Rap Coalition

A HOW-TO RESOURCE FOR RAP ARTISTS, PRODUCERS, & DJs. Since knowledge is power, here is your best defense to succeed in the urban music industry...

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Here is pt. 1 "Know Your Boundaries"

Its time for a change and I would like to be a frontrunner for that
change. I know that I am a pretty savvy person when it comes to business,
but you know what...Why do people only look at someone for what they can
do for them vs. what can we do to create/change "The Business"
environment. Why do we as men (not all of us), allow women to come into
our lives and cloud our vision and why do women (not all of them) totally
disrespect the next womans household, just in an effort to "come up?"

I mean, here's the deal and I didnt see it until my wife pointed it out to
me. She said "these lil groupies (yes you do have them), they don't care
about you, they only care about what they can get from you and how far it
will help them in their career." I didn't believe it, see, men, women
know us better than we know ourselves at times. They know that if they
look halfway decent and flirt a little that they can get almost anything
from us and in most cases, it works. Why do you think women only go to
the club w/ $10? Its because they know that they will get someone to buy
them a drink.

So here's where it changes and a new beginning begins. If you wanna do
business, then cool, do business. There's no need to flirt or throw
yourself at someone (male or female) to do business. There is no need to
call anyone at 3am to discuss business, it just dont work like that
anymore. Send an e-mail if you're up that late...

Yeah, many of you probably think the same, but just havent said it or
heard anyone else say it. I mean when you think about it...Fellas, how
many times have you been out and seen the looks that girls get in their
eyes when they see someone that "everyone" makes it a point to talk to?
Fellas, we hear women when they say "such and such is ok, but shit he got
money, so I will be alright"? We've heard that plenty of times...and
ladies, how many times have you had a man totally disrespect you just
because he had his ear a lil wet by some gal?

So there you have it...pt. 1 of The Business...Make & Be A Difference!

Thank You,
Janiro Hawkins II
VP/Event Coordinator

"Music doesn't lie. If there is something to be changed in this world,
then it can only happen through music." - Jimi Hendrix

Monday, April 21, 2008

Bob Lefetsz says:

Despite repeating the mantra that content is king, the major labels never believed this. Nor did the movie studios. Distribution is king. If you can't find something in the store, in the theatre, it's like it doesn't exist. And the major labels controlled the store just like the movie studios controlled the theatres. Sure, they had to compete with each other, but there was no issue of renegades entering their domain, until the Net flattened distribution, made it available to everyone. Any act can sign up with TuneCore and get its wares on iTunes. Giving up a hell of a lot less in the process than they would if they made a deal with a major. And getting paid too, assuming they sell.

And secondary to distribution was marketing. That was the driver in the nineties. That's what Tommy Mottola was all about. Working the media into a frenzy, driving the public into the record shops. Once again, it was a limited universe. The individual, the so-called indie, had no access to major media. Couldn't get on the "Today Show", never mind Top Forty radio or even MTV. Labels would pick their priorities and hype them to high heaven. They were good at this. But now they're flummoxed, how do they reach a public that's not paying attention?

First the strategy was street teams. Not only at the gig, but online. Thought was if you just paid enough kids, they'd spread the word on the Web. The audience is stupid, it can be influenced.

Only one problem, it can't.

Have you visited a message board recently? The hypesters and trolls are usually outed in one post. Fake hype just doesn't work on the Web. The culture of the Web is to out fraud. Pulling the wool over the public's eyes is a failed strategy...

And look at the biggest success online. Google. It does essentially no hype. Google triumphed because it was good. Be good and the public will spread the word, users will flock to you, you'll reach critical mass.

Success on the Web is predicated on quality. Sure, train-wreck value is important too, kind of like a novelty record. But those sites don't tend to last. Unless they're all train-wreck all the time. Then there are the MySpaces and Facebooks. Those are like new music genres. They don't have to be executed perfectly, they just need to be new and different.

So it's about the idea. And, ultimately, the quality of that idea. It's not about distribution and it's not about marketing. And the old guard doesn't like this.

And the new wave isn't enamored either. Because the new guard believes it should have the success of the old guard. Musicians who toiled privately in the past are e-mailing everyone they know, what can they do to become successful, what's the secret? The secret is being good. And most bands, like most Website ideas, are not.

Google wasn't the first search engine. I was addicted to AltaVista and HotBot. But I didn't tell anybody about AltaVista, it was too hard to use properly. And although I spread the word on HotBot, Google came along and being better, succeeded. Your band has to be good.

Musicians hate hearing the word "good". They like to believe their sound is unique, the more different it is, the higher value one must ascribe to it. But most of these musicians purveying these incomprehensible sounds want a larger audience and are frustrated. Bottom line, the audience determines what will sell. Its criteria for good might be different from yours. But there are criteria nonetheless. The mass audience tends to like tunefulness. Sometimes a beat, sometimes a melody. New and different score points, but you have to be able to get it on the first or second listen. If it takes fifteen tries, the mass audience isn't interested.

Does this mean everything of quality will gain a mass audience? Does this mean marketing never plays a part? No. But the emphasis is now on the underlying product, and it hasn't been for eons. You've got to start with quality.

The most important employee at any label is the talent scout. The A&R man is king. Just ask the manager. He doesn't sign a hundred acts. He sifts through the offerings until he finds one. Which he nurtures for years. This is the model of the future. Finding the one or two or three acts with quality, and sticking with them, climbing the mountain step by step, not going into outer space on a rocket ship fueled by television.

Walter Yetnikoff interview....VERY interesting!


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Besieged by web, music stores go digital, sort of

By Bradley Bambarger, Star-Ledger Staff

Browsing in a record store has always held the promise of serendipity for the music hound -- stumbling on a gem next to the disc you were looking for, being reminded of an old favorite that a friend just has to have, grabbing something on impulse.

This has become an increasingly quaint experience, as brick-and-mortar retail space for CDs continues to evaporate. But music sellers have come up with an item that may provide some middle ground between consuming music via the internet and shopping for it in person: digital album cards.

These products -- marketed by top digital music seller iTunes and major record company Sony-BMG, with other major labels and perhaps Wal-Mart to follow -- manage to be both physical and digital. Selling for the price of a CD (usually $12.99), the glossy cards give purchasers a code that enables them to download the album's songs, a booklet and such extras as videos and bonus tracks not available on CD.

Offering 46 titles now and 30 more by June, Sony-BMG sells their Platinum MusicPass cards via the big chains Best Buy and Target, as well as at such mall-oriented media shops as FYE. With 30 titles so far, Apple's iTunes Digital Release Cards -- distinct from the iTunes gift cards sold by dollar amount -- are available at Apple stores, Best Buy and most Starbucks locations.

If old-school CD collectors find the digital album cards flimsy, the extras might be enticing. For music lovers new to downloading or wary of using their credit cards online, the album cards could provide a bridge to buying music on the web.

"People come into the store every day who haven't gotten into downloading yet, and the digital album cards can ease them into it," says Crystal Strope, a customer assistant at the Best Buy on Manhattan's Columbus Circle. "Of course, a lot of customers also like to browse to discover things as they've always done with CDs, and there's a touch and feel to the cards."

While the digital album cards may turn out to be neither-fish-nor-fowl ephemera, they don't take up as much costly inventory space as CDs, making them easy to merchandise in multiple spots. The Sony-BMG line debuted in January, with the iTunes cards appearing last fall. Neither company will reveal sales figures for their cards, but Sony-BMG reports an exponential spike around Valentine's Day and Easter, suggesting that the cards could be a hit as a gift item.

Unlike iTunes cards -- whose downloads only work with Apple's iPods -- Sony-BMG cards offer access to high-quality MP3 files that work on any digital music player. Sony-BMG's biggest MusicPass seller is R&B teen Chris Brown's "Exclusive," and its line also includes such newly compiled anthologies as "'80s Pop Hits." Among the iTunes cards -- which generally retail for $3 or $4 more than the site's $9.99 per-album price -- top sellers include Eddie Vedder's "Into the Wild" film soundtrack. A John Lennon video album is also available in the iTunes series, for $24.95.

The iTunes album cards are problematic for traditional music stores -- the site's virtual record shop is killer competition, after all. Trans World Entertainment -- which operates 30 music outlets in New Jersey (including 26 FYE shops) -- sells dollar-amount iTunes gift cards as a sort of necessary evil. But the firm draws the line at the Apple's album cards, says Ish Cuebas, Trans World's vice president of music and merchandising operations.

But Cuebas is bullish about these products from the major labels, saying, "The Sony-BMG album cards haven't been a runaway success, and the profit margins are lower than with CDs, but we've definitely seen some incremental sales. They're not going to replace CDs for us, but they fill a need -- we'll try anything."

Advertising for the digital album cards has been surprisingly low-key. Their existence is still below the radar for most consumers, with young shoppers approached in the Best Buy in Union this week having never heard of the cards.

Although changes in the business keep coming, CDs haven't gone away, with four times more albums sold on disc than via download during this year's first quarter -- 88.4 million versus 15.7 million, according to sales-charting firm Nielsen SoundScan. But digital sales are making gains, with a 36 percent increase in album downloads so far this year. Amazon has begun successfully offering MP3 downloads, and a January-February study by market research firm NPD Group listed iTunes as the top music seller for the first time, surpassing Wal-Mart.

Album sales of any kind are down 11 percent in the first quarter, after a 15 percent drop last year. With illegal downloads and a surfeit of other free music on the Internet, record companies have to deal with more holes in the dike than they have fingers. But they finally seem to be working together: The major labels just arranged to sell music via MySpace, and more deals are being made for websites to pay labels indirectly for music, via ad revenue.

Digital album cards are another example of necessity breeding invention, says Ed Christman, retail editor of Billboard magazine.

"Are these cards the next big thing that will save the record business? No, but every little bit helps," he says. "There's so much experimenting going on. Everyone's guessing about how people are going to buy music in the future, but nobody knows."

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Who Fucked Up Hip Hop?
By, Wendy Day from Rap Coalition

I’m looking at the Top 200 CDs that sold this past week, according to SoundScan—that’s basically a list of CDs that have sold between 3,194 on the low end (#200 is Chrisette Michelle’s “I Am”) and 189,682 on the high end (#1 is Day 182’s “Day 182”). These statistics give me an idea of what’s selling and what’s not.

Of these top 200 selling CDs, added all together, this week saw almost 2.4 million CDs sell. Of all of those Top 200 CDs, when one adds up all of the sales for all 200, over 125 million CDs have sold. That’s a lot of CDs….but not as many as it once was.

Overall as a genre, Rap is not selling well. The only three rappers that are Platinum on the Top 200 in sales this week are Kanye at #109 (2 million sold), Jay Z at #134 (1 million sold), and Timberland at #164 (1.1 million sold; and who knew he even had an album out?). Plies and Lupe Fiasco are about to go Gold, and Rick Ross will most likely go Gold in the next few months as well, while Souljah Boy will be Platinum around the same time.

So, what the fuck happened to rap?! We used to lead the charts. It was not so long ago that rap releases dominated the Top 10 releases every week. There used to be quite a few platinum rap releases each year—now I can count them on one hand, without using all of my fingers. Last year we had only TI, Kanye, and 50? Is that possible?

On this Top 200 SoundScan sales chart that I am looking at (dated March 30, 2008) there are the following:
• 28 Platinum CDs
• 7 Double Platinum CDs
• 7 Triple Platinum + CDs
Again, of these 42 Platinum (or multi-platinum) CD releases, only 3 were rap, and Timberland’s release is really more of a pop record (good for him!!). Three. That’s just embarrassing.

Has downloading of music adversely affected rap music to this extent? Doubtful. It’s affected it, but it hasn’t killed the success of Kanye, 50, T.I., Timbo, or Jay-Z. Could it be the quality of music we are signing? I believe that plays a big part. As a person who sets up labels for a living, I have to lament that any label that still has the same A&Rs in positions of power, should all be fired—not the A&R folks, but the actual labels. If you aren’t Def Jam, Interscope, or Atlantic, right now, you suck!!! (I am speaking solely in terms of rap music—someone is putting out those successful Gold and Platinum CDs I see on the charts in other genres of music!).

Our outlets are dwindling for retail (are any Best Buy stores offering in-store appearances for rappers who aren’t already Gold or Platinum?), video channels are non-existent (BET shows rap videos less than a few hours a day), and the competition for our consumer’s attention is being widely shattered by more and more diversions (video games, the internet, cable, film, TV, podcasts, books, sports, games, social networking, clubs, etc) that pull them away from listening to music.

On the business side, we all raced to do endorsement deals with products we didn’t really endorse, we started companies that didn’t make sense, corporations hired “consultants” that were inept (and still do), and the major labels let competitors hire away their best employees thereby breaking up their successful marketing teams over a few dollars. But I can’t just blame the major labels.

I also believe the new “incubators” that have infiltrated rap play a large part in this downturn. Until about 2005, we had a large number of independent labels around the US that were selling decent numbers on their own. The majors left them to bumble around by themselves and get pretty good at putting out their own CDs independently (the old trial and error method), and then would scoop them up when they got to a point where the major could apply their machine and really create something huge: No Limit, Cash Money, Slip N Slide, RocAFella, Rap-A-Lot, etc.

Once the incubators decided they would be the new business model and scoop up the indies before they really got their feet wet independently (meaning at a bargain basement price for anyone stupid enough to sell their dream and their artists for the low-low), it stopped the trial and error method of learning and left that process to mediocre New York staffs that often have no idea how to work regional releases to build them to a national level. Had Cash Money Records or No Limit Records done a deal with Asylum, Koch, TVT, Imperial, or Fontana would they have been as successful? Doubtful! The business model is just different.

The incubator system also took the running of the label away from the streets and shifted the power and decision-making (and the check writing) to New York, where it’s hard to see what’s happening on the streets of Baton Rouge, Atlanta, Macon, or even Miami. Without the ability to react quickly to consumer responses and trends, money gets wasted, precious time gets lost, and artists sell less CDs.

The incubators started with the right idea—spend less, work harder, and tap into that sales market of 100,000 to 350,000 CDs for every release. The problem is that they signed artists that had the ability to do strong numbers, and stunted them with reduced budgets and struggling staffs. I am going to say something even more controversial now: if Boosie and Webbie had signed to Def Jam or Interscope, would their releases have maxed out in the 300,000 CD sales range or would they both be Platinum? As big as the buzz is for these artists on the streets in the south even today, I can not imagine they would not be selling larger numbers.

I am dumbfounded that Webbie’s recent CD has only sold 143,284 CDs in the 5 weeks that it’s been out, and Rick Ross has been able to sell 340,747 CDs in 3 weeks. Both are good artists, both are good albums, but Webbie’s street buzz is far bigger than Rick’s. Hell, I can’t help but wonder if Webbie could have done these types of numbers if he stayed I-N-D-E-P-E-N-D-E-N-T, do you know what I mean!?!

I don’t mean to pick on Asylum. I think they are a fine place for people who aren’t ready for a major label yet, don’t have the proper financing to get there by themselves, and who are relegated to selling just a couple hundred thousand CDs.

So what’s the problem with rap?

As I travel the country (I spent the entire month of February and part of March out on the road in the south—a different market almost everyday), the fans are still excited about the artists, just not many of the ones signed to the major labels. The indies, the few that still exist, are doing well in most of the southern markets. Sadly, most of them have the goal of signing to a major label. The kids are no longer excited about CD releases and many seem to buy CDs as an after thought, unlike my generation which couldn’t wait for Tuesday release days. They aren’t excited about the stories and lifestyles of the artists anymore (how many times did that rapper get shot? Or, who is Lil Wayne dating now? Is Keisha Cole having Jeezy’s baby?) and music is no longer the soundtrack to their lives. Could it be that most of the rappers are over 30, while the fans are not?

Labels slashed their budgets in response to declining sales. DJs are starving because radio went corporate and cut out many of the jobs. The violence at rap shows killed the opportunity for most rappers to tour without the prerequisite R&B act to keep the show “safe.” When the fans told the industry they wanted their music by downloading it to their favorite gadgets, we didn’t respond—we kept trying to force feed them the old hugely profitable methods instead of embracing new technology. Labels forgot to let the fans and consumers dictate which songs they liked best and singles were chosen by marketing staffs based in New York and then force fed to radio with double bonuses to make a song pop. The A and R people stopped seeking out good music and started hooking up their friends or signing acts that offered financial kickbacks to sign them. The rap stars began to age and most went from looking like a star, to looking like somebody’s Dad.

And most importantly, the artists stopped making great music—they started to see this a as a business and made music that they thought would sell, or hit radio, or succeed in the clubs. The bean counters started running the record labels instead of the creative folks. Employee promotions went to staff who had no real success but had showed loyalty to the bosses as they were coming up—so many of the people in positions of power don’t know shit about urban music, how to work a record in today’s economy, or how to keep artists happy and productive—even if they signed rappers that the fans wanted to hear.

I take responsibility for the part I played in fucking this up. I did deals that were seen as expensive for the labels because I forced them to give artists a bigger piece of the pie than the traditional 12%, after they paid back all the expenses. I even did a couple deals for artists who had no business getting record deals in the first place even though they had a regional track record or a major artist behind them. I wrote articles and spoke on panels about retaining ownership and starting your own labels when really only 1% of the audience turned out to be qualified or capable of doing so.

The answer is that we all fucked up hip hop. From the corporate greed to the lack of delivering what the fans want. The real question is, what are we going to do about it!?

Monday, April 07, 2008

More Rants from Bob Lefsetz:

We can argue over the mechanical rate, and lament that whatever it is, the major labels will negotiate it downward, but one thing's for sure, in the future acts will own their records.

The traditional deal was we find you, we pay you a bunch of money, and we own everything. Is this fair? Maybe if the record stiffs, but certainly not if it's successful. The act pays for the album yet the label owns it? In what alternative universe does this make sense?

In the world of major label accounting. Which is also undergoing a transformation. Because of transparency. If there's no pressing, no manufacturing, and you just get a statement from your digital distributor, where do you perpetrate the fraud? That's how labels make their money, via fraud. They sell a certain amount of product and pay you..? Which is why powerful lawyers and managers extract such huge advances, because they don't trust the royalty system. But these big advances have brought EMI to its knees. For if the album is a failure, or doesn't meet expectations, the money guaranteed is out of whack. EMI wants a more equitable deal. And part of this deal will involve the act owning its masters.

Oh, that's not the driving factor, the huge advances, but the transparency is key. Today recording contracts are no longer a mystery. Even fans, business experts after Napster, know that the act pays for the record yet doesn't own it. Light has been shed on this heinous practice. And therefore, it won't be able to exist.

You write a book, you own it.

Direct a movie and you don't own it. Because the film is so damn expensive, there's such a risk involved.

Recording is no longer that expensive, it certainly doesn't have to be. Sure, if you're a superstar and want to spend a million dollars, be my guest. Then again, where are you going to sell all this product, in a world where no one goes diamond not because of piracy, but the inability to reach the masses combined with infinite choice?

Recording costs are coming down. In many cases close to zero. Which in this case, is under 50k. Hell, let's just say under 25k. And if you can't lay your hands on 25k, you don't deserve to be a successful artist. Go to your parents, go to your friends, your fan base, work on the road, your day job, if you can't figure out a way to buy the computer equipment required to make a record, and pay for basic tracks in a big room, you don't have the passion or desire to make it.

That's what records are made on now, computers. And I don't want to argue with engineers what is required for ultimate sound (interestingly, to be heard as MP3s via earbuds). It's just that everybody is making records for less money. The label wants you to record vocals in a home studio. So, if costs keep going down, what is the rationale for the label to own the record?

The rationale used to be that you couldn't do it on your own, couldn't make it on your own. You needed the label to be a bank. But now you can record on your own, and the label can't do much for you. Can't get you on television or on the radio. Why should you give up ownership? The business proposition just ain't that good!

Oh, if you're the new Alicia Keys or Whitney Houston, a high concept act requiring money and time to expose and break you, the label is going to extract concessions, you can't do it without them. But if you're a band and your tracks are on MySpace (which Universal won't allow), and you're playing club gigs, why take almost no money and give up everything to an entity that just can't do much for you? Other than take you to lunch and bill you for the privilege?

360 deals? Where is it written that the labels will be all powerful in the future? I just don't see it. They're desperate. They want to recoup income. Who says acts have to give it to them? And each act is an individual entity, negotiating on its own. There's no WGA forcing everybody to agree. You can't keep acts in line.

Which brings us back to mechanicals. If you own your own master, and you're the label and you're gaining all the revenue, who gives a shit what the mechanical rate is? Oh, if you get a cover you care, but do you write the kind of material that's going to be covered? But what about your publisher, and his big advance? Well, do you need that publisher? And, once again, if you own the label...

But publishers advance monies based on airplay, based on hits. Are there going to be hits in the future? Let's put it this way, will it be a hit-driven business? Shit, the Eagles sold triple platinum, and the success of "Long Road Out Of Eden" had almost nothing to do with hits. There was airplay on one song. But, a brand name and visibility and a cheap price. The Eagles didn't need the major label system.

And neither did Radiohead.

The new Radiohead wouldn't break on MTV. Utterly impossible. So what does the new Radiohead need to make a heinous deal with a major label for? Look to the U.K., where majors license product, for a brief period of time, just to feed the pipeline... That's more representative of the future than the all powerful label of the 1980s or 1990s.

I'm not saying songwriters shouldn't fight to get paid more. I'm just saying that the big label is no longer the bogeyman. The big labels are fighting ridiculous battles that don't matter. If you're a developing act you want your complete song on MySpace, and you want file-trading. If you're not on the radio, how in the hell else are people going to discover you? You want to give now to get later. You don't want people to have to pay a lot to get in on your scene, you want to develop.

The desires of the acts and the major labels no longer square, they're at odds. The label wants to pay little for an incredible upside, which it owns lock, stock and barrel. The acts used to have no choice. Now they do.

Will there be labels in the future? Sure. But they won't look like and won't have the same names as the big four companies today. Because the new labels will be about building acts and maximizing revenue in all areas of exploitation. They'll be about transparency. They'll be run by geeks as opposed to mini-mafiosi. There will be a level of trust between performer and businessman. All things today's majors abhor, which will contribute to their marginalization.

Don't give up ownership of your records anymore. You don't have to. Whether you license for a brief term or get the masters back at a certain sales level or both...this is now a negotiable point, just tell the labels you're going to go indie... They'll no longer laugh. They need you. They know indie can now deliver. They'll negotiate.


Visit the archive: http://lefsetz.com/wordpress/

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Who Controls the Music Biz?
March 21, 2008
By Benjamin Tucker

If someone were to ask you the question of who controls hip hop and the music industry, your answer would probably be, “Who cares!” Even if you don’t think about this question very much, at the back of your mind you do have latent opinions about who you think really controls hip hop that influence your thoughts about it. Part of the reason is that you associate hip hop with black media. Your opinion of who controls black media can heavily influence how you feel about the state of hip hop.

Say you’re the type of person who hates corporate influence on black media products and you read an article on the Internet about how 50 Cent pocketed $100 million from the sale of stock in Glaceau mineral water last year. There are an awful lot of 50 Cent fans out there whose opinions of him changed after reading this because they have a beef with market capitalism. “50 Cent is just a lackey of the System,” they say. Some of these people who still buy CDs would even be inclined to stop buying 50 Cent CDs and products because they believe he’s “sold out” to the greenback. “How dare he!” they’ll say. So the question of who controls hip hop is actually a quite profound and important one because it goes right to the heart of how people understand who has power and influence in this society.

The website allhiphop.com a while back did a short video story on the subject of who controls hip hop. The 4 choices were radio, the people, labels and artists. The first group of people interviewed were individuals being asked questions on the street. Just regular people with opinions about what they liked and believed about hip hop. “We control hip hop…the streets,” shouted one young man in a militant tone. Then they started interviewing people in the music industry. People like Def Jam VP for A&R Lenny Santiago, Ebo Darden at Hot 97 and Ice T. According to Ice T, “Radio rules hip hop…people get into the recording business to put food on the table. At that point you’re going to have to follow the radio’s lead…that’s what the record labels want you to do so radio has the most power.”

Lenny Santiago of Def Jam
Yung Joc believes that the people have all the power. “You know what you want…you don’t care who delivers it.” Nobody should be criticized for believing that both of these men’s remarks about who controls hip hop are equally valid, as well as equally boring. They’re also very subjective remarks because they’re based on what each man has seen, heard, felt and experienced in the industry. Their opinions are no more valid than any guy plucked off the street at random. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

The bottom line is that it really doesn’t matter whether Lenny Santiago of Def Jam thinks that the people control hip hop or whether Joe Schmo feels that the Jewish owned labels have all the power. Both of them would provide a valid explanation for why his point of view is correct. For example, the labels do have tremendous marketing leverage to influence what people feel about an artist. Nobody is going to buy the music of an unknown artist with no radio or magazine and TV exposure.

But then again, when we consider how pitifully short the career of the average music artist is, we can’t place too much faith on the labels' ability to influence people. Like in politics, no amount of money is going to make people like someone who isn’t that good. You can put lipstick on a pig but it won’t conceal the fact that it’s still a pig. So there is a huge grey area when we talk about these things.

No single person or organization can say with certainty who controls hip hop because hip hop, like any other commercial product, is controlled by market forces. The market is like those little floaters in your eye. The more you try to look at them, the harder they are to see. You can’t understand who controls something as big as hip hop by focusing on one or two or three things. All of them and none of them control hip hop. You could say that the labels are controlled by the people who know what they want to hear. But the people are influenced by the images and symbols created by the labels, who have influence over what gets played on the radio. But radio is also influenced by people who influence the advertisers who influence radio who in turn influence what the labels can put on air for the people. The artists?...well, they just do what everyone tells them to.

It’s OK for people to have opinions about what ails hip hop. What’s not OK is the kind of finger pointing and scapegoating that goes on by people uninformed about how things work out here in the real world. Some people blame the South for destroying hip hop. “The South,” of course, is just reacting to the demands of the market. Or how about Bill O’Reilly, who constantly blames 50 Cent for being so vile and indiscriminate with his lyrics. O’Reilly should have a far better understanding of why it would make no sense at all for 50 Cent to stop doing what he does best when vile lyrics is what the market rewards him for. At the end of the day it really doesn’t matter what O’Reilly or any one person thinks about who controls hip hop because hip hop is here to stay and the market will see to that…for the foreseeable future, at least.

The $150 Million Jay-Z Deal (OK, stop laughing)

Here's Bob Lefsetz

This is not the future of the music business, this is old men trying to cash in one more time to support their egregious, expansive, expensive lifestyles.

How many times has Michael Cohl sold his company? Do you think anything different is going on here? That he's not gussying up the "assets" to sell to someone more stupid than a beer company, otherwise known as the PUBLIC?

Don't sit down and analyze the dollars and cents. This is no different from Richard Branson signing the Rolling Stones so he could sell Virgin Records for a billion dollars. An act with marquee value but very few record sales. And this was before the days of 360 deals, when it was only about the record sales...

God, if Live Nation has Madonna and U2 and Jay-Z, the company must be worth a fortune, just like Warner has Led Zeppelin, CSNY and Neil Young. The only difference being Warner doesn't share in the touring revenues... Then again, is the catalog of these classic acts a better mover than Jay-Z's? And what's this you tell me, Live Nation DOESN'T GET THE CATALOG??

Granted, Jay-Z does better live business than most rappers, whose shows are not must see events... But isn't this tour propped up by Mary J. Blige? And isn't it kind of a post exec gig victory lap from Jay-Z who has come out of "retirement"? What does the future augur for Mr. Carter? Looking into my crystal ball, not zillions of dollars. If LL Cool J finally turned to ice, don't you think Jay-Z will too? Who would you rather be in business with, Michael Jordan or a twenty one year old NBA star? Live Nation is only interested in young talent to the degree it looks like it's a full service business so they can lay the company off on the public.

Now maybe Michael Cohl is a good match for Jay-Z. Both hustlers, willing to do almost anything to make a buck. The public might not know Cohl, but he's the guy dealing with resellers, he's doing whatever it takes to get his money back. The act gives up so much control for that guaranteed payment. If this is the music business, it's not the late sixties/early seventies heyday as much as a bizarre "Jetsons" construction wherein the artists are a pawn in the businessman's game... Speaking of which, why not a deal with Mr. Zimmerman himself? He'd like an upfront payment!

Where is the benefit to the public? These guarantees result in sky high prices. Breaking a track on the road? I think Jay-Z's been too far from the street. Not enough people are in attendance and people pay a fortune to hear the HITS! They don't want new stuff, which is hard to decipher in the cavernous halls these acts play in anyway...

Sure, there's no real money in records right now, touring is where it's at. But that doesn't mean in the twenty first century it will just be gallivanting dinosaurs and no one else. There will be new acts. They will have a following. Building them won't be easy, but will be helped with Internet word of mouth. You'll have to invest in their success. Maybe with sweat equity more than dollars. And maybe arenas will be a long shot for most. But that's the future. Theatre acts with rabid followings. The meanderings of these lumbering old acts is just the final breath of an industry that's run on fumes for far too long.

Invest in Live Nation? Yup, that's who I want to be in business with, concert promoters. Known for their honesty, and upfront business practices. Then again, look at Bear Stearns and its rescue by the government. The tiny music business is just a reflection of our country at large. Run by thieving men playing with funny money believing they have a right to power and a right to lifestyle. And it's always the public that bails them out, always the public that loses.

This is a Hail Mary pass to save Live Nation's stock. To freeze AEG out of the game. To make investors think Live Nation is the only team in town. It would be like the Yankees guaranteeing they're going to win the World Series EVERY year and saying it's not worth it to invest in any other team. Then again, it's worse. You can't get a new Major League Baseball franchise. You can't buy in. But anybody can buy into the record business. Hell, a lot of the venues are open to anybody willing to pay. A new model with new acts will emerge. These old players will be gone. And it won't be soon enough for me.

Hell, one more analogy and then I'm going to go...

To build his eponymous record label, David Geffen signed three of the biggest stars in the universe, Donna Summer, Elton John and John Lennon. The first two acts' albums stiffed outright. Lennon's was headed for the dumper, but he was unfortunately killed. It wasn't until the label signed NEW acts that it truly became successful. Guns N' Roses built Geffen Records, that's what got Mr. Geffen his half a billion dollar check. If you want to get rich in the music business, you've got to invest in the NEW!


Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Check out this comparison between the Tech world of today and Hip Hop 1985: