How an Indie-Rock Star Is Made in 2018

February 19, 2018


Last year, Lucy Dacus almost crumbled under the staggering load of anticipation.

A rising singer and songwriter with a new record deal and an intensifying air of next-big-thing-ness, Ms. Dacus was forced to weather real life — including health issues, mounting personal responsibilities and the ambient stress of political turmoil — while also focusing on what had all of a sudden become her job. In Nashville last March, she made her second album — the first with any expectations attached, the one that is supposed to change her life. Then she had to wait for it to come out.

During that uneasy downtime, Ms. Dacus thought a lot about what her emotionally raw and intimate new work might mean to people — the album, “Historian,” is out March 2 on the storied independent label Matador — and also about what it meant to make music her career.

At a time of immense technological and aesthetic change in the industry, Ms. Dacus, based in Richmond, Va., is a timeless model: a guitar-based, album-oriented songwriter with a big, unadulterated voice and tattooable lyrics. But as she prepared to take the ambitious jump from local band to national act, opener to headliner, amateur to professional, Ms. Dacus, 22, was grappling with what it’s like to be a winner of that lottery and a product of the hype machine that keeps modern indie rock humming.

“I never considered a career in music because it was too unattainable,” she said, just a few years removed from dropping out of film school and taking a seasonal job as a photo editor for yearbooks and class pictures. “I just didn’t believe it was possible.”

But her ascent, while unlikely, is also representative in this slice of the music world: Spurred by her emotionally astute songwriting, Ms. Dacus has seen her early course accelerated by grass roots and media support, and guided by shrewd business decisions, even as she has aimed to remain fully in charge of her art.

Ms. Dacus has been warned about the horrors of the music industry: “I’m actively, months in advance, trying to look out for myself and fight against whatever downward spiraling other people encounter.” Credit Rick Kern/WireImage, via Getty Images

In interviews spanning the last 11 months, beginning in the recording studio and ending on the edge of her album’s release, Ms. Dacus, a benevolent auteur-in-training, detailed the bizarre process of being deemed “up next” while trying to foreground what she called her “most precious thing — this music.”

“I feel so untrained and unprepared,” she said last month, “but it has been working.”

Building Buzz

Ms. Dacus’s first album, “No Burden,” was recorded in 20 hours for a school project. Her live guitarist and studio multi-instrumentalist, Jacob Blizard, was required to make something over a college winter break, and he enlisted his friends, including Ms. Dacus and the producer Collin Pastore. “I had not once sang with a band before recording,” Ms. Dacus said.

But she had quietly been writing songs for years and journaling since second grade, honing a preternaturally sharp voice on topics like gender, faith and creativity itself. On the album’s standout first song and single, “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore,” Ms. Dacus sang with a wry wit about female archetypes: “Is there room in the band?/I don’t need to be the frontman/if not, then I’ll be the biggest fan.”

Tyler Williams, a Richmond musician, recalled being floored by his first listen. “This can’t possibly be made by a 20-year-old in Richmond,” he thought, and soon signed on as her manager, intent on finding a larger platform for “No Burden.” EggHunt, a tiny local label, agreed to back the LP, and a boutique public relations company in Brooklyn was hired for the campaign.

In November 2015, a few months before the album release, “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore” had its premiere on the website of the tastemaking magazine The Fader. That very day, Ms. Dacus was fielding interest from the major labels on down, along with publicists, booking agents and other background actors who make the business tick.

Mr. Williams, whose own group, the Head and the Heart, had signed to a major label, recognized what he called “the whirlwind of momentum picking up for a band, that hurricane of energy around an artist.”

Ms. Dacus, though, remained measured. Despite being wined and dined over the coming months — some labels would “make a point to say, ‘This is a very expensive restaurant,’” she said — Ms. Dacus ultimately went with Matador, a late entry in the sweepstakes, whose executives had approached after seeing her live, not online.

She also appreciated the label’s track record with longevity, citing career artists like Yo La Tengo who continue to make albums and tour long after any trendiness has worn off. Matador would go on to rerelease “No Burden” in September 2016, building on the buzz generated by Bandcamp streams and coverage from influential outlets like Pitchfork and NPR, as Ms. Dacus continued writing songs and making a name on the road.

As the pieces fell into place for a follow-up on a larger scale, all Ms. Dacus had to do was make it.

In the Studio

Last spring, the “No Burden” team reassembled. Ms. Dacus had first tried recording her fresh material with a new producer in Portland, Ore., but the sessions failed to jell. Soon after, at a Nashville studio known for Christian rock where the weekend rates were discounted, she was joined once again by Mr. Blizard and Mr. Pastore.

The rooms were stuffed with vintage equipment, and the rapport between the old friends was easy. Though Ms. Dacus referred obliquely to “sophomore album worries,” she had already meticulously arranged the music and planned a track list. As Mr. Blizard recorded guitar, Ms. Dacus exerted a firm but casual authority, taking suggestions and using “we” and “us” when referring to the process, but making every final decision — from the tone of a solo to the arrangement of a backup vocal — herself.

The compositions had grown more grand than those on “No Burden,” with space for horns and strings, but they hadn’t lost their sprawl or specificity. On the opening song, “Night Shift,” a nearly seven-minute slow-build about a necessary breakup, Ms. Dacus reached for the climax. “You got a 9 to 5 so I’ll take the night shift/and I’ll never see you again if I can help it,” she belted. “In five years I hope the songs feel like covers/dedicated to new lovers.”

In down moments, Ms. Dacus, wrapped in a blanket, journaled or tended to the stack of books she was devouring, including Susan Sontag’s journals, short stories by James Baldwin and “Home” by Marilynne Robinson. She was also shopping online for a home in Richmond, a once-impossible idea made realistic by her budding career.

On its seventh day in the studio, the group ran out of finishing touches and gave itself a small round of applause. Ms. Dacus, as usual, seemed content and levelheaded, with a touch of concern. “I wonder if I will ever stop feeling wound up until this album comes out,” she said.

The Waiting

In between may have been the hardest part.

As Ms. Dacus’s album was mixed and mastered, and she fretted over cover art and the title (she considered “Penultimatum,” but wondered if it was too punny), she also emotionally prepared to have her puncturing, diaristic songs heard on a scale they never had been before.

“I think it’s good,” she said in June, “and I’m very intimidated by what it might mean to people and how my identity is going to be dispersed by it.” With the first LP, Ms. Dacus said, “We had no concept of it mattering.”

A band that comes out of nowhere is easy to root for; but, as a part of the industry, with levers being pulled on her behalf, Ms. Dacus had signed up for more scrutiny. She mused about the need to develop “a thicker skin while also remaining vulnerable.”

As someone who had long created with no expectation of an audience, the path to professionalizing was fraught. “Even people who have never been involved in the music industry are like, ‘Watch out, it’s going to change you — things are going to get weird,’” Ms. Dacus said. “That’s a well-documented fact about artists as their careers go on. I’m actively, months in advance, trying to look out for myself and fight against whatever downward spiraling other people encounter.”

Julien Baker, another Southern singer-songwriter who also signed to Matador after a small, much-adored debut, has developed a deep kinship with Ms. Dacus as the two walk similar paths. Ms. Baker wrote in an email that Ms. Dacus “understands being a deeply creative person and having to try to fit one’s relationship to their art into a schema of what it means to be a career musician.”

“Lucy is acutely aware of her position to the world and extremely compassionate, but has a deep strength and self-assuredness,” she added. “ Her confidence isn’t rooted in arrogance, it’s just rooted in the peace of self-knowledge.”

Still, there was room for doubts. “I’m, like, a kid,” Ms. Dacus said. “I might never be ready, but it’s going to happen.”

The Release

By January, with the album around the corner, Ms. Dacus had largely come to terms with the expectations that had grown around her. Though the sale was hectic, she’d settled into her new home in Richmond, putting down roots she hoped would ground her as her new life took off.

“I feel really lucky,” she said of the apparatus that was revving up to spread her work. “So few people get that, and that’s why this record is kind of intense.”

She had settled on the title “Historian,” from a poignant line on the album’s closing track: “I’ll be your historian/and you’ll be mine/And I’ll fill pages of scribbled ink/hoping the words carry meaning.”

The sentiment spoke to what Ms. Dacus considers her most important role as a writer, that of a collector and chronicler of her own life and the lives of the people she loves. Having sat with the finished album for months and having allowed it to settle, she described “Historian” as a song cycle about “living through loss and the inevitable darkness of life, and doing so hopefully and joyfully.”

From “Night Shift,” the breakup song, to “Pillar of Truth,” a devastating hymnal about the death of her grandmother, Ms. Dacus traced an arc of increasingly difficult grief that is processed and preserved in music, allowing her to ultimately choose optimism. “I am at peace with my death,” she sings on “Next of Kin.” “I can go back to bed.”

“There’s a lot of art that’s about loss and sadness,” Ms. Dacus said, “but I would love it if hopefulness were more of a cliché. That’s the work that always sticks with me and emboldens me in life.”

Having seized her opportunity for growth as an artist, she relished the thought of performing her new work far and wide, for audiences and also herself, for as long as she can.

“It’s important for me to write songs that feel good to sing every night and remind me of my core, truest beliefs,” she said. “If you can come out from under pain, why wouldn’t you? You definitely can. There’s no question.”


The Pop Charts Were Crazy This Year. Here’s Why.

December 29, 2017


Taylor Swift took a risk few artists could afford to take in 2017 — holding her new album, “Reputation,” back from streaming services upon its release. Credit Chad Batka for The New York Times
This year, 12 songs reached the top of the Billboard singles chart, known as the Hot 100, from Ed Sheeran’s meticulously constructed “Shape of You” to Cardi B’s casual “Bodak Yellow (Money Moves).” Including feature appearances, 14 acts had their first No. 1s, like the electronic dance veterans Daft Punk (as guests on the Weeknd’s “Starboy”) and the Philadelphia firecracker Lil Uzi Vert, whose verse on “Bad and Boujee” by Migos begins with “Yah!” yelped five straight times. The track with the longest run atop the heap — “Despacito,” by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, featuring Justin Bieber — was sung almost entirely in Spanish.
On the album side, there were No. 1s by Future (with two different LPs in back-to-back weeks), the revitalized and bigger-than-ever LCD Soundsystem, the little-known rapper NF and, of course, heavyweights like Katy Perry, Pink and Taylor Swift.
In other words, the monoculture had so many disrupters that cultural whiplash became the new normal.
The most obvious explanation was that the newfound dominance of digital streaming scrambled the entrenched hierarchies, elevating voices that had long puzzled or offended gatekeepers. With physical and digital album sales as well as track downloads all in free fall, and hip-hop and R&B setting the pace for streaming, major labels and major stars alike were often left scrambling to earn the honors that once came so easily.
Because the rules and norms of this era are still coalescing, the systems could also be gamed and manipulated. Loyal listeners schemed to get their favorites recognized, while sly marketing efforts tried to put a heavy thumb on the scales. In all, the music industry and listener machinations made for one of the most disorienting, and often exhilarating, years of hit music in recent memory. Below are some of the trends, tricks and standout moments, which will surely be built upon in the months to come.
Rap as Industry Leader
Migos built on the success of Rae Sremmurd’s meme-driven “Black Beatles” with their own “Bad and Boujee.” Credit Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
Nothing streams like a rap banger. And nothing could motor a song up the charts this year — aside from event-releases from Mr. Sheeran, Ms. Swift and Mr. Bieber — quicker than a ton of internet-driven chatter. Using a sample week in November, Nielsen found that streaming was up 59 percent year over year, with 80.5 percent of all music consumption now happening digitally. The biggest beneficiaries were rap stars with loyal followings: Building on the meme-driven success of Rae Sremmurd’s “Black Beatles,” Migos’s “Bad and Boujee” hit No. 1 in January as “raindrop/drop top” jokes became a Twitter sensation.
Hip-hop group Migos has a No. 1 hit on the Billboard chart with “Bad and Boujee.” Step onstage at the album release party when the crowd goes wild. (Note: Lyrics include vulgar language.)

Other rap smashes to score big this year — notably, with or without Top 40 radio support, which often came later, if at all — included Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble”; DJ Khaled’s “I’m the One,” featuring Quavo, Chance the Rapper, Lil Wayne and Mr. Bieber; “Bodak Yellow (Money Moves)”; and Post Malone’s “Rockstar,” featuring 21 Savage, which held the No. 1 spot for eight weeks. We are now firmly within a rap boom, and don’t expect the hit-seeking labels to let up in 2018.

Post Malone’s “Rockstar” got a boost from a version posted on YouTube by his record label that looped part of the song over and over. Credit Arthur Mola/Invision, via Associated Press
Sometimes a grass-roots push, such as the loosely organized social media campaign to vault Cardi B over Ms. Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do,” wasn’t quite enough. In the case of “Rockstar,” which was a smash on Spotify and Apple Music immediately upon release, Post Malone also got a wily assist from his label, Republic Records, which found a loophole on YouTube. While the video service has long been a target of the music industry for its low royalty payouts and pesky copyright infringers, free streams on YouTube do count toward Hot 100 placement. But instead of posting the entire song free, Republic uploaded a version of “Rockstar” that was exactly the same length as the actual track, but featured only its chorus, looped again and again. (It also closed comments on the video, preventing users from explaining to others what was going on.)
In its first few weeks, the video earned more than 40 million plays, contributing to the song’s reign on Billboard’s Streaming Songs chart, which preceded its peak on the Hot 100. The successful tactic even had copycats — Big Sean’s “Pull Up N Wreck,” for one — though YouTube has since had the videos removed and changed its rules, telling Pitchfork in a statement: “any upload of a song intended to mislead a user (preview, truncated, looped) posted on YouTube to look like the original song will not contribute to any charts.”
SoundCloud and YouTube: Early Warning Systems
Some of the most ubiquitous rap hits of the year weren’t supposed to be hits at all. While streaming success stories are typically dominated by Spotify, which counts more than 60 million paid subscribers, and Apple, which has some 30 million, the digital underground can be just as influential.
“XO Tour Llif3,” a Top 10 hit by Lil Uzi Vert, began as a freebie on SoundCloud, only to gain so much steam that it left his label, Atlantic Records, no choice but to monetize it. The song eventually made its way to Spotify’s prominent Rap Caviar playlist and reached No. 7 on the Hot 100 in June. Similarly, Lil Pump’s “Gucci Gang” dominated the SoundCloud charts long before it got a proper commercial push, hitting No. 3 in December. YouTube worked in much the same way, elevating to the mainstream harsh and sometimes troubling viral songs like “The Race” by Tay-K, a teenage fugitive; “Gummo” by the controversial Brooklyn rapper 6ix9ine; and “Rubbin Off the Paint” by YBN Nahmir.
This trend may not hold: Billboard has announced that beginning in 2018, streams on unpaid or ad-supported services — like YouTube, most of SoundCloud and Spotify’s unpaid tier — would be weighted less than streams on paid services like Apple Music and Google Play. One potential consequence? Fewer niche rappers rubbing shoulders with Bruno Mars and Sam Smith on the pop charts.
In a Year of Streaming, How About Not?
Warning: It may not work for everyone. But for Taylor Swift, like Adele before her, this year was not yet time to follow the flock. By keeping her new album, “Reputation,” off streaming services for its first three weeks, Ms. Swift guaranteed herself an old-fashioned blockbuster, selling 1.2 million copies in her debut week. In the album’s first three days alone, it moved 925,000 units, some 600,000 as downloads and the rest as physical copies, both of which pay out higher royalty rates than streaming. Nice work if you can get it.
Albums as Add-Ons

Shania Twain and other artists who rely less on streaming numbers for their success took an alternate route to No. 1: bundling their albums with ticket sales for upcoming tours. Credit Justin Tang/The Canadian Press, via Associated Press
For other acts whose strengths may not necessarily lie in streaming — in other words, nonrappers — there was the ticket bundle. Though it has been around for a decade, the strategy gained prominence this year as Pink, Katy Perry, LCD Soundsystem, Arcade Fire, Kenny Chesney, Shania Twain and U2 topped the album chart in part by including copies of their new releases with the purchase of concert tickets.
Though the sale counts only if the buyer actually redeems the album, the cost is factored into the ticket price and proved a pretty surefire way to gain a first-week sales boost for these reliable live acts. “About 20 percent to 30 percent of fans tend to redeem their album offers, with most favoring CDs or vinyl over downloads, though nudges on email and social media can drive better results,” Billboard reported.
The Remix Comes Through
The big-name remix, another tried-and-true maneuver that found new relevance this year, breathed extra life into a few big hits. “Despacito,” the pop-reggaeton gamechanger, was already huge, especially on YouTube and the Spotify global chart, before Mr. Bieber’s verse was added. But the remix made it a supernova that led the Hot 100 for a record-tying 16 straight weeks and earned Grammy nominations for record and song of the year. Beyoncé provided a similar bit of magic to J Balvin’s “Mi Gente,” lifting it up to No. 3 from No. 21; she later jumped on Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect,” taking it all the way to No. 1. More quietly, Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow (Money Moves)” got a crunchtime bump from a Spanish-language remix and one featuring Kodak Black, both of which counted toward the main version’s chart position as it reached its apex.
Endless Albums
From vinyl through the peak CD era, album length was often dictated by how much music could fit on the disc. The internet has done away with that constraint, too, leading some artists to pile on the tracks in hopes of racking up the streams. For a juggernaut like Drake, more did indeed mean more: “More Life,” his so-called playlist, was 22 songs long and broke digital records. Chris Brown upped the ante in October with “Heartbreak on a Full Moon,” which came in at 45 tracks, and he even instructed his fans on how to send it up the charts (“leave the album on repeat”), though he failed to reach Drake heights. And a new compilation by the stream-heavy label Quality Control, featuring Migos and Lil Yachty, has 30 songs, indicating that the idea has not yet reached saturation.

How Artists Make Money on YouTube

November 30, 2017

Shawn Setaro 11/24/2017

If you’ve been paying attention to popular music these days, you’ve noticed that YouTube is propelling songs to mainstream success. “Gucci Gang,” “The Race,” “Rubbin Off the Paint”—all of these songs went from YouTube viral status to the Billboard Hot 100, launching the associated artists to stardom.
Well, stardom’s great and everything, but what about money? Surely getting tens of millions of YouTube plays must lead to riches, right? After all, don’t you get money every time someone clicks on your video? As it turns out, not exactly. As a musician, you can make money off of YouTube, and a lot of people do. But it takes a lot of views to make real money. The reality is that YouTube’s payouts are incredibly complicated and, often, incredibly small.
Here, then, are answers to some of the big questions you might have if you’re going to try and money with your music on YouTube. Good luck, and may the viral gods be with you.
#1: How much money will I make per view?
The exact amount of money you’ll make on a video depends on a number of factors. But several experts confirmed with us that, on average, the money works out to between $1,000-$2,000 per million views. Yes, million. At the high end, that’s about $0.002, or one-fifth of a cent, per click. That’s around half of the per-stream payout you’ll get from Spotify, and less than a third of your haul from Apple Music.
This being the music business, that’s not the end of the story. If you’re signed, your record label gets a cut. Got a manager and a lawyer? Them too. Is there a featured artist? An additional songwriter? A producer who made the beat? Did you hire a company to help you get all the money YouTube owes you in the first place? All of them get a fraction of your fraction of a cent. So of the $1-2K, an artist will likely have a few hundred bucks left over at the end of it all.
If you’re lucky enough to get signed to a major label, hold onto your hats. Majors will insist that their acts post videos to Vevo—which means higher ad rates and thus a little bit more money. But Vevo is owned by the labels, which means if you leave, they’ll still control your Vevo channel.
#2: What happens if someone else uses my music in their video?
One of the main ways artists make money on YouTube is by other people using their songs. This is referred to in the trade as UGC, for “user-generated content.” So if your song is scoring someone’s BMX video, makeup tutorial, or birthday party, you’re entitled to all of the money.
The catch is, you’ve got to find them first. Money starts flowing your way once YouTube becomes aware that your song is being used. Any monetization occurs before that happens goes straight into the pockets of the person who originally posted the clip. Only very occasionally, if there’s enough money involved and you have a good negotiator on your side, can you get any of it back at that point.
A lot of UGC is caught quickly and automatically by YouTube’s Content ID system. They’ll compare any audio posted to the master files they’ve been given of countless songs. But the catch is, there are ways around that. If a short enough section of the song is used, YouTube’s system may not catch it. Also, there is a sort of ongoing arms race between people trying to figure out ways to fake out the system by altering the song just enough to fool YouTube, and folks at the company, who are plugging those holes as fast as they appear.
Jacob Pace, from Create Music Group, a company that represents artists in these very battles, estimates that YouTube’s system only catches about 60% of all the stuff out there. To get the rest, you’ll either need to get very good at searching, or hire a company to find and monetize that additional 40% for you.
#3: So where does all the money come from, anyway?
The short answer is, ads.
The longer answer is, ads you as an artist have only the tiniest bit of control over.
Negotiations happen between YouTube and the advertisers. They set the rates for different types of ads. What they rely on most is demographics and location of the consumer. If you’re using YouTube while logged in, chances are that Google knows a lot about you—where you live, what you like, etc.—and will serve you ads based on that.
As the owner of a YouTube channel, you can control what ads your users see only in the broadest strokes. You can make sure ads don’t appear from different types of companies—astrologers or liquor brands, for example. You can also ban ads from specific sites. If you don’t want a rival band’s label to buy up your ad space, for example, you can nix that. But that’s about it.
Rates vary wildly. Companies are paying per “impression”—how many times their ad is viewed. So, for example, companies who purchase those skippable ads that appear at the beginning of videos don’t have to pay if you skip the ad. They only pony up if you watch a significant amount of it or click through. And different types of ads cost different amounts of money. Those skippable ads are generally the most expensive, followed by pre-roll non-skippable ads. They’ll have a CPM of between $12-15. Down at the bottom in terms of cost—and way more common—are display ads (those are the ones that appear just to the right of the video, and above the suggested videos list). They will have a CPM ranging from less than a dollar to around $3, depending on whether they are reserved (more expensive) or just auctioned off to the highest bidder (less expensive). And don’t forget the most important part: YouTube keeps 45% of the money from ad sales for itself.
Overall, a fair average to expect would be a CPM of about $4 after YouTube takes their cut.
#4: What the hell is a CPM?
Good question! “CPM” stands for “cost per mille, ”which, confusingly, does not mean “cost per million,” but instead “cost per thousand”—that is, per thousand impressions.
Note that CPM does not mean cost per thousand views of your video. First off, not all ads served actually count, as we’ve seen with the skippable ad example. Second, as you’ve surely noticed, YouTube does not show you an ad every single time you watch a video. The company is well aware that doing so would cause you to bail. So they show you just enough ads to make sure that you keep coming back. On average, about 30-40% of overall views count as “impressions.” So one million views would get you, optimistically, 400,000 impressions. With a pretty middle-of-the-road $6 CPM, that would leave you with, after YouTube takes their cut, $1,320.
#5: So who’s making money, anyway?
The primary way to make money in a YouTube world is volume. Have a lot of videos out, or get people to use your songs in a variety of ways. If you’re not already a mega-star, UGC may be the biggest wave to ride. Witness Baauer’s “Harlem Shake,” which made the song’s artist (though not its writer) a ton of money because of the thousands of videos it inspired, which collectively had tens of millions of views.
Another, slightly smaller-scale way of getting more views is, somewhat paradoxically, to narrow your focus. Within the dance music world, for example, making music within a narrow sub-genre such as Simpsonwave (yes, it involves the Simpsons and yes, it’s a real thing) means that you have less competition and are more likely to be noticed, and therefore more likely to end up on playlists put together by fans—playlists that end up with millions of views.
#6: If I do start making money, how do I keep going?
This is perhaps the easiest question of the bunch. According to Pace, if you can manage to find a big audience and earn a couple thousand bucks a month (keep in mind, that’s several million views, either on your own content or UGC), you can expect the money to keep rolling in if you keep the supply up. Pace says that, in the majority of cases of people who have already gotten to where they’re earning a living wage via YouTube, “royalties don’t go down, as long as you consistently release more music.”
So, after all that, good luck. In short, if you can get lots of people to click on your stuff, and put out product consistently to keep that audience, you have a chance of earning enough money to live on. Pace shared stories of Create clients who have managed to do just that.
“We’ve had cases where some artist is like, ‘Oh, I was about to join the military, and now I’m making $6,000 a month,’ or people literally having to produce on the side and then have a day job where they’re doing telemarketing, and now they’re making $5,000 a month,” he says. “So even at $5,000 a month, that’s enough for you to live on and just do music full time.”

The Gay Architects of Rock

November 28, 2017

By JIM FARBER 10/17/17

One of the 20th century’s most powerful creations was the rock star: the preening, erotic god of guitar-fired defiance. But those who embodied that character didn’t spring from nowhere. Managers groomed them and shaped them, and in the classic rock era those managers were often gay men.

For decades, the close relationships between the managers and the predominantly straight musicians they advised were not discussed much. Lately, however, they have become a point of pride and celebration.

“The Fifth Beatle,” a recent graphic novel that focuses on the personal life of the Fab Four’s gay manager, Brian Epstein, was a New York Times best seller and is now in development as a six-part mini-series, with the approval of the Beatles’ estate. And the documentary film “Lambert & Stamp” made clear the important role played by Kit Lambert, the gay co-manager of the Who, in shaping the band’s identity.

Another image maker of the classic-rock era, Jann Wenner, the co-founder of Rolling Stone, is the subject of a new biography by Joe Hagan, “Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine,” which stresses the role his sexuality played in his presentations of male rock stars throughout the magazine’s history. (Mr. Wenner did not come out to the press until the mid-1990s).

“Being gay gave me a finer appreciation of the sexuality of the guys up there,” Mr. Wenner says in the book. “I could understand that in a way others didn’t.”

That understanding played out in memorable Rolling Stone images like David Cassidy showing off his naked torso down to his pubic hair, in a Playboy-style centerfold, and Jim Morrison smoldering next to the cover line “He’s Hot, He’s Sexy, He’s Dead.”

Jock McLean, who worked as an assistant to George Harrison 50 years ago, noticed the depth of the relationship between the Beatles and Mr. Epstein one August day not long before the manager’s death. Mr. McLean’s job was to pick up the singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson, a promising new artist in those days, and drive him to a meeting with Mr. Harrison at the house he was renting on Blue Jay Way in the Hollywood Hills, Calif.

There was talk of Mr. Nilsson perhaps joining the Beatles’ nascent company. That’s when things went sour, Mr. McLean said.

“George was talking about how wonderful the whole thing was going to be, trying to convince Harry to join the company,” Mr. McLean recalled. “It was all great until Harry said, ‘The only thing is, I don’t think I could be managed by a gay man.’” (Mr. Epstein’s sexuality was known by many in the industry at the time.)

Incensed, Mr. Harrison gave his assistant a nod.

“In a heartbeat, Harry was out of the house,” Mr. McLean said. “George, like all the Beatles, was extremely supportive of Brian. To them, Brian was the man.” (After Mr. Epstein died, Mr. Nilsson had a rapprochement with the band and worked closely with John Lennon.)

Roger Daltrey, the lead singer of the Who, had a similar respect for Mr. Lambert, who had an upper-class background at a time when those of his tier rarely interacted with working-class ruffians like Mr. Daltrey.

“Kit was the only ‘posh’ guy I ever met who wouldn’t talk down to me,” Mr. Daltrey said in “Lambert & Stamp.” “Kit had this fearless quality.”

At the time, men like Mr. Lambert had to. Up until 1967, being gay was illegal in Britain, and long after that law changed, gay men remained a target of police entrapment, blackmail and beatings. Mr. Epstein was assaulted and was the target of blackmail before he died in 1967 from an accidental overdose of sleeping pills and alcohol.

At the same time, many of these men had great power within their circle. As managers of some of the era’s most potent British rock bands, they stood at the forefront of sounds, sensibilities and styles that would demolish and remake pop culture.

The gay managers of that era were forthright about their sexuality, if only among friends and colleagues. Besides Mr. Epstein and Mr. Lambert, those men included Robert Stigwood (manager of Cream and the Bee Gees), Simon Napier-Bell (the Yardbirds, Marc Bolan), Billy Gaff (Rod Stewart), Ken Pitt (David Bowie), Barry Krost (Cat Stevens) and Larry Parnes (who molded pre-Beatles British rockers, including Tommy Steele and Billy Fury).

Their sexual orientation was mirrored by Americans including Nat Weiss (who oversaw the Beatles’ business interests and later managed James Taylor), Danny Fields (who managed Iggy Pop and the Stooges and, later, the Ramones), as well as music moguls including David Geffen and Clive Davis (who identifies as bisexual).

According to Mr. Napier-Bell, part of the reason British gay men of his era gravitated to the music business was because it was one of the few areas “where you could be out amongst yourselves. It was like a private club,” he said. “It was such a good life. You’d go to Robert Stigwood’s house and it was like a gay pub.”

Jim Fouratt, who has worked in the music industry since the 1960s, believes the men in Mr. Napier-Bell’s circle brought to the emerging rock scene a special understanding of image. “As gay men, we have to remake ourselves in order to survive,” he said. “That matches perfectly with the masquerade of rock ’n’ roll, with the fantasy.”

Martin Aston, the author of “Breaking Down the Walls of Heartache: How Music Came Out,” said the connection between rock’s gay managers and image molding stems from the fact that “gay men at the time would be judged almost entirely on how they looked. It wasn’t like there were lots of nice places to go and have lovely conversations. It was all communicated through cruising.”

As a result, Mr. Aston said, gay men developed a comfort with the art of being seen, “as opposed to straight men, who, before the phenomenon of the ‘metrosexual,’ were threatened by the notion of being looked at, of becoming an object.”

Vivek Tiwary, the author of the “The Fifth Beatle,” argues that Mr. Epstein’s sexual orientation had a strong influence on the Beatles’ public image.

“Brian Epstein’s attraction to all of the Beatles, and in particular to John, allowed him to create an image for the band that was appealing not just to girls, but also to boys,” Mr. Tiwary said. “Brian knew what it was like to be a boy, as well as how to attract them. A straight manager might just think, ‘Here’s a bunch of cute boys that girls will love.’ He might make them so girl-friendly that they seem too weak for guys to get into them.”

One of Mr. Epstein’s pivotal decisions was to change the Beatles’ outfits, from denim and leather to natty suits. Using the best local tailors, he got the band into single-breasted, three-button mohair suits, with narrow lapels and even narrower pants, according to Mark Lewisohn in his book on the band, “Tune In.”

By honing such looks, the managers did more than influence the presentation of musicians. They advanced the image of a new kind of man. As the ’60s progressed, androgyny became central to male display, with long hair, brightly colored clothing, and, in the case of the mods of the mid-’60s, flashy tailored suits.

“The mods loved nothing more than to be seen walking down the street, sharp dressed with sharkskin pants and makeup,” said James Cooper, the director of “Lambert & Stamp.” “These tough guys wore eyeliner.”

Mr. Fouratt thinks that much of the permission for the gender blurring came from the spreading drug culture. “Drugs allowed men and boys to discover their beauty and femininity,” he said. “The foppishness of rock stars is like the peacock, where the male is the beautiful one, not the female. That became the forefront in rock ’n’ roll, encouraged by the gay managers.”

It played out most clearly in a star like Mick Jagger, who adopted a campy and preening persona, affects shared by the Rolling Stones’ first manager, Andrew Loog Oldham.

“Mick was attractive for that preening,” Mr. Oldham said. “Many men might say to their mates, ‘Oh, he’s a poof!’ So they didn’t mind their wives or girlfriends enjoying him.”

Straight rock stars also found that appropriating the sensual awareness of gay men paid off in sexual opportunities. “David Bowie had to force the working-class guys in his band the Spiders from Mars to wear those glam clothes,” Mr. Aston said. “But as soon as they saw the impact it had on women, they were like, ‘Pass me the blush!’”

Still, given the vilification of homosexuality at the time, one might expect the rockers to have some discomfort with the gay men who advised them. In the case of the Who, Mr. Cooper believes the members bonded with Mr. Lambert not in spite of his sexual identity but in some ways because of it. The unlikeliness, and mutual risk, of the connection between Mr. Lambert (an upper-class, privileged gay man) and his partner in management, Chris Stamp (a straight street kid) impressed them deeply.

“The unconditional bond their managers had gave them an aura of invincibility,” Mr. Cooper said. “It also gave them a mystery: Who were these guys? If these guys were capable of bonding, they could be capable of anything.”

Mr. Lambert played that aspect up, stoking the Who’s budding interest in cultural disruption and advising the band’s leader, Pete Townshend. “Kit was telling the press that the Who were a new form of social crime,” Mr. Cooper said. “He told Pete, ‘When you give an interview, leave a wound. Oh, and by the way, smash your instruments.’”

Mr. Napier-Bell sees the entire notion of rock ’n’ roll rebellion as an extension of “gay anger.” “We were against the establishment, the government and the law, which was against us,” he said. “It was an attitude felt by the managers that was expressed through their groups.”

At the same time, many of the gay men came from more refined backgrounds than the rockers, an experience they transferred to their charges. “Brian came from a world of classical music and jazz,” Mr. Tiwary said. “He envisioned that the Beatles would be like the great classical composers and be remembered long after they were gone.”

Mr. Lambert, whose father was a prominent classical composer, pushed Mr. Townshend to write a rock opera, resulting in “Tommy.” “Kit molded me as a composer,” Mr. Townshend said in “Lambert & Stamp.”

If the young rockers benefited from the taste and ambition of their gay advisers, in turn the managers got a sense of connection they otherwise couldn’t achieve. “It’s not like a gay man at the time could marry or enjoy a family,” Mr. Cooper said. “With a band, there’s a sense of an extended family. They could raise and nurture the musicians and put all the complexity of their experience into something of worth.”

At the same time, the gay men involved with the bands found a route to power. “Where else could they get that feeling of being primary?” Mr. Cooper said. “It was a way to have impact and relevance.”

And in an era when gay sexual expression was brutally suppressed, the men were able to express themselves through the most influential sex symbols of the day, creating a kind of erotic ventriloquism.

“Whatever thoughts, feelings and longings they had in themselves could be played out in a band — and in front of an entire arena full of people,” Mr. Cooper said.

In the case of Mr. Epstein, Mr. Tiwary believes the message went beyond sex.

“It’s the great tragedy of the Brian Epstein story that he died lonely, never having a proper boyfriend,” Mr. Tiwary said. “I believe the fact that Brian couldn’t love openly made him dedicate himself to spreading a message of love with the Beatles. Through them, he had the chance to spread that love all over the world.”

Record Labels Are (Kind Of) Dead. Long Live Label Services!

October 11, 2017

Glenn Peoples 10/10/17

Early on a Sunday morning, at a Waffle House across I-40 from Nashville International Airport, Jay Gilbert and Jeff Moskow are talking all things music. They’re amazed by the craziness of the streaming world. They recount some of the living room concerts Gilbert hosts in Los Angeles — some are popular, as in “I just saw his band in an arena” popular. The two rewind to the conversations they had at the just-completed Music Biz, the annual gathering of record labels, distributors, digital service providers, and miscellaneous detritus from the conference’s heyday. Most of all, they talked about the uncertainty in the business. “We’re all trying to figure out where things are headed,” says Gilbert

Fast forward a year. Gilbert and Moskow are finding opportunities in confusion, helping a range of music clients with the label services company they co-founded, Label Logic. “When you’re dealing with artists and release strategies, there are no rules,” says Moskow, a former executive for catalog and special markets division of Universal Music Enterprises. An artist might want to release a couple of EPs before releasing a full album; everybody from Blake Shelton to Nine Inch Nails has experimented with the EP format once digital music fragmented the album. Another artist might want to release only singles. Northern Irish band Ash released one new track every two weeks for 13 months in 2009 and 2010; then, ironically, Ash compiled the singles into an album. In years past, artists seeded albums to peer-to-peer networks to find an audience they couldn’t get at brick-and-mortar retail. Today, hip-hop artists and EDM producers seeking career momentum post their music online. “It’s the wild west,” remarks Moskow.

Label Logic is a product of environment and circumstances. At labels and management companies, lean and fast is the new big and slow. Gilbert and Moskow opened shop to complement capabilities, letting clients — labels, managers, and artists—outsource duties rather than use whatever in-house resources exist. In today’s music business climate, it’s often better to rent than own. Let two “hyper-responsive and responsible” guys, as they say about their approach, take on some of the heavy lifting.

The record business of 10 years ago seems quaint by today’s standards. Back then, people were grappling with consumers’ embrace of single track downloads. Audio streaming services were small players that attracted few customers. Record labels were not yet thinned by painful downsizings and pruning of their rosters. Digital marketing was less essential. Former major-label artists were becoming aware of the independence and freedom digital distribution provided— Radiohead broke the levee by distributing In Rainbows to fans as a pay-what-you-want digital download. Those days are long over. Depending on your perspective, the new music industry either necessitated the hiring of a company like Label Logic or provided the opportunity to hire a Label Logic.

Not that turbulence has battered the music business beyond recognition. Music is still recorded, distributed and marketed to hungry fans. Radio play is great if you get it. A team, whatever its shape and size, must foster a connection between fans and an artist. Some version of a playbook still exists, although a few outdated chapters have been excised. The section titled “The Strategic Importance of Placing Physical Distribution Offices in Every Major Market” went out the window in the early ’00s. “The Art of the Spending Half of a Marketing Budget on a Retail Store’s Endcap” and “How to Negotiate a Huge Record Deal That Will Never Recoup” don’t jibe with the financial realities of today. The ash heap of history also contains a few chapters on music formats: “slotMusic and the Super Audio CD: The Formats of the Future;” “The Undying Album Format, and Why Singles Are Only For Radio;” and “Why You Shouldn’t Bother Releasing Vinyl Records).” A decade ago, few people would have thought people would pay over $30 for a double-LP, 180-gram release of The Eagles’ Their Greatest Volumes 1 and 2.

In shorthand, Label Logic could be called a label services company. But in 2017 the term ‘label services’ begs the question: what the hell is a label? The traditional record label still exists, although staffs are smaller and managers often assume many marketing and e-commerce duties. Some managers play the role of a record label. Artists, too, can create record labels, partner with a mid-sized distribution company, or assemble a team to handle PR, marketing, and project management. Back in the “music should be free” era there were some out-of-left-field varieties of a record label. Mountain Dew created a record label, Green Label, and offered downloads at its logo-emblazoned website. In the 00s, a blog, RCRD LBL, provided free downloads of tracks while generating ad revenue and paying the artist.

Some of the biggest names in the music business have entrusted their artists to Gilbert and Moskow. Renowned artist manager Doc McGhee started working with Label Logic this year. His artist management firm, McGhee Entertainment, has a roster stretching from legends like KISS and Ted Nugent to younger bands A Thousand Horses and Vintage Trouble. McGhee, speaking with a folksy charm, calls Gilbert and Moskow “dedicated” and “smart,” and appreciates how they share their knowledge with his staff . “That’s why I took them in right away. I said, ‘You get all my acts, fuck everybody else.’”

The September release of RSO, a McGhee-repped collaboration of guitarists Richie Sambora and Orianthi, spans every layer of Label Logic’s services. The guys work with all stakeholders — artist, management, and any social agencies, publicist or label involved — to create a campaign and get it to market. Both Gilbert and Moskow recall the many times they’ve sat across a table from an artist with stature and said in plain English, “This is what you need to do.” Peter Frampton, Rick Springfield, and The Temptations might intimidate a less experienced person. While developing catalog campaigns and greatest hits projects, the two have worked with the likes of U2, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Guns N’ Roses, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and the Bee Gees. Moskow had the pleasure of shepherding Universal’s product and marketing campaign for Motown’s 50th anniversary. (Motown ran with precision timing, and Moskow insists he would drive up to meetings with Motown founder Berry Gordy an hour early—and then sit in his car until the meeting started .) Gilbert sees that experience as a differentiator for Label Logic. “We’ve been at the table with some of the top artists in the industry. With that experience, we speak their language.”

Rick Springfield’s relationship with Moskow and Gilbert preceded the creation of Label Logic. The indefatigable rocker — he’s a 68-year-old who looks two decades younger — worked with the duo when all three were at Universal. Springfield remembers Moskow coming to him as a fan and saying, “I think I can help you.” Three of Springfield’s last four albums debuted in the top 100 of the Billboard 200 album chart. Two of them, Venus in Overdrive in 2008 and Songs for the End of the World in 2012, landed inside the top 50. That’s a big deal, explains Moskow. “If you look at artists in his generation, a lot of them don’t debut in the top 50.” To be fair, he adds, Rick had a vision. “He knew he would get new TV and movie roles. He had Californication and True Detective, [the 2015 motion picture, Jonathan Demme-produced] Ricki and the Flash with Meryl Streep, and a couple of best-selling books.”

Springfield, who released Rocket Science last year and is nearing completion on his next album, doesn’t hesitate to give them credit. “They both have great ideas, plus Gilbert’s a great photographer. He’s done the photo for last four albums,” he lauds. Gilbert shoots album covers for many clients. Growing up in Salem, Oregon, Gilbert would sneak a camera into venues — in the decades before smartphones existed, hoisting a camera at a concert could get you thrown out — to photograph rock bands that passed through town. He would never have thought he’d someday be a professional photographer shooting some well-known musician-clients. Nor would he have believed he’s one day who received requests for a snake and a monkey for photo shoots, but that’s another story (the clients’ wishes were met, by the way). Moskow, who since 1999 has been head of A&R for the massively successful compilation series, Now That’s What I Call Music, has a knack for sequencing an album’s songs. “He’s been invaluable in structuring an album and getting it heard,” says Springfield.

Today’s music business is noisy. Many artists don’t get heard in today’s market because an artist needs new ways to reach fans. “You take advantage of the new stuff because the old stuff has disappeared,” he says. Today, the “new stuff” is streaming. Streaming will dominate the visible future — and streaming has people confused. After digital downloads changed the retail landscape, streaming has blown retail into shards. Gilbert helps clients see through the smoking remnants. He cut his teeth by creating the majors’ first all-digital label, UMe Digital. Without a staff, Gilbert signed artists, oversaw the artwork, shepherded projects from production to marketing, and navigated the legal maze to obtain necessary contracts, all of which preceded digital music and required a revision for a digital product. A Peter Frampton album packaged with a sheet music download was “more challenging than you would imagine getting publishing clearances.” It won a Grammy.

Working at a record label wasn’t for the faint of heart. “You take the hits, and you keep going,” says Gilbert. Consider it boot camp for being independent and helping clients navigate numberless pitfalls. They both worked long hours at Universal, but now it’s different, he says. “It’s a labor of love.”

Restoring Those Old Liner Notes in Music’s Digital Era

October 4, 2017

By BEN SISARIO 9/29/20017

Two decades into the era of online music, streaming has been hailed as the industry’s savior, but a complaint from the earliest days of digital services persists: What happened to the liner notes?

Much of the material that once accompanied an album has long since been stripped away — not just the lyrics and thank-you lists, but also essays, artwork and even basic details like songwriting credits — leaving listeners with little more on their screens to look at but a song title and a postage-stamp-size cover image.

One company, TunesMap, wants to return much of that lost information, and more, through an interactive display that, when cued by a song playing on a streaming service, will present a feed of videos, photographs and links to related material. After a decade of development, TunesMap is scheduled to make its debut in November as an Apple TV app that will work with Sonos, the connected speaker system

The app is the brainchild of G. Marq Roswell, a Hollywood music supervisor who has worked with David Lynch and Denzel Washington. He bemoans the way early digital players and online music stores like iTunes removed all sense of music coming from a particular place and time.

Working with Nigel Grainge, an influential record executive who died in June; Erik Loyer, an app developer and media artist; and Jon Blaufarb, an industry lawyer, Mr. Roswell in 2007 began to design what he calls an interactive “context engine.” Stream a song on a Sonos speaker and, if TunesMap’s app is also fired up on Apple TV, images and historical information related to the artist or a song’s origins begin to float buy.

For a Bob Dylan song, the app shows vintage photographs of Greenwich Village, news clippings and links to related artists (like Martin Scorsese, who directed the Bob Dylan documentary “No Direction Home”). The goal is to present fans with a web of educational “rabbit holes” to explore.

“We’re going through the prism of music,” Mr. Roswell said, “but it’s film, it’s fashion, it’s art, it’s news, it’s comedy — it’s everything that created that scene.”

The company has deals with publishers like Genesis Publications and Rock’s Backpages, a decades-deep archive of music journalism, as well as rock photographers like Jay Blakesberg; TunesMap receives a cut of any sales made through the app. (TunesMap also shows articles from The New York Times by using the paper’s programming interface.)

During its long gestation, the company secured two patents for its navigation system and raised $4.75 million from entertainment-industry veterans like Andy Summers, the guitarist for the Police, and Jerry Moss, one of the founders of A&M Records, and from the Visionary Private Equity Group.

“I produced a Hank Williams film with Tom Hiddleston that took 10 years to put together,” Mr. Roswell said, referring to the 2015 biopic “I Saw the Light.” “I wouldn’t know any other way to do it. I just never let the vision die.”

The app is free, and it works when a user plays songs on Sonos from Spotify, Apple Music and other major streaming services. But in many ways, TunesMap runs counter to the trends of digital music consumption, which are moving toward simple mobile displays and programmed playlists.

Equipment costs are another potential barrier. The cheapest Sonos and Apple TV systems cost a total of $350. TunesMap said a minimal mobile version would also be available.

Reimagining liner notes for the digital age is a guiding concept, but Mr. Loyer, TunesMap’s director of user experience, said the company has tried to avoid the nostalgia of “Oh, remember when we had liner notes.”

“The real question,” Mr. Loyer said, “is how do we design the systems in such a way that values

Production of a Lifetime: Whitney Houston and Clive Davis

October 2, 2017


Downstairs at the Beverly Hilton hotel on Feb. 11, 2012, black cars delivered celebrities, among them Serena Williams, Britney Spears and Gayle King, to Clive Davis’s annual Grammys party. Upstairs in Room 434, the coroner’s office tended to the body of his biggest star, Whitney Houston, who had been found dead in the bathtub earlier that day. Police investigators removed empty bottles of liquor while the wails of her daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown, could be heard down the hall.

Chaka Khan later went on CNN and said Mr. Davis’s decision to proceed with his party was an act of “complete insanity.”

“She was a lonely voice,” he said of that criticism a few weeks ago, sitting in his corner office at Sony’s new headquarters near Madison Square Park in New York.

Mr. Davis, 85, is a legend in the music business. He signed Janis Joplin in 1967, turned Barry Manilow into a star in 1975 and orchestrated the reinvention of Aretha Franklin in 1980. Others he worked with over the years have included Patti Smith, Alicia Keys, Bruce Springsteen, Simon & Garfunkel, Lou Reed and Carly Simon.

But they were singer-songwriters perceived in the industry as being the architects of their own careers.

Ms. Houston was different.

Mr. Davis signed her in 1983 when she was just 19 years old, and he played an essential role on all but one album she recorded over the next 29 years.

He brought her songs and scouted producers. He introduced her at publicity events. He repeatedly extolled her supremacy over Mariah Carey.

At the peak of her life, she secured his place as an industry titan. In death, she haunts his legacy.

This past April, a laudatory documentary about him, “Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives” (based on his own memoir and available next week on Apple Music), opened the Tribeca Festival. A great party was given at Radio City Music Hall. Jennifer Hudson sauntered through the crowd singing a medley of Ms. Houston’s greatest hits.

Then came mixed reviews — and the debut at the festival of “Whitney: Can I Be Me,” a contrasting documentary that casts Ms. Houston as a victim of the music business’s most base inclinations. (It is currently airing on Showtime.)

Much like last year’s Academy Award-winning documentary “O.J.: Made in America,” it raises difficult questions about race and arrives at the conclusion that there was a psychological cost to being a black superstar whose image was created with the express purpose of maximum crossover.

Kenneth Reynolds, who worked at Arista, the label founded by Mr. Davis and on which Ms. Houston made her career, recounts how material that “was too black-sounding was sent back.” Kirk Whalum, who played saxophone on several of Ms. Houston’s tours, describes a woman who became devastated to learn that black people were calling her “White-ney” and a “sellout.”

Mr. Davis isn’t the principal villain in this other film.

There is much blame directed at Ms. Houston’s mother, the gospel singer Cissy Houston, and various members of the Houston clan, who had been on her payroll for many years.

But, still.

Another powerful component of this documentary is the on-camera testimony of more than a half-dozen colleagues of Ms. Houston’s, who say that the singer’s spiral into addiction had as much to do with her sexuality as it did with race.

Ms. Houston’s relationship with Robyn Crawford, an essential person in her camp from before Ms. Houston became famous until 1999, was the subject of speculation and gossip. Now, the narrative that the two were lovers had gained real currency, even without confirmation from Ms. Crawford.

Mr. Reynolds, who toured the country with Ms. Houston during the promotion of her debut album, described her lesbianism as “an open secret” at Arista during those early years.

“Every Little Step,” a recent book by Ms. Houston’s ex-husband, the R&B singer Bobby Brown, also takes the position that Ms. Houston’s sexuality was part of her struggle. Her marriage to him, he suggests, gave her the ability to reclaim her blackness while holding on to a basic image of straightness.

“They couldn’t let Whitney live the life she wanted to live; they insisted that she be perfect, that she be someone she wasn’t,” Mr. Brown writes. “That’s why they wanted Robyn out.”

Some people were circumspect about who “they” was. Mr. Brown wasn’t. He named them: “Clive Davis and her family.”

How Will I Know

“An artist can be extremely gifted and yet remain unsuccessful if he or she records the wrong music, or gets an image that confuses potential audiences.” That’s from “Clive: Inside the Music Business,” Mr. Davis’s 1974 memoir about his time at CBS Records.

Being out as lesbian or bisexual certainly would have confused audiences in 1985, said the actress and comedian Rosie O’Donnell, who knew Ms. Houston and Ms. Crawford socially and said she had “no doubt” they were together and that what they had “was real.” (Ms. Crawford declined to speak for this article, and did not submit to an interview for “Whitney: Can I Be Me”).

Back then, Ms. O’Donnell said, “There was no Ellen. There was no ‘Will & Grace.’ Lois Smith was my publicist, and she was Whitney’s publicist. When I would go to a show or the Emmys with my girlfriend Kelly, Lois would literally sit between us. She wasn’t doing it to be mean to Kelly. She was trying to protect me.”

Among the first of Ms. Houston’s contemporaries to come out was the country singer K.D. Lang, who declared she was a lesbian in 1992. A few months later, Melissa Etheridge followed suit.

But it was another half a decade until Ellen DeGeneres and Ms. O’Donnell broke the news, and they waited until shortly before their television shows went off the air to do so.

That was how it happened back then with the biggest stars, if it happened at all. You did it when you had enough money to walk away from the machine, or you used a decline to propel yourself into a life of paid appearances at gay pride parades.

“Whitney was the first evidence I had that people were willing to acquiesce to whatever it was in order to hold on to an image that wouldn’t offend, because at the time, it meant you wouldn’t have a career in show business,” Ms. O’Donnell said. “None.”

The decision to come out was also hard for those in the music business who worked behind the scenes.

David Geffen, the veteran record label owner and manager, announced he was gay at an AIDS benefit in 1992. His friend Sandy Gallin, who managed Dolly Parton and Michael Jackson, followed in 1994, around the time the Rolling Stone co-founder Jann Wenner left his wife for a man.

Yet it wasn’t until 2013 that Mr. Davis acknowledged what many had known for a while: that after two marriages and four children, he had a male partner.

The New York Times reviewer who panned his second memoir wrote: “Though we do hear about his failed first marriage, his second and its aftermath go M.I.A. for several hundred pages before he awkwardly cops to being ‘bisexual’ and in ‘a strong monogamous relationship for the last seven years’ with another man.”

Step by Step

Mr. Davis’s life is a story, and he’s a dazzling character in it. It’s his tinted glasses, snazzy suits and apparent fondness for telling tales again and again — life as a rolling press junket. That some of those stories do not track, are dated and appear false on their face matters little. He probably didn’t wind up as a co-writer of Air Supply’s “All Out of Love” by being principally concerned with the opinions of skeptics.

Most of Mr. Davis’s contemporaries who became label heads started as music men. Mr. Davis is a former lawyer and his corporate sensibilities poked through the material he released, particularly at Arista.

When Aretha Franklin traded in the analog soul sound and distinctly political edge of her work at Atlantic for the consumerist, synthetic pop of Arista , The Washington Post described her first album there by saying “The queen of soul seems to be striving for a new role — the queen of sap.” The effect was sad, but few could deny Mr. Davis had an ear.

Carly Simon also had a comeback with Arista. She adores Mr. Davis, who had some great advice for her over the years. But she also said, “His energy, his testosterone, all his hormones were ignited by having the biggest No. 1 records.” She added: “He is on the side of the winner at all costs, and the cost can be very high. The cost can be somebody’s career or somebody’s innateness.”

Mr. Davis grew up in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, where he was a member of the high school honors society, which was called Arista. While he was in college at New York University, his parents died in close succession. It was devastating, but the loss turned out to be propulsive.

“Life can change on a dime,” he said.

After Harvard Law School, he worked at a law firm, then joined CBS Records (later Columbia) in 1960 as one of two in-house lawyers. At the time, its main business was classical music, Broadway cast albums and middle-of-the-road pop singers. But profits were dropping. Mr. Davis understood that the future was in rock ’n’ roll. Within seven years, at 35, he was running the label.

At the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, he heard Janis Joplin and described it as almost like finding religion. Yet when she came to Columbia’s offices and suggested that they seal the deal with a trip to bed, Mr. Davis demurred.

In 1968 she finished her first album, and Mr. Davis thought that its single “Piece of My Heart” was too long and didn’t repeat the chorus enough. He went into the studio and re-edited it for radio on his own. He played his version for Ms. Joplin and gently coaxed her into allowing the label to release it.

It went gold, the album sold more than a million copies, and the myth of the Great and Powerful Clive, a man with no musical training and supreme ears, was underway.

He was “devastated” when Joplin died in 1970. “Our fortunes were intertwined,” he writes in his first memoir. It was a “terrible loss.”

But it went beyond the personal. “It would be wrong to pretend I wasn’t upset over the commercial loss as well,” he adds in the memoir. “The music business is a business.”

Over the next few years, CBS (now called Columbia) signed Santana; Earth, Wind & Fire; Blood, Sweat & Tears; and Liza Minnelli. Mr. Davis entered into a promotion and distribution deal with Philadelphia International, which moved the company into R&B and disco, with great success.

Then, a reckoning followed when a Newark federal grand jury investigation was convened to look into the practice of industry payola. The Internal Revenue Service obtained financial records that showed that quarterly promotion checks sent by Columbia to Philadelphia International had been used to illegally supply money and drugs to radio programmers.

Mr. Davis also ended up in a muddle in which a mafia-acquainted head of artist relations dummied up false expense reports, included one for $18,000 for the Plaza Hotel bar mitzvah of Mr. Davis’s son Fred, billed as a party for Ms. Minnelli. Other violations included airfare for two of Mr. Davis’s pet beagles.

Mr. Davis was charged with six counts of tax evasion and pleaded guilty to one count. He maintains that he did nothing wrong, besides relying on someone who went too far on his unknowing behalf. “It was a witch hunt,” he said, and many agree.

Payola was never proven. But he was still fired.

In Fredric Dannen’s 1990 book, ‘“Hit Men: Power Brokers and Fast Money Inside the Music Business,” Arthur Taylor — who dismissed Mr. Davis from his job — explained that the cause of the firing was that Mr. Davis had been offered the opportunity to come clean on the expense account issues and responded with lies.

“There’s something so strange about Clive Davis,” said Mr. Dannen, speaking now. “He has had one of the most remarkable careers in the music business, and yet so much about it is tainted. Not just by the payola thing, but by his need for attention. It may be that Clive’s greatest talent is his ability to distort reality.”

In My Business

Determined to rebuild his reputation, Mr. Davis took over a small label called Bell Records in 1974 and renamed it Arista. He signed Patti Smith and Lou Reed, but his principal success in the early years came from middle-of-the-road singers.

Enter: Barry Manilow and Melissa Manchester, both of whom sold loads of albums at their peak, yet subsequently seemed to lose part of their souls, as Mr. Davis relentlessly molded their images and their music to his liking.

“We could not find a comfortable way to communicate,” Ms. Manchester said. “As my albums progressed, I had to fight harder and harder to get a place for my songs, which was weird, because I’d come in thinking he liked what I did as a singer-songwriter, and he wanted me to be a vocalist for songs that I thought were rather bland and simply loud. He always wanted me to be current, and I always wanted to be timeless. It’s a different way of looking at the same picture.”

Mr. Manilow had similar issues. When he first started out, he wrote pop songs with contemplative lyrics about broken marriages. Then he met the label head who, Mr. Manilow said in a memoir, “looked more like a banker than a music man” and told him that his album was “nice” but needed hits. Mr. Davis started delivering him other people’s songs to sing.

“I Write the Songs,” despite the title, was one. Another was “Brandy,” later changed to “Mandy.” These cemented Mr. Manilow’s status as the grieving straight guy who couldn’t get over a lost love.

It was hard for Mr. Manilow to know what to think. He was a giant success, yet he was miserable. He wrote in his diary: “Why am I angry?”

In 1981, Mr. Manilow and Mr. Davis had a tense meeting. In it, Mr. Davis said, Mr. Manilow complained that he was turning into a milquetoast Andy Williams. Mr. Davis responded: “Well, if you were Irving Berlin, we would know it by now.”

So Mr. Manilow left the label, although not before someone handled the rumors of him being gay by saying that he was living with a female production assistant named Linda Allen.

Then, his first album with RCA bombed, and he returned. Mr. Manilow finally came out in 2017, many years after returning to Mr. Davis’s stable.

The sabbatical was fortuitous. “It helped him get a different perspective and cherish the partnership,” Mr. Davis said.

“There’s this eternal argument between the part of us that wants to be an artist and the part of us that wants to be a success,” Ms. Simon said. “The success part often wins.”

Same Script, Different Cast

Mr. Davis never liked being called a Svengali for what he did with Ms. Houston. He thought that sounded slithery. Still, it’s hard to describe their collaboration without leaving that impression.

They met in 1983 at the behest of Gerry Griffith, who worked in Arista’s A&R department.

Ms. Houston was born near housing projects in Newark. Her family moved to the more middle-class East Orange, N.J., when Cissy, Ms. Houston’s mother and a backup singer for Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin, began enjoying success.

As a child, Whitney sang gospel with the New Hope Baptist Choir. She was unsure of herself, with a tendency to sing in the back. Cissy had some ambivalence about whether her daughter should become an entertainer, but she nevertheless told her that if she was going to sing, she’d better step up.

By 16, she was singing with Cissy on Chaka Khan’s disco masterpiece “Clouds.” Whitney may not have known then what the bargain of fame would feel like, but she knew where she was headed. “I was always going to be a star,” she later said.

So a showcase for Mr. Davis was set up.

Her performances that night were standards: “Home” from “The Wiz” and then “The Greatest Love of All.”

“They were knockouts,” Mr. Davis said. “She had the entire package.”

Ms. Houston was beautiful. She had great power as a singer. But beyond that, he said, she had a level of self-control that was remarkable.

If she did not have great ambitions to become a songwriter (a thing critics subsequently used to discount her artistry), Ms. Houston knew exactly what she was singing about. When she did runs, it was usually because the lyrics called for it.

Mr. Davis’s recollection is that he talked with Ms. Houston around that time about music, and she told him Lena Horne and Dionne Warwick (who was her cousin and already on Arista) were her favorite singers.

Later, Ms. Houston would say her favorites growing up were Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan and Natalie Cole, which is a big difference. Who knows which version of the story is true. Ms. Houston, like Mr. Davis, was never the world’s most reliable narrator.

Two weeks after Mr. Davis signed her, he went on “The Merv Griffin Show” and introduced his protégée to the world. She hadn’t recorded a song yet, but that was how much he believed in her. (Also: He loved going on television.)

Making her debut album took nearly two years. Mr. Davis said the idea back then was to build her appeal in both the pop and the R&B markets, but Mr. Reynolds said there was never any question which one was more important.

“Arista was a pop-oriented label,” Mr. Reynolds said. “That’s what the staff knew and that’s what Clive knew. That’s what he did best — and he did it better than most record executives. There was no platform for Aretha Franklin’s ‘Ain’t No Way’ on Arista. They needed Aretha Franklin doing ‘Who’s Zoomin’ Who?’ and Whitney Houston doing ‘Greatest Love of All’ and Billy Ocean doing ‘Caribbean Queen.’ Because the bigger the pop record, the more money you could make.”

And when “Whitney Houston” came out in 1985 and turned into the biggest-selling debut album in history, the principals involved did make money.

Three songs went No. 1 on the Hot 100. She won a Grammy in the pop category for “Saving All My Love for You” but lost in the R&B category for “You Give Good Love,” a clear indication of the success of the appeal to white audiences.

By that time, Mr. Griffith, the man who found Ms. Houston, had quit his job working for Mr. Davis. “He only saw the big numbers. That was just his mind-set,” Mr. Griffith said. “It’s like hiring our current president to run a label. That’s why I could not agree with everything he was doing. That’s why I left.” (Mr. Davis apparently felt more warmly about Mr. Griffith. He later hired him back.)

In 1987, Ms. Houston’s follow-up arrived and the first four singles all hit No. 1, making her the first artist in history to have had seven consecutive chart toppers. “I said, ‘Whitney, are you pinching yourself?’ and she said ‘Yeah, Clive, I’m pinching myself,’” Mr. Davis said.

It’s a story he loves to tell, but the tale was abbreviated.

The reviews for the follow-up album were brutal. Jon Pareles, in The New York Times, said it smacked of corporate perfectionism. The Los Angeles Times’s Robert Hilburn called it a “considerable disappointment.”

Behind the scenes, Ms. Houston was dealing with a family who increasingly depended on her and whose appetites turned out to be nearly bottomless.

She made her father her manager and bought her mother a house. They had divorced after their daughter was famous. She was taught to freebase cocaine in the late 1980s by her brother Michael.

It was Robyn Crawford who went to Cissy Houston’s house to say there was a problem with drugs.

Cissy, a Christian who still sang in church, had separate issues with the idea her daughter was gay. She wasn’t open to staging an intervention with Ms. Crawford, and decided to deal with her daughter’s problem on her own.

Mr. Davis seemed equally disinclined to address Ms. Houston’s sexuality or what effect hiding it may be having on her happiness or psychological health.

He said he has “no idea” whether Ms. Houston was gay. “We never discussed it,” he said, and went on to list the romances she’d supposedly had in the ’80s with Jermaine Jackson and Eddie Murphy.

“Oh, nonsense,” Mr. Dannen said. “Put that on the record. I remember going to a launch party for one of her albums when I was writing ‘Hit Men.’ It was all anybody could talk about. Clive didn’t know? Of course he knew.”

Rosie O’Donnell said: “For Clive Davis to claim ignorance about this is, I believe, a boldfaced lie.”

When asked about this, Mr. Davis said that any implication he “orchestrated” a cover-up around Ms. Houston’s sexuality or that he “did not want her to be herself” was “crazy.”

“I’m telling the truth,” he said. “Did I read that there was speculation? I did.”

“There was never a discussion between me and Whitney about any kind of romantic relationship with Robyn,” he said. “There was never an indication that there was.” Mr. Davis added that he first became aware there was a drug problem sometime around 2000.

All the Man That I Need

In April 1989, Ms. Houston and Ms. Crawford attended the Soul Train Awards at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. When Houston’s name was announced among the nominees for Best R&B/Urban Contemporary Single, female, a loud booing could be heard in the audience.

“I was there,” said the producer Kenny Edmonds, known as Babyface. “We talked about it because we were all a little shocked. She was very upset.”

That was the night she met Mr. Brown for the first time. He sat in front of her and also performed, gyrating on the stage while singing “My Prerogative,” the song that had turned him into the spokesman for recalcitrant youth — the sort who were no longer playing her records.

Ms. Houston flirted with him a little, then invited him to her 26th birthday party in New Jersey. Ms. Houston and Mr. Davis also hired Babyface and his partner L.A. Reid to work on her third album, “I’m Your Baby Tonight.”

“The irony is that if she was trying to go blacker, I don’t know that we were the guys to go to,” Mr. Edmonds said. “We were in the middle. But maybe that’s why Clive called us in the first place.”

In 1992, Ms. Houston and Mr. Brown were married in New Jersey.

The morning of the wedding, Mr. Brown walked into Ms. Houston’s bedroom, he writes in his memoir, hoping “for a quickie” with his bride-to-be.

He found her “hunched over a bureau, doing a line of coke.” So he joined in, thinking to himself what good fortune it was to have found someone like her. “She was classy and street at the same time,” he writes. Then came the ceremony, where the maid of honor was Ms. Crawford.

By now, Ms. Houston was promoting what would become her biggest commercial vehicle yet, “The Bodyguard,” a new movie she had just filmed with Kevin Costner.

It was to be a great event, America’s black sweetheart and Hollywood’s most famous white Republican (at least back then), falling in love on screen in what seemed like a marketing team’s decision to build a movie around as many demographics as possible.

Thanks in large part to Ms. Houston’s brilliant performance of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” for the film, the movie earned $411 million at the global box office.

Even the wedding to Mr. Brown became part of the film’s promotion plan, as Ms. Houston submitted — with Ms. Crawford — to interviews with ABC News and USA Today, where they explained that they had not been lovers but were simply best friends.

“I think once she’s married, she’ll feel a lot more complete,” Ms. Crawford said. “I think that’ll be a self phase where she’ll be doing something for her life.”

One might assume Ms. Crawford would have made an exit soon after the wedding. Instead, she remained for seven years as part of the management team, locked with Mr. Brown in what several people in “Whitney: Can I Be Me” describe as a battle for the ear of Ms. Houston. During that time, Mr. Davis receded somewhat from the picture.

Ms. Houston starred in films that grappled more directly with African-American issues but descended further into her own addiction. Whatever had led Ms. Houston to pick Mr. Brown, their addictions helped make it real. “It may have seemed dysfunctional, but that doesn’t say anything about whether they loved each other,” Mr. Edmonds said. “She loved him like crazy, and he loved her like crazy.”

She suffered an overdose during the making of the 1995 film “Waiting to Exhale.” Then she pulled out of big promotional appearances for “The Preacher’s Wife” because of “throat issues.”

Around that time, Ms. Houston gave a rare interview.

“Money doesn’t make you happy,” she said. “Fame certainly doesn’t make you happy. People will tell you that who are famous. You’ve got to find the happiness within yourself. You’ve got to know who you are before you step into this business, because if you’re trying to find it, you’ll probably wind up being somebody else that you probably don’t even like.”

In 1997, Mr. Davis’s patience ran out.

He wrote her a letter: “Dearest Whitney, you know my love for you goes beyond the professional nature of our relationship, which in and of itself is almost as long as the age you were when I met you. To put it succinctly, I am seriously concerned. I know that I have absolutely no right to reflect on anything but your professional recording career, so let me address that. You have not done a studio album in seven years. You have only recorded a total of seven pop songs during the last five years and those were chosen to integrate into the characters of two motion pictures. So insofar as your position as the number one contemporary recording artist in the world is concerned, you have been practically missing in action.”

Soon enough, Houston was back in the studio, working on “My Love Is Your Love,” an album that burst with collaborations with edgy producers like Missy Elliott, Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean and Rodney Jerkins, who delivered her a song about being in a messy marriage with a man who can’t stop cheating on her.

It got some of the best reviews of her career, but the tour was another story. The problem wasn’t the voice, but her marriage’s increasingly Mr. and Mrs. Smith-like quality.

The situation finally broke Ms. Crawford, who determined it was time to quit the family business. She ultimately settled down with Lisa Hintelmann, a former magazine editor who works as the director of talent and entertainment partnerships at Audible.

Afterward, said Ms. Houston’s former bodyguard David Roberts, speaking in “Whitney: Can I Be Me,” Ms. Houston descended further.


The following year, Burt Bacharach fired her from a performance at the Oscars when Houston began singing the wrong song during rehearsal. She abruptly pulled out of her performance at Mr. Davis’s induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

In September 2001, she popped onstage at a tribute concert for Michael Jackson, looking so thin that the sounds of people gasping could actually be heard throughout the arena.

Mr. Davis tried to help.

After the Oscars debacle, he invited her to come stay at his weekend home. He gently brought up her drug use. She told him she had it under control, that it was her business.

After the Michael Jackson show, he wrote her another letter begging her to get treatment, telling her how he’d seen her on television and cried. She never responded.

By then, Mr. Davis had been pushed out of Arista by his corporate higher-ups at Bertelsmann and was setting up another new label. That left Houston behind.

Her 2002 album tanked. She gave a disastrous interview to Diane Sawyer in which Ms. Houston explained, in a moment that became notorious, that she did not smoke crack. “Crack is cheap!” she said. “I make too much money to ever smoke crack.”

She described Mr. Davis being removed at Arista as a tremendous source of pain. “That hurt,” she said. “A lot.”

They did reunite, and she got divorced and released an album, “I Look to You,” with Mr. Davis once again listed as executive producer. But the combination of cocaine and years of heavy cigarette smoking had taken their toll. With her fortune diminishing and her family ever dependent on her, she agreed to stage a tour. It was a disaster.

Yet Mr. Davis was pleased to see Ms. Houston when she arrived in Los Angeles in 2012, the week of the Grammys. The way he remembers it, she seemed sober as they chatted by the pool at the Beverly Hills Hotel, where he was staying.

She told him that she had finally quit smoking and would be ready to record again that summer. She also said she was swimming daily.

But later that week, Ms. Houston went out for a night on the town with her daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown, and left a nightclub with her leg bleeding, after an altercation with a woman she believed was making a move on Ray J, the man she was dating.

After she died, the coroner’s report described some of the items in her hotel room: prescription drugs, empty liquor bottles and a metal spoon covered in white powder.

Mr. Davis did memorialize her at his Grammy event, the show that infamously went on no matter what, bringing Alicia Keys and Jennifer Hudson to the stage to perform some of Ms. Houston’s songs.

Then he went to Newark for her funeral. In his eulogy, he rattled off all the record-breaking statistics of their 27-year collaboration, name checking five of her 11 No. 1 songs, five more Top 10 hits, four of her movies and one earth-shattering rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Once again, but not for the last time, he told the story about how he’d asked her in 1987 whether she was pinching herself at her success.

Ms. Crawford didn’t speak that day. Instead, she published a remembrance on Esquire’s website. It left a lot out.

But she did include her diagnosis of what happened to Whitney Houston. “The record company, the band members, her family, her friends, me — she fed everybody,” she wrote. “Deep down inside that’s what her tired”

Milestone for BMI: More than $1Billion in Music Royalties

September 9, 2017


In 2015, the music licensing agency BMI reached $1 billion in revenue for the first time, and Michael O’Neill, the company’s chief executive, predicted that it would take another three years before the agency could, after expenses, pay $1 billion in royalties to its songwriters and music publishers.
BMI reached its goal one year early.
The organization, whose hundreds of thousands of members include stars like Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran and Sting, announced on Thursday that it had $1.13 billion in revenue and distributed $1.02 billion in royalties during its most recent fiscal year, which ended in June. BMI and other performing rights organizations, like its rival Ascap, collect money whenever songs are played on the radio, streamed online or piped into a restaurant.

“Revenue is a great number,” Mr. O’Neill said in an interview, “but distributions are actually what goes into a songwriter’s pocket.”

Returns at BMI and Ascap have been steadily rising over the last decade or so, as technology and patterns of music consumption have changed. (Ascap won bragging rights in 2015 by hitting $1 billion in revenue a few months before BMI did.)

As record sales have fallen, so have the “mechanical” royalties associated with that format. At the same time, the performing rights licensed by BMI, Ascap and a handful of others have grown, helped by the rise of music streaming services and by deals with new types of businesses like Netflix and Hulu.

Still, the value of the music publishing business, the side of the industry that deals with the copyrights for songwriting and composition, keeps rising. According to the National Music Publishers’ Association, the United States publishing business generated $2.65 billion last year.

BMI’s collections in its most recent fiscal year were up almost 7 percent from the year before, and its royalty distributions were up 10 percent. Its media licensing category, which includes radio, broadcast television and cable, generated $524 million in revenue, an annual gain of $32 million.

But those types of businesses now make up less of BMI’s overall pie than they used to. In 2010, for example, media licenses accounted for 82 percent of BMI’s domestic revenue, and are now 63 percent, according to BMI reports.

The biggest gains in recent years have come in so-called general licensing — which includes restaurants, retail stores and doctors’ offices — and, especially, from online services. In 2010, BMI collected $20 million from what it then called “new media,” accounting for just 3 percent of its domestic revenue. In its most recent year, that category, now called digital, took in $163 million, nearly 20 percent of the total.

Over the last year, BMI, whose full name is Broadcast Music Inc., processed nearly 1.4 trillion performances, up 40 percent from the year before, the organization said. Of that total, 1.35 trillion were digital.

For both BMI and Ascap, their recent gains have come under a cloud of uncertainty, as major publishers have threatened to withdraw their catalogs and the entire process of collective licensing has come under scrutiny by the federal government.

Both BMI and Ascap are governed by federal regulatory agreements that date to the 1940s, and last year, the Justice Department ordered the two groups to make changes to their licensing procedures. BMI challenged that interpretation in court and won, but the government appealed the case in May.

Mr. O’Neill said that no matter what the outcome of the appeal, BMI would continue to work to make money for its members.

“Our goal is to make sure that songwriting can continue as a profession,” he said, “and not simply a hobby.” 9/7/1

How a rock band’s lawsuit could upend record deals everywhere

August 28, 2017

Eriq Gardner 8/23/17

A coming trial between Avenged Sevenfold and Warner Bros. Records may dissuade or embolden hot artists looking to escape their contracts.

What’s a record label actually good for? That is a question implied in a lawsuit between Warner Bros. Records and Avenged Sevenfold, a heavy metal band from Huntington Beach, California, that is scheduled to go to trial this year and has the potential to upend the music industry.

The dispute dates back to 2015, when the act notified its label that it was terminating the contract it signed in 2004, citing the “seven-year rule,” which bars personal service contracts lasting longer than seven years. The law has its roots in a pro-labor statute put on the books after the Civil War to prevent long-term contracts from becoming the means for involuntary servitude. The modern version of the rule was famously tested in entertainment in 1944, when Olivia de Havilland used the law to break her contract with Warner Bros after the studio repeatedly suspended her for turning down roles. An appeals court decision helped bring an end to Hollywood’s old studio system.

But the seven-year rule has not decimated the record business because the major labels successfully lobbied in the 1980s for an important change after Olivia Newton-John won a “seven-year” battle with MCA Records. Music contracts are generally denominated in deliverables (in Avenged Sevenfold’s case, they agreed to record five albums and a couple of live ones for Warners), not length of term. The recording industry successfully convinced California lawmakers that labels invest so much up front in their artists, they should be able to recover the “lost profits” of uncompleted albums from acts who don’t fulfill their contractual commitments.

Although artists like Courtney Love and bands like Thirty Seconds to Mars have invoked the seven-year rule in disputes with their labels, those matters settled before they reached trial.

Avenged Sevenfold, which won best new artist at the MTV Music Awards in 2006 and has put out four well-received albums with Warners, could in December become the first musical act to test the law before a jury. The stakes are huge for both the band and the music industry: If it loses, Avenged Sevenfold could face a verdict between $5 million and $10 million. If it wins, the outcome could embolden other acts with contracts older than seven years — which on Warners’ roster includes major recording artists Red Hot Chili Peppers and Green Day ­­­— to exit their current deals.

“We’ve realized this battle is bigger than just us,” says Avenged Sevenfold singer Matt Sanders (known professionally as M. Shadow). “We’re fighting so that all musical artists have the same rights everyone else has. It’s not like we wanted to be here, but we are down for the fight.”

Avenged Sevenfold intends to steer the label’s drive for lost profits around by asking what a record label does for its artists in this day and age. “The trial will include a referendum on how ineffective WBR is in promoting rock records,” says the band’s attorney, Howard King.

In the old days, labels performed three critical tasks: The first was talent scouting and overseeing artistic development. Second was promotion. Third was distribution. Digital networks and streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music have now democratized the emergence of new acts and enabled music to reach consumers without too much cost. Record labels have in some respect enjoyed the lesser expenses of this era and have also cut A&R staff.

Heavily reliant on pop stars and older legacy artists, labels are now largely about that second task of promotion. But some don’t believe labels are especially wonderful in that regard either.

Bob Lefsetz, a music industry analyst who will be testifying at trial as an expert on behalf of the band, says that some record labels still enjoy relationships that serve them well in the realms of pop and hip-hop. But Lefsetz adds, “If you are not in one of those two niches, does that behoove you to be with a label? You are giving up a big percentage of revenue and tying yourself. The only reason you’d do that is if they can promote you. And if you look at their relative reach, it’s de minimis.”

King is arguing that there would not have been much (if any) profit for Warners to lose on a fifth Avenged Sevenfold album. “We believe a jury will conclude they can’t prove any damages,” he says. He says the band’s most recent album, The Stage, which it put out in October 2016 under Warners’ rival Capitol, “has been a commercial disappointment. WBR would have lost money had that been delivered to them for marketing.”

According to several insiders in the Warner Bros. camp, none of whom wanted to comment publicly on a pending legal matter, the feeling is that the case wasn’t something the label could have avoided, and instead, provides an opportunity. They blanch at the notion that the lawsuit amounts a punitive act over a band whose very moniker evokes vengeance, but acknowledge it does provide an opportunity to dissuade any other acts from attempting to sit out the clock on their deals or use the seven-year rule as leverage for a renegotiation.

On Aug. 11, the judge allowed Warners to assert claims from its worldwide affiliates in a decision that could double or triple the potential liability that Avenged Sevenfold is facing. And the label is being allowed to seek its attorney fees — already amounting to more than $1.5 million in another sign of just how seriously the record label is treating this fight. At trial, expect a rare look at industry financials and testimony from key executives. The label will take the straightforward approach of using past commercial success to infer future profits. But when Sanders and other Avenged Sevenfold members appear before a jury to challenge their former label’s worthiness, an entire industry may regard its mortality. As Lefsetz notes, there’s significant precedent at stake: “A lot of this stuff has never been litigated.” 8/23/17

Lighting The Way: Red Light Management Coran Capshaw speaks

August 10, 2017

by Mark Sutherland 8/8/17

Coran Capshaw is the founder of Red Light Management – and the manager of Dave Matthews Band, Lady Antebellum and Phish, who recently played a record-breaking 13-night residency at New York’s Madison Square Garden.

He also follows the likes of Sir Lucian Grainge and Irving Azoff in winning the 2017 City Of Hope Spirit Of Life Award. In an exclusive Q&A, he talks about the business’ biggest opportunities, most testing challenges – and the future of artist management…

How have you grown the UK business?

Well, one thing we do at Red Light – and it’s happening in the UK – is, we’re into developing talent. We’re putting resources against it, and we’re trying to grow artists.

When an established artist becomes available or is looking to make a change, obviously we’re interested in those opportunities, but we’re also interested – for the sake of our company – in developing talent, and that’s working well over there.

What plans do you have for the affiliated businesses in the UK?

We’re promoters over here [in the US] – we haven’t done any promoting over there. But here, we are in the festival business and we do some regional and at times national promoting.

One thing we would like to do is expand the ancillary business opportunities over there, so we are certainly looking at and open to doing more things.

Do those businesses increase the options you can offer to artists?

It goes back to that knowledge. We see a lot of different things and we see a lot of different perspectives. If we’re in business with a label, we want to be good partners to them because we appreciate what they’re doing and we put out records ourselves.

If we’re in a situation where, for whatever reason, we want to put out the record, we know how to do it. So there’s a lot of different perspectives here: Red Light was created with people coming out of the label world, the
promoter world, the sponsorship world, the touring world – all different aspects of the business comprised by the people who are working here. It’s all helpful and all serves a common purpose.

What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the 25-odd years you’ve been a manager?

We’ve gone through the challenges [around] not selling bodies of work of 10–12 songs the way that we used to… That’s the bad news.

The good news is, the access to and interest in music is higher than in any of our lifetimes. As the tide starts to turn in the recorded music area, we’ve got healthy touring, we’re talking about the global business… This is an exciting time to be here.

And so I don’t really think much about the challenges, I think about the opportunities. That’s where our focus is.

The one thing that we’ve all got to figure out how to crack the code on, is that live music is probably the most inefficiently priced industry in the world.

We all set out with good intentions of being friendly and fair to our fans with pricing, but we’ve got third parties getting their hands on the tickets.

So I think it’s going to cause a shift in primary pricing. It is about creating programmes so we can start getting the artist and the fans more in that equation rather than the third parties.

That’s a challenge and an opportunity at the same time, when you look at the income and revenue that’s headed out the door in the wrong hands.

Where do you see the future of Red Light?

We’re on a very good path now to continue doing what we do. If we wind up in more ancillary businesses that are helpful to our acts, that would be a goal.

The manager and their teams are the most important part of the artist world and it’ll become more and more important in the future.

We have the primary role, we have great label partners, great touring partners, festivalpartners, brand partners but the manager is the hub of all that.

Our work is harder; we have to do more and more with the changes out there, but our role is going to grow and the company’s going to continue what it has been doing in a balanced way.

There’s going to be more and more creative ways of bringing attention to music and a career and that leads to a wide array of opportunity.

These are exciting times and we should all be grateful that we get to do what we do.