Monday, December 5, 2011

A Big Change At WMG....Maybe

Warner Music Group logo image from Bobby Owsinski's Music 3.0 blog
Today it was announced that Warner Music Group chairman Edgar Bronfman Jr. will step down as of the end of January. Bronfman has been pretty good at destroying companies, from Seagrams (the liquor dynasty that his family built) to Universal Music to taking Warners to the brink as their stock price took a big hit, so it's hard to tell for sure whether the decision to leave was his decision or new WMG owner Len Blavatnik's.

Bronfman's leadership had little to do with music; it was always about the money. More market share, higher stock price, and more acquisitions all had more precedent than developing talent for the long term. In this case, you reap what you sow, as WMG is just another major on a slow decline.

While it might seem like a good move that one of the old guard executives is leaving, don't be so sure that it will make a difference. Remember that the company is still owned by a Russian oligarch. not by a music person. Big money and music have never mixed, since the product is turned into a commodity rather than the art that it is. Since buying Warners earlier this year, Blavatnik hasn't shown that his purchase was anything more than some wealthy bargain hunting.

When the music business was at its peak in the 70s, the Berry Gordy's, Ahmet Artegan's, Jac Holzman's and Mo Ostin's of the world were running it. These were real music people that lived at breathed what their artists did and were willing to stand behind them until they broke through in a big way. Unfortunately we live in a much different world today; one that relies on immediate success and spurns artist development and technical innovation. It's no wonder that a tech company (Apple) basically took over the business by supplying the distribution chain that the labels could not.

So how will anything change? We need a new crop of music entrepreneurs, ones who are their audience and love music for the music, not the money. Until that happens, music will remain in the doldrums and the 3 remaining major labels will continue down their long, slow death spiral.
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