"We’re no longer in the music business -- it doesn’t exist anymore. We’re in the multimedia business.”
This was artist manager Scooter Braun speaking to Billboard for a story about his and fellow managers Troy Carter and Guy Oseary’s investments in a variety of social media and technology startups.
Braun’s words struck a chord because it’s something I’ve mused over since reading obituaries of former A&M executive Gil Friesen (pictured at left), who died a year ago this month. All of the articles recognized him as the operational brains behind Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss’ storied label.
In his 25 years at the label, Friesen built up A&M as the home of a wide range of artists, including Cat Stevens, the Police, Joe Cocker and Janet Jackson, until he stepped down as president in 1990 when PolyGram bought the label.
During his time at A&M he convinced Alpert and Moss to set up A&M Films, where he successfully executive-produced movies including the Paul Newman vehicle “Blaze” and “The Breakfast Club,” whose soundtrack spawned a Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 for A&M, Simple Minds’ “Don’t You Forget About Me.”
After A&M, Friesen went on to co-found the Classic Sports cable network, which was sold in 1997 for $175 million to be part of cable juggernaut ESPN. But he wasn’t done with music, media and TV—he went on to become an early investor/adviser to Akamai, one of the Internet’s essential backbones for content delivery.
The point isn’t for every label chief to quit and head over to 20th Century Fox Studios. But Friesen’s career trajectory, unusual when he took his steps, looks more like what a music/media executive’s career or experiences should resemble today. Executives now have to be thinking about understanding every platform and every outlet where music is generating value. The obvious reason for that is music’s intrinsic value is moving in different directions along a diversifying value chain.
Some executives are already doing just that. At the very top there’s Universal Music Group chairman/CEO Lucian Grainge, who in the spring joined the DreamWorks Animation board and has set up a technology innovation forum between the United Kingdom and United States. Perhaps the most successful executive of his generation in leveraging his music knowledge in another industry is Interscope Geffen A&M chairman Jimmy Iovine, who with Dr. Dre built Beats Electronics from nothing into dominating the premium headphone market with more than $500 million in annual sales in just four years.
Other names that come readily to mind are Republic executive VP Charlie Walk, who had a successful run post-Epic with his own marketing agency before returning to the label side. Warner Music Group COO Rob Wiesenthal, a former Sony executive, is on the boards of online travel site Trip Advisor, pay-TV network Starz and Jawbone, maker of mobile headsets and the Jambox line of Bluetooth speakers. And artist managers like Braun, Carter and Oseary have now become nearly as well-known in Silicon Valley as they are in Hollywood and New York’s music circles as they’ve invested in a range of exciting startups.
But these executives are still the exception rather than the rule in the music business, because traditionally the value created by the music biz was shared along a distribution chain that the industry by and large controlled completely. That is no longer the case.
Executives with a more intimate understanding of the various facets of the rapidly evolving media and technology landscape stand a better chance of staying ahead of how to create value from the next social media platform, brand relationship or surprise startup. The exceptions will have to become the rule.