"Our World Has Changed - Stop Hiding Under The
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Yet, if we ask those same 100 people how many of them are prepared
to pay for music, almost all of them will disappear. If we then
ask them what I consider is the important question: How many of
them consider music to be a significant factor in their life (i.e.
they buy the record, download everything there is on the Internet,
legal or illegal, free or for a price, buy the concert ticket, travel
to see the band, buy and wear the T-shirt so they can identify themselves
as part of the “tribe”), we would then have less than
1 in 100.
In fact, we would have 1 in 280.
The truth of the matter is, the average person is passive about
the music – they are content to hear it on the radio and catch
a glimpse of it on television. This isn’t pie-in-the-sky philosophizing;
the facts speak for themselves.
Thirty years ago when home taping (let alone Internet piracy and
illegal downloads) was the stuff of sci-fi movies, the platinum
album was established as the benchmark for extraordinary success
in our business. In the U.S., that’s 1 million sales in a
country that has 280 million people in it. In the U.K., it’s
about the same ratio of 300,000 sales in a population of 80 million.
It’s not much is it? To give some comparison, the same benchmark
for extraordinary success in the movie business is to do $100 million
at the box office. At today’s ticket prices, that is probably
an average of 12 million people seeing the latest film. There may
be 12 million people listening to our record but as we can see,
we’re lucky if there are 1 million paying for the privilege.
The average person does not give a fuck about music. This was not
lost on Ahmet Ertegun or Bill Graham, which is why they built businesses
based on jazz fanatics and what music obsessed hippies really wanted
It was not lost on Perry Farrell when he created Lollapalooza for
Generation X and it wasn’t lost on Sharon and Ozzy when they
created Ozzfest for metalheads. It wasn’t lost on Richard
and Stefanie Reins at Drive Thru or Kevin Lyman, Rick Roskin and
Darryl Eaton when they created Warped for a new generation of punk
rock kids, and it wasn’t lost on Barry Hogan when he created
All Tomorrow’s Parties.
Nor is it lost on me or any of my colleagues at Sanctuary as we
work with established artists and develop new talent for people
that really care about music.
It is only logical that our business and every aspect of it should
focus on that person that considers music to be central to their
The landscape is very different today from the one I started working
in. Twenty years ago, there were 30 great artist development houses
or labels that – regardless of the size of their rosters at
any one moment in time – each had five priorities,
so you had 150 artists in play across the industry at any given
Everyone knew that there wasn’t room for 150 bands on the
radio and everyone knew there wasn’t room for 150 bands on
television so the emphasis had to be on building the relationship
between an artist and a core audience that was
enthusiastic about music.
You had to take an innovative approach to marketing and effort was
possibly the most important component beyond great music. You hoped
that you could make a band so important to its core audience that
the wider media would pay attention and you could then cross it
over into the mainstream, but the economic model was never based
on crossover success – that was just cream on the cake.
The economic model was based on the core audience and therefore
you could afford to cross over and then cross back again without
having to sacrifice your integrity or your core audience. You had
acts like the Blue Oyster Cult, that four albums into their career
could hit the pop charts with “Don’t Fear The Reaper”
or Lynyrd Skynyrd with “Sweet Home Alabama,” and then
continue with business as usual before waiting for another six albums
and six years later when they would hit the pop charts again and
then cross back over and continue on for another 20 years.
You could develop careers of artists selling 1 million records around
the world every time you released a record and go out on tour for
100 shows and sell some merch and keep that faith between the artist
and the audience alive without ever having to trouble radio or MTV.
The emphasis was on playing live, press, marketing, and effort and
the target was always the music fanatic.
Those 30 labels also had an ethos, something that all great companies
used to have but is rarely seen or thought about today. There was
a big difference between Columbia Records and Island Records and
an “Island artist” would probably not be caught dead
on Columbia and vice versa. Aesthetics were important.
Even sister labels like Columbia and Epic or Warner and Reprise
had a marked difference because, at the end of the day, how you
did business had a big impact on which artists, managers and agents
you did business with. Today, those 30 labels are now four labels
and even though they are run by some great record men and women,
their economic model dictates that they have to focus on those three
or four records a year that are capable of selling 5, 6, 7 million
records-plus in order to keep the lights on.
There is no ethos and there are no distinguishing features so it
all comes down to money. Not only do those labels have to sell the
5, 6, 7 million records to keep the lights on but in order to get
there you have to fast track those records to success via
radio and MTV before you ever have an opportunity to develop a relationship
between the artist and an audience of music enthusiasts, i.e. their
core audience before you cross over.
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