Dedicated to classics and hits.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Hit Men by Fredric Dannen

Hit Men
by Fredric Dannen
p. 1990

  You should know what you are in for when the back jacket of a book about the music industry has a big-up from Sinead O Connor. Although the narrative has been tarted up for sales appeal, this is basically a biography/history of the Major Label scene in the "After Hippie Rock" era.  The central theme in Hit Men is the clash between music executives trying to profit from Rock music and Black Pop (R&B, Soul & Disco in this time period) and the corporate brass- uncomfortable with Rock music and doubting it's ability to generate profits.

  If you're like me, you may be suppressing your gag reflex right now, but Hit Men is quite diligently researched and footnoted, and thus it works outside of it's alleged agenda to "expose" the shady business involving Top 40 Radio, Record Labels, The Network & The Mafia.  Seriously, who gives a shit?  You know who "shady business practices" in the Music Industry typically benefit:  Indie Labels.  That's right all you holier-in-thou-live-in-my-Parent's-basement types:  The Mob tends to help out the little guys with suitcases of cash, not the big boys with their Federal Network Licenses (subject to renewal) and publicly traded stock.

  What really struck me about this book is how much the Major Label game is based on spending "Other People's Money" in the same way that high-financiers can bankrupt a billion dollar hedge fund, walk away, and start another hedge fund because IT WASN'T THEIR MONEY.   The business strategies embraced by major labels in the 80s were hardly "text book economics" of the sort one expects from such efficient allocatiors of capital.

  To give but one example, I will quote direct from the book- this is in the context of a "bidding" war over the "talents" of 80s solo McCartney:

  "CBS offered McCartney an unheard-of enticement, a publishing company that held the copyrights of one of America's greatest songwriters, Frank Loesser...It's hard to overstate the value of Frank Music.  Loesser wrote the words and music to Guys and Dolls and other Broadway classics; his catalog included gems such as "Spring Will Be A Little Late this Year," "Standing on the Corner," and "Once in Love With Amy."  p. 127

    We're talking 80s McCartney, not mid 70s McCartney. (PAUL MCCARTNEY DISCOGRAPHY WIKI)

    Here's another observation: With the exception of David Geffen and Irving Azoff (Live Nation Chairman) these guys are basically corporate drones: particularly with Warner and CBS, the executives are just employees- they don't even have internet era stock options.  Clive Davis was actually fired over padding expense reports- and prosecuted by the IRS, over what was a TINY bit of money.  It's almost comical because Dannen actually tells you what some of these guys were making when they were "President of Warner" and it's like the salary of well-paid stockbroker on Wall Street- even adjusted for inflation.  They are hardly industrial tycoons. 

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