Dennis Munday on The Last Of The Song And Dance Men

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The record business has changed dramatically over the last two decades. There are now four large conglomerates, who control over 80% of the output of music in the world. Sales have plummeted, the industry is losing about 5% per annum and given that the current economic crisis will last for another ten years, will they be able to turn this around? And more importantly, will the record industry survive?


The industry was too slow on the uptake with downloads and the 'suits' that ran the business, had a myopic attitude to the internet. I recall one exec at EMI telling me 20 odd years ago, that he didn't see the internet as a problem, and the record business wouldn't be threatened by this new innovation. Like the Titanic, they thought they were unsinkable and by the time they got onboard the download express, they had smashed into the iceberg, as everyone was downloading the music of their choice, for free.

I never quite understood their mentality, the mp3 was just another sound carrier for their artists music, just like the CD, the LP, and going all the way back to the 19th century, the 78rpm disc. Which no one under the age of fifty will recall. Missing the download boat was a serious error and the industry is paying a heavy price for their stupidity and forgotten that nothing goes on forever. Look at Barings, one of the most venerable of British banks. Owing to some incredible dodgy dealing and a complete lack of oversight, from the 'suits' that ran the bank, they have disappeared up the anus of a large conglomerate. Rolls Royce, which was a symbol of everything great about the UK, is now a German car. The list goes on.

There are other reasons for the downturn in record business. There is far more competition and a much wider choice for consumers to spend their leisure pounds. As a teenager in the sixties, I only had music, the cinema, TV, and drinking in pubs to spend my pennies on. However, music was very important to my generation, it defined us in every aspect and told our story. A story that can still be heard today.There was also the post war baby boom, when I was a teenager there were three of us to every pensioner, which is why record sales were so high. Now, there are three pensioners for every teenager.

Punk Generation Dennis MundayI am not sure that music means as much to the youth of today, as it did to me and my mates. The last generation to feel this way about music was probably the 'Punk' generation. This movement was born out of a crisis, where the youth of day had it tough. Jobs were hard to come by and if you didn't like it, the Tory government didn't give a damn. What is strange about the current crisis, no music movement has come to the fore.

When the CD was launched in the early eighties, the industry loved it and why not? They had much larger catalogues and could make a fortune re-releasing all their old recordings at an over inflated price, considering the CD cost far less to manufacture than the LP. By the year 2000, the companies had exhausted their back catalogue and now they release Deluxe editions, with extra tracks and demos, which the fans like. Unfortunately for the companies, these kind of releases don't make up the shortfall in revenue that they are losing every year.

The biggest problem for the industry was the sales on new releases, which were steadily decreasing, as each decade passed. I recall Going Underground by The Jam went straight to number 1 in the charts and sold (at the time), around 300 000 copies. How would this have fared in the sixties? I doubt that it would have made the top twenty. Yes, there are bands like Radiohead, who are mega and shift CD's by the shed load, but they are few and far between.

I have sadly watched the demise of EMI, one of the UK's greatest record companies, but it came as no surprise. The City 'pin stripes' have hankered after a record company for years, claiming it would be better run by 'real' business men. Just like the ones who have created the current crisis, I assume. During my career at Polydor, I came across this kind of executive many times and I can honestly say, that very few had an impact on the company. Not only that, they had no idea about handling artists, who are the life blood of the industry. I recall one exec claiming that running a record company, should be no different to running a company that sells dog food. Three months later, he did have the courage to admit that he was wrong and it was not as easy to run a record company as he thought. I was taught early on in my career that the record business was people making music, for people to buy, something I have never forgot.

The City 'pin stripes
I started my career at HMV Record Shops and after being taken on, the manager stated direly; 'I don't care how much you know about Jazz and Pop music, if you can't sell Mantovani, Al Bowly and James Last, you're out on your ear old son'! Now, I knew who Mantovani and James Last were and as I wanted to keep my job, I learnt who the soddin' hell Al Bowly was. I learnt a lot about music working at HMV and it was a great apprenticeship. I realised, if I wanted to get on in this business, you had to be versatile and by the time, I commenced working for Polydor, there wasn't any kind of music, or artist that I couldn't work with.

Incidentally, during the seventies and eighties, the income from James Last's prodigious output, paid everyone salaries at Polydor. People also forget that he sold out the Albert Hall quicker than most rock artists. One time after playing at Albert's Hall, where he had his fans dancing in the aisle, the company held a party for Last at the Barracuda club. At the time, I was Polydor's Jazz A & R manager and as Last started his career as a jazz bass player, the Managing Director ordered me to attend the shindig, as unlike the other execs, I could talk to him about music. He turned out to be a good bloke, although my only recollection of the party is, smoking a joint in the toilet with his brass section.

When Guy Hands purchased EMI, he made many fatuous remarks that not only didn't go down well with the people who worked at the company. They also didn't go down well, with the rest of the record industry, although it gave them a good laugh, as Hands had set himself up like an Aunt Sally. Not only that, he managed to piss off some their top acts, like Coldplay, Lilly Allen, Sir Paul McCartney, and the Rolling Stones.

One such quote was; "What we are doing is taking the power away from the A&R guys and putting it with the suits - the guys who have to work out how to sell music." Now I have nothing against salesmen, or marketing men and I had a good relationship with both at Polydor, as they are extremely valuable to both the record company and to me as an A & R man.

One has to laugh at another of his quotes; "The power and the decision has sat with the A&R man, who is someone who gets up late in the day, listens to lots of music, goes to clubs, spends his time with artists and has a knack of knowing what would sell."They were committing money with no sign off, no nothing." All of this from a man, who boasts one of the largest collections of karaoke records in the world. 'Nuff said.

Dennis Munday Polydor I started in Polydor's A & R department in the early seventies and was looking forward to some serious sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. Unfortunately, it wasn't to be, I worked sixty to seventy hours a week and I was expected to know how much each recording session would cost, oversee the studio budget, and attend the recordings. As well as going see bands play live and not just in London, I had to wade through a mountain of paperwork. There were times when I felt more like a bank manager than an A & R man. As for being no sign off, Hands was wrong about this. If you had an unsuccessful year and didn't have a few hit records, you got fired. It took EMI two decades to become one the greatest record companies in the world. Hands destroyed all this good work in months, some business man.

What Hands and the 'suits' are unable to grasp is, A&R is the hardest job in the industry and there ain't that many people that have the instincts to do the job. A & R men are maverick's and there have been some great 'music' men in the UK. Chris Blackwell of Island Records is the top man as far as I am concerned and he knew how to develop artists. Chris Wright, who founded Chrysalis was another, as were the likes of Alan McGhee (Creation Records), Andy McDonald (Go-Disc), Roger Ames & Tracey Bennett (London Records), George Martin and Chris Briggs (EMI), and Chris Parry (Polydor). On the other side of the Atlantic there was Berry Gordy (Tamla Motown), Nesuhi and Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler (Atlantic), Seymour Stein (Sire Records) and Sam Phillips (Sun Records). Clive Davis, (Arista) who was 'suit', but one of the few that had ears and there are many more names I could add to both lists.

The "Daddy' of A & R men is John Hammond, who worked for Columbia Records (now Sony). In the history of the music business, there's hasn't been another A & R man who can touch his record. During a long career, he signed up Billie Holliday, Lester Young, Count Basie, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Ray Vaughan. OI Hand's! That's none too shabby for a man who sits in a smoked filled room.

When Hammond wanted to sign Springsteen, the 'suits' were against it and they only allowed the deal to go through, because Hammond had made so much money for Columbia in the past. A little later they had to eat a lot humble pie, as Springsteen became one of the biggest rock stars of all time. Oh, and when he signed Dylan, he was christened by the 'suits' as, Hammond's folly (sic).

When Hammond wanted to sign Springsteen, the 'suits' were against it
There is also another reason for the fall of the record industry and that is the demise of the A& R department and the importance of the A & R man. For many decades it was an industry where people cared about music, talked about music and probably dreamt about music. For any aspiring artist it is a nightmare, as these companies no longer listen to demo tapes and to get a foot in the door, you need to be lawyered up and have a manager. As for your demo's, they have to be semi-finished product, as there aren't any A & R men left that are able to judge whether you have talent, just by listening to a rough tape. A friend recently told me that today's A & R men rarely watch bands live. There is a respite for the artist and that is the internet, which the record companies originally ignored. Bands like Arctic Monkeys made it via the internet and for unknown bands, it's the way to go.

Many years ago I was talking to Paul Weller and he stated that if he was starting out again, he wouldn't get a deal, which is quite true. Then neither would The Beatles, Bob Dylan, or Bruce Springsteen. As to why, the answer is quite simple, the likes of Chris Parry, George Martin, and John Hammond are long gone. These three great artists were signed by proper A & R men because they had talent, but it needed to be developed and nurtured, which the 'suits' know nothing about.

I still hope that things might change, that a band, or an artist like Dylan, The Beatles, Paul Weller, or Bruce Springsteen will come along and make a real mark. That a John Hammond will spring up, but I know I am pissing in the wind as far as this is concerned. The suits are here to stay. Looking back at my generation of A & R men, we were the last of the song and dance men and like the Dodo, we're extinct.

© Words - Dennis Munday ( Ronchi Dei Legionari, Gorizia, Italy,January 2012)/ZANI Media



Read 2810 times Last modified on Friday, 08 May 2015 15:28

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