In the mid-2000s I worked on the periphery of the music industry, but it was there that I learned something that would stick with me: “The music business is all about relationships,” an executive I worked with said with great seriousness.
At the time I thought it was a bit of MBA-speak – one of those aphorisms ready to be enshrined by the motivational posters known as Successories. But the more I observed the business’s doings – both as a trade-publication reader and a consumer of new music – that piece of advice both resonated and helped me figure out why certain patterns kept emerging.
It echoed in my mind, too, as I pored over Billboard’s 2015 Power 100, a list of the most powerful people in the music business as deemed by the trade publication. There’s a new name at No 1 this year: Lucian Grainge, the chairman and CEO of music’s behemoth Universal Music Group. The reasons that he’s atop the list are pretty unimpeachable: his labels were responsible for four of 2014’s biggest breakthrough artists (5 Seconds Of Summer, Iggy Azalea, Ariana Grande and Sam Smith); Universal’s distribution arms brought to market seven of the year’s top 10 albums, including Taylor Swift’s blockbuster 1989; and Universal gobbled up 38.7% of market share during 2014.
But despite the change at the top, the bulk of the list – particularly its upper reaches – is still fairly homogenous; at times the list seems like the result of an executive musical chairs session. Doug Morris, the former chair of Universal who now heads up one of the other big-music concerns, Sony Music Entertainment, is at No 7; Jimmy Iovine, the former chair of Universal subsidiary Interscope who now works at Apple after the computer company’s purchase last year of the headphone/streaming-music company Beats Electronics, is No 5. Nos 2 and 3, Michael Rapino and Irving Azoff, are current and former executives at the concert behemoth Live Nation.
Billboard cannily paired Grainge with two of his bigger artists on the Power 100 issue’s cover: He’s posed alongside the firebrand genius Kanye West and the laconic crooner Lana Del Rey. It’s a diversity that isn’t reflected much in the list, though; the highest woman, Universal vice-president of US recorded music Michele Anthony, shares her No 12 spot with that company’s CFO; while Jay Brown, who co-founded the entertainment company Roc Nation with hip-hop mogul Jay Z and Jay’s longtime associate Tyran “Ty Ty” Smith, is the highest person of colour.
In a lot of ways, the story of the music business in the 2000s has been about adaptation – whether to the new realities presented by the crumbling of the physical retail infrastructure and the rise of digital distribution; or the narrowing of pop radio’s optics to a point that excludes a lot of music that would have made the cut even 10 years ago; or the increased emphasis on touring; or the changing taste profiles that have resulted in shifting metrics of popularity.
The notion of “power” in the music industry is further changing as companies like Google and Apple attempt to control not just the means of digital distribution, but the amount of money paid out to artists and labels. To further anticipate those changes, and to also have fresh ways about thinking of ways to reach consumers who want to hear music that will make them move and sing along, people within the music business’s biggest companies should start thinking about the relationships they’re making in 2015 – and whether they accurately reflect the consumer bases they’re trying to reach.
This article was written by Maura Johnston, for theguardian.com on Friday 6th February 2015 21.30 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010