music in the pipeline. Today?

Then the Swedish gentleman said how on the Continent, iTunes was a smaller factor.  Because the majors wouldn’t license/make available all the regional material.  Sure, Apple featured all the big international hits.  Even the local ones.  But the catalog?  It was too expensive for the majors to digitize and make available.  This guy salivated over the American iTunes Store.


The gentleman to my right started waxing rhapsodic.  How he’s got Sonos and Rhapsody in every room of his house.  Plays lullabies for his kid and what he wants in his bedroom.

But what struck me was he said he no longer wanted to own it.  He’d stopped downloading.  Legally and illegally.  Why?

This is the future.  Wireless subscriptions.  Rental.  If people experienced it, they’d go for it.  But most people have never been exposed.

Meanwhile, the key is the iPhone/iPod Touch.  That’s what made Sonos workable.  That’s what will make subscriptions portable.

And if this is the future, why in the hell are labels arguing over per track pricing, DRM and licensing P2P?  The future IS rental.  It’s just a matter of when.  These imbeciles have left unrecoverable revenue on the table for almost a decade.  Stop arguing and start charging, knowing that we’re going to get to paid subscription in the future, which will rule because it’s easiest and most rewarding.

Steve Schnur

The video game business is not planning to get fucked like the record business.  They’re not worried about their retail partners.  They know everything’s going to be an online download.  They’re working towards that now.

You’ve just got to turn on your ears when you’re around Steve.  He’s got a great idea for selling music via videogames.  I won’t speak out of school, but we laughed when he said the labels asked if he could raise the price beyond ninety nine cents.  He said no.  He said he’d like to drop the price to forty nine cents.

Boy is this business fucked up.  Make less on more, not more on less!

Nigel Grainge

Lucien’s brother, in case you didn’t know.  But Nigel was there first.  With Graham Parker and Sinead O’Connor and…

Nigel lives in L.A. now.  But he’s still just as passionate about music.  He makes playlists.  He goes to gigs.  And what blows his mind is he shows up in out of the way venues that end up being packed with fans who know every word of the music of bands the mainstream does not feature, some of whom I’ve never heard of.

There’s something happening here.  Music is underground again.  It’s fertile.  The person who tells us what to listen to is going to make all the money.  The old filters can’t be trusted.  Everybody who’s taken a stab at it so far online is in it for the money.  But money never came first.  What started it all was passion.

There’s no passion at the labels.  But there’s passion on the street.  What did Sting say?  Turn the clock to zero because we’re starting up a brand new day?

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