Friday, January 30, 2004

Truth Of The Music Industry: Meet Mottola and Cohen

Posted by AmishThrasher at 8:00 pm
Before this next installment of this series exposing the dark underside of the music industry, there's one question that needs to be answered: why?

The answer is that it needs to be done. Because, I for one, am sick of the latest popstar of the week being shoved down my throat by greedy record company executives. Talented, legitimate artists sit out, in many cases without record deals (and if they do, they are far from fair deals) while raving egomaniacs like Simon Fuller and Tommy Mottola make people "stars by committee".

Stunts like the Spice Girls answering an add with "no singing or dancing talent required", and Tommy Mottola making a star of his annoying ex-wife Mariah Carey, and the endless stream of flavour of the month "rap" and "r&b" artists is unacceptable to me. And in this blog, I aim to point out why.

Two articles looking at some of the big sharks in the pool - Lyor Cohen and Tommy Mottola.

The New York Daily News writes about how Mottola is on his way to manufacturing another pop star. Some background, he was apparently fired - sorry, asked to leave - Sony Records, soon after the Michael Jackson press conference. After losing US$100 million or more for 2 years running (that's nearly a quarter of a billion dollars over 2 years) and 'chosing' (pushed, not walking) to leave, he promptly got hired by another record label. And people wonder why record sales are slumping, and why the majors are bleeding money.

Anyway, about his new plastic diva...

First there was Mariah, Celine, Shakira, Beyonce, Thalia and now - Vera.

Former Sony Music chief Tommy Mottola wants to craft his next female superstar. This time it's bridal fashion queen Vera Wang.

Mottola is working with his friend Wang on a home design TV show. The new couple is already pitching it to TV nets, insiders said. "He's trying to 'diva' her," a source said.

Mottola knows TV. He produced a reality show for VH1 last year called "Destination Diva." And Wang's empire has evolved far beyond bridal gowns to everything from flatware to martini shakers.

Wang is one more project for Mottola. He also is running a music label, Casablanca Records, and a talent management company - whose clients include pop stars Usher and Marc Anthony.

Read the whole story here

And, yes, Beyonce and Usher are just as manufactured as Mariah - even manufactured by the same guy.

The next takes a skeptical look at former Universal Music big-wig Lyor Cohen jumping ship to Warner Music, which was recently sold off by AOL - Time Warner. It's taken from the China Daily:

I have to say I'm pretty stupefied by the way the new Warner Music Group has announced the arrival of Universal's Lyor Cohen to their fold.

I told you some time ago that Cohen's contract at Universal would not be renewed and that he was leveraging himself to go to Warner's. In fact, Cohen himself made the announcement months ago to Newsweek's Johnnie Roberts. I mean, when Universal saw that item, did they think he was staying?

More importantly, did they want him to stay? The Warner press releases say they offered Cohen $50 million to come on over and steer their rudderless ship.

Coincidentally, $50 million is the amount of money Universal will have to pay TVT Records because of a court judgment that Cohen interfered with TVT's business. In court, Cohen lied or misrepresented the facts of the case constantly and inconsistently.

Since then, his acts like Ja Rule and Ashanti have turned out to be flashes in the pan. Nevertheless, this is who the new Warner Music Group thinks should guide them out of their fog.

At the same time that Cohen mounts the Warner machine, the new rumor is that his successor at Island/Def Jam will be Arista's recently ousted Antonio "L.A." Reid.

Are you enjoying this? For years, the Hollywood movie studios played this same game, with fired execs moving from one post to another as the movies got worse every year and the execs built bigger and bigger palaces for themselves.

Now the record business, which is in the middle of its own duck-duck-goose game, is headed in that direction. Witness the zillions made by Tommy Mottola and friends while so many actually talented artists have no label deals.

Quick, everyone switch places! Maybe it will work this time!

Here is the music business as it stands today. I saw the lead singer from Train on the "Today" show last week trying to sing some awful, unmemorable, non-melodic "song" with just a keyboard player.

The vocals were so far off-note and off-key that I thought dogs might go off their leashes in Rockefeller Center and barrel through the Art Deco doors, knocking over the security guards on their way into the glass-enclosed studio.

At the same time, record execs wonder why they're being laid off this week, and why album sales have disappeared. Hello?

Read the rest

My thoughts on the issue exactly.

Meanwhile, according to Newsweek, Antonio Reid is taking over Cohen's old job. Note in their puff - piece the term "lanched the careers". Especially in the case of Pink, "launched the career" almost certainly is a polite way of saying "the guy behind the manufacture of..."

Antonio “L.A.” Reid quickly emerged as the top candidate. Reid is one of the industry's top talent spotters, having launched the careers of OutKast, Pink and Toni Braxton, among others. But he was fired earlier their month as CEO of BMG’s Arista label, which posted losses of more than $100 million last year. Doug Morris, chairman of Universal Music Group, is said to be negotiating with Reid now for an unspecified post.

Cohen, who wasn’t immediately available for comment, is one of music’s most bankable stars outside of the recording booth. Helping execute the vision of Russell Simmons, hip-hop’s pioneering entrepreneur, he has ridden the dominance of rap music almost to the top of the industry. Together, he and Simmons established Def Jam Records, now part of Universal Music Group, as one of one of the industry’s premiere labels, launching superstar acts from the Beastie Boys, LL Cool J and Public Enemy to Jay-Z, DMX and Ludacris. And in recent years, as boss of Island Def Jam, Cohen has also compiled an enviable record in rock, signing new hit acts like Sum 41 and Saliva.

At the same time, however, his aggressiveness has landed him in a mountain of legal troubles stemming from a dispute with an independent label, TVT Records. Last year, Cohen was on the losing end of a lawsuit filed by TVT accusing him of unsavory tactics, including fraud. Although later reduced by more than half, the initial judgment was $132 million; Cohen himself was personally liable for some $54 million. An appeal is pending.

And another legal cloud hangs over Island Def Jam because of its co-ownership of The Inc. (until recently Murder Inc.), the rap label that is home to Ja Rule and Ashanti. Federal authorities are investigating the label for alleged financial ties with an imprisoned drug kingpin.

Controversy and all, Cohen remains one of the few executives with a bankable track record in an industry that has all but derailed.

Bankable track record - I told you this was a puff piece! Still, it provides some background on the immense challenges facing the music industry today.