Sorry, Dawg, It’s A No

2/14/2007

I watched the Grammy Awards with, as usual, anticipation and trepidation. It’s Music’s big night and along with the highs, you can always expect the lows. It could be a rapper saying “thank you” with uncensored street slang or a diva unable to perform (and making a superstar out of her replacement in the process), but whatever, the Grammy Awards can be as unpredictable as a new PD.

 

This year, the Grammy Awards stooped to a new low.

 

How can an institution that honors past achievements in music hold open auditions during a telecast for some “hopeful” to get to sing with Justin Timberlake? Hopeless is more like it. The audience was inundated with promos to stay tuned for the “winner” of the competition. Other than the winners’ family and friends, who cared? Instead of more opportunities for viewers to hear or see “real” artists, we were hyped with the Grammy’s own version of “American Idol.”

 

Sorry, dawg, it was a little pitchy.

 

What kind of mentality orders more shots of three unknowns and less time for Mary J. Blige to thank her supporters? By the way, the Grammy’s should be ashamed for cutting any artist short on their “thank you’s.” Nobody would be watching this program without the artists. So if Mary J. wants to thank her 22nd cousin twice removed on her mother’s side, let her. But the Grammy’s chose to cut this superstar off so we could find out who to vote for in this ridiculous contest. The producers were more interested in generating ratings (didn’t happen) than honoring music.

 

Grammy, you should be ashamed.

 

I guess it’s just a reflection of the record business in general. It’s been style over substance for quite a while. And record company executives seem quite content to continue to do business as usual while record sales plummet to all time lows. These are the same executives who were convinced that traditional sales would return once pirating was deemed illegal.

 

Nice try.

 

The record business is too busy looking for alternative ways of presenting artists instead of concentrating on the music. A&R now seems to stand for “Always Wrong (with an R).” Artist development does not exist in the halls of very many companies. Why?

 

Simple answer: Record executives aren’t paid to find artists. They are paid to meet quarterly expectations. That’s easier done by repackaging The Beatles than by spending time and money developing a new artist. Why should a record company president look past his own future?

 

The true giants developed the record business because they owned the companies. They were less interested in short term profits than long term growth. That’s not the case today.

 

Thank God for Clive.

 

He’s the first to take advantage of new platforms while continuing to make sure the music is most important. That might take time, but it brings success. Isn’t it interesting that the oldest mogul in the business is the one who is looking far into the future? When he calls it quits, the record business is in big trouble.

 

May you live forever, Clive. And may the last voice you hear be mine.

Time Passages

12/26/2006

 

The passing of time brings the passing of people. It is no great secret that the older you get, the more people you know who die. It’s a fact of life…and death. Getting older doesn’t necessarily mean you get smarter, I’m living testimonial to that truth, but it does mean that your circle of knowledge widens. Put simply, you know more people, which means you know more people who die.

 

The death of someone you know can be tragic, life changing, terribly sad or a milestone, something which marks a particular phase of your life. The latter, to me, was the death of James Brown.

 

I’ve known a lot of people who have died…famous people…infamous people…and people who were important to me in one way or another. Because I have a forum, I’ve written about some of those deaths and shared the lives of those who passed on. But this Christmas marked a particular milestone.

 

James Brown, the self-proclaimed hardest working man in show business, Mr. “Please Please” himself, has passed on to the great theatre in the sky. His death touched me deeply.

 

As a white kid growing up in Mississippi, it wasn’t fashionable to like “R&B” music. If you didn’t like country music, by God, you just might be a communist. And if one showed a delight in Black music (of course, it wasn’t referred to as Black music in those days and times), you were a conspirator or a rebel. I guess I proved to be many of those things.

 

The growth, acceptance and wider marketability of the music of James Brown marked my growth as a person and solidified many of my beliefs in the process. Of course, I just thought it was the music.

 

Late at night, long after my family went to sleep, I used to turn on my radio under the covers and tune in exotic locations to hear music our local radio station would never play. I listened to Big John R on WLAC in Tennessee and Wolfman Jack skipping in from Mexico. Besides selling baby chicks and crosses “blessed by the Saints of Jerusalem,” these famous Dee Jays pumped in the latest from artists like Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, Lee Dorsey, Little Richard, and, of course, James Brown. I was forever, wonderfully corrupted.

 

Music became the beat to which my life danced.

 

In 1963, I bought “Live At The Apollo” and my education continued. One year later, I attended my first concert. It wasn’t the Beatles (that would be my 2nd), but it was James Brown and the Famous Flames. I had no idea when I bought the tickets that I would be one of only five white people there. The concert at Jackson State University preceded the demonstrations on the campus by a year, but that evening, there was no racial tension…only R&B harmony as we all, black and white alike, were mesmerized by the music, the dancing and the antics of the Godfather of Soul.

 

Did the influence of James Brown lead me down the path that became my life? Without the influence of his music, would I have participated in the demonstrations a year later at Jackson State and in the process stand on the opposite side of the segregation question from many of my friends? Would I have become the flash point for the KKK when they burned a cross in front of the radio station where I was working as a Dee Jay because I played too much “black” music? Would I have made my mark in radio by the “crossing over” of many R&B records that my competition wouldn’t play?

 

I don’t know. It’s hard to argue that James Brown’s influence wasn’t great. I have no idea if it was the key, but it definitely was part of the pattern of the fabric of my life.

 

Years later, when I was programming in San Francisco, James Brown came to town. I took many of the people working at KFRC to see him live. Afterwards we went backstage. We all tried to connect with James, but he only had eyes for my assistant, JJ. For the next several months, James Brown was in the studios at KFRC as much as I was. He did all he could to convince JJ to marry him…he even asked for my intervention…but he couldn’t pull it off.

 

During those conversations about love and life, I watched my life come full circle as the man who had influenced me so much as I was growing up was now seeking my help. Unfortunately for James, he did more for me than I for him.

 

Perhaps that is the moral of James Brown’s life. He did more for us than we did for him, whether it was a listener or one of the many performers who claim James as an influence. And I’m sure James will continue to influence, both here and in the hereafter.

 

No doubt, Heaven just got a little funkier. I’m sure James Brown’s cape was waiting for him.

 

 

 

 

Happy New Year 2006

1/1/2006

 

2006 was a great year for the music business and an okay year for the record business. It is interesting how an industry that exists on such an exciting and hot product can be luke warm in its approach and down right chilly in the results.

 

 

Record companies are still struggling to grasp the future of digital downloads, while all signs are pointing to diminishing hard copy sales, fast approaching extinction. Brick and mortar record stores are becoming a thing of the past. Soon, they will be as difficult to find as a 45. Remember those?

 

Downloads rose 65% over last year. Although that is down from a 150% increase in 2005, there isn’t a business model in the world that would predict an increase of such drastic proportions. It’s growth other industries can only dream of.

 

Nielsen SoundScan tracks music purchases in the US exceeding 1 billion units for the second year in a row. 1.2 billion units were sold in 2006. That includes albums, singles, music videos and digital tracks. This reflects a 19% increase over the previous year.

  

A telling item in this multitude of figures is Album Sales. Albums, and this includes digital downloads, fell nearly 5% from a year ago. This, while individual downloads increased 40%. It proves that the audience remains unsatisfied with the quality of most albums. Record buyers still find their favorite songs, they just don’t find as many on individual albums.

 

It seems like such a simple thing: make better records. If it were just that easy.

 

Breaking records is much more difficult than in the past. With the restrictions on promotion now in place at all major labels, throwing product at the wall to see which will stick just doesn’t work any longer. Radio programmers are increasingly reluctant (if allowed) to go out on a limb and play new music. It’s a statement of fact that more new music is broken on the Internet than on radio.

 

 

However, there is a light, if only a vague one, on the horizon. Radio companies are cutting back (yet again) on expenses of individual stations. The biggest cutback this year will occur in the line item entitled: Call Out Research. The bane of both industries, call out research is going to be diminished significantly at most major chains. Some stations won’t do it at all for new music, only for oldies.

 

With the changing landscape comes the search for more information to provide a perfect picture for songs that should be programmed. That is why Music Biz is taking significant steps to better reflect the environment. Reporting industry news and gossip, although fun and entertaining, doesn’t really get the job done. What programmers want to know is, “Which records should I be playing.” What record company executives want to know is, “How do I get my message to programmers.” Music Biz will endeavor to do both.

 

With strategic partners unlike any other source, Music Biz will begin delivering a daily informational piece that covers sales, Internet activity, music in alternative medias (movies, TV shows, etc.), iTune action, BDS actual plays, uTube and myspace hits and downloads, plus a variety of other pieces of information to provide programmers with instant information that will help make decisions more informed, if not easier.

 

We welcome your feedback as we try to improve our resources to make Music Biz your source for information vital to the success of our industries.

Where’s The Beef

New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer has the radio and record industries humming with his payola investigation, but I see the end result as more of a paper add. To quote the bard himself, “… a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

 

So he’s wrung a clammy-palmed apology from Sony with a promise to swap no more TVs for adds. Gimmie a break.

 

Where was he when it was really going on?

 

With all due respect to the Attorney General, he’s about a decade or so too late and a hundred or so million dollars short.

 

Ah, the good old days…when record adds were bought and sold with hookers, cocaine and sex. It was drugs and sex for rock and roll…an out of control roller coaster with more highs than lows. Money was spent with abandon…records got played…careers were made. It was life in the fast lane…everything…all the time.

 

Today’s action? Kids’ play.

 

In the good old days, a big screen TV wouldn’t have gotten you one spin on Sunday after midnight. It was no limit poker, baby, and somewhere, sometime, somebody was going all in. You had to call the pot or be left holding the bag.

 

The one big difference between then and now…I mean as far as promoting records is concerned…is not the size of the payoff…although that’s considerable. The big difference is in the passion. Today, there is none. Time was, when a record executive was considering hiring someone in promotion, the key question was the prospective employee’s passion for music. Even in the wildest of times, there was a method to the madness.

 

Promotion people used to play records to radio programmers. And the programmers used to listen. Programmers once took pride in finding the hits. Now, most can only find the Selector.

 

“I broke that record,” was once a cry of pride. Now, does anyone know what it means?

 

Elliot Spitzer has shown a bright light on a part of our business that makes none of us proud. But what has he really uncovered?

 

Incompetence.

 

We’re all to blame. Radio programmers for succumbing to bribes to make their lives a little brighter. Radio executives for not rewarding programmers enough for their hard work. Record companies for promoting auctioneers instead of promoters.

 

For those of you who wish for a return to the good old days, buy my book PAYOLA! It’s a close as you’ll ever get. It’s over, baby. Passion has been displaced. Dispassionate programming has been perpetrated by all but the smaller radio companies. Call out research has developed take out radio…it’s certainly nothing you want to spend time with. And record companies haven’t forged new ways to make careers.

 

Radio didn’t believe it needed record companies. Radio didn’t believe in helping build careers. Radio didn’t believe there was a symbiotic relationship between the two industries. When radio took promotion people out of programmers’ offices, the dye was cast. Phone calls replaced personal visits. The emails replaced phone calls. Are anonymous chat rooms next?

 

It’s a shame that an industry that was once exciting and glamorous has turned into something that resembles a phone solicitation company.

 

It’s sad when the only people in our business who are making headlines are the lawyers.

Ass Backwards

Admittedly, I was a little late getting to the music movie of the year, but I saw “Ray” last night. If you, like me, have been putting it off…don’t.  It’s better than your average music movie and manages to tell the story pretty straight.

 

And the soundtrack is a bitch.

 

I was struck by a strange notion as I watched the life and times of Ray Charles. Here was a Black, blind man from the South who managed to make history with his music. Here was the story of a man who wouldn’t accept “no” for an answer…a man who played in the shadows for years before breaking out with his own sound.

 

The strange notion? Ray would have never made it today.

 

The record industry has become a corporate, tepid pool of middle managers who try harder to make no mistakes rather than to make history. With very few exceptions, the gene pool has shrunk the DNA to a level none would be proud to claim. The record business once encompassed the best and the brightest. Today, too many are survivors. Unfortunately, survival often means compromising.

 

The music industry is a perfect example.

 

With a few notable exceptions, is there a record executive today who would take a chance on a blind, Black man whose music couldn’t be identified by format?

 

Once a thriving place for the exception…exceptions now are the exception. The record business built itself on artist development. Funny, many labels are still existing on what they no longer practice. Repackaging aging artists to pay the bills seems to be the norm.

 

What will the next group of record executives do to survive?

 

And what would this commentary be without a little irony? Independent record labels are the only companies practicing artist development. Small labels are investing in the little things, including tour and personal appearance support, that build an audience for an artist for years to come. So, those that can least afford it are doing it.

 

Is that the irony? No. That would be much too simple for the record industry. The irony is that larger labels are gobbling up independent labels like an Atkins flipper at a bread factory. The independent labels are successful because they practice artist development and are being purchased by major labels that don’t practice artist development.

 

Ironic. And ignorant.

 

It’s nice that one thing hasn’t changed. It doesn’t have to make sense to make music.

 

For that, we can all be thankful.

Welcome To The Regionals

With the European approval of the BMG/Sony merger all but making American consent a slam dunk, the wonderful world of music becomes smaller by a major. And that ain’t all, folks. The Warner Music/EMI marriage is being arranged and when that takes place, the wedding party gets smaller still.

 

Record companies should worry when headlines about mergers and downsizing get more ink than the artists and the music they make.

 

The reality is that our world is changing…faster than American Idol records run up the charts. And with these changes comes a ripple effect that makes the radio and record industries rock with uncertainty.

 

What does the future hold? Let me hazard a guess…or two.

 

Radio programmers have long held onto the notion that they don’t need record companies to survive. It’s another naïve notion that has no basis in fact. Programmers say they don’t need the promotion provided by record companies…they can purchase their music in record stores if need be. Of course, the dwindling number of record stores should give them a clue that the idea may be mired in the rules of the past.

 

Recent changes in the way radio companies allow access to their programmers has made a hit even more difficult to determine. Radio companies, in an attempt to keep programamers from being illegally influenced by unscrupulous independent promoters have decreased their influence, and in many instances, banned them altogether. It’s an altruistic attempt similar to dropping Agent Orange on forests because an enemy “might” lurk there.

 

Record companies welcomed these changes with open arms because they were able to gain a degree of control over independent costs that had spiraled out of control. The fact that record executives were responsible for these costs didn’t seem to matter.

 

Now, programmers are faced with record promoters only intent on promoting their own records. Believable? Hardly. Record companies have needed independent sources to act as cheerleaders since the beginning of promotion. One lone voice calling out in the wilderness (and being paid to do so) is hard to hear. But record companies didn’t care. The costs were down. What else mattered?

 

Record companies stopped focusing on breaking records in smaller markets. There was no immediate return. Instead, it was easier to break records out of the major markets and then let them “trickle down” to the sticks. Regional hits were a thing of the distant past. If a record didn’t make it nationally, it didn’t matter.

 

Radio fell for the same lure. Why take a chance on a new artist? Wait until Z100 said it was a hit. And while we’re at it, let’s kill the local research. If we aren’t playing regional records, why would our research be any different than that done on a national basis. There really isn’t any difference in New York City and New Orleans is there?

 

Programmers hide behind the fact that they rely on research. Yet, to research a record, it must first gain significant airplay. How are new records going to be exposed in the future if everyone is playing it safe and waiting on the majors to discover new music? And that new music is increasingly the product of record companies offering bigger acts for station concerts in return for airplay on “new” artists.

 

With access being denied, research becoming meaningless on a local level and playlists shrinking with record companies, what’s next?

 

 

With the number of majors shrinking, more independent record companies will be raising their heads. Most independent record companies aren’t able to promote their records on a national basis. These record companies will begin focusing on the radio stations in their immediate vicinity. The future of the music business rests in the ability of the independent record companies to break records out of regions. Not because they should, but because it’s their only choice.

 

Necessity is the mother of invention.

 

Now if the executives running the “majors” recognize a fact of life and once again begin focusing on regional breakouts and smaller markets to expose new product, the result could be a miracle.

 

I’ll light a candle.

The Network™

I was driving home late last night, talking on the cell phone to a redneck friend of mine when I looked up and saw a blinding light in the sky. I was completely freaked out. It isn’t often we Los Angelenos can even see the sky, much less see something in it. After I tipped the Jeep up on two wheels, took out a stand of mailboxes and stalled out in the ditch, I realized I was looking at the moon.

Imagine that. Me. A hopeless romantic fooled by the moonlight.

Continue reading “The Network™”

The Network, Part 2

Week two of the grand experiment called The Network continues. Our phones, faxes and E-mails have been off the hook with comments, running the gamut of emotions.

Some love the new look. Some believe the combination of “all things music and radio” into one easy read was long overdue. Some welcome the change as a part of the continued evolution that has become our business.

Some think we’re fucked in the head.

Continue reading “The Network, Part 2”

Bye Bye

A long, long time ago…
I can still remember
How that music used to make me smile.
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And, maybe, they’d be happy for a while.

But february made me shiver
With every paper I’d deliver.
Bad news on the doorstep;
I couldn’t take one more step.

I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride,
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died.

It was a subtle change, begun years ago, probably innocently. Some Sr. VP Promotion hired a local promotion manager who gave a great interview, had the drive and the proper work ethic and looked the part. Only one thing was missing. This LPM wasn’t passionate about music. No big deal though, right? One LPM who wasn’t passionate about music made no difference in the big picture. However, this LPM probably worked his way up to a position of prominence and began hiring other LPMs. The last thing this person looked for in a prospective employee was passion for music. He had none and it hadn’t held him back. Why was it needed in others?

Continue reading “Bye Bye”

Cacophonous Symphony

3/6/1998

 

“I can’t hear you.”

 

That’s today’s operative phrase in the record and radio industry. A lot of people are talking…but nobody’s listening.

 

What a sad state of affairs, especially when you consider why most of us got into this business. We were great listeners.

 

Can you still remember when you first felt a desire to be a part of the music industry? What stimulated you? Was it reading about a great deal someone had pulled off? Was it hearing about an egomaniacal record company executive berating employees? Was it someone bragging about how an act was stolen from another label?

 

Nope.

 

You were listening to music. It touched something deep within your soul and you wanted to be a part of it. You really didn’t know what “it” was…but you wanted to be there.

 

You were a great listener. Maybe you listened to the lyrics of a particular song and got hooked. Maybe it was the production. Maybe it was the whole package.

 

Those drawn into the music business might be ambiguous about the defining moment that shaped the course of their future, but rest assured it had something to do with “listening” to music.

 

It more exact with radio freaks. You remember growing up, listening to your favorite station. Maybe it was a particular jock…or one great break that made you decide you wanted to be a part of radio. You knew you could be just as cool as the guy on the air. You wanted to say hip things, be the life of the party and play your favorite songs.

 

That was the key. What cool job. You’re paid for “listening” to music.

 

So we get into the business because we’re great listeners. Those who succeed continue to listen. Remember when you first started, how you were a sponge? You couldn’t soak up enough knowledge. If someone wasn’t talking, you asked questions so you could “hear” the answers. You listened.

 

A funny thing happened on the way to the top. We stopped listening.

 

It’s easy in our business to stop doing the one thing that makes us successful. Too easy.

 

Record promotion people are paid to promote…paid to talk. The information available today about specific records is gargantuan. If it was chocolate, we would all be fat and pimpled. Promotion people have more useless information than ever before to bore even the most open-minded programmer.

 

So what do we do? We talk. And talk. And talk some more.

 

As easy as it is for promotion people to stop listening, it doesn’t compare to the opportunities afforded programmers. As deejays, we’re paid to talk. Hey, what a great gig! Does that mean the more I talk, the more I get paid? No, but many go on as if compensated by the word.

 

The difference between promotion people and programmers can’t be measured in tonnage. Both talk. But with promotion people, the subject changes with the record releases.

 

No so most programmers. The one topic many seem suck on is “I.” That’s sad.

 

I was privileged enough to spend a week the other night with a young music director who had all the answers. Not that he was answering any questions. Nobody could get a word in edgewise. Here is a person whose career is like a balloon. It can go up or down…depending on hot air.

 

Not only was this person not listening to anybody else…he wasn’t even listening to himself! Had he stopped and listened to his own words, he would have been embarrassed by his lack of knowledge, ashamed of his unabashed ego and afraid that he was losing his mind.

 

The babblings of a fool will make you question your sanity…especially when you’re the fool who’s babbling.

 

So what does the industry do with these two insensitive groups…promoters and PDs? We insist they work together.

 

How crazy are we?

 

Promotion people don’t listen. They’re too busy talking about their records. It is sweet irony that the people they’re paid to talk with aren’t listening either. Programmers don’t want to “listen” to what a promotion person is saying. A PD will barely listen to a record, much less the rhetoric about it.

 

Programmers want to talk about themselves. There is no “I” in programmer or promoter, but there is in “idiot,” which is what you are when you stop listening.

 

Who do you think you are? You have the audacity to believe your opinion is the only one that matters? Are you so stupid to believe that if you’re talking, it must mean something? Are you insane enough to think no one else might have a better idea than you?

 

If you answered “yes” to any of the above, you’re guilty. You’re also an idiot and an asshole.

 

Our industry has become a cacophonous symphony…filled with pontification for ego’s sake. Forget cocaine, heroin or crack, record and radio execs are hooked on extemporaneous bullshit…the drug of the 90s.

 

What’s really sad is the ones who are the most susceptible to diarrhea of the mouth won’t believe this Editorial is about them. They can probably talk a good 15 minutest on how it’s not about them. They’re too busy talking to stop and think.

 

You got where you are today by listening. The question is: Where do you want to be tomorrow?

 

If you listen, you might find out.