Billboard's 2014 Industry Icon: Paul McGuinness on 35 Years Guiding 'The Biggest Band in the World' (Q&A)
"Bonjour Midem Monseur," so began Bono in garbled French on the video tribute. "We're so proud of Paul McGuinness. For other artist, bands and solo performers 35 years after they started out for fame and fortune or whatever, it's often really embarrassing for us, because so many of these great artists have had their hearts broken and there really aren't too many of them. There are exceptions, but I don't think we've ever met another artist who have had the same manager for 35 years from day one and for that whole time who had been unfaltering in his integrity, in his excellent business acumen… "
The Edge then weighed in cutting to the chase: "We own our own master tapes, we own our own copyrights," he said. Then Bono continued "Yes we do," he said. "We are in effect a a cooperative who shares those equally with the band and we were designed to survive and we were designed for something much harder: we were designed to survive success. And Paul it was your design. You are not only the music industry's Icon, you are our Icon, so thank you so much and congratulations on this award i can't think of anyone else more deserving."
John Walberg, Billboard's ebullient executive director of East Coast sales, presented McGuinness with a crystal award while noting that Billboard's entire editorial staff, too, had come to define McGuinness' integrity, passion, and incredible business acumen in representing U2 for the past 35 years, and clearly deserving of the honor. Walberg also noted that the award almost didn't make it to Cannes. While couriering the crystal obelisk, airport security were hesitant to let the trophy on an airplane, as it could contain "3.5 fluid ounces" of some dangerous substance. Thankfully, they relented.
After a sustained standing ovation Paul McGuinness took the microphone rather humbly acknowledging that it's a dangerous thing to make a speech in the morning at Midem when you "come between music executes and their breakfast." Below is the full transcript of his speech, where McGuinness delighted in being able to "infiltrate" a major label, how he was never a fifth member of the band as was often reported, his displeasure with the way Google and other tech companies mishandle piracy and shout outs to the many people who helped him out over the past 35 years.
PAUL MCGUINNESS' ACCEPTANCE SPEECH
Thank you for the award, I'm very humbled and I'm very grateful for the award but I'm not used to standing on this side of the microphone.
Not often do you get thanks as a manager quite honestly. This occasion and these last few weeks since I sold Principle management to the band basically in a transaction financed by Live Nation, it's been a little like attending my own funeral and reading my own obituaries. They've been very kind, generally there's been very generous coverage of what the band and I have achieved together over the years.
When I started out it was because I knew the name of Brian Epstein, Andrew Loog Oldham, Colonel Parker, Albert Grossman -- I knew i wasn't a musician, but I thought being a manager would be really cool. I can assure you it is great fun to manage a big band. It's fun to manage a band on the way up, it's even more fun to manage a band when they've made it, and it's all true, of the suites and the private planes. I started managing the band 35 years ago and I can assure you when we started out we knew nothing. They didn't know how to play their instruments, I didn't know anything about the music business -- often just what I read in Rolling Stone and Billboard.
I'm often asked what is the secret of success in being a manager and I'll tell you the answer: Get a good client. That's the heart of it.
Whenever I've been called the fifth member of U2 I always tried to deflect that. They were always my clients, not my partners. My job was to produce the business and media environment in which they could do their art and thrive.
Over the years, since we got our deal, which was surprisingly difficult -- not sure if there's anyone in this room who falls into this category, but many of the senior officials in the British record industry passed on U2. If you put them in a bedroom inside the Carlton it would be very crowded. Anyway, with some difficulty we eventually got a record deal. And it was with Island, which suited us very well.
Island was not owned by Universal or Polygram, it was an independent label. There was a culture there that suited us very well but we probably didn't understand why it suited us well -- but it really did. It taught us how to infiltrate a record company. I've never subscribed to that slightly corny attitude that indies are morally superior to majors, but when Island was bought by Polygram and Polygram eventually became Universal, it suited us very well because that large complex organization was amenable to the kind if infiltration and subversion we became very good at. I loved it.
Those organizations are full of talented, ingenious people. If you know what you're doing they will give you the keys to the car and off you go. And that really has been our history. Majors love to be infiltrated by smart artists and those artists who know what they're doing are the ones who can resolve a complicated equation. It's an algebraic equation the elements of which are art, commerce, politics, advertising, publicity, sex, passion, technology money and love, of course. The greatest artists figure this out in their own way and in their own time.
But it's a fascinating social unit. The four members of U2 met in secondary school when they were teenagers and I met them shortly afterwards, when I was 27. Since then they've sold 160 million albums. The last tour grossed approximately three-quarters of a billion dollars. We kind of instinctively realized at the very beginning that there were two careers, on record and live, and both were important to develop.
"If we had been dentists in a group partnership, we would have killed each other a long time ago."
Right at the beginning I suggested very strongly to the band that they should divide everything equally. I knew of a lot of other bands where there was an officer class and then there were the soldiers, the lumpen proletariat of usually drummers and bass players. Anyway the band took my advice in the beginning. I told them there wasn't going to be any money in the beginning. And I don't know what the current split between them is, but the other two certainly participate in a major way in the publishing, recording and tour profits. It was never true that I took an equal 1/5 share as has been reported many times.
It's extraordinary that five guys could work together in this way for 35 years. If we had been dentists in a group partnership, we would have killed each other a long time ago. Sometimes I'm surprised that we didn't and as the band just confirmed on that tape, they own all their copyrights and all their masters and they didn't join the long list of artists who did bad deals and ended up as victims.
I spoke up a few years ago at Midem about the digital age and the title of what I was speaking about was the "Digital Bonanza: Who's Making All the Money and Why Aren't They Sharing It?" I still ask that question. The FT reported recently that the tech companies hold the largest cash surpluses in the world -- Google has other sources of income beyond the advertising they sell around music sites and computers they are used for lots of other things beside downloading music and broadband has many other uses beyond music piracy -- but there are some remarkable numbers to take away. These are their cash reserves: Apple: $146 billion dollars; Google: $56 billion dollars; Verizon: $54 billion dollars. Google is the most glaring company that have benefitted from the creativity and content of the music industry and simply is not doing what they could ... to prevent illegal peer-to-peer file sharing. Millions of takedown notices identifying illegal sites have been issued by record companies to Google. The sites are taken down but are replaced within seconds by bots. It's no mystery of what to do if Google is sincere about what they say.
What needs to be done is simple, take the sites down and keep them down. If the pirates can manage to replace their sites instantly with legions of bots, Google, with their brilliant algorithm engineers can counter it. We need the technology giants like Google to do the things that labels, the publishers, the artists, the writers repeatedly ask them to do. They need to show corporate and social responsibility. Take down the illegal sites, keep them down and clear the way for the legal digital distributers like iTunes, Spotify, Deezer, the new Jimmy Iovine Beats service, which promises to be a very serious competitor. Those services now exist, it is no longer acceptable to say that the music industry is not available, not making its wares available online. We're all aware in this room that subscription is now replacing downloading -- legal or illegal -- but we do need those mega corporations to make a genuine effort to cooperate and feed the industry that has been so good to them.
"What needs to be done is simple, take the sites down and keep them down."
Google are an extraordinary organization with their political clout and are now involved in all sorts of questions that bother people like privacy, taxation and piracy as I've referred to. I would like to see them open their hearts a little and be more generous to the ecosystem that started their success a few years ago. Google talks a lot about Internet freedom -- that's fine, we all support Internet freedom don't we -- but let's not confuse freedom of speech with the freedom to steal pirated stuff.
Funny enough, yesterday I attended a YouTube panel that I found very impressive. And the YouTube ecosystem if you like is a much more forward looking thing. Rights owners, certainly the techniques they are employing at YouTube I'd love to see reflected by their online presence. When you go to Google to look for YouTube music there's 30 illegal ways to obtain it at the top of the page.
Anywway I'd like to finish up by saying a few words about Midem, which I have a sentimental attitude towards as well as a very practical one. I've been coming here for longer than a decade -- it's more like three. I remember the days when the lobby of the Carlton was the center of activity and what the visual was just after the Walkman was introduced: You'd see pairs of people sitting at a table nodding in unison as they listen to two sets of headphone to a track. The social aspect of it was great fun. I made a lot of friends here. I remember in 1987 coming to Midem with the tapes of the "Joshua Tree" and hiring a bigger than usual room at the Carlton -- not very big -- and bringing in to it all of Island's licensees. Island was still an indie then in those days and they sat down and listened to the "Joshua Tree." These were practical people and they could see that it was going to do very well. And sure enough, it went on to sell 27 million. So I always have fond memories of the Carlton.
Then there was another time in the pre-digital age we made a very big publishing deal with getting our rights back. There was an auction I held where I basically issued the terms of the bid to the major publishers in a bright green covered folder and this kind of became a badge of rank. And those publishers lurk around the lobbies of the hotel and that showed that they were still in the deal and eventualy we made that deal with Freddy Bienstock, a great good deal it was. And the "Joshua Tree" came out and everyone did very well out of it. And Freddie sold Chappell to Warner at the time and everyone was very happy about it.
There are a lot of people I want to thank for making Principle Management so great. My partner Trevor Bowen (who saved the company at a difficult time at the end of the '90s). I don't think he regrets escaping from KPMG. My wonderful and loyal assistant Susan Hunter. The amazing Karen Kaplan who was at Warner Brothers when I first met Seymour [Stein]. The brilliant Kremen, who I'm still in business with actuall,y the big picture music marketing consultancy in LA. We first met when he was the GM of Interscope. And Guy Oseary who is taking over for me. The indefatigable Brian Seller, who's staying with Guy, he's been with me since 2009.
"Riverdance ... I have to say, we called 'River of Loot.'"
Along the way there were a lot of lawyers as well which won't surprise anyone. Starting in 1980, with the very clever Mick Pendrift who helped us get the record deal; nowadays, Ewan Lawson of Simkins is my guy; in the early days of New York it was my great friend Owen Epstein who died tragically young. For the last 15 years, the legendary Alan Grubman and the brilliant David Teriah has done a the band's work and been an extraordinary part of the band's business success. Candice Hanson in L.A. brought her specialized expertise to U2's deals when we were putting into movies, a very specialized area. And then the agents. I'm delighted that Ian Flooks of Wasted Talent are agent through the rest of the world and New York for America Frank Barselona, Barbara Skydel helped us break America. It's a fascinating these days to see the shift in power away from the traditional music business, the records and publishing, towards the agents and the concert promoters, tech and online centers. In the early days of U2, I remember agents and promoters were rather disdained by the rest of he business as sort of carny folk, but wow, that has changed. Even within Billboard -- which has always covered the live business -- but it's now a big chunk of Billboard, with Ray Waddell who is an extremely respected and powerful figure.
There have been a couple of other Principle Clients -- there was the extraordinary PJ Harvey who we recently stopped managing, Brian Message took over after 20 years and who I expect to continue her very distinguished career. My partner Bill Whelan who wrote "Riverdance" which, after 20 years, I have to say, we called "River of Loot."
There are many others who passed through the organization over the years, I'd like to thank them and I'd also like to thank my wife Kathy to my astonishment decided to come to Midem for the first time. My children Max and Alexandra who've been very supportive and helpful over many years of absences by me. Thank you all as well.