Monday, January 07, 2008

Chuck D files Def Jam application

Chuck D has reacted to the departure of Jay Z from Def Jam by dragging out his cv and making clear he'd like the job. Depressingly, he starts by saying that he's got plans for Universal to "establish the name-brands they acquire with their stockholder's money", which is hardly the most exciting call-to-arms we've heard.

D has a four-point plan to reinvigorate the business:

Being ahead of the technology curve; preparing for a thinned out industry; and managing budget efficient acts is very noteworthy of my resume which is simple. I told these cats the online revolution was coming and they needed big adjustments. They relied on lawyers, courts, and accountants only to now look upward at Apple, etc.

It's a good point, although... isn't it a little late? The time to have been ahead of the curve would have been in 1998. In 2007, you're going to have to catch up, rather than expect to be a leader.
Their cost factors didn't fit the times, I come from a world where the $50,000 investments resulted into 6 - 7 figures. Now it's a business where 7 figures are invested to make 6.

Well, again, it's a good point - but "make money instead of losing it" isn't a prescription for Def Jam, is it? It's a what, not a how.
I would run it like sports. These artists would be busting their tails on tour and on the stage to gain a fan. They would be coached on how to do their thing right. Braintrust will be high, and subcontracting to the right contributors will be comparable of the efficiency of these labels like Jazz and catalog departments. You cannot have people working, that haven't the slightest clue of what they are in the middle of.

"Run it like sports"? What, stuff the drummer full of steroids and hope nobody finds out?

For all his talk of being ahead of things, D shows himself to be adrift here - he's thinking in terms of live performances driving physical sales rather than, as the new world is shaping up to be, physical product selling tickets for gigs. The idea of "coaching" bands to play well live isn't a bad one, but how does a record label - with 100 years of experience of making studio recordings - convince an artist they've got the skills to do that? If the labels are merely going to subcontract this role to people who know what they're doing, why wouldn't an artist merely employ these brainstrusts themselves instead of letting Def Jam topslice the fee?
Any criminal mindedness in artistry, and management would have sit this one out, go their own way. It's like bad apples the long run ain't got nothing to do with entertainment. You can't mix the stage and off stage parodies.

Again, it's a splendid idea: don't let your roster get clouded up with people more interested in guns and feuds than making music. It's a bloody good policy. But that would mean having the confidence to walk away from artists the label has been pumping stockholders money into, without any return. While morally unquestionable, it's questionable how many write-offs Universal would be able to bear.

Perhaps D has more detail on his ideas that he's saving for interview, though.

[Thanks to Barry S for the story]