Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Some managers do ‘ave ‘em

It has been a busy few weeks for the country’s leading music manager Paul McGuinness. While you’d think that he would have enough on his plate now that his main employers U2 are back in the touring game, McGuinness took …

Mon, Aug 23, 2010, 11:39


It has been a busy few weeks for the country’s leading music manager Paul McGuinness. While you’d think that he would have enough on his plate now that his main employers U2 are back in the touring game, McGuinness took the time to pen an extensive thought piece for GQ magazine on the state of the business. Headlined “how to the save the music business”, it’s more or less a follow-up to the U2 manager’s speech at the MIDEM music conference in January 2008 about piracy, copyright and internet service providers living life high on the hog.

And, as was the case with that speech to the folks in Cannes, the article and its contents has attracted a lot of attention. Brian Boyd’s piece was one of the first of these, an opinion piece which elicited a response from EMI Ireland and IRMA big cheese Willie Kavanagh. Yes, it’s a sign of the strange times the music business finds itself in that a manager and a record label are on the same page about an issue. Once upon a time, there was no love in the room as each side did their best to outdo the other. Now, well, any port in a storm.

While some commentators have concentrated on McGuinness’ long-held views on ISPs, other targets of the manager’s spiel were quick to respond. In the GQ piece, McGuinness refered to bloggers as “anonymous gremlins who wait to send off their next salvo of bilious four-letter abuse whenever a well-known artist sticks their head above the parapet”. Like, get it off your chest, Paul!

Problem is, though, that many of those who write and blog about music business comings and goings are far from anonymous. Mike Masnick, editor of Techdirt, spoke for many when he wrote “Hi Paul. My name is Mike Masnick. Nice to meet you. I may be a blogger, but I’m not anonymous. Not only that, I’ve also attended the past few Midems, as well – and have even presented a few times off the same stage as you – and, oddly, it didn’t end in anonymous gremlins and backlash. Perhaps you’re doing something wrong.”

Masnick points out in his well-reasoned response that the problem is the “us vs them” attitude which still seems to hold sway, even as the record industry lurches from one crisis to the next. Where McGuinness and Kavanagh see attacks and bogeymen, Masnick and co see people “who love music and worry about an industry that is making many misguided and dangerous decisions that do more to harm the music world than the new services and technologies you apparently haven’t taken the time to understand.”

It really is time for a reset, but the problem is that those who should be doing the resetting are only interested in maintaining the status quo. Masnick again: “we’re not attacking you. We’re pointing out the very big flaws in your ideas. Rather than repeating the same flawed plans – with gratuitous and incorrect claims of some anonymous mob that’s out to get you – perhaps you could respond to the actual points that we’ve raised? Or is asking for that just a form of an attack?”

As has been the case since technology overtook the record industry, the response is always about attacking the naysayers and protecting assets rather than innovation and futureproofing. The music industry’s permanent establishment – this includes labels, promoters and managers of established acts – don’t have a clue how to address the changes which have torn their business apart. Many are holding on in the hope that they’ll have retired before the time comes to really have to make seismic, far-reaching changes and that will be left to someone else to do. The problem is that the time to make those changes in a manner which they manage and control is long gone. The new permanennt establishment won’t have anything to work with at this rate and are really just destoned to become catalogue pimps. When technology began to dictate how the music industry worked, the industry blinked. You can’t go back to 1999 and lunch Shawn Fanning and his uncle.

Every other creative industry is now examining how the music industry has made a hames of things and trying to avoid making the same mistakes. It’s unlikely that these other sectors will simply resort to sending in the lawyers and blaming it all on ISPs. Instead, there will be a process of engagement and change which take new realities into account. Yep, some will resort to attacks and tirades but those with sense will get on with things. No matter how much you want to do it, you can’t turn the clock back.