Thursday, March 31, 2011


Zilch: The Power of Zero in BusinessIf you have anything to do with the music business, read Zilch: The Power Of Zero In Business. Nancy Lublin, the founder of Dress for Success and the current CEO of Do Something takes the reader through a very organized and well thought out process of how to get more from your company with less.  Many times it’s the overlooked little things that when paid attention to, have wondrous results. 

Using a not-for-profit model to run a major record label may have prevented the labels from the decline they are experiencing.  Having worked with major labels for many years, I know that it’s not the piracy that’s killing them.  What has gradually done them in is ignoring the customers, losing site of quality music, excessive spending and having staffers and executives make decisions or indecisions just to save their jobs.  It’s no way to work. 

In the 15 years I managed bands, none of them saw a penny from record royalties.  This includes artists having both gold (over 500,000 units sold) and platinum (over 1,000,000 units sold) albums.  Making money from selling records was never part of the equation when mapping out a career path.  This is why I find it interesting that the “new” paradigm is being touted as touring, selling merchandise and licensing music.  That’s the way it’s always been as far as I’m concerned and I started managing bands in 1988.

Lublin’s practices can work for any company, but I see them as being so right for the music industry, especially major labels as they seem to have lost focus.   Each chapter closes with helpful questions that summarize what you’ve read and how to apply this knowledge. 

So many important and relevant points are covered, that it’s worthy of a long post.  The book is mainly aimed at company leaders, but it applies to everyone. 

Brand: Here’s a hard one, but so important: If a partnership doesn’t make sense for your brand and your goals, turn it down even if it means money.  Keep your brand simple and focused. Use your story. Image is everything. Bring your group together to discuss data and re-evaluate your brand. When someone buys your product what is she getting?   Answer in 3 words and do not describe the product.

After hearing Jac Holzman, the founder of Elektra Records at the 92Y, he hit on all of the above at his label.  His goal was to make available music that needed to be heard.  The original focus was on folk music.  His audience knew that and if you wanted to hear good folk music you brought the latest Elektra release, many times unheard before a purchase.  Jac spent hours each week looking for those special artists for his label and his audience.  There was a time when people bought music just because of the record label that released it.  That’s how much respect a label like Elektra garnered. 

Uniqueness:  Can your organization claim any of these?

  1. First
  2. Only
  3. Faster
  4. Better
  5. Cheaper

Lublin calls these the five.  If you can use any of these words, you’ve found an all-important niche. 

Employees:  Include every level employee in the pursuit of purpose and make sure that each division has clearly stated goals.  When goals are accomplished, it builds morale. 
Stimulate people.
Endorse communal work places.  Don’t segregate employees by job title.  Eliminate executive floors.  Segregation encourages isolation for both executives through assistants. Celebrate employees’ energy.  If the energy lies in one direction, encourage that person to pursue that path.

External Believers:  Use external believers in your company and never forget that anyone could be your brand ambassador.   This is now easier than ever with social networking.  There is no much info and music out there, it’s almost easier to rely on your old tastes than to explore something new.  No one has that kind of time.  This is why external believers are so important.  You are always going to take the word of someone/company whose taste/ideals you respect.  See Elektra Record above. Take care of your fans.  Make them lifers. Turn advocates into staffers.  They won’t be paid, but they will be out there on your behalf. 

Sales Staffers:  Everyone is a potential sales staffer in a company as well as a brand ambassador.  When I interned at MTV in it’s infancy, we couldn’t keep MTV logo merchandise in the house.  Everyone at the company wore it (I still have my red pullover sweatshirt with the yellow MTV logo) outside the office.  Everyone was so excited to be working at MTV. Everyone was a part of the company.  It was new so there was an element of winging it.  My first day as an intern, I had to go to the studio to have Richard Butler of the Psychedelic Furs sign a release for his taped interview.  I thought I had died and gone to heaven.   Everyone felt like they were contributing.  Everyone was proud to work there. 

Ex-Employees: Why have ex-employees be resentful and hateful?  They should be excited about their time at your company.  Alumni can be useful. Use an alumni relations’ director.  Make them advocates.  Think of ways to reconnect with employees, send them coupons or concert tickets or discounts.

Gratitude:  Be responsive and show your consumers and fans gratitude.  Send updates, progress reports, photos, info, etc.

Innovation:  Do the culture and processes that are in place make it difficult to come up with breakthrough approaches and turn them into real products and services? 
Open your innovation circle of trust and it will set you closer to your end user. Employees must share a sense of purpose with their colleagues.  There must be a sense of urgency. Don’t let employees wilt in their cubicles.  Create pet projects.  I know there were flag wavers at the labels, but their take on file sharing and the internet were largely ignored. 

Community: Celebrate local elements. Get the community involved.  Partner for a purpose.  Grant all-access passes.  Is your brand important to a customer?
Do more with the corporate board, have them involved; tap into their resources and knowledge.  Communicate directly with staff and have them love your purpose.

Notes To Leaders:
Say thank you.
Be Consistent.
Remember your core idea and have guidelines. 
Be relevant to your audience.
Limit tedium.
Be transparent.
Find and cultivate passionate employees.
Use fun as an incentive. 
Give good titles that make sense.

Financial Considerations:
Live in fear of overhead.
Be disciplined.
Budget multi-year.
Diversify your revenue streams. How important is this for labels now?
Barter and make it a fair exchange.  Formalize the agreement.

Bob Lefsetz said the business started to die once a label exec (Doug Morris) hired his own PR person (Ron Shapiro). It was no longer about the music. The shareholders, board members and higher-ups became the focus. Nancy Lublin is saying put the focus on building a winning, happy team (how much did people love working at WB during the Mo Ostin/Lenny Waronker years?).  Connect with your fellow employees and audience. Make sure your goals meet their goals. Don’t hide from the truth.   Use common sense.  You catch more bees with honey than with vinegar. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Keith Richards' Incredible Life

“I get an incredible raging glee when they (the audience) get out of their seats.”
 - Keith Richards

LifeIt’s conversational. Keith is telling his stories to you.  I felt like I was in a bar talking with him about pieces of his life. The book is aptly titled:  Life.  It’s solidly assembled.  That credit may go to co-author James Fox.  (Note: I thought this book flowed, others in my book club though it was all over the place.  I’m not sure if my years of working with musicians, has led to me to think like they do, but I had no problem following this book.)

Keith’s enthusiasm for music is what really drives Life.   He’s still curious about styles, about improving his playing and finding out what’s next. He’s insightful and observant.  Nothing is a better example of this than his take on the music business.  “It’s the sleaziest business without being a gangster.”  This guy has seen it all and this is what he deduces.

The biggest statement he makes in the book is “We turned American people back on to their own music. And that’s probably our greatest contribution to music.” It’s a humble quote from a member of one of the greatest rock and roll bands. 

As hoped for Keith takes you through the writing of songs such as Satisfaction and Tumbling Dice. “Great songs write themselves.”  I’ve heard this from other musicians.

The slices of life from his early days are eye opening in a cultural way. Keith kept diaries and the reader benefits from it.  His Aunt Patty saved letters he wrote to her, which included a description of the first time he met Mick. He credits the Boy Scouts with building his self-esteem.

He thought Americans were brash and extremely self-confident, but that’s not what The Rolling Stones experienced on their first tours here.  He sensed that Americans were insecure.  His band had longer hair, spoke with British accents and dressed differently.  “The only hostility I can recall on a constant basis was from white people.  You got the impression you were a threat.” I recently watched an interview with Leiber and Stoller who said the same thing Keith did, that the blacks embraced them and were more at ease.  Both camps are big blues fans.

There is a bit of guitar-speak in the beginning third of the book. Even though I used to play guitar, I had no idea what he was talking about.  He is Keith Richards, so it’s necessary that this be part of the book. It should not discourage a non-player from reading Life.

Having been a manager, I love that he is so dedicated and loyal to his manager Jane Rose.  She’s done right by him and he appreciates it.  He credits her with helping him kick his heroin habit. 

Miscellaneous anecdotes which I found to be interesting and surprising:

  • Bobby Goldsboro (of Honey fame) showed him an elusive guitar trick.
  • Ronnie (Spector) Bennett took Keith to see James Brown at the Apollo Theater.  The discipline in James Brown’s band impressed him more than anything.
  • Wilson Pickett used to keep shotguns on both sides of the stage.
  • Jumping Jack Flash was named after his gardener.  What you hear on the record is acoustic guitars recorded on a cassette.  It’s his favorite riff. 

Keith also talks about his relationships with band members, his family and his crew. He is not shy about telling it like it is.  Mick Jagger is taken to task a few times. 

Somehow after all Keith has been through, he doesn’t come off as crazy as I was expecting.  He’s well aware of his surroundings and circumstances. He’s very loyal to friends and family.  Most people think he has more lives than a cat.  His longevity must be attributed to the strict regiment he adheres to before a tour. “All I do to train and preserve energy is keep breathing”.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

More About Ms Taylor

This just reaffirms what I was writing about yesterday.

Martha Frankel's piece in the Huffington Post describes an enchanting encounter with Elizabeth Taylor that should have never happened. 

Rosanne Cash on Twitter mentions that Ms Taylor sent a birthday telegram to her Dad every year on his birthday. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Hollywood Icon and Humanitarian

By now, everyone is aware the Elizabeth Taylor died this morning.  Besides having the most perfect eyebrows and the most beautiful eyes, she was apparently was a beautiful soul.  She was loyal to her friends,  She stuck by Montgomery Cliff after his accident. She didn't leave Rock Hudson's side while he was dying of AIDS.  She remained friends with Michael Jackson until his death. She has seen a lot of her friends die before their time.

She appreciated those she worked with. I've heard stories of her sending cards or giving gifts to crew members of projects she worked on.  Liz was a tireless advocate for finding a cure for AIDS and raised lots of money for the cause. 

The BBC has a really nice interview with Liz Taylor, which I can't embed so I'll post the link

Last year I finally watched a Place In The Sun.  Liz is incredibly beautiful and persuasive in that film.  Apparently she was the same in the real world. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

RIP Pinetop Perkins

Pinetop Perkins one of the last of the original Mississippi bluesmen has died at age 97 in Austin, TX.  Know mostly for playing piano in Muddy Water's band, his solo career seemed to take flight in the 1980's and 1990's.  He received a Grammy in 2010 and therefore, became the oldest person to receive one.  He named himself Pinetop after his admiration for the music of Pinetop Smith.  He originally started on the guitar, but after being stabbed in the arm and incurring tendon damage, he moved to the piano.  Up until just last month he had been playing shows in Austin. 

Watch the full episode. See more Austin City Limits.

It Sounds Like Fine Young Cannibals

As mentioned in  SoulCulture, there's a trend for 'blue-eyed-soul over futuristic production' at the moment.  Record of the Day's choice is Alex Clare. He fits this mold.  The sound borrows from what the Fine Young Cannibals were doing in the 1980's.  It would be great to see a surge in powerful vocals, great melodies and if it's danceable, it's icing on the cake.  I'm not sure of the concept of this video. I suggest just listening. 

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Look Back At The Look Of Punk

It's the 1980's all over again.  It seems like everywhere I look, recent fashions remind me of a lot of the clothes I was wearing in high school and college.  Yesterday while browsing in Orva, I saw these Bass shoes, which put a smile on my face.  They reminded me of what my friends and I used to call Dirty Angel shoes.  The first time we saw someone wearing them was on the Boston band Dirty Angels (they had a minor hit with a great pop song called Tell Me).  They were playing a free WLIR show at My Father's Place.  The shoes worn then were  Capezios and were made for dancing, which we did a lot of.  I went through two pairs. 
Westwood Tartan Worn By Johnny Rotten

It's timely that the Fashion Institute of Technology is exhibiting the clothes/creations of Vivienne Westwood, who defined the look of Punk.  The exhibit covers the 80's and is on view until April 2nd.  Vivienne along with Malcolm McLaren opened the SEX boutique on King's Road in London. It started as record store and quickly evolved into a store full of her bondage and fetish inspired clothing.  The Selvedge Yard has a piece on the history of the shop. 

Friday, March 11, 2011

This Time Live Nation Has Hit Rock Bottom

Live Nation signed Charlie Sheen to a a licensing and merch deal.  According to Encore,  The merchandise deal will include t-shirts and mugs and similar items, emblazoned with some of Sheen's more notorious public statements.

This is a man who waves a machete in public and his wife has a restraining order against him for threatening her with harm, among other things.  His statements are not cute. He is not cute.  What is Live Nation thinking?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Librarians Fight Back So You Can Read Your E-Books

It's been widely covered.  HarperCollins book publishers have set a limit on how many times a library can "lend" an e-book.  After 26 times, the "book" will self destruct.  Obviously this does not appeal to librarians or people who frequently use libraries like myself.  E-books are the future.  Heck, e-books are happening now.  They are the future of the libraries. 

Librarians are now fighting back. I was alerted to this by Techdirt.  In support of the Readers' Bill Of Rights, I'm posting their logo and linking to their site.  Their goals are to

  1. To increase awareness of the ways that e-books are unique in terms of readers' rights.
  2. Revisit DRM and it's consequences (the music industry has had their share of this pie).
  3. To invite discussion.
  4. To provide alternatives to closed technologies such as DRM.  

For more info follow them on Twitter
Use the hashtag  #readersrights
We are sharing updates as @readersrights via Twitter and

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Jac Holzman Is Still The Record Guy You Want To Work With

I'm a fan of Jac Holzman and I've written about him before.  There is an insightful profile of him by Fred Goodman in the NY Times.  How does he seem to be the only high level music executive out there who gets it?  He is currently an adviser to Edgar Bronfman Jr who runs WMG.  Read the whole article, but I'm just going to pull a few worthy quotes.

  • “Marketing is nothing more than connecting something interesting to willing ears. I like being sent music, and that’s one of the great advantages of the Web. If I have something I think is a great song, I send it to 20 friends. But making that connection through the Internet is one of the problems that the record industry has not figured out.”
  • He is concerned about the absence of what he called “first filters”: the online equivalent of the radio stations and disc jockeys, the publications and writers who, in Elektra’s early days, acted as guides for the larger public and helped shape tastes. “They have to happen,” he said. And until then, he added, the best thing a company can do is emulate the way small independents, like the early Elektra, did business and try anything to survive.
  • “Did I care when Jim Morrison passed out in the office?” he said. “No. We would have put those orange cones around him if we’d had them. We’d just let him lie there, and eventually he’d get up and dust himself off and go home."
  • “The reason indies beat majors as a rule is that the people who own these companies can make decisions and move,” he said. “I can tell you story after story about hearing something and making the deal that day, while it took Columbia six weeks to process the demo and decide they wanted the band. Hey, too bad. They’re in the studio for Elektra.”

I know there are rumors of Edgar selling WMG.  He's still at the helm though, so I hope he's heeding Jac's advice.  Jac's a smart man with a stellar music history.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Gotham: The City of Simple-Minded Fools

When hearing NY described as Gotham City, Batman of course comes to mind.  Commissioner Gordon was in charge of fighting crime in Gotham City, a vague rendition of New York City.  Turns out the nickname was given to New York by writer Washington Irving over 200 years ago.  The word Gotham dates to 1600's England. 

According to Carmen Nigro's blog post at the NY Public Library,  "English proverbs tell of a village called Gotham or Gottam, meaning “Goat’s Town” in old Anglo-Saxon.  Folk tales of the Middle Ages make Gotham out to be the village of simple-minded fools, perhaps because the goat was considered a foolish animal."  I guess if the shoe fits.

Gotham City sure had it's cast of characters: The Penguin, Catwoman, Mr Freeze and The Riddler to name a few.  None were able to take down the Cape Crusaders or destroy Gotham City.   I guess that still holds true, whether you call it Gotham, New York or The Big Apple, it's not going anywhere (despite the NY Daily News Headline from 1977:  Ford To New York:  Drop Dead).