Azoff Says Labels Are 'Done'

Legendary Eagles' manager prescribes new model

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%%STORYIMAGE_RIGHT%% While many of the players chronicled in Fredric Dannen's "Hit Men"—the 1991 expose of the bacchanalian excesses of the record industry—have fallen by the wayside, Irving Azoff remains relevant. The legendary artist manager boasts a potent client roster, a mix of contemporary stars like Jewel and Christina Aguilera to nostalgia acts like Steely Dan and The Eagles. Azoff has been a powerful force in the industry since the '70s and he's seen it from every angle. This would include a stint in the '80s running MCA Records, which he rescued from bankruptcy. The eminently quotable Azoff recently called Madison+Vine from backstage at a West Coast Eagles show to sound off about the challenges of managing careers in these trying times.

M+V: How hard is it for artists nowadays?

IA: We had a period in America where the pied piper was the novelist, then it became the rock star. And when you became a rock star, no matter how bad your management was, you became wealthy. That isn't the case anymore. Because it's so much more expensive to tour and there are so many more things you have to recoup out of your artist royalty, maybe 10 acts will break through in a year and none of them will see any money until they've sold two million albums. And now with all the piracy, how many of them sell two million albums? Nowadays, it's about eking out a living.

M+V: What's the good news?

IA: If I were a corporate ad agency or someone in marketing at a big company, rather than spending money on television advertising, I'd create value for my dollar in the music field. At the same time, we've got to lower artists' expectations and teach everybody to be flexible. For example, Jewel is not the type of artist who would ever have done the tie-in with Schick Intuition. But when the label came to her and said Schick'll help pay for the video and they'll spend this and spend that, she was smart enough to realize that Atlantic Records could not afford on their own to spend that kind of money.

M+V: Do you find the older generation to still be hesitant when it comes to "soiling themselves" with a corporate brand?

IA: Only if they're smart (laughing), and all of my clients are. The Eagles have a deal with Harman/Kardon Infinity. We use and like their products. You're not going to see the Eagles with some cheesy liquor just because they offer them a bunch of money. Christina Aguilera is currently in business with Target, Mattel and Skechers. She knows exactly what she's doing; she turns down way more than we take. If you pick something that's true to who you are, there's no downside in tying in with corporate America.

M+V: Where will artists draw the line in terms of what they'll do for advertisers?

IA: Listen, I'm in a business where we've got some really stupid people…I've seen a lot of stupid things, and I think they'll continue.

M+V: Can we expect songwriters to put brands into lyrics more?

IA: In "Boys of Summer," Don Henley wasn't paid to say "Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac," a really cool American metaphor. If Cadillac had asked Henley to write a song that mentions Cadillac, he may have said "screw you" back then, but I don't know if he would now…Great writers are great writers; they'd find a way to do it the right way.

M+V: Will record labels become extinct at some point?

IA: The record business, as we know it, is done, over, finished. The big conglomerates that own these labels are not equipped to be in business with the new model, which is to be in the music business as opposed to just the record business. I think the new model will have an act going to one entity to partner. They'll own the records together, the touring together, the publishing together, and the merchandising together. There will be all kinds of exciting new models. But it's never going to be as lucrative as it was because we have a generation that probably is never going to want to pay for music. They were allowed to steal it. It will take a while to train people to pay for it again.

%%PULLQUOTE_LEFT%% M+V: Who will these partners be?

IA: People who take control and consolidate all these revenue streams could be artist managers or smart companies like an Apple or a Yahoo! Right now, I don't think either one of those companies should get into a fight with the labels because they depend on the labels right now. But as the labels weaken over time, who knows what will happen? But a culture at a Yahoo! or an Apple will be a lot more artist-sensitive than at an AOL Time Warner or a Bertelsmann.

M+V: This renewed romance between the music industry and Madison Avenue. Is it just cost containment or can it generate revenue for labels?

IA: I think it can generate revenue. It's just common sense. The marketing budget that these guys are going to be able to spend in this age is a couple million dollars. That doesn't buy shit….All the multinationals would love to give up the labels tomorrow, [but] they're just all too embarrassed to take the write-off and sell them at the price they're now worth. We need more entrepreneurial thinking where smart, artist-friendly guys like [Warner Music Group CEO]Roger Ames and [Interscope Geffen A&M chairman]Jimmy Iovine don't have to meet quarterly pressures.

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