Billy Corgan Extols The Virtues Of Capitalism-- And Wonders Why It Is Missing From The Music Biz
Smashing Pumpkins lead singer Billy Corgan is a lot more thoughtful and insightful than many musicians. CNBC’s Squawk Alley had him on for a discussion of the music business a few days ago. "The music business," he explained, "is mostly run by feckless idiots, who do not subscribe to the normal tenets of capitalism, which, when they do, the business tends to work out well. Stars rise to the top; everybody benefits. But it's still a parochial business; it’s run by fiefdoms, way behind the times technologically-- other companies, the tech world is just blowing music out of the water."
I don't agree with the trickle-down ideas about "everybody" benefiting when a few stars become moguls, but Corgan is too sharp not to notice that the music business is crumbling because of its lack of respect for artists and musicians from the Wall Street-oriented corporate entities. Yesterday longtime music biz critic Bob Leftsetz mentioned in passing that "the greatest record company in the history of the music business was Warner/Reprise. Don’t confuse today’s enterprise with yesteryear’s. And as great as Ahmet Ertegun was, Atlantic was no match for its West Coast counterpart. Warner/Reprise had SOUL!" He's correct-- and here's why:
Let me take you back, to an era when music drove the culture, when young ‘uns were addicted to the radio and could sing every song on the hit parade, whether they liked it or not. This lasted until about 1968, when underground FM got started, and that’s where Warner/Reprise thrived.And what Warner/Reprise stood for-- among the other healthy values nurtured by Mo Ostin-- was artist development. That meant find artists the company believed in enough to invest in. Sometimes it would take years and many releases before an artist broke though-- something like 6 albums for Depeche Mode and for Barenaked Ladies-- with the Wall Street-oriented executives back in New York screaming that they were worthless and should be dropped. Those people are now in charge... not just of Warner/Reprise but of the entire corporate music industry... which is why Billy Corgan senses that something is terribly wrong.
It was Jimi Hendrix. It was the Grateful Dead.
It was Joni Mitchell and Neil Young when he was a nobody from up north from a failed band.
Warner let you do what you wanted, it was all about the bands and their music... Warner/Reprise stood for something.