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Peace, Love and a Thriving Industry -- Some Suggestions from Warner's President of A&R: Op-Ed

Wiz Khalifa
Anouk Morgan

Wiz Khalifa

“If you want to climb a mountain, you need to trust your team.”

Mike Caren is WMG's president of worldwide A&R, working with artists including Trey Songz, Flo Rida, Wiz Khalifa, David Guetta and Jason Derulo. Caren also runs Artist Publishing Group and is an active songwriter, having written and/or produced for Beyoncé, Kanye West and Bruno Mars, among others.

 

Communication is what makes our business run. The connection between artist and fan is at the center of it all. Our industry would be nothing without the daily collaboration between everyone involved in both its creative and commercial spheres. The key to a new golden age in music is greater information flow, cooperation, and trust. We must be united in raising the bar in musical quality, developing great people, and encouraging industry practices that justly serve our artists and songwriters.

As we embark on 2016, here are some of my suggestions for how we can go about achieving those goals. I would love to hear your thoughts and see where the conversation takes us. Reach me at @mikecaren.

1. The Music: Let’s foster an environment where true originality can flourish, by combining patient artist development with a culture of brave experimentation.

The gold standard should be at least one album-type project every year. So much incredible music is made when artists stay in the zone, they record more, and they are strategic about the timing of the tours. Plus, not every album has to be made with radio in mind -- instead, labels can create innovative marketing plans.

It’s no longer expensive to continuously experiment. We need to encourage more risk-taking among artists and producers. New sounds and genres keep our business vital.

No one should release a piece of product they wouldn’t consume. Does anyone actually listen to EPs? My joke is they are often the "E-relevent Product." EPs are usually too short to set the tone or convince fans the artist is great. The streaming world is not just about hits; it rewards quality and depth.

All labels should offer free, or low cost, recording space in or near their offices. All anyone needs to record is a laptop, a great mic chain, and an inspiring place for no-pressure creation and collaboration. Having proximity between artists and staff allows for better mutual understanding and planning.

2. The People: We must attract the world’s best and the brightest to help build our future.

The music business is a more genuine meritocracy than most other industries. So we need to be better at promoting the ways that young, game-changing people can get a foothold. The people that make up our companies should embody how open and inclusive we are.

Major music companies are often typecast as big marketing machines but, in reality, they are driven by unique personalities. In mentoring the next generation, we need to foster specific expertise and idiosyncratic thinking. We evolve our industry by making what we do an art form and sharing what we learn with others.

It sounds simple, but it's critical: don't be negative about our industry or its future. If we are lucky enough to make music for a living, we need to be champions, all day, every day, for the value of our art, and promote the rewards that come from doing something we love.

3. Business Standards: We need to remove barriers to cooperation and focus on the common goal of serving the artists and the music as quickly and effectively as possible.

Deal-making should focus on the big picture. Too much lawyering over inconsequential terms in record and publishing deals inhibits releases. This goes for samples too -- of course, artists and labels should have the right to say yes or no, but more a standardized approach would reduce negotiations and speed up the creative process.

It feels easier to invest millions in a start-up than it does to make an agreement with a producer. Negotiations should be standardized, with payment tiers based on a producer’s recent chart history. Producers should be paid more than ever for hits and less than ever for filler.

Songwriters and producers must make a sustainable living. Artists who didn’t actually write on a song should not take writing credit or publishing just based on stature. Royalty rates should be equitable and change with the times. It’s not easy for pure songwriters or producers to make a living, so their contributions shouldn't be diluted by others taking more than their fair share.

Labels, publishers and production companies, along with everyone else in the value chain, need to work towards providing transparent accounting in real time. If you want to climb a mountain, you need to trust your team. The more visibility, the better.

Finally, our communication and collaboration will be stronger if we always remember we're in a battle for peoples’ time. We’re competing with tech, film, video, TV, and gaming for their ears and eyes. Quality is everything. When the music is great, the audience is ours.

Billboard welcomes responsible commentary. You can contact the editor at andrew.flanagan@billboard.com.

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