Tim Tebow And The Downfall of Record Labels

I had a half-formed thought this morning that I've tried to spit out below in a stream of consciousness.  After reading it all the way through, I recognize it rambles.  But I kind of like it for some reason.

Tim Tebow.  Record Labels.

One is a God-fearing southpaw who can't hit the side of a barn on a 10 yard out pattern.  Yet all he's done is win at every level.

The other used to be THE central means by which we discovered music.  Despite years of domination in the larger machine known as the music industry, record companies are in ruins.

So what on earth do they have in common?

DogmaThe failure for their respective thought-leaders - football pundits and record executives - to acknowledge, embrace and explore paradigm shifts impacting their business.

I remember someone saying to me as a young buck at Sony Music in 1999 or 2000, around when Napster first hit the scene:  What incentive does a 50 year old, wealthy record executive have to change their entire business model at this point in their career?  None!

All these years later that's stuck with me.  It speaks to fear.  To motivation.  To ego.  To how and why people do or don't make decisions.  It was an industry fully committed to a model that we all see now was deeply flawed.  An industry run by legends like Tommy Mottola, Donnie Ienner and Clive Davis - guys with golden ears, but who ruled with an iron fist (no one dared question their decisions - they were scary dudes).

Their dogma - their refusal to see what was right in front of them - caused financial ruin, changed lives and has altered the music landscape forever.

Now, Tebow.  The guy is a phenomenon right now.  Blogs pay homage to him (kind of).  Non-sports fans know his name.  And pundits can't stop talking about him.  But I've noticed something odd.  Despite a 5-1 record as a starter - and his teammates rallying around him like I've never seen before - the "experts" can't accept his style of play (relentless running, little passing, ball control) as worthy of the great NFL.  They say it's a temporary thing - that opposing teams will eventually figure it out.  They say his success is less to do with talent than adrenaline.  They say he's doesn't have the right "tools" to be a big-time NFL quarterback.

The guy was a college football legend and has an 83% win rate at the pro level.  Tell me again what tools he doesn't have?

I say to all the Sunday morning studio crews: talk to Tommy Mottola about holding on to long-held beliefs out of fear, ego or total failure of imagination.

The NFL won't crumble like the record labels; but if Tebow pans out there will be a lot of pundit careers left in ruins.

Photo: Dogma by Antje Blumenstein.

Storytelling With a Music Business Vet (Dan Beck)

I've known Dan Beck since 2002.  By my calculations Dan has worked and lived in the upper echelons of the music business for four decades.  He recently started one of the most entertaining blogs around, called Music Bizz Fizz - a collection of nearly unbelievable stories about his run-ins with some of music's greatest legends.

Dan-Beck-Elisa-Perry-Joe- Dan is a born storyteller.  Since I've known him he's dazzled me with personal [and mostly, touching] stories about Ozzie(Osbourne), Michael (Jackson), Cyndi (Lauper), Richard (Branson) and others.

I asked him if he'd answer a few questions on storytelling, which seems to be on the tip of every marketer's tongue these days.  Here's what he had to say.

I'm almost certain he'd answer more questions if you leave them as a comment. Go for it ... this guy has been there, done that.

Ian Sohn:  'Storytelling' is a red hot topic these days in marketing circles.  I hear brand managers and agency types talk all the time about how brands need to mine interesting stories from inside the organization, and then bring them to life for external audiences.  Why do you suppose there's such a deliberate emphasis on storytelling these days - is there something happening culturally right now that makes it more important than a few years ago? 

Dan Beck:  We are so connected today and so in touch.  I believe that this re-awakening to storytelling is the realization that storytelling is a way to texture and validate an idea or more warmly position a relationship.  All of our advancements in 24/7 communication are two dimensional and storytelling is a humanistic tool to add depth, history, and perspective. 

IS: Your blog, www.musicbizzfizz.com, is a collection of great stories from your four decades in the music business.  Why did you now choose to start sharing those memories publicly? 

DB: I started my career as a writer and my passion was to be a lyricist/songwriter.  As an editor for a music trade magazine in Nashville , I was writing stories back in the ‘70’s, about the storytellers in country music; people like Tom T. Hall and Charlie Daniels.  Then, as a marketing execuRichard-Sanders-Steven-Tyltive, I was given an enormous gift to work with so many extraordinarily talented recording artists in country, rock, pop, and soul, over the years that were so fascinating to me.  I feel a certain obligation to share those experiences that were given to me, from working with Pearl Jam and Michael Jackson to the many  artists who never made it.  I know 50 other people who have better stories than mine, but their not telling them!  It has always been an extremely difficult business for creative people to survive.  I believe there are lessons in their experiences, in their courage, and in the hallucination of chasing fame and celebrity with ones talents.  The breakthroughs, the mistakes, even the naïve perspective we might have had back then were all a part of trying to figure out how to succeed.  Maybe there is something in that a new mind can advance.  Maybe I have never figured some of these things out, but if I share them, maybe someone else can gain something from these extraordinary experiences.     

IS: What makes a good storyteller?  Is it the story or the teller?  If both, what elements are critical for each? 

DB: I think the story has to be relatable.  People have to be able to apply it in some way to their own life.  I think there has to be a good conclusion… or at least a conclusion that makes you think or ponder it.  The best storytellers love the story they are telling.  I grew up listening to storytellers and what I remember most was their joy in remembering and telling their stories.   

IS: How much does accuracy matter in storytelling?  I noticed some of the comments you receive on your blog posts are people correcting little things (it was a 747 not a prop plane) to more significant ones (I was not on that trip when The Clash ...).  To me it makes very little difference since some of your tales are 30+ years old, and little inaccuracies don't fundamentally change the story (or perhaps because my wife tells me I tend to make up historical 'facts').  But think about a brand telling a story to its stakeholders ... can inaccuracies or creative liberties be tolerated? 

SADE DB: One of the best experiences I have had has been the responses to correct my version of history.  I wrote a story about being backstage at the first Clash concert in the US .  I was with 6-8 people from the record company.  I got half the people wrong who were there.  Within a couple of hours of posting it, I had heard from several people who were there 31 years ago and we pieced together the entire backstage scene.  It was stunning to realize the speed of connection today and also how warm that connection is between people who experienced something very special way back when.  Storytelling doesn’t make the storyteller the authority.  To me, it is just bringing information forward… accurate or inaccurate.  We share stories; which means we can share our evaluation of them.  Stories do not have to be believable to be good.  We have all heard tall tales that were a lot of fun to hear and they seem to all contain some incredible morsel of truth.  Some of the best storytellers are the biggest BSers.  We still enjoy them.  With that said, silver-tongued devils can lead a brand astray.  The story is just the illustration of a point.  You have to have a point that needs to be made or a value in your brand or product that needs to be illustrated.  Usually, if you’re BSing someone, you actually don’t have a point.  What is the agenda of the storyteller?  Whenever I write a story, I ask myself, “What is my agenda?”  I then try to make sure that agenda is going to pass muster with my readers.  If I put forward a personal accomplishment in a story, it better have some basis of believability.  People accept imperfection when it is delivered with honestly.  Imperfection when combined with an agenda is the breeding ground for dishonesty.          

IS: The requisite social media question ... do you think brands or people can tell stories in 140 character installments, or does a good story require a longer form? 

DB: The reality is that most stories need to be short.  I’m not sure I will ever learn that in my lifetime!  However, I’ve realized through writing the blog that there is always a battle between all the facts or issues of a story and getting it across succinctly.  I actually enjoy the editing process, because you really work toward simplifying and shortening the story.  Sometimes the best stories are simply a photo.  How often have you seen a long, enthusiastic thread of comments on Facebook that all started with a photo?  Every story is a child/parent to several other stories.  The best stories I’ve told get interrupted midstream by people who are so enthusiastic about adding their experience.  Which reminds me of a great story…  

Cultural Happenings Pre Social Media: Walk This Way

Had an idea for a series of posts on important cultural events that happened pre-social media boom ... thinking about how the existence of YouTube, Flickr, blogs, Twitter and Facebook would have changed things.

Almost started with 9/11.  Then I thought I might want to ease my way into it.  And frankly, I don't need the crazy conspiracy theorists circling overhead. 

Run_dmc_walk_this_waySo I decided on something a bit lighter to pilot this ... Aerosmith's landmark collaboration with Run DMC on the remake of "Walk This Way." 

For the younger readers (this happened in 1986), it's impossible to overstate the pop cultural magnitude of this odd coupling. 

The first rap song to go Top 5 in The Billboard Hot 100.  The first music video of its kind played in heavy rotation on MTV [insert MTV video joke here].  Quite frankly, one of the first times I can remember in my childhood where kids of different races could tap their feet in unison.

So how do I think things would have played out differently if, in 1986, social media was the force it is today?

Internet Killed the Video Star.  I can remember sitting in front of the TV back then waiting for that magical moment when Tyler's and Perry's mugs filled the screen in a dark rehearsal space, that memorable riff kicking things off.  It could be days between viewings, and that scarcity was probably a huge driver of success.  These days we would all watch it on YouTube, and quickly move on to the next big thing.  

Mashup Muck up. The Aerosmith/DMC version of "Walk This Way" was a mashup of sorts - a great one at that.  In the social media era I suspect some well-intentioned [but misguided] fan would take this version and incorporate some silly club beat, animate in Kanye West upstaging Taylor Swift and for some reason geo-plot it on Google Maps.  No good.

Haters unite. I don't mean to get all serious, but if social media existed at the time of this collaboration it would have given a voice to all the haters ... rap purists, rock purists and even racists.  Remember, this kind of thing just wasn't done back then - it addressed a pretty big social taboo.

Net-net, I think this was one of those moments better off without social media.  The collaboration seemed that much more special because it was afforded the time and space to make its way through the cultural landscape, retaining its integrity and not caving to knee-jerk opinion or reaction. 

Ever get to the end of a post and wonder what the point was?  Yeah, I kind of feel that way too.  But I've never been shy about posting half thoughts here.

Thoughts or builds appreciated.

What Lollapalooza Tells Me About The State Of Music

[this post was inspired by a conversation with my cousin,who has been a manager in the music business for 3+ decades, and has seen it all]

On the surface one might look at the ticket frenzy caused each year by Lollapolooza and declare the music industry alive and kicking [not the record labels, but the music industry]. 

But take a careful look at the big-draw headliners for Lollapalooza 2009 ...

Depeche Mode: Formed in 1980
Tool: Formed in 1990
Jane's Addiction: Formed in 1985
Beastie Boys: Formed in 1979
Lou Reed: Born in 1942
Snoop: First broke in 1992

Yes, folks ... all achieved their fame and fortune in the pre-Napster era.  These bands are legends.  Kings of Leon are a fine band.  I'm sure The Decemberists are too.  But chances are neither will be the headline draw for an outdoor music festival 25 years from now.

The era of music superstar will die-out with the generation of bands listed above.  After that, we'll be left with a much wider array of artists, but none that are likely to capture the hearts, minds and spirits of the population at large.

Blame it on whoever you want, but the fact is that young consumers don't value music the way they should; and record labels couldn't have handled the digital revolution in a more inappropriate fashion. 

And while some celebrate the 'long tail' era of music, I for one will miss those superstar bands ... the ones that sell out arenas every night; the ones that bridge generations; the ones that we all know the words to their greatest hits; the ones who define eras, not just the moment.  The Killers are a fine rock band ... of the moment.  Tool is a superb rock band of a generation.  It's that simple.


Bad Boy Pitch Men

[This post originally appeared on Ogilvy PR's travel and toursim blog, Being There Doing That]

Bob Marley is a legendary singer/songwriter, unmatched political activist, but also arguably the world’s best known lover of sensimillia and a prolific producer of children (12 in all … three with Rita, two adopted, seven with separate women).

Iggy Pop was the dynamic front man for The Stooges (and later a solo artist), but also was know for his on-stage antics including self-mutilation, audience abuse and stage diving (not to mention his legendary drug habit).

On paper neither Marley nor Pop are the celebrities who immediately come to mind as corporate pitch men. Yet Marley – 28 years after his death – is still very much the voice of Jamaica tourism; and Pop’s “Lust for Life” has been the soundtrack of Royal Caribbean commercials for the better part of the decade.

In a world where brands go to great lengths to protect and promote a reputation, what gives?

Bob Marley put Jamaica on the tourism map (some would argue Chris Blackwell, the legendary founder of Island Records, put Marley, and therefore Jamaica, on the map). Marley and Jamaica are – and always will be – inextricably linked. Don't you agree that most travelers to Jamaica come to experience the Marley lifestyle (whatever that entails)? As the island’s most famous son (Legend alone has sold upwards of 20 million worldwide), it would be a huge miss if Jamaica didn’t feature him in their outreach.

The Royal Caribbean case is a bit trickier. There's some online chatter questioning the choice of Pop’s song for a family-friendly brand. But I’m of the mind that (1) Iggy Pop was never a household name and (2) “Lust for Life,” at least in the US, was never a “hit” song (according to Wikipedia “Lust for Life” reached #28 in the UK Albums Chart and peaked at #120 on the Billboard charts in US). I doubt that beyond a small percentage of the population, Pop has a lot of relevance. And while the bulk of the lyrics are PG-13, the refrain, I’ve got a lust for life, works for Royal Caribbean (both lyrically and energetically).

Iggy Pop

Many brands use music from well-known artists to market their product/service (it makes particular sense for travel services and destinations as music can immediately convey a lifestyle or feeling) . And with the music industry in a rough state, bands will continue to aggressively license their work for compensation. Some fans consider this selling out. I think most bands consider this lunch money. Four immediate lessons come to mind for brands considering this route (it should be noted that I spent a few years in the music business, at a label, several small agencies and as a consultant for brands looking to connect with bands):

  1. Embrace an artist who epitomizes what you are trying to sell. Easier said than done – there are only so many Bob Marleys.
  2. Do your due diligence. Go beyond the lyrics. Demand that your agency provide a full research backgrounder on the artist (particularly those you aren't familiar with). Make sure you’re turning over all rocks. What does the mainstream press say? What’s the chatter in social media? Is there a conversation ready to erupt? If so, you might want to walk away.
  3. There are different levels of association with an artist ... from licensing a song/lyrics to the artist's likeness to the artist as a pitch-man. The latter is highest risk/highest potential reward.
  4. Again, with the state of the music business being what it is, there are deals to be had. Leverage your spend, particularly if you're interested in working with the artist beyond just using their music (e.g., personal appearances, exclusive content, etc.)

QTip v Questlove on Twitter [Celebrity Tweet-Off Round 2]

In a recent post I compared the Twitter habits of Shaquille O'Neal and Lance Armstrong.  Both received high marks for their transparency and embracing of new technology.  In the end I gave a slight edge to Shaq because he's less polished, relatively engaged with other Twitter users and is pretty amusing.

Round two is a hip-hop battle for the social media age.  Q-Tip, the leader of A Tribe Called Quest versus Questlove (according to Wikipedia, also known as BROther, ?uestion, Brother Question and ?uestlove), drummer and producer extraordinaire from The Roots.  Using the same criteria as Shaq v Lance ...

  • Q-Tip has 7,568 followers and follows 3,127 [a ratio of 2.5:1]
  • Questlove has 9,594 followers and follows 289 [a ratio of 33:1]
  • In the week of Jan 18-25, Q-Tip Tweeted 51 times; Questlove ... well I stopped counting at 200 [the man is prolific and was clearly inspired by the inauguration]
  • 32 of Questlove's last 60 Tweets have been @replies; versus 18/60 for Q-Tip.

Looking at the stats I have to give the edge to Questlove, mainly for his frequency and relatively high @reply ratio.  Unlike my previous post I'm not going to get into the subjective stuff ... I'll leave that for you to decide. 

But I must say that more often than not I breeze through Q-Tip's Tweets while I try to actually read most of Questlove's.  Below are a few favorites that show a funny, conflicted, self-deprecating man ... not unlike many of us.  As I said in my previous post, I really give both these guys credit for opening themselves up like this ... I suspect their fans truly appreciate it - I certainly do.

Questlove Twitter  
So who do you think wins this one?  Any other celebs doing it well?

Top 25 Guitar Riffs

Top 25 guitar riffs, according to the London School of Music.  Good to see Dire Straits on there, but perplexing that the Stones are missing ...

1. Smoke On The Water - Deep Purple (1973)

2. Smells Like Teen Spirit - Nirvana (1991)

3. Walk This Way - Aerosmith (1975)

4. Purple Haze - Jimi Hendrix (1967)

5. Sweet Child O Mine - Guns N' Roses (1987)

6. Paradise City - Guns N' Roses (1987)

7. Ace Of Spades - Motorhead (1980)

8. Enter Sandman - Metallica (1991)

9. Under The Bridge - Red Hot Chilli Peppers (1992)

10. Welcome To The Jungle - Guns N' Roses (1987)

11. Run To The Hills - Iron Maiden (1982)

12. Walk - Pantera (1992)

13. Johnny Be Goode - Chuck Berry (1958)

14. Back In Black - AC/DC (1980)

15. Immigrant Song - Led Zeppelin (1970)

16. Wake Up - Rage Against The Machine (1992)

17. Highway to Hell - AC/DC (1979)

18. My Generation - The Who (1965)

19. 7 Nation Army - The White Stripes (2003)

20. Born To Be Wild - Steppenwolf (1968)

21. Give It Away - Red Hot Chilli Peppers (1991)

22. Paranoid - Black Sabbath (1970)

23. Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) - Jimi Hendrix (1967)

24. Eye Of The Tiger - Survivor (1982)

25. Money For Nothing - Dire Straits (1984)

How many record execs does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

[Via Seth Godin]

From Dan Kennedy's very funny new book:

First of all, before we change anything, is the light bulb really burned out? Maybe we just need to breathe some life into it; repackage it, maybe the light bulb could do a duet with somebody (Sheryl Crow? Tim McGraw?) in hopes of getting some crossover appeal, maybe it could be in a beer commercial, maybe we could get it out on the road with a brighter light bulb. The other thing to think about is that this summer, Honda is rolling out a 100 Million dollar campaign for a new car aimed at thirty-somethings who consider themselves adventurous/spontaneous but can't really afford something like a luxury S.U.V. and it might be a perfect campaign to tie this light bulb into, at least it would be the perfect demographic, in terms of age.

Also, and this is just an idea: what if we found out what video games are being released in the third quarter and maybe pitched the idea of having our light bulb make an appearance in the video game at some certain level of completion; like, you get to a dark cave, let's say, if it's an adventure game, and if you have enough points you can get the light bulb - and it would be our light bulb, obviously - and then it's easier to see in the cave. The other thing is this: worst-case scenario the light bulb is, in fact, burned out. Is that really the end of the world? I mean, maybe that's actually of more value to us in the long run: Picture this for voice over: "The light bulb is dead. . . but the legend lives on. . . re-released, re-mastered, revealed. . . the light bulb. . . IN STORES NOW." It almost makes more sense than taking the time changing it, plus, if it's dead we can sell it without dealing with it, you know what I mean? No demands from it, no hotels, no road expense, no delays in the project from its end, etc. But, like I said, I'm just thinking off the top of my head here, just brainstorming, and none of this is written in stone. But the first thing we should do is figure out how we want to handle this, because the light bulb's manager is a total nightmare and we're going to have to take a meeting and listen to him sooner or later, and we should know what our plan is before we sit down with him. And let me tell you right now that the first thing out of his mouth is going to be, "This light bulb should be the brightest light bulb in the world, and it could be the brightest light bulb in the world, but you need to support the light bulb, you need to give the light bulb TV ads, you need to be more active in giving the light bulb tour support, we need to have some promotion from your end!" and on and on. And in that meeting, if you're in it, the only answer from our side should be that we're obviously very excited to be working with the light bulb, that we don't think it needs to be changed, that the only problem is people haven't seen how bright the light bulb could be, and our plan is to do everything we can to make this light bulb happen.

I'll send out an email to everyone before the meeting to remind people of our position on this, but the bottom line is we don't have the budgets right now, and basically we need to see something happening with the light bulb before we go throwing good money after bad, but obviously we can't have the light bulb's manager hearing that. I can tell you all that I'm personally very excited to be working with the light bulb, I think it will light up very brightly, and we're not going to stop working the light bulb, in whatever ways budgets will permit, until it does, in fact, light up very brightly. . . the light bulb is a very big priority for us from the top of the company to the bottom. Period. We can talk more about this when I am back from Barbados next week, and I'm going to need everybody's help on this. I know we can do it, but we need everybody working hard.

Jay-Z to Launch Label with Apple

JayzWhen Jay-Z famously rapped, "I'm not a businessman / I'm a business, man," he was not lying ...

Mr. Carter is already the the "best rapper alive" [according to him], the master of the Roc-A-Fella empire, the proprietor of the ever-expanding 40/40 club and a new hotel chainBudweiser pitch man, and, until recently, the head of Def Jam Records.

Now there are unconfirmed reports today that he and Apple are about to embark on some kind of joint venture.

Jay-Z is simply one of the greatest marketers and businessmen of our generation.  Why has he done so well?  It's really simple ... he is one of the greatest rappers of our generation.  He is the rare combination of steak and sizzle.  Of style and substance.

I suspect he will remain relevant for as long as he chooses.

Rock & Roll is Dead. Hotel GMs Rejoice.

Picture_1This article in the New York Times depresses me.  Keith Moon is turning over in his grave ...

Of course, rock history — and hotels — are littered with stories of room demolitions and groupie escapades. In the ’70s, Led Zeppelin and the Who were infamous for hurling television sets out hotel windows and cementing furniture to ceilings.

Today, such stories are unlikely to be repeated. During a stay at the Soho Grand, Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin asked for a kiddie pool for his son; at the London NYC, the Who hit the gym. Today’s rock stars, said Paul Stallings, the owner of the Hotel on Rivington, are “more into yoga than drugs.”

Great Response to My Stuart Copeland Diss

In response to my recent entry in which I questioned Stuart Copeland's place in drumming history [full post here] ... a good friend of mine from New Jersey writes:

I take exception to your vilification of Stewart    Copeland.  While not a classic rock or punk drummer in the vein of     Peart, Charlie Benante, Carmine Appice, Keith Moon, Clem Burke, etc.,     Stewart's signature 3/3 time is an integral ingredient to the     unique sound and success of the Police.  The guy is an obnoxious     weirdo who fell off the face of the Earth after 1983,     but he certainly deserves a hint of respect for his     technique, commercial success and for inspiring God only knows how many     drummers to pick up the sticks.  You don't have to love     him, but the guy doesn't suck like Lars.  And, if     you are going to take the time to bash someone, at least spell his name     correctly. 

The last sentence is genius.  I'm nervous to see your reaction when you read my Mini-KISS tirade!

Moi Moi

YouTube = iTunes

Hanging out at a friend's house last night and realized that he was using YouTube as his music jukebox.  I thought it was strange until I realized that it's actually a really good alternative for people who don't want to invest in building their iTunes library.  The downside is that after each song you have to search for a new one ... but we had fun hanging out and making suggestions  [and I learned that my wife is currently obsessed with Cold War Kids - see video below].

Stuart Copeland???

I'm no music expert, but why do I constantly hear Stuart Copeland's name mentioned in the pantheon of great drummers?  Can someone who thinks he is so great please name a Police song that proves your point?  That's what I thought.

I can live with Neil Peart.  I think Keith Moon is top 5. 

But why is it that no one ever mentions Dave Grohl?  I mean the long, greasy haired, young Dave Grohl [like the pic below].  All you Copeland fans - have you listened to Grohl carry Nirvana musically?  Have you listened to Queens of the Stone Age's Songs for the Deaf?  No, you've probably been listening to the Foo Fighters.


Pearl Jam Controversy ... Censorship?

For those of you who missed this story, it's worth checking out.  Long story short ... Pearl Jam played a live show recently, which was webcast on ATT's Blue Room.  During the song "Daughter" someone (see the blame game below) omitted lyrics criticizing George Bush.  ATT blames the webcast company.  Pearl Jam blames ATT.  I blame them all - ATT should have never sponsored a Pearl Jam concert if they couldn't stomach the inevitable political commentary.  And what the heck does Pearl Jam need ATT for at this point in their careers?