Doug Morris, By Bob Lefsetz

Posted on September 27, 2011 by


Doug Morris changed the music business.

Used to be artists were developed from the ground up. You found someone with talent, then you built an audience. Morris found people with an audience first.

Common wisdom is Doug has been successful because he wrote “Sweet Talkin’ Guy”, he was an artist himself, he knew how to relate to the creators. But Doug’s run can be attributed more to a change in methodology. Atlantic had a research department. Canvassing record stores to see what indie records sold. That’s how they got Hootie and the Blowfish. The act wasn’t developed, it was blown up.

Same deal with 2 Live Crew.

And one must laud Mo Ostin for creating the greatest record company of the sixties and seventies, quite possibly the eighties too. But Mo and Lenny tried to employ this same paradigm in the nineties with DreamWorks and they failed. They found artists they liked. And spent a ton of money to develop them. But connecting with a mainstream audience was incredibly difficult, and DreamWorks was shut down/merged with Universal, Doug won.

But it wasn’t only finding self-starting bands. It was also about radio. Doug had a crack promotion team, if he thought a record had a chance, he made them get it on the radio in a market. If sales didn’t develop, promotion stopped. It was all about reaction.

So today if you want to sign with a major label, you’re best off developing yourself. If you’ve had no success, gotten no traction, odds are poor.

And once your record is released, if there are no sales, despite how much work you put into it, despite what reviewers or your mom or even friends at the label say, your project is going to be put on the back burner.

Thank Doug Morris for this.

Of course there are exceptions. Especially with TV acts. And some Top Forty wonders. But the concept of a major label developing a talented act from scratch is taboo. You’re on your own baby.

But Morris famously missed the Internet. Innovate or die. The game changes every day. So now that an act does not need a major label to profit, to get booked on the road, the power of major labels is declining. You can do it for yourself. Or hire net-savvy twenty or thirtysomethings. Major labels can get you on radio and TV. But those mean less than ever before. And is your act radio and TV friendly? Both desiring music in very narrow genres?

As for the employment of Dr. Luke, of overpaying the usual suspects, now that labels are owned by conglomerates, they need to deliver, they need to succeed. They’d rather overpay Dr. Luke than invest in someone new and inexperienced. You probably would too. This is about math, not creativity. And yes, the best way to get a job in the major label infrastructure is to have a track record playing the game. You might think A&R people find and develop talent, but in an era where almost all talent is hiding in plain sight, the main skill of an A&R person is the ability to sign. Finding talent is easy. Getting it to commit to your label is incredibly difficult.

If you’re closed out from the above, count your lucky stars. You get to do it your own way, following your own muse.

But you won’t be able to get a blank check from the label. You’re gonna have to develop not only your talent, but your career. No one will pony up on Kickstarter unless they already know you and believe you’re good.

It’s a brand new landscape out there. And statistics don’t lie.

If you’re not making it, chances are there’s no demand for what you’re selling. We can judge it all day long, say it’s not good enough, but we don’t have to. The public is the final arbiter.

Try to convince the listeners. It’s harder than you think. But once you’ve got ’em, they stick to you like glue.

You’re selling a whole belief system, a story, authenticity. You’re the opposite of what came before. What’s expedient won’t work. What’s real will.

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