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My Jerry Maguire Mission Statement

By Jennifer Yeko of True Talent Management
© 2006 All rights reserved

I had a great conversation today with a fellow music industry executive and it really inspired me to write this.

The music industry is changing.

We started talking about the fact that he said he wouldn't work with an artist right now if they only wanted a major label record deal.

From my perspective, many artists these days are forgoing the major label route and doing it themselves. Many superstars are unhappy with their label and wish they could get out of their deal.

And many artists that have been signed, would never do it again and are now going the indie route.

We stand now at a crossroads and a time that, as an artist, you can create and promote your music independently and not have to answer to a label.

I've been singing the praises of DIY for years.

But with recent innovations like iTunes and MySpace, the power is shifting into the hands of the artists. No longer can an artist claim "I can't promote or get exposure for my music, or distribute my record without a major label." Because iTunes and online distribution are replacing brick and mortar retail stores. Sure, the major chains like Best Buy, Walmart and Target will always exist - but they are squeezing out music in favor of higher margin items (electronics, washing machines, etc) and you must be a HUGE artist to get into any of these chains anyhow because they just can't afford the shelf-space to stock anything but absolutely the hottest and biggest selling bands.

For some reason, the major labels are not signing or developing great new talent. Well, not at the rate they should.

He said, even the "major" artists - your Britneys, Gwens and Beyonces - there are only a *handful* of artists today that can command whatever they want from their label. Even Kanye West got up while accepting an award for his song and complained on national TV that his label wouldn't support him by making a video for his song, so he had to pay for it himself. And the song went on to become a hit.

Look at someone like Rob Thomas who, despite his success with Matchbox 20 and selling over 12 million records on the first record alone, still had to "sell out" to cross-promote his new solo CD with a mass retailer like Target - because his label just didn't have the funding to support him as they once did.

We talked more. And sure, while you can sign, develop, manage and promote the greatest artist or band in the world, you still need some luck. Because even the greatest music may not resonate with the public and catch on.

So, you need to put yourself in a position to take advantage of every opportunity you can - through touring, promotion, PR, marketing, film and TV placement, ring tones, radio, and online marketing and street teams. The buzz is that "TV is the new radio" and getting songs on TV and in film can be far more lucrative than getting spins on college radio anyhow.

We also talked about people that are successful and he said "Everyone I've ever known that's made any money, in this business, or any other business, has stuck with it. After 3, 4, or 5 years, when everyone else has given up. And many, most, do give up."

The music business analogy I've come up is this:
The music business is like the Titanic. It was the most beautiful thing you'd seen: a gigantic monstrosity that was the most amazing ride - while you were on it. Lavish parties. Everyone had tons of money. Great times. Alcohol flowing. Everything was smooth sailing and wonderful.

Until one night, seemingly out of the blue, the Titanic hit an iceberg (Napster). Some say they should have seen it coming (ah, the irony of this line).

And now those high and mighty, wealthy Titanic passengers (record label executives/A&R) are thrown into an icy, cold water. And those passengers (esp. A&R) are sinking and doing everything they can to stay afloat.

And along you come, with your CD in hand, waving it at them, asking them to listen because you've written this great song. And maybe it truly is great, maybe it isn't.

But, you see, it doesn't matter. The passengers (esp A&R) these days are too busy trying to stay afloat and they can't be bothered with discovered and developing talent. They are just trying to stay alive (keep their jobs).

So many will perish and only a few will survive.

However, there is good news.

There is an incredible opportunity right now.

We talked about what the future of the music business might be. And how he predicted that one day music placement may account for 1/3 of a label's revenue (right now a major label's revenue might be 25% from licensing, 75% from CD sales). Labels will have to change radically to survive. He talked about how 100 people may need to be laid off from a label and replaced with just 5 - and those 5 must operate with absolutely efficiency and no fat. And that executive that used to make six figures may now have to get by on $40K a year - but will work for a much smaller, guerilla marketing company and will participate in the company's profits so that if and when that artist does make it it big, they will make $200 or $300K a year as payoff for all their hard work.

The problem is, he said, there is so much corruption in the music business. Label executives often hire their friends to work for or with them, sign their friend's bands, and pay companies for "business expenses" when in fact the people running those companies are cronies that give the label executive kick-backs.

So the "old school" method of record companies may never change. Yet each year, record companies die and consolidate. And the newly merged labels function terribly with clashing personalities, management styles and egos. People are underpaid and overworked and quit.

And who suffers? The artist. It's sad to see Presidents of record companies being ousted but some things will never change. And meanwhile, the indies continue to grow and prosper.

Some labels may change enough to survive. In fact, years ago, one major label (that shall remain nameless), was once considered the laughing stock of the music business. They were horribly inefficient and rarely broke any new artists - and screwed up the few successes they had. However, now they have some radical new ideas. So when I hear the President of the label respond to downloading and the numerous problems plaguing the industry by declaring "we should lower our CD prices," what an amazing revelation that is. And a brilliant one at that.

But how many labels are following suit?

How many CDs are still being sold for $14.99+ at retail stores?

Far, far too many, in my opinion. Most new artists/band's CDs should be no more than $10 period - even at retail.

After all, you wouldn't feel too bad if you bought a few CDs at $8-10 each and they weren't all that great. If they had at least a few great songs you'd feel pretty satisfied, right?

However, you feel a whole lot worse when you buy a crappy CD with one "hit" song for $15.99. Do that a few times and it's no wonder consumers have turned to illegal downloading.

At least iTunes came along to "save" the music business. And what do the labels do? Instead of embracing it, they try to squeeze more money out of it, saying songs should be more than $.99 - and maybe they are right but it's like that Titanic analogy - someone just threw you a life vest and you break it in two and ask for a bigger one? What? Just be glad someone is trying to save you; don't destroy one of the few things that can help save you.

The same goes for film and TV licensing. The labels are now trying to squeeze every penny they can from the songs they own. And maybe they should. Because that hit U2 or Beyonce song needs to pay for everything these days. As does that Britney ring tone.

I suppose much of this is not "new" news.

But after my wonderful chat today, I felt inspired to write this. And I hope it gives you some inspiration to go out there. Believe in yourself. Believe in your music. Play shows. Promote yourself. If you're good, you'll succeed. Don't wait for some label to come along and save you.

About the Author: Jennifer Yeko brings over a decade of experience to True Talent Management. Her background in entertainment and music includes work for Variety Magazine, Maverick Records, EMI Music, Sony Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Radio City Music Hall Productions, as well as several music web sites and personal management firms.

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