Artists Are In Control

This is what the internet has wrought.

For fifteen years we heard about recorded music revenue, how the business was being decimated, when the truth is the only people losing power were the labels themselves. Suddenly, the acts were making more. The truth is record deals were a lousy proposition unless you were a superstar and could get it all up front without worrying about sales, for a while anyway. But if you were a developing band, or couldn’t renegotiate, the deal paid you little, but the only way to get noticed was via the record company’s efforts.

That’s now history.

From the Beatles to MTV the acts were in control. But MTV ushered in the era of money, right after the crash of the late seventies, when disco ate rock and then the whole enterprise collapsed. Suddenly, there were few avenues of success, and if you made it, a whole lot of coin rained down. So there was an opportunity cost in releasing stiff records. And the old model of artist development was broken. It made no sense to sit by acts that might make it to the middle at best, you needed to hit home runs.

That’s still the philosophy of the majors, to their detriment.

Because the world got bigger, and they’re not in control of it.

And a record deal is no longer the only way to get heard.

The last decade has been about the transition from sales to streaming. If the labels were smart, they’d kill physical and files tomorrow, because that would force buyers to buy in to streaming, where the label makes so much more in the long run. But despite selling forward looking product, the music business looks backward, and it’s run on a gangster mentality. It’s not what’s good for the business, but what’s good for ME! This is how Paramount lost Marvel, the purchase would have dented executives’ bonuses.

So the majors used their leverage to stall and then finally license streaming outlets. But that’s now history, streaming is here to stay, Spotify is never shutting down, so wielding your catalogues as a threat…that don’t play anymore.

So, the labels control less of the marketplace than ever before, they’ve lost their leverage with distribution and their traditional promotional power centers, radio and television, are on the wane, they mean less than ever.

In other words, you can do it by yourself. All the tools are at your fingertips. From production to promotion to distribution. Can you say PRO TOOLS, INSTAGRAM AND SPOTIFY?

This is the labels’ worst nightmare, but they don’t realize it, they’re too busy trying to make up lost revenue and screwing the artists. But you can’t screw the artists, they won’t stand for it anymore. The labels could have fixed their accounting… How come Kobalt can do it and they can’t? They could have cut fairer deals. They could have been partners as opposed to shylocks, but that’s not the culture at the labels.

But they are a bank.

But now it takes less money than ever to make a buzz.

And the promoter pays you.

Of course the deals are bad when you’re starting out, but if you can sell tickets, you can rewrite them on the spot, and make tons in a digital era where the live experience is everything.

But the promoter doesn’t want to manage and invest in you.

Of course Live Nation has management in-house, but that’s just a remnant of the Azoff days, no one there knows exactly what they’re doing.

A management powerhouse is more akin to Red Light. However, that’s a disorganized outlet where if any manager gets traction, they leave. Can you say Moe Shalizi? Or Ron Lafitte before him?

And then there’s Full Stop, moving into the future under Jeffrey Azoff with his father Irving looking over his shoulder. Pound for pound they’ve got the best, most profitable acts.

Every other management company is positively cottage industry. Maybe very lucrative cottage industry, but way less powerful.

But the point is, who is going to control and direct the acts in the future?

Historically, managers don’t want to invest. Some do, but most would rather look to the label and the promoter.

And it’s true, the promoter develops acts these days, live, where the real riches lie, but they’re not eager to expand their footprint into the act’s business.

In other words, in a world where an act is a bad business person, there’s a vacuum. Unless the labels adjust quickly, they’re going to lose more and more power.

Is the hole filled by a new kind of management company?

I can speculate, but I’m not sure.

But one thing is for sure, the act is in the catbird seat with all the power. You can speak directly to your audience, you can make demands, you’re reliant on almost nobody. And you’re making more bank than you ever were before as a result of increased ticket prices and new opportunities.

Then there are the nowhere nobodies bitching they’ve been screwed. Maybe no one wants to listen or see them. But chances are, they too are using the new tools to play for little cost, even if they may not be winning.

It’s good when the acts are in control, because they create the art.

But they need no league to survive. No NBA is necessary. Each act is its own league.

And acts know best.

It’s an artist-centric world today, the days of Tommy Mottola and CD replacement monies are long gone.

If you want to succeed today, you’ve got to service the artist.

Or you’re screwed.

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