Deconstructing Pop Culture

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Crossing Media

October 29th, 2006 by David Kronemyer · No Comments

Sony/BMG recently established a position to create opportunities for its recording artists in the movie and television industries, Lieberman, D., “Lack is determined to be more than a music man,” USA Today (Jun. 13, 2005); Gallo, P., “Sony BMG makes feature presentation,” Variety (Jul. 25, 2005).

Even though the implementation of this concept has turned into a failure at Sony/BMG, I think at least they were on the right track. The big issue is what I have come to think of as “persona rights.” The economics of superstars today means that an artist has to get big, fast, in some media, then be able to pirouette off into other media, pretty much without regards for the consequences. There are a lot of recording artists, for example, who have migrated into film (the Jennifers and Jessicas of the world, though I guess it would be more correct to say they started out in TV) (though not so much vice versa, except as a weird kind of hobby, e.g., Bruce Willis, Keanu Reeves, Russell Crowe).

The problem with this from the record company’s standpoint is that it invests significantly into building up the artist, but then isn’t positioned to capture any of the revenue that results when the artist starts doing something else, taking advantage of all of the marketing impressions that the record company has paid to generate.

The record company’s objective should be to turn this equation on its head, and make the film (which always will have more available marketing spend) pay for consumer impressions, that in turn benefit the record. The record company also should (and must) position itself to participate in the broader revenue stream generated by movie and television activity – which it presently isn’t positioned to do, since it isn’t doing anything to facilitate it. See, e.g., Smith, E., “Pussycat Dolls, Music Label Share All Profits in Novel Deal,” Wall St. J. (Aug. 26, 2005).

Most film producers have (as they should) a pre-conceived notion of whom they envision as being appropriate for a role. Most rock stars who also want to be actors don’t want to play music-related roles; they’d rather stretch out into characters (again, as they should). One of the record company’s goals therefore should be to create opportunities, awareness and exposure.

From the artist’s standpoint, it will be important not only to discern their interests and proclivities, but also to coordinate the right approach (for example, most artists have different agency representation for movies v. tours (as they should), since “agent” has a completely different meaning in each context).

Another artist-related problem is return on investment over a relatively short time horizon; for example, most recording artist managers HATE IT when their clients want to do a movie, because typically it won’t pay them as much as if they were out on the road, or recording, which is how the manager makes money. E.g. I can remember wanting to get Christina Aguilera in a movie, she wanted to do it, and her manager (Irv Azoff) wanted her to do it, too; the problem was that the economics of the movie meant that she’d make X, whereas if she toured, she’d make X times 10. (Though ironically, the tour where she was going to make X times 10 got canceled!). These problems only can be addressed with an over-all approach to the artist’s career. While her managers do an excellent job at precisely this task, the entities with which they deal — record and film companies — seem to have a much narrower view.