Paul McGuinness and Ed Bicknell attend the 29th International Live Music Conference at Royal Garden Hotel in London on March 11, 2017.

Paul McGuinness and Ed Bicknell attend the 29th International Live Music Conference at Royal Garden Hotel in London on March 11, 2017. 

Courtesy of ILMC

For more than 35 years, Paul McGuinness was the manager of U2 -- taking the group from a promising, but raw post-punk act playing pubs in Dublin to the biggest rock band in the world with global record sales of over 130 million. In 2013, McGuinness announced he was stepping down from day-to-day management and sold his Dublin-based Principle Management to Live Nation, with Guy Oseary taking over representation of U2.

His affection, admiration and close ties with Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen remain just as strong as ever. However, and on Friday (March 11), McGuinness sat down with former Dire Straits manager Ed Bicknell at London’s Royal Garden Hotel for a wide-ranging discussion about his career and thoughts on the music business as part of the 29th International Live Music Conference.

“Let’s say I’m lurking in the background, but I have no responsibilities,” McGuinness said about his former clients, who embark on The Joshua Tree Tour later this year in celebration of the album’s 30th anniversary.

Here’s some of the highlights from McGuinness’ chat with Bicknell.

What made him want to work with U2 the first time he saw them...

It was Bono. He was an extraordinary performer even then. U2 came out of the punk ethos. The main influences on them at the beginning were The Ramones and The Clash, and when they got the journalist Bill Graham to go to their rehearsal he said, “Those are Ramones songs. They’re not your songs.” They weren’t expecting that he would know.

How U2 came to sign with Island Records...

There were two really great guys in the press office at Island called Neil Storey and Rob Partridge. They were fans and they pushed it within the company. And there were two A&R people, Annie Roseberry and Nick Stewart, and they drove it. Chris [Blackwell] wasn’t really very keen on U2 at the beginning. But [Island] were literally the only label that wished to sign us. So it wasn’t a particularly good deal, but we have been improving it ever since.

How 1992/‘93s Zoo TV tour forever changed the live business...

The production was ground breaking. It was also bank breaking. It was expensive and scary for me. Because we were still operating like a punk band with low ticket prices. We were at risk with every show. If one of those promoters had not paid we would have been ruined. So by the end of that tour, which didn’t make any money, I resolved I was never going to do it ever again. The ramifications of that spread throughout the industry. I said the next tour is going to be underwritten by a single global promoter and that’s when we started working with Arthur Fogel and Michael Cohl. That deal became Clear Channel and is now Live Nation. The relationship with Arthur is absolutely at the heart of U2’s business.

Leading the fight against YouTube and tech companies on behalf of rights owners...
 
It was difficult for me at times because what I was really saying was that the Internet as the new means of delivering music is not sharing its income with performers, writers, labels and publishers. So it was easy for some people to take a shot at me and say, “He just wants more money for U2. They’ve got enough.” But in fact my argument was a comprehensive [one]. All artists were being mistreated. And getting artists together to campaign for more money for artists is hard. It’s hard enough to get a band to go a meeting with just the other band members.

The new battlefront...

The argument has moved along now. It’s no longer about illegal downloading. It’s about transparency. Artists have deals nowadays with their labels where, one way or another, I hope they are promised a share of the new kind of income from Spotify, Apple and other streaming services. [But] most artists, I think it’s fair to say, do not think they are getting a fair share.

Where the music industry went wrong...
 
We rode the CD boom of the ’90s and what a wonderful thing that was. However, flushed with that success the music industry went into this period of complete lazy decline. Anyone who thought past Christmas was regarded as a strategic genius. So then when Napster arrived and peer-to-peer they were completely unprepared for it and reacted by trying to prosecute grandmothers.

Brexit and losing out on tax breaks...
 
Copyright doesn’t depend on the EU, and copyright industries like film and television and music are huge in Britain. I don’t think Brexit is the end of the success of the British music industry. But it would be useful if, for instance, Britain were to treat its music industry with a bit more respect and love. In film, television and post-production in Britain there are extensive tax credits offered by the state. Why are those tax credits not offered to the music business?
 
Addressing the value gap...
 
What surprises me to this day is how completely selfish, greedy, neglectful and oppressive the Google/YouTube/tech environment is. These massive, massive companies, which have been built on the back of free content, are still reluctant or refusing to take proper responsibilities. It’s now very clear that the download is pretty much irrelevant. Streaming is the future. Spotify is going to be the biggest distributor. No one really cares about ownership. It’s all about access and access will be ubiquitous for film, television and music. YouTube historically have been so extraordinarily greedy. I hope that changes. They’ve hired Lyor Cohen to build bridges with the music industry and I'd really like to see some change there because it really has to be confronted. The only investment in music is coming from record companies.

Scalping and the secondary ticketing market...
 
I know there’s a sense of unfairness in the air. People go online to buy a ticket and think they have an equal chance of getting that ticket. If two minutes later they see the same tickets being scalped, it’s a miserable feeling. It has to be acknowledged that certain promoters, certain managers and certain acts connive at this. You could say it’s unfair that members of the U2 fan club get a two day jump on the rest of the public -- knowing as they do that many members of U2.com are bot operators. I don’t really know what to do about it. There’s good scalping and bad scalping. If you sell four tickets at face value to a college student at $100 each and when the gig takes place six months later the market value for that ticket is $300. Who is going to say to that college student, “You’re not entitled to sell that ticket and make a profit?” It’s very hard to address fairly. It’s a market that defies regulation. I have never seen a comprehensive proposal to deal with this fairly and where do you stop? Will it then extend to Wimbledon and football matches? Are you going to clean up the whole of the ticket economy?
 
The new world order...

The cycle we were used to of album and tour is no longer relevant. Artists must engage on a much more continuous basis. That’s why the live industry is thriving. If I were in the business now I would be very interested in what’s going on because you can release worldwide simultaneously in a much more meaningful way on Spotify and Apple now than was possible years ago.

Copyright and safe harbor...

The general paradigm is that YouTube is distributing music and paying the labels and publishers legally, but they are paying them such a tiny, tiny amount under deals that are long since outdated. YouTube is keeping the money and they are able to invoke the safe harbor legislation that protects internet distributors from copyright. That’s the case in America and in Europe. But in Europe there’s a change coming and for the first time ever the European commission is starting to address copyright.
 
Why no one in U2 has ever made a solo album...

I don’t know if they could. I think they find it so hard to make a U2 record that to make more records without the other three musicians -- that they each know best in the world -- the idea would not appeal to them one little bit. They can all do pretty much what they want within U2.
 
Bono the activist...

He’s an extraordinarily charismatic individual. He’s also a very committed Christian. It’s at the heart of what he does. And he would say that if the light is shining on you, you can turn that light onto other issues. I’m well aware that he annoys people by using his celebrity to promote causes of inequality and unfairness. I think what annoys people is that he does this at the same time -- and he says this himself -- as being a spoilt rotten filthy rich rock star. That gets up people noses and it will continue to because he’s not going to stop. But his political achievements and his achievements as an activist are very considerable.