Simon Napier Bell: the Dodgy Business of Popular Music: Major Labels
Simon Napier-Bell (who previously managed Wham, Marc Bolan, Japan and Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page (during his Yardbirds phase) is back in Skrufff, delivering a short series of excerpts from his must-read new history of the music business book ‘TA-RA-RA-BOOM-DE-AY- the Dodgy Business of Popular Music’. (Click here to download/ buy )
Simon Napier-Bell: “In New York, Sony’s impressive building has a lobby with a seventy foot high atrium. It’s heavy with music business ambiance – gold records, photographs and the ‘Sony Shop of New Technology’.
Upstairs, the main reception area is like the lounge of an exclusive club. Young people, dreaming of stardom, stand in wonder breathing in the atmosphere, looking at memorabilia – platinum CDs, photos of stars, framed press reports, Billboard charts. For a new artist or manager, just to step into the building is a thrill. The impression is of a corporation dedicated to the success of its artists, almost altruistic in its understanding of their needs.
Aspiring artists still go there dreaming of being signed but the ratio of success is what it always was – for every ten artists signed, nine will get nowhere.
A contract with a major record company was always a 90 per cent guarantee of failure and it still is today. Artists were never the product; the product was the record – ten cents of vinyl selling for ten dollars. Artists were just the ingredient that made it sell.
With CD sales dying fast, record companies are losing that huge mark-up on vinyl yet continue to dream of superstar artists who can sell twenty million albums. Whenever they think they’ve found one, to make sure of their profits they still use the same insidious contracts they always did, without the most basic rights of employment. And still artists queue up to be given one.
“People are so anxious to sign, they’ll sign anything,” said Tom Waits. “Like going across the river on the back of an alligator.”
Imagine the outcry if people working in a factory were told that the cost of the products they were making would be deducted from their wages, which anyway would only be paid if the company managed to sell the products in the first place.
That’s what it means when an artist has to pay his own recording costs out of future royalties. Or that they have to work for the company for a minimum of five years and at the company’s discretion can be transferred to any other company at any time. Which is what happened recently to all the artists signed with EMI who now find themselves recording for Universal.
When the Wall Street Journal investigated the music industry it concluded that “for all the twenty-first century glitz that surrounds it, the popular music business is distinctly medieval in character: the last form of indentured servitude”.
Is it any wonder that no one loves the major record companies?”
TA-RA-RA-BOOM-DE-AY- the Dodgy Business of Popular Music: “click here to download/ buy: