Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Truth Of The Music Industry - Lou Pearlman and Johnny Wright

Posted by AmishThrasher at 1:58 pm
Okay, I've finished that last post, bar a little spell-checking. I'll post more about the Jackson Case later on this blog. Time to recap my comments on this blog thus far.

We've seen the machinery of the music industry in action. Despite protests from the RIAA, your favourite artist is probably earning pennies on the dollar. And the notion that the announcer on your favourite radio station sorts through hundreds of albums and only plays the best is ridiculous. Record labels, through shadie middle men known as "indies", basically bribe radio stations to play what they want to have played. And, making matters worse, most of those stations in the US are concentrated in the hands of ClearChannel Communications.

Beyond that, we've met some of the sharks and hucksters of the music industry.

They include Tommy Mottola, who decided to pay indies with Sony money to make his ex-lover, Mariah Carey, the biggest star in the world; then made sure to destroy her (and Sony's investment with it) as the divorce papers came through. Mottola is also noted for manufacturing Beyonce, and losing Sony several hundred million dollars during his reign; what remained of Sony after Mottola was done with it ended up merging with BMG. But that didn't prevent Mottola from gaining employment elsewhere.

Also included is Spice Girls huckster Simon Fuller. After giving the world the manufactured pop act, he gave the world the next manufactured pop phenomenon, "S Club 7". His most notable recent achievement is the glorified kareoke contest, Pop Idol / World Idol. He takes anywhere from 25% - 50% of the earnings of the popstars he manufactures live on TV in a number of markets.

We met Lyor Cohen. Cohen lost a lawsuit in which he was accused of fraud by TVT Records, and sued for $132 million, $54 million of which he paid himself. Cohen left Universal Music, the music arm of ailing media conglomerate Vivendi Universal, and jumped ship to Warner Music. Ironically, AOL Time Warner sold off Warner Music to Edgar Bronfman, who wants to cut costs at the label (good luck with Cohen at the helm!). He is guilty of "giving" the world the Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Public Enemy, Jay-Z, DMX and Ludacris.

He is to be replaced by OutKast, Pink, and Toni Braxton manufacturer Antonio Reid. Reid, like Mottola, lost his old label $100 million in the space of one year (however, his label was Arista-BMG).

We've also met Max Martin. Ever wondered why all those late '90s pop songs sounded the same? It was quite possibly because the same guy wrote many of them (Backstreet Boys, `NSYNC, Britney Spears, etc.); and that guy was Max. But Max was not alone in the travesties that were the manufactured boy bands: meet his accomplices, Lou Pearlman and Johnny Wright.

CBS News wrote this puff-piece about Pearlman in 1992. Bold text is mine, italics is theirs (like always):

(CBS) We know the names of the stars that got teen-age girls screaming. Frank Sinatra could do it, and so could Elvis and the Beatles. And so can Lou Pearlman, it seems.

Pearlman, a 47-year-old native New Yorker, has the recipe for creating teen sensations that get kids to part with their pocket money. Who is this supermogul with his finger on the pulse of young America? 60 Minutes II Correspondent Vicki Mabrey reports that Pearlman gave us N SYNC, whose debut album sold 7 million copies, three times as many as Elvis Presley's first album.

He also is responsible for the Backstreet Boys, whose album - "Millenium" - sold more copies in its first week than any other album before it.

When the fans are going crazy, what's Pearlman doing? "Sitting back, taking it all in smiling because that's exactly what I like to see happen," he said.

"I'm there because I want to make everybody happy. I like to see the artists happy. I like to see the fans happy. You know, of course, there's a tinkle to the cash register, and everybody's getting some financial happiness," Pearlman added.

Actually it's more like a flood to the cash register. Pearlman has created these sensations, many of them from scratch, and he banks on the fact that these young fans, once infatuated, will spend millions of dollars on everything from compact discs and concert tickets, to T shirts and posters. And if their allowance money won't cover it, Pearlman calculates rightly that their parents will chip in.

A $30 T shirt here, a $15 disc there - these teenyboppers' buying power is estimated at more than $100 billion per year.

Pearlman is hoping to grab a chunk of that. An entrepreneur who backed into pop-mogul status just six years ago, he made his fortune in the aviation business. His path crossed with the music industry when he started outfitting luxury jets and leasing them to rock stars like Paul McCartney, Phil Collins and a boy band called New Kids on the Block.

"I was invited to a concert. And I saw New Kids performing," Pearlman explained. "And it wasn't hard for me to see the stage, because all the people they were like this big, so I sort of looked right over their heads. And I was able to see the stage; I saw everybody, and I was like amazed."

What amazed Pearlman was that the fans were buying every product the New Kids offered. Pearlman wanted a piece of that gold mine, so he set out to create his own teen idols.

Starting from scratch, and with the advice of some friends in the music business, he held auditions and eventually put together a group intended to drive young girls wild.

What was the winning formula? A young one, a cute one, a sensitive one, a jokester, a bad boy and the older hunk - all between the ages of 12 and 20. He then spent more than $1 million over the course of two years, training and molding them into what would become the Backstreet Boys.

The Backstreet Boys caught on, racking up an estimated billion dollars in record sales alone. Pearlman heard the cash register ringing and figured if he could do it once, he could do it a dozen more times.

So on advice from singer Smokey Robinson, Pearlman set out to recreate the Motown model, with white kids singing pop instead of soul at a place that he calls "O-Town."

O-Town operates from an industrial park in Orlando, Fla., within an $8 million state-of-the-art facility where Pearlman basically grows his own bands, like the group Take 5.

Pearlman finds his raw material using talent scouts and word of mouth. There's no need for open-casting calls. The kids then go through a combination boot camp and charm school, complete with vocal coaching, public relations training, image styling and choreography. Pearlman hires studio musicians for backup, the best producers in the business and well-known songwriters to craft instant hits.

All of this is tailored to what his market research tells him the fans will buy.

"We try to create that image and sound that we hope they like," he said. "We go out there and test market it."

Pearlman said the bands must have a clean look as well as a good look. The good look is to win the hearts of the kids, the clean look, to win the approval of the parents, and in the end, the wallets of both.

But being cute is not enough. Pearlman insisted they all must have talent. Contrary to what the critics say, no lip-synching is allowed.

N SYNC fits the Pearlman profile perfectly, with teen magazines dubbing J.C. "the serious one," Lance "the ashy one," Chris "the prankster," Justin "the young, cute one," and Joey "the bad boy."

The members play along with those labels but bristle at any implication that the group is manufactured. They say the nucleus of N SYNC was formed before Pearlman's charm school was even built.

"It wasn't like people were trying to whip us or say, 'You need to do this,'" Joey said. "It's just something that we wanted to do."

Added Justin: "We were very lucky and very blessed of course. But we feel like, you know, that takes you so far."

"He definitely was there in the beginning, and he gave us the opportunities that, you know, a lot of people don't have," Chris said.

Still to the nonnfatuated, N SYNC may seem strikingly similar to Pearlman's other groups.

"Ask the fans and they'll tell you they could tell everyone apart. Maybe the concept, the style, or where we're going might be clean cut and that could be the commonality," Pearlman said.

Pearlman continues to dig deep in his pockets to finance one group after the other. With several cute boy bands up and running, he's started a girl group at O-Town called Innosense.

Then there's LFO, whose single was at the top of the charts. It's supposed to stand out as the group with a harder edge.

Recently several of his groups have lost money and disbanded. Still it doesn't stop Pearlman from bringing ourt new bands. Once they succeed, Pearlman starts to recoup the money he's paid to support them, and he gets a hefty chunk of their profits. But not everyone is pleased with the setup.

In separate lawsuits, the Backstreet Boys and NSYNC accused Pearlman of cheating them. Both groups have left Pearlman and settled their lawsuits for undisclosed amounts of money.

"The lawyers that got in the middle of it kind of blew it out of proportion in a sense," Pearlman said. "As time progressed, like in any situation, you want to get paid more when you deserve more. But there was a legal way to go about doing it."

Pearlman is not looking back, though. He's had so many requests to turn his pop stars into movie stars that he figured he'd do that himself. He's making a movie featuring his singers and using focus groups to tailor the script to young fans.

"Two little sayings you might want to put in there, which is something to go into the movie: 'You snooze you lose,' and, 'My way or the highway,'" said Pearlman.

He often refers to himself as the sixth Backstreet Boy, and in some circles, he is almost as famous as his young stars.

But if it all crashes tomorrow, and people want a whole different sound, what will Pearlman do?

"We had a lot of fun," he said. "And I'll break my guitar out and try to see if I can start feeling that new sound. Hey, maybe I'll get my time!">/i>


This guy had manufactured boy bands rolling off the production line like sausages. Producing an album or 3 of instant hits, and then left to be forgotten (or become the punchline of jokes). In some cases, like Justin Timberlake, when a new trend comes along (like "urban" pop), the popstar gets the 'honour' of being repackaged. More on this later.

Most of the article is the kind of spin you'd expect from Pearlman, though I was kinda surprsied to see him admit how blatantly he ripped off the late '80s boy bands. Also surprised that he was as forthcomming on the fact that marketing departments probably have more input into these boy-bands than the "artists" (and I use the term loosely) themselves ("We try to create that image and sound that we hope they like," he said. "We go out there and test market it").

With the show "Making of the Band", Lou portrays himself as a caring, concerned father type figure.  In reality, as JC of *NSYNC has said, Lou was not as involved and concerned with prior groups' well being as he is in front of the camera for all of America to see.

To set the record straight, ten years and seven albums is an unrealistic task for a "boy band" to fulfill.  For O-Town to have a career and profit from it, they would have to switch record labels, thus the ugly lawsuits all over again.  Lou makes 60% of all THEIR profits, leaving the other 40% to be split five ways.

That leaves each member with only 8%!

Lou is selfish and disrespectful towards these guys health.  *NSYNC
repeated showed signs of being over worked, over stressed, and under paid. When they confronted him with their decision to leave TransCon., he slapped them with a multi-million dollar law suit.  Does this sound like the type of man who is a concerned father figure?

In front of the camera,  Ikaika Kahoano can be absolved of his contract when he chooses to leave O-Town.  When away from the public eye and other pop groups must endure the complete terms of the contract or be prepared to be slapped with a mega lawsuit.


60% is outrageously high; no wonder all these boy bands disbanded... then again you could argue they got what they deserved. Next time, try coming up from the underground! His partner in crime, Johnny Wright, goes back even further, to the New Kids On The Block:

Johnny Wright was born on August 17, 19X0 in Hyannis, Massachusetts and began his musical career at the young age of 19 at WCOD as a radio DJ. From these beginnings, Johnny began his ascent to the top of the music management business under the guidance of Maurice Starr with the New Kids on the Block. When New Kids opted to take a year off, Johnny could not sit still and began managing the dance club act, Snap.

After too many years dealing with the cold, New England winters, Johnny relocated to Orlando, FL. In 1993, he formed an alliance with Lou Pearlman and in 1995 began managing the Backstreet Boys. With hard work and perseverance, Johnny successfully positioned the Backstreet Boys at the top of the charts and launched an international phenomenon that still resonates to this day.

In 1996, Johnny had the opportunity to hear a group that was already formed called NSYNC. Recognizing immediately their immense talent he persuaded them to sign to management and they very quickly became the number on pop sensation in the world. Under Johnny’s direction the Wright Entertainment Group has continued to grow and has developed and added several other stars to its incredible roster. The number one female performer in the world, Britney Spears is one of those artists, whose potential and abilities are limitless. With WEG’s reputation firmly established, Johnny has recently begun the mission of taking on previously recognized acts. R&B sensation, Sean “Puffy” Combs and Boys II Men are just two such examples. In all, WEG currently manages and guides 10 musical acts, which include: NSYNC (JIVE), Christina Milian (Island/Def Jam), Sean “P. Diddy” Combs (Bad Boy), Triple Image (WIRE), Daniel Lopes (BMG), Justin Timberlake (JIVE), Nick Cannon (JIVE), Megan McCulay, Dream (Bad Boy), and Boyz II Men (Arista).

From these successes, Johnny was able to launch Wright International Records and Entertainment (WIRE) in 2002. With this move, Johnny has once again raised his positioning in the recording industry. WIRE currently is taking the tween market by storm with three new artists: Triple Image, Stevie Brock and Jer-z.