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  Industry Profile




Industry Profile: Vince Bannon

— By Larry LeBlanc (CelebrityAccess MediaWire)

This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Vince Bannon, VP, Entertainment Partnerships and Development, Getty Images.

Vince Bannon, VP, Entertainment Partnerships and Development at Getty Images may have one of the best jobs in the world.

His sandbox is Getty Images’ vast library of online music-related resources.

In 1995, Mark Getty and Jonathan Klein founded Getty Images in order to bring the fragmented stock photography business into the digital age.

Getty Images was the first company to license imagery online. It has since pioneered new licensing models, and digital media management tools, while bolstering its comprehensive offering of creative and editorial imagery, microstock, footage and music.

The agency offers a broad collection of imagery and footage, including news, sport and entertainment content, plus rare and contemporary archival imagery. Its music catalog also provides a wide range of pre-cleared tracks.

If Getty Images knows all about photos,Toronto-born Bannon knows all about music.

While in college in Detroit, Bannon launched Concert Company Ritual, serving as its president from 1979 to 1993. The company, which owned and operated several Detroit nightclubs—including St. Andrew's Hall, The Shelter, Industry Asylum, Industry, and Clutch Cargo's—and promoted shows with Nirvana, the Police, Prince, Pearl Jam, the Dave Matthews Band, Nine Inch Nails, Guns N’ Roses and others.

Concert Company Ritual grew to 110 employees, and was eventually purchased by Clear Channel Entertainment.

From 1994 to 2000, Bannon was senior VP of Artist Development at 550/ Epic Records, working with Oasis, Travis, Macy Gray, Celine Dion, Des'ree, Fuel and others.

In 2001, in conjunction with Clear Channel, Bannon co-produced the Area One Festival tour that featured Moby, Outkast, Paul Oakenfold, Incubus, the Roots, New Order and others.

Bannon then became head of A&R for Redline Entertainment, a film and music content company owned by Best Buy.

In 2003, Bannon became executive VP of music worldwide for image.net, a British-owned company that distributes marketing materials and assets for media outlets worldwide.

In 2004, Getty Images acquired image.net, and Bannon became part of the Getty Images business development team, where he currently is VP, Entertainment Partnerships and Development, based in Los Angeles.

Getty Images primarily targets three markets—creative professionals (advertising and graphic design), the media (print and online publishing), and corporate (in-house design, marketing and communication departments).

Getty Images operates a large commercial website which allows clients to search and browse for images and music, purchase usage rights and download images or music tracks.

Over the years, Getty Images has pursued an aggressive program of acquisition, buying up many privately-owned agencies, including Digital Vision, iStockphoto, and Stockbyte.

As Getty Images acquired older photo agencies and archives, it digitized their collections, enabling online distribution.

In 2009, Getty Images purchased Jupitermedia Corporation’s online images division, Jupiterimages for $96 million.

By this time, music images had emerged as a core business at Getty Images, particularly with two key acquisitions.

In 2007, Getty Images acquired the Michael Ochs Archives described by The New York Times as, "The premier source of musician photography in the world.”

In 2008, Getty Images acquired Redferns Music Picture Library, the London-based music photography collection.

Planning to apply that same model as to stock photograph to licensing music for ads, TV shows and films, Getty Images acquired Pump Audio in 2007 for $49 million. Pump Audio's catalog of over 700,000 tracks is derived mostly from independent and unsigned artists.

Getty Images further expanded its online music licensing resources in 2008 with the introduction of Premium Playlist, which has tracks available for non-exclusive license made possible by deals with record labels, music publishers, management companies and other content owners.

Getty Images offers Premium Playlist and Pump Audio on its web site with a searchable music-sampling service for those looking to license music.

Getty Images is a $1 billion dollar a year business?

Yes.

The music-based photos you license break down to editorial and creative uses?

We are also the largest licensor of film in the world. I would say it is 70% creative, stock imagery (usage), and 30% editorial.

Somewhere around the world right now, someone is taking a photo of a musical event for Getty?

It’s true. You can go on the (Getty) site, and on the entertainment/editorial site, there’s a little tab on the left that says “festivals.” It’s all the festivals that we have been shooting.

Do you hire staff photographers or do freelancers post most of the current photos?

We do have staff photographers that work for Getty. We do have stringers that are exclusively for Getty, and we have contributors that are exclusively for Getty. So we have all three.

How many photographers are involved?

With all of the contributors, it has to be around 10,000 (photographers).

How are photos filtered into the Getty system?

You have to be a photographer of caliber to shoot for Getty. We vet you, and then you become a contributor. Then you start uploading, and putting your pictures in.

Do you look at a certain music festival and say, “We need to have this covered?”

Yes.

Does that include Glastonbury, which recently happened?

Yes. The greatest thing about the U.K. is that they treat music like a national sport. In the United States (coverage of) music has become ghettoized. It has been pushed to a little bit of coverage in the major newspapers or the national magazines. As (these outlets) all struggle, and as they fire more of their pop critics or their music writers, it’s (about coverage of) sports, and then sensational news.

[Glastonbury 2011, June 22-26, had three official media partners, the BBC, the Guardian and Q magazine, which ensured that this year’s event had the highest profile in the festival’s history.

The BBC’s coverage ran on BBC Two, BBC Three, BBC Four, Radio 1, 1Xtra, Radio 2, 6 Music, Radio 4, online, and via Red Button.

Total viewing figures at the BBC reached 18.6 million. BBC Two’s coverage made up the lion’s share of audience, with 15.7 million people tuning in. Audience viewership peaked at 2.6 million viewers for Beyoncé, 2.2 million for Coldplay, and 2.1 million for U2.]

Music has kind of been left out of the picture (in American media) except when it is something like, “A Kid Dies at EDC” (electronic music festival Electric Daisy Carnival), which is horrible. But two people die at Bonnaroo, and it’s like, “Ahh, two people died at Bonnaroo. Ah, you know?” But someone dies at a “terrible rave concert” and the attitude is, “Oh, they are pushing ecstasy on each other.” You see that kind of coverage.

[There were no reported deaths at Electric Daisy Carnival 2011 in Las Vegas (June 24-26). The festival was essentially booted from Los Angeles following the overdose-related death of a 15-year-old girl in 2010.

Over 90,000 people attended the 10th Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, Tenn. June 7-10 this year. Two died. One was found dead outside his tent over the weekend, the other died of hyperthermia after being airlifted to a hospital.]

Anything Lady Gaga does will draw the American media.

But she knows how to do that. I admire her for that. Giving this to Gaga, and I mean giving it to her, she know knows how to manipulate the media like Madonna knew how to manipulate the media.

Any other music artists adept at manipulating the media?

Oh, hell yeah. Somebody was saying to me that a friend of theirs went to London to see Bon Jovi. What (Jon) Bon Jovi does, he does really well. He’s an entertainer. That’s what he is. They are looking at me, as I’m saying, “It’s just not my cup of tea.” I consider Bon Jovi a little hokey. I’d much rather go and see a brand new band like (American noise pop music duo) Sleigh Bells, and see how they put their show together than see a lot of the classic artists. A lot of the classic artists, their shows are disappointing or somewhat hokey.

People still want to see a photo of Jon Bon Jovi.

Yeah. People want to see pictures of everybody.

Sleigh Bells are obviously not as marketable to the mass media as Bon Jovi.

No no no, I hear you, but we don’t sit there and judge (at Getty). To me, that’s why I love the festival thing, especially here (in California) with Coachella. The weather is nice and I can go out and see a whole bunch of great music in three days. I love that fact.

At Coachella, you are also working, right?

Yes. I will have a staff of about 25 there shooting and editing all of the photos, just making sure that they are all okay. I’m there just making sure the managers, publicists and everybody are happy. And if anybody needs anything extra I’m on hand. A lot of times our photographers will be really connected with the band and the artist. It will be (a situation of), “We want you to shoot this, and we want you to shoot that. This part we will own, and this part we want you to send out.”

How did you get into this business?

I went from being a concert promoter into working at Sony (at 550/ Epic Records). Then I produced a tour for Clear Channel, and then went to Redline Entertainment for less than a year. Then I was head hunted by a British company that still exists within Getty called Image.net in 2003.

Image.net was launched a decade earlier to help entertainment companies maximize their marketing strategically, and cost effectively through the Internet.

What it was built out for was the delivery of all of the film studios’ marketing and publicity materials to the media worldwide. They deliver a lot more for these movies (including images, trailers, scripts, production notes, interviews over the net). Movies also tend to be staggered (in different territories), and they change titles due to language and other stuff, and that has to be dealt with.

Image.net figured they could do the same for the music labels?

Their whole thing was that they could build this out for music companies as well. It was at the height of when the (record) companies were really fighting technology and it was difficult dealing with them. The whole idea was that we could do the music and everything else, but there was an enormous amount of fear from the labels of anything going on the Internet. But we did deliver assets for some (music) companies. For Warners, we delivered all of their music videos and artwork to their affiliates over the Internet.

In 2004, Getty Images purchased Image.net.

The technology was so good, Getty made it its digital asset management system on demand. When I came here, I thought that I would get a check, and I’d go and look for what my next gig would be. They said, “Oh no, you are going to stay here, and we are going to do all of these other cool things.” They were right, they did.

(Being) here has been an unbelievable place to blossom. It has been an unbelievable experience. We're growing every day in all forms of music. In fact, we did two great music acquisitions, which is Redferns (Redferns Music Picture Library) and Michael Ochs' Archive. As well, the Pump Audio acquisition (in 2007) was great. We’re continuing to look into so many different ways that we can grow music here.

Sounds like you have a big soapbox, and sandbox at Getty Images.

I have both. It is great. If these guys ran the music companies, there’d be no question that it would be in such a better place.

It doesn’t seem that the major music companies have explored enough of their assets—for example, their ownership of publicity or album artwork images.

You’re right.

You met with Sony Music in 2007, but little happened afterwards.

No. It was really frustrating. It would be so easy for them to do a great image partnership with us, really. We have image partnerships that are everything from ABC to CBS to National Geographic to Bloomberg to Washington Post—on and on and on. We went in there (to Sony), and it was like pulling teeth to get the deal done. It was an older regime that is not there anymore.

Since you worked at Sony’s affiliated 550 label, did you have an inkling of what Sony has?

I didn’t know what was in there, but I know that they have a lot of great material. They haven’t digitalized. We would have been the natural place for them to make a lot of money. All they gave us was 413 photos.

Have you talked with other music labels?

We always do. We talk to labels. There are some young people that are coming into the labels that are getting more and more progressive. It will be interesting to see that changes that are made in the next few years, and the changes…..Everybody considers the debacle that happened to say EMI. You hear Roger Faxon (chairman/CEO of EMI Music Publishing and CEO of EMI Group) saying, “It’s all about rights management going forward.” You hear a lot more people saying, “(The music industry is) only going to be a services business.”

When I hear things like that I do feel that, maybe, (the labels) are finally getting it—that they will start looking at all of the assets, and looking at what they can do and all of the money that they can make.

The biggest thing to me is the (music industry’s) failure of not having music on Facebook right now. If Zynga is being valued at something like $10 billion, that’s all of the music companies combined.

[American startup Zynga—known for its CityVille and Farmville games on Facebook—has filed for an initial public offering for its IPO seeking to lure investors for $1 billion, according to a SEC filing. The offering implies a valuation of $10 billion. The Wall Street Journal, citing sources close to the situation, reported the IPO could raise as much as $2 billion—valuing the company at $20 billion.]

While you work in the visual business with music, this is an era in which few bands have any imaging attached to them.

Do you know what’s really interesting, right? If you look at how we discovered the Beatles. I keep in my house this overhead shot of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show. It shows them doing a press conference. That magic moment for all of the 50 (year) somethings around the world, who discovered the Beatles (at the time), it was this image of them being on this TV show.

There you go, right?

If you look at how albums progressed, the big vinyl albums, I remember “High Tide and Green Grass” (1966) with photos in it; Led Zeppelin’s record ("Led Zeppelin III” in 1970) that had the (spinning) wheel on it; the Stones’ album (“Sticky Fingers” in 1971) with the zipper—all of the great stuff that we used to get. We used to get the lyrics and a lot more photos and more information. I remember staring at a Pink Floyd’s album (“Ummagumma”) because it showed all their gear. You thought that it was so much gear.

[On the rear cover of Pink Floyd’s 1969 double album “Ummagumma” roadies Alan Stiles, and Peter Watts are shown with the band's equipment laid out on a runway at Biggin Hill Airport.]

It’s interesting because if you look at what (the recording industry) did when packaging went to a CD, it went down to six slides and someone would have lyrics or have bigger books, and stuff like that.

The (visual) imaging was all being done on MTV.

It was transferred there. And then MTV discovered (block) programming. I’m never going to blame MTV (for dropping their video content), it was just a natural evolution of what they are supposed to be. Be profitable, and (be about) lifestyle. This is where they went to (with block programming).

(Previously) with the videos, MTV could never do programming, but that’s the most important thing in how to get ratings. Anyway, MTV went there, and the videos went away, and then the whole idea of imaging went away.

Then music became an Excel (spread) sheet.

The music industry largely relied on radio and video airplay to market their products for decades. More recently, they have had to evolve different marketing strategies.

They definitely have to now but they think that everything bad has been done to them. When you talk to older executives, they all talk about how they were screwed by MTV—that they should have owned MTV. The attitude is, “We’re not going to give everything to MTV like in the past.” Now, it is, “We’re not going to give everything to iTunes.” And they just did it again by not doing the Google deal.

[Label executives were furious about Google's announcement on May 10, 2011 of its decision to launch a music locker service. Negotiations between Google and labels have reportedly bogged down over such issues as upfront advances; and whether music files gained from P2P sites would be allowed into the locker. Labels are seeking assurances from Google that it will try to eliminate links to pirate sites and illegal services from its search results. Now Google is blaming the labels for not being able to reach a deal.]

If someone went in, and changed the entire management of a major music company, and started with all new people in there—with people who are really passionate about music but also—the bottom line knew their customers—there might be real change.

I think that the biggest mistake that happened to the major labels is that they lost touch with their customers. They had a customer that would buy the CD—if only reluctantly—for the one or two songs. They always had someone (on staff) that knew something about music so they would always go out…but, you notice that in the latter part of the height of the music industry, all that (great) stuff was really coming from independents or from outside producers. It wasn’t something that was signed direct (by the major). It would always be from a hip hop label or from Lou Pearlman and all of the boy bands. It was always done from the outside.

Then the audience said, “We no longer want to get our music on these hard discs, we want it delivered—just to get the signals," and (the labels) fought it. They fought it and fought and fought it. Then they sued their customers.

The film industry has embraced technology more than the music industry. With Netflix, people don’t have to rent a DVD, and the movie industry gets it. The music industry is only now reaching that point.

That’s true. The problem is that you still have a Doug Morris (CEO of Sony Music Entertainment, and a (Columbia co-chairmen) Steve Barnett—older guys—with these massive salaries that feel that everybody else did wrong to them. The fact is that their whole power base has just been wiped out. (The labels) are teeny-weeny little industries compared to the rest of the media industries out there. And if you look at how young some of these (media) companies are—a 100 year old record company, that’s what Sony (Sony Music Entertainment) is. It’s the old Columbia Records. Maybe, its time has come and gone.

Unlike the music industry, Getty Images has streamlined licensing for its customers.

Yes, our whole thing is that we listen to our customers. The customers tell us how they want it, and how they like it.

I tell you one of the things that I admire that they did here. I really give props to the senior management, and CEO Jonathan Klein, (who) bought the Calgary company iStockphoto in 2006. The story is pretty fascinating. (iStockphoto president, CEO and founder) Bruce Livingstone was about to take venture capital money. The VCs valued his company at $35 million. That was what he was going to take based on that valuation. Jonathan called him up, and said, “If you take VC money, it’s like working for somebody. I wonder if I might just buy the company, and I give you the independence; and a lot more capital to grow the business even bigger.” Jonathan gave him (Livingstone) $50 million, and bought the company. He poured gasoline on (the company). He put a lot of capital behind it to grow the company to what it is today.

[iStockphoto was founded in 2000, but the groundwork was laid in 1999 with Frequency Labs, Bruce Livingstone’s first attempt at launching a stock photography publishing company. As a boutique studio, Frequency Labs produced and retailed four CD-ROMs. Livingstone then gave away 1,600 images from the CD-ROMs on a web site because he wanted to re-invent the traditional model of stock photography sales.

In 2000, iStockphoto was launched.

The company quickly became the leading microstock image licensing service. After the sale of the business, Livingstone continued as the CEO and was also appointed SVP of Consumer Products at Getty Images until leaving in 2009. In 2010, Livingstone joined Saatchi Online as CEO.]

In 1997, Getty Images’ $49 pricing sent a signal, “We are open for business, and we are going for the ‘long tail.’” (Long tail being the retailing strategy of selling a large number of unique items in relatively small quantities).

Yes. It’s a volume business here. That’s what it is. Absolutely.

[In 2007, Getty Images adopted a new pricing policy for web image sales. This policy created a price package of $49 for small web images—for both rights-managed, and royalty-free images.]

The music industry could be more of a volume business.

Listen, they have great assets. They have great catalog. This idea of everybody fighting each other on this whole basis of devaluation, you know what? (Music) has been devalued to the point of it basically being free. Now there’s an opportunity with this whole cloud thing with a lot of services out there, like Rhapsody, Dos to Spotify.

The fact is that people don’t want to have their hard drives filled with a lot of things. They probably want to fill it more with all of the photography that they have or with the videos they make. They would rather have—for the lack of a better word—branded or professional hit songs come from a cloud than filling up their hard drives, their mobiles, and iPads.

A U.S. launch of Spotify is imminent. Too late?

Nothing is too late. It will depend on what devices it will be allowed on, and how easy it will be to do. Right now, I can set up playlists and share (tracks) with all my British friends. It becomes more of a social music tool.

You don’t really need to own music anymore.

No you don’t. But (buying physical) doesn’t have to stop for you. There may be only one record store in the city, right? Not a whole bunch of terrible ones like the Musicland and others of the past. So there ends up being one Amoeba in all L.A. There are (music) shrines like that. Maybe that is what happens.

The (film) studios are discovering that with the DVD business. On the other hand how often did you go home and say, “It’s a good night to watch 'Saving Private Ryan.'" Music is a much different thing.

How satisfying was it for you having Getty Images purchase the Michael Ochs Archives? You were instrumental in that deal.

It was one of these things where I wanted to be a partner, and (Michael Ochs) wanted to sell it. The senior management of this company “got it.” So we bought (the collection) and it’s been great. Every day I am surprised by some of the stuff that we have. Our people will ask, “Do you know who this is?” I will say, “Oh yeah. I can’t believe that you have this.” It’s pretty amazing stuff.

How many photographs are in the Michael Ochs Collection?

Two million.

The publicity photos from decades ago in that collection, are they public domain?

Yes. Anything that is pre-1978. There was a change in copyright.

[There’s no confusion about how long a photographer or rights holder and their estate will have copyright protection for current material: Life plus 70 years. But for images from the middle of the last century or earlier it is less clear.]

After 1978, who usually owns the rights to music publicity photos?

Most record companies didn’t hang onto their material. Then there is also questionable ownership. Labels generally didn’t care about getting other rights for (photos) because they didn’t know what the rights were going to be in the future.

Back in the ‘50s and ‘60s, photographers rarely signed contracts with record companies for publicity photos, including album covers. Take the iconic photo shot of Bob Dylan and Suze Rotolo on the 1963 album “The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan.” Who owns the rights to the photo?

I don’t know. I don’t work for Sony. I don’t know the deal that they made with their photographers back then.

[The “Freewheelin'” album cover was taken in Feb. 1963 by Columbia Records’ staff photographer Don Hunstein in Greenwich Village.

Critic Janet Maslin summed up the iconic impact of the cover as, "A photograph that inspired countless young men to hunch their shoulders, look distant, and let the girl do the clinging."

In her memoir, “A Freewheelin' Time,” Rotolo analyzed the significance of the cover image: “It is one of those cultural markers that influenced the look of album covers precisely because of its casual down-home spontaneity and sensibility. Most album covers were carefully staged and controlled, to terrific effect on the Blue Note jazz album covers…and to not-so great-effect on the perfectly posed and clean-cut pop and folk albums. Whoever was responsible for choosing that particular photograph for The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan really had an eye for a new look.”

A source at Sony says that the company owns the rights to the cover because Don Hunstein was a staff photographer for Columbia Records at the time.]

With Pump Audio, and Premium Playlist, Getty Images entered the world of music licensing. What was the reasoning behind those two acquisitions?

They were looking at music long before I got here. They took a hard look at Warner/Chappell Music when Time Warner was selling off Warner Music Group (in 2004). They came back and said that the (valuation) multiples were too high on the company. Also, not all of the rights were in one place, which would make licensing difficult. It would be a bad acquisition. What they liked about Pump was that a lot of the rights were in one place. (Licensees) don’t have to worry about ownership—the fact that you could make things easily licensable—that’s really been their model. It is just another great addition to the digital content that (Getty is) offering.

Before Getty bought Pump Audio for $49 million in 2007, Pump was a $10 million annual business.

It has been growing 30% annually since we bought it.

With Premium Playlist, you are partnered with established music publishers.

They give us the music pre-cleared. So both sides (of the rights to a track) are there.

This is similar with the photo business side of Getty Images, really.

It is. At one time, even in stock imagery, you would go to somebody’s shop, they would hand you a book of photos. You would go through it, and say, “I really like this one.” Then you would negotiate a price. A price for a stock photo down the street may have been different or there might be other people on the rights issues of (the photo), and there are copyrights on things. If you take a picture of the Chrysler Building (the Art Deco skyscraper in New York), that’s a copyrightable building. If you take a picture of New York, it’s not a copyright.

But certain buildings are?

The Hollywood sign is.

But if I step back a bit, and include the structure in an overall picture of Hollywood, it doesn’t fall under the copyright?

Correct.

How does Getty police the use of its photos? You haven’t taken unauthorized users to court.

No. The big thing that we do is that we send them bills. I see watermarked Getty photos all of the time on Facebook. That is somebody who has right-clicked, and put it there in a low-fi file. Who cares? This is the difference between us and, say, a record company. But with a company that has built a web site or whatever and are using a bunch of unauthorized photos, then they are going to get an unauthorized use notice, and then we will figure out payment. The big thing is that we want to make them customers.

Getty Images does seek damages along with the retroactive payment for unauthorized use.

Yeah, but we do $25 million a year in unauthorized use. Again, it is because we are a B to B (business to business) company.

Getty Images uses an Israeli firm called PicScout to scan the web for unauthorized usages of its protected images?

Yes. We just bought them.

[In Apr. 2011, Getty Images acquired the Herzliya, Israel-based image copyright solutions developer PicScout for $20 million. The company has 60 employees.]

How does PicScout spot the unauthorized use of Getty Image photos?

They are fingerprinted.

Where are you originally from?

I was born in Toronto. At, maybe age two, my family moved to Windsor.

Growing up, were you part of the music scene in Windsor?

No. Everything that happened to me happened to me in Detroit. Detroit was like this fascinating great place of all things music. There was just so much going on there in the ’70s. That’s where I got my start. I still know a ton of people from Windsor. Richie Hawtin (from the LaSalle suburb of Windsor) was my DJ at one time in Detroit.

How did you become a promoter?

I got into the whole punk rock thing. I started putting shows together for a band that I was in (as guitarist) called, the Sillies. I also played with a band called Coldcock. I got so good at (promoting shows) that I just decided to concentrate on doing that. It was while I was going to college in the States (studying Communication Arts at Wayne State University in Detroit).

You must have had money to be able to start promoting shows.

I really boot-strapped it. I pooled a little bit of money together, and I was able to do it. It was a fun time in my life. I was single, and it worked. I did all of (Miles) Copeland’s bands. I did a lot of shows with Iggy (Pop), but it was post Stooges. It was during the time period when he recorded for Arista, and Chris Stein’s label (Animal Records).

What other things were you doing?

I was doing different things. I helped (Marc) Geiger with Lollapalooza. I was doing all of these bands. I was doing bands outside of Michigan, like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Nine Inch Nails. Really having a fun time doing a lot of concerts all over the place. We were doing really great business in Detroit. It was ‘pre’ the devastation of manufacturing (base) in Detroit. A lot of people didn’t notice (the city). We were doing the kind of (attendance) numbers that Chicago was doing. It was all without airplay (for the acts).

How did you come to work at 550/ Epic Records?

They came a-hunting. Michele Anthony (executive VP, Sony Music Entertainment) hired me. I had one of these great titles (senior VP, Artist development) where I did a little bit of everything. I was “artist development” which meant, “Do everything.”

What artists did you become close to?

Pretty much everyone that was on the label, because we weren’t that big. I remember being with Ben Folds when we signed him and hanging out with him; K’s Choice, a wonderful band from Belgium; getting the Alanis Morissette tour and going out with them. Celine (Dion) and (husband) Rene (René Angélil) were always great to work with.

Was 550 a secondary label? Not part of the big Sony show.

It was part of the big show. It was simply that (Sony) created these brands because we were making so much money at that point. The brands would have separate promotion departments. What they didn’t want to do was go into a radio station, when radio was so important, and keep showing them more Epic records. So (Epic promotion people) would say, “It’s 550. It’s a separate company. A different brand.”

Did 550 releases have the same distribution opportunities as those on Epic?

It was all about what was going to sell. The thing was we were able to work with a record longer because we didn’t have the volume that Epic would have. Then the decline of Epic happened, and they made a management change. They put all of the 500 people into Epic. It all became part of Epic.

[550 Music was a unit of Sony Music Entertainment, which operated through the Epic Records division. Launched in 1992, the "550" name was inspired by the address of the Sony building, located at 550 Madison Avenue in New York. The label was mothballed in 2000 with most of its acts transferred to the main Epic label.]

By that time you had become disenchanted with the record business so you left Epic?

Yes. I could see this whole thing falling apart. It was just when Napster was coming out. It was really simple what was happening in the business. It was really about bad A&R, and spending way too much money on all of the wrong things. Labels also got spoiled by all of the (CD) catalog sales.

So Napster came along—which, at one point, all of the majors had an opportunity to buy into—and they blinked. Middlehoff (Bertelsmann Music Group CEO Thomas Middlehoff) was the only one that went in, and (the other music companies) wonder what happened.

[Shawn Fanning created Napster while attending Northeastern University in Boston. It was the fastest-growing application in the history of the Internet. At one point, Napster claimed more than 70 million users worldwide, but was never able to generate income. After refocusing its Internet strategy to selling online content rather than services, Bertelsmann Music Group CEO Thomas Middlehoff made a significant investment in Napster in 2000.

On May 17, 2002, Napster announced that its assets would be acquired by Bertelsmann for $85 million. Pursuant to terms of that agreement, Napster filed for Chapter 11 protection under America’s bankruptcy laws. However, a bankruptcy judge blocked the sale and forced Napster to liquidate its assets. Napster's brand and logos were later acquired by Roxio, which used them to rebrand the Pressplay music service as Napster 2.0. Napster was purchased by Best Buy for $121 million in 2008.]

If you trace the years since of the death of (the original) Napster, it would look like what happened to the dinosaurs. “Oh a comet hit the earth, and the gases came along.” Well, we had DRM, like “Sue everybody.”

Colossal mistake after colossal mistake (by the recording industry).

Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record. He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide: Celebrating 40 Years Of The Juno Awards.


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