Quote Of The Day

In yesterday’s "Wall Street Journal" there’s a front page story on Hyundai. How it went from a laughingstock to a runaway success in the car market. Now that they’ve solved the quality problem, now that they’ve caught up with Toyota and Honda, the company is confronted with a huge issue going forward, creativity. How do you lead when you’ve spent your entire life following?

The new Elantra is so far ahead of the market that Corolla sales have stalled and the new Civic has been lambasted by critics and is failing to fly from the showroom. Instead of focusing on the econobox look, Hyundai imitated Mercedes-Benz. And the model was redesigned in four years instead of five, trumping its competitors in the marketplace.

The success of the Elantra is testimony to the change in culture at Hyundai. To one now focused on leading, on creativity.

"Instilling creative thinking is a work in progress. A few times a week, video screens around Hyundai’s headquarters in Seoul show a one-minute clip that has become a favorite among staffers. It shows an open office where workers wearing the same shirt and haircut are beavering away. Then a new person arrives with a different hair cut. Each time he voices an idea, the others shout him down. Eventually he gets the same haircut and everybody likes him. Then a question appears: ‘Aren’t we stuck in conventional thinking?’"

Whew, could you imagine this video playing at a record label?

Warner trumpets all its innovations and then Lyor Cohen says deals must favor the company because it has to pay high salaries to maintain its talented crew. Isn’t this like the leaders of RIM justifying their pay by citing their excellence as their company implodes around them?

We don’t have a culture of innovation in the music business.

Speak with any major label executive, any manager over forty with a successful act, and they’ll speak about one thing and one thing only…radio. That’s like the leaders of RIM talking about e-mail. In a world of apps, e-mail is secondary. In a world of Facebook and YouTube radio might still be king but its dominion is contracting. Radio is not prepared for the future, Clear Channel did not come up with Turntable.fm, and neither did the music industry titans.

Yes, it does come down to music. And the two biggest musical stories of the year sound nothing like what’s on Top Forty radio. Adele comes close, but how do you explain Mumford & Sons?

The Sony promo person lamented the inclusion of a banjo on Mumford’s tracks, said radio wouldn’t go for it. But it’s that banjo which is making Mumford so successful.

The music industry hates creativity.

There, I said it. Everyone from Doug Morris at Sony to Paul Williams at ASCAP just wants things to return to how they once were. The enemies are Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg and Google and the Spotify guys. The heroes are the songwriter and producer hacks churning out one track after another that sounds exactly like what came before. Would you expect the public to clamor for a ’72 Malibu? Then why do you expect people to be enraptured by today’s music?

Yes, there is an underground, alternative scene. A lot of those acts take risks. Unfortunately, too many of them are more creative at marketing than music.

As Nick Lowe recently said:

"… Back in those days if you wanted to be in the pop business – and it was a much less crowded business then – you would get on the end of a conveyor belt that would move very slowly towards some point in the distance where you would get your big break. Once you were on this conveyor belt you would learn your craft in total anonymity: you had to write songs if you wanted to stick around and learn how to work a room and how to do a show. It involved a lot of riding in vans and playing thousands of gigs until suddenly the ol’ chance came along for you your fellow travelers. …"

Nick Lowe Talks LABOUR OF LUST.

Today the fame comes first. The creativity in music television is in the format, not the music. We crow over who the new "American Idol" judges are, because we can’t find good new music. Ditto on "The Voice".

Just like Hyundai eclipsed its rivals by doing what their competitors used to do, but better, the music industry is being rewritten as I sit here. It’s too soon for the mainstream to see it. Just like it was too soon for the mainstream to see that Lady Gaga’s new album was a stiff, the L.A. "Times" just covered that story today:

Then there’s the e-mail I got about Howard Sounes’s Dylan biography. The quote was:

"’Bob starts wandering around Denver seeing what he can do, and trying to sing in certain places, and no one would accept Bob,’ says Conley. ‘I think of the stature of that man today and think what he was. People avoided him.’" (Page 61)

The public is always one step behind. The media too. If you’re immediately accepted chances are you’re very similar to what came before and you’ll have a short shelf life.

I laughed at Hyundai until I rented an Azera from Enterprise when it was the only car left and now not only do I request a Hyundai every time I rent, I tell everybody how great the cars are. I was late to the party, the cars were good before I found them. You’re gonna be good before most people realize it. But then people are going to discover you and not stop talking about you.

And this is the job of people, individuals, not middlemen, not advertising, not radio. It’s about motivating the rank and file who ignore hype to speak about you. You can only do that with quality.

None of the classic rock acts sounded like one another. The commonality between Jethro Tull, Jefferson Airplane and Creedence Clearwater Revival? Damned if I know. But look at label rosters today and everything sounds the same, it’s Top Forty-ready.

The music industry has abdicated its role to the public. That’s why we’ve got chaos in the marketplace. To find and develop new talent is hard. To institute new systems while destroying the old takes guts. Hell, look at Apple’s introduction of the new Final Cut Pro. They killed the old successful product. Professionals are up in arms. Turns out many of the features they’re bitching the program lacks are there, they just didn’t look. And the new version will get better. One thing’s for sure, the old one is not coming back.

How come every business is in a mad dash to innovate except for the creative industries, where the titans at the top are traffic cops sans creativity? The Internet was just a wake up call after years of bad management. Don’t blame the public, blame the fat cat executives who are denying they’re the problem like the honchos at Goldman Sachs. What makes the rich believe they’re invulnerable, always right and entitled? The Net shines a light on their flaws. It’s a new game. No one gets to rest on his laurels. Making it today is no insurance you’ll thrive tomorrow, look at BlackBerry.

Music really is no different than tech.

Wait a second. Tech is more innovative than music. Which is why the iPad is sold out and Gaga’s album languishes in the bins.

Remind me why there’s physical product again? Apple is making all software downloadable, that’s gonna be the only way to purchase Lion, and we’re still talking about CDs?

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