An interesting open letter from Vic Steffens of Horizon Music Group...
In the course of doing general business I’ve been forced to put some serious thought into the overall plight of the industry. It was a great exercise in analyzing where we are, so I decided to document it. Once written, well, why not share it with the folks that REALLY make this all work….the rank and file. Who meet here on the Rope.
I really want to address the upper ten percent of the music industry pay scale. You are the people that get paid to be the caretakers of this thing that is very dear to me. You are also the folks that generally speaking have lost touch with the reality of what has evolved.
The fact is, whatever the reason, internal or external, we are all failing. Those of you who run this thing: if you aren’t prepared to deal with it, you should step aside. If you choose to do neither, you will be pushed aside. Granted, you will probably be pushed aside with a huge golden parachute that will further hurt the industry you once loved even more. But if you are that person you won’t care. I happen to care. I’ve spent my adult life with the talent, and these days also with the kids looking to get into what THEY love, and have managed to survive. So even though I don’t make 7 figures, I’ve earned the right. My thoughts:
1) Take a pay cut. A pretty good one that reflects the contraction in business. Like 25%. How about if you show the people that REALLY make your company work, the worker bees, that you need them and respect them and their situation. Lets also acknowledge that generally speaking top level salaries are out of proportion with the size of the industry today. Sure, take an incentive that will reward you for bringing it back. Remember when you were a kid and your survival was based on what you did TODAY? Put some pressure on yourself to succeed. Stop paying yourself for a garrison mentality.
2) Stop paying stupid money for “superstar“ A and R. You are paying that guy for something he did for someone ELSE. Sure pay him a reasonable salary, but let him earn his bread the way we all do: with his output. This business is too weird to assume that because some guy had a hit over there, he will have one or more for you. Also, reward people that sign acts with legs. Its too easy to find some chick with a great ass and pay waaayy too much for some (insert name) Superstar producer track (that was actually done by someone else) and throw it out there with a bundle of cash to get it on big radio. That isn’t making a hit….that’s BUYing a hit and if you look at the numbers, you didn’t make all that much on it anyway. Plus, you really don’t have an artist, you had an event. Here’s a clue: If the artist can’t sell a hard ticket with a top ten record, the artist isn’t really generating any interest. You might have created the illusion of interest, but it’s not real. Regarding superstar “track producers” and big A and R, if YOU weren’t paying them this ridiculous money to do this…what would they do? Damn, they would have to risk their OWN bread to put out this stuff. The ONE thing you still have is some control over that conduit. How about if you use it wisely and control the upfront spending.
3) Reinstate artist development at your company. IF you find the words “360 deal” falling off your lips, be prepared to accept the responsibility of that kind of relationship. Buy a booking agency and put them to work making sure your artists are exposed. Assuming they are any good you will actually MAKE money on that. Same with publishing. Do NOT make your publishing company a filing cabinet called “mechanical royalty reducer”. DO something proactive to place songs and grow your artist.
4) LEAD your company. Take a cue from that guy you hate that we’ll discuss later Steve Jobs. The guy who’s stock was under 10 dollars not too long ago. He talks to his employees, excites them, builds a team attitude, takes a 1.00 salary and the rest in options that become worth more the better the company does. Remember THAT concept, reward is commensurate with risk? Do you even realize that most of the people that work for you are EMBARRASSED but much of the crap you market? No, you probably don’t. Perhaps you should ask them once and a while. You might also want to Google names like “A and M”, or “Geffen” and filter out anything from the last 20 years. Even “Victory” gets this point.
5) Look FORWARD, not backward. We all know where its going in the end don’t we? Could we replace the kicking and screaming with some creative thinking? How about if we stop calling Steve Jobs the devil and sit down and say “what could we do together”. If you showed something other than contempt for the lifeline he threw you, you MIGHT find enough common ground for some new initiatives the people might not mind PAYING for. The fact is, you have to EARN that right from the consumer, and you have generally lost it. But trust me, that right will not be restored by legislation, but by education, mutual respect, and a product that folks think is worth something.
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