There are enough agents, accountants, attorneys, managers, and music publishers, not to mention friends and family, who are more than willing —for love or money —to advise young artists (musicians, singers, and songngwriters) in the pursuit of their careers. Most of this advice is well-intentioned—and it may even be timely and helpful. However, it may also be irrelevant to a particular individual's circumstances. The reasons for this are manifold.
Not the least of the problems in offering advice to young artists is the fact that they customarily have limited knowledge of the music industry. Unlike participants in other industries, the major players in industries in the area of intellectual property (music, theater, film, and television) often enter the business with neither a clear understanding of its workings or history nor means to obtain the information which would convey such knowledge to them.
According to recent statistics the intellectual property enterprises in the United States contribute more to the gross national product than the airplane industry, more than the automobile industry and, yes, even more than the agriculture industry. Yet the very people who comprise the heart and soul of these companies do not usually know a break-even point from a producer point, a royalty from a Prince, or a mechanical license from a synchronization license—in short, they don't know their business. In the course of writing this book, I have discussed various chapters with senior executives in different departments of major music business companies. At the end of the discussion, all of them told me, in so many words, `You know, I learned a thing or two today.` This is not to criticize them. As an attorney who has practiced in the music industry for more than 30 years, I learned long ago that it is the rare manager or music industry executive who has the requisite background to function in the industry at an optimal level, unlike, say, their peers who chose to work in the financial or real estate worlds, who are highly trained in their fields. Yet it is these managers and excutives who are ultimately responsible for making the decisions that will make or break their businesses.
The music industry executive's strength is enhanced only when the company he or she joins has an established and tested management training program. Although the institutions that form the music publishing and recording industry today are very well set up for precisely this kind of training, it is unlikely that these companies will also give the fledgling executive the information which I am seeking to impart in this book. For the personal manager and business manager in whose hands the artist and the record and publishing companies place their trust, this book is intended to provide not just informational data, but also a perspective that will help them to become more aware of the parts of the business which no one will teach them, but which they must nonetheless understand if they are to perform their functions effectively.
Ironically, when it comes to artists, it is widely accepted that really creative people will not know their business. After all, aren't they living in the realm of the idea—the eigenvelt—the world that is interesting precisely because it is not the mitvelt—the shared world, the concrete, tangible world that can be objectively evaluated? The late Northrup Frye, one of the twentieth century's pre-eminent English scholars and literary critics, and a noted commentator on Canadian society and culture, gave an acclaimed series of lectures at the University of Toronto several decades ago. In these lectures, published as The Educated Imagination, Frye spoke of the uniqueness of creative people—how creative people see things that `aren't there.` What more appropriate an image for artists? What more dangerous a situation for the creative forces of the music business? Just as the script is the `currency` of the motion picture business, the creator—the writer, artist, producer, mixer—is the currency of the music business. And how can this creator—a living, breathing human being from whom the art emanates—function effectively in the world? Those who live in the imagination cannot be expected to have either the patience or the time to attain the knowledge and experience to rule their own destiny. We are all familiar with the saying `the lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.` How much more troublesome is the vision of artists who drift through life without an understanding of their business—the customs, traditions, contractual norms, and laws of the very industry which would not even exist but for them and their artistic contributions?
Remarkably, we are talking not just about fledgling musicians, singers, and songwriters. Many of those who have topped the charts for a generation are no more sophisticated than the novice when it comes to the business intricacies that will, when all is said and done, determine their financial outcomes. Equally remarkable is the fact that their representatives—the executives at their record labels and publishing companies; personal and business managers charged with fiduciary responsibilities toward their clients; attorneys in whose trust they place their careers; investors and others from the financial arena who follow the industry from Wall Street to the Times building—are often just as unsophisticated and unaware.
Ultimately, all of the creative people who form the heart of the music industry must depend on a network of advisors in whom they need to place their trust. Nothing could possibly constitute more of a gift to artists than a competent, hard-working, intelligent, aware, trustworthy representative. And, despite the fact that too many artists' advisers are ill-informed, others—managers, attorneys, accountants, and agents—have dedicated their lives to further the artistic careers of their clients. Attorneys and accountants customarily work for agreed-upon fees. Managers and agents work for a percentage of the artists' income; in essence, they work for nothing until the day comes—if is ever does come—when the economic potential of the people they represent is realized. At their best, these people can make a difference profound enough to encourage artists and help them bring to fruition and to the world's attention the results of their creations. For many—and I include myself here—that is enough compensation for the tribulations experienced in the course of practicing our professions.
I have sought, in this book, to highlight the most treacherous pitfalls faced by both creators and their representatives and have pointed out some of the most egregious examples of the ways in which artists can be affected by customs and practices to which the industry universally adheres. It is neither my intent to alarm the artist, nor to depict the industry or its principals as selfish, overreaching ogres. On the contrary, as the music industry has become more sophisticated, it has come to terms with certain realities—financial and artistic—that have resulted in more thoughtful and fair practices than existed during the heyday of `Tin Pan Alley` more than fifty years ago. Nevertheless, I feel that the more one exposes the conundrums that face artists, the more likely it Is that they will be dealt with reasonably.
The evolution of the music industry as an institution is no less a process than the evolution of any other business or political entity. In the present environment of technological advance, with the need for the artistic community to adjust to the manifold changes occurring both in the creation and the delivery of music, there is more reason than ever before to examine the underpinnings of our industry so that we can better fine-tune our business relationships to take advantage of the promises of the future.
What They'll Never Tell You is divided into twenty chapters, which identify and explore many of the most important issues that impact the musician, singer, and songwriter, and therefore the producer, the personal and business managers, the accountant and the attorney, and every level of music company executive. Some deal with fairly intricate issues; some are rather more accessible. None, to my knowledge, are addressed sufficiently in the principal books on the subject of educating the reader on the ins and outs of the music business. This book, however, takes some of the general premises of other worthwhile books about the field into a realm which is at once more practical and more vocational. I have tried to find a common ground between the academic and the elementary. Much of the methodology of the professionals in the music business, as well as of the business entities themselves, is justified (or rationalized) by years of experience, litigation, and both psychological and financial reinforcement. I have written this book on the theory that more knowledge is better than less, and a greater awareness on the part of both the representatives of talent and those who exploit it is advantageous toward promoting a successful marriage between artists and companies. I hope the information will be received as another layer of wisdom over that which already exists in significant amounts among the top professionals in the field.
Record companies, producers, or music publishers need not be concerned that all of their secrets are now out, nor should attorneys and accountants fear that their jobs will be rendered unnecessary by this book. Record company personnel may feel that I have given away too many secrets, and my peers in the legal and accounting professions may feel that I have given away for free what they charge fees for. To them I respond, like a retailer who believes the best customers are educated consumers, that educated artists, producers, personal and business managers, agents, A&R people, attorneys, and accountants will be better served and will better serve each other than the ones who have chosen, or who have been forced, to live in ignorance, or worse, in a daydream.
It is not enough to know the things you think you need to know about the music industry. Those who live within it—whether at the artistic or the business pole or somewhere in between—must know more. They must know what they never knew or did (and do) not even think they want to know. They must know the difference between surface and substance; between truth and lie; between reality and myth. Only then can they prosper within their industry while taking genuine pleasure in their contribution to the culture that sustains them and the rest of our world.