In the July 7th, 2003 New Yorker Magazine there’s a brilliant article by John Seabrook that chronicles from start to finish the path an artist takes to “make it” in the music business. The article focuses on legendary music executive Jason Flom.
Flom, “one of the most successful record men of the past 20 years,” known for his “specialty delivering ‘monsters’,” has racked up a fairly impressive set of wins SINCE the New Yorker article was written. In brief, he began his career at Atlantic Records ending up in the A&R department under Atlantic founder Ahmet Ertegun. At Atlantic he signed artists including Twisted Sister, Skid Row, White Lion, Stone Temple Pilots and Tori Amos, Flom soon became Atlantic’s head of A&R, where he was mentored by Doug Morris, while breaking new artists such as Jewel, Hootie & the Blowfish and Collective Soul. In 1995 he founded his own label, Lava Records, in partnership with Atlantic Records. During this phase Flom discovered and championed artists who went on to sell in excess of 100 million records around the world over nine years including Matchbox 20, Kid Rock, The Corrs, Uncle Kracker, Simple Plan, The Blue Man Group, Edwin McCain, Sugar Ray and Trans Siberian Orchestra. In 2005 Flom sold Lava Records to Atlantic, and was appointed Chairman and CEO of the Atlantic Records Group. Later that same year Flom departed Atlantic after the Warner Music Group (which included Warner Brothers, Electra Records & Atlantic Records – “WEA”) became a publicly traded company with newly installed management. Flom then became Chairman and CEO of Virgin Records and following the merger of Virgin Records and its sister label, Capitol Records in 2007, was appointed as the Chairman and CEO at the top of the newly formed Capitol Music Group. At Capital Flom worked with artists including Lenny Kravitz, Coldplay and the Rolling Stones. He also personally signed international pop star Katy Perry, and oversaw the recording of her debut album One of the Boys which sold more than 5 million albums and singles worldwide. During Flom’s 2-1/2 year tenure, the company broke 11 artists to gold, platinum and multi-platinum status, including the aforementioned Katy Perry, Lily Allen, 30 Seconds to Mars, Corrine Bailey Rae, Saving Abel, Dem Franchize Boyz, KT Tunstall, Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, A Fine Frenzy, J Holiday, and Bubba Sparxx. In early 2009, Flom left Capital and bought back the Lava Records imprint from Warner, forming a partnership with Universal Republic for promotion, marketing, sales and distribution services. Flom has since signed artists including Jessie J, Black Veil Brides, and CJ Holland.
But enough about Flom, let’s talk money . . . a Flom deal in Flom’s prime was a $5M bet on an artist, which broke down as follows: $4.5M in marketing and $0.5M ($500,000) to produce the record. The creation of the product, music, was 10% of the budget to break a new artist. The artist in the New Yorker article about Flom was “Cherie,” who Flom was convinced would be the next “monster” act. Check iTunes for her album “Cherie” released in 2004. To date Cherie has sold a few thousand records. Not the “monster” Flom predicted, but that was OK, it was all part of the model. Record companies and Jason Flom made so much money on the artists that were successful they could suffer quite a few flops and still be tops in their field. The ironic part is that from their point of view Cherie was NOT an artistic failure, just a marketing failure. Their view, and the view in the music industry for decades that continues to the present day, is that the product, music (in case you’d forgotten) doesn’t matter. If the marketing is good, it will sell. Of course it’s easier to sell if the music is good, the Flom’s of the world didn’t go around trying to find the worst acts they could, but on the other hand it is clear today that they did not have special power or “golden ears,” that allowed them to find great talent either and they didn’t have much motivation to put in the effort to do so even if they were blessed with that gift.
The Flom model has been dead for quite some time, but still tries to go on in the music-zombie-apocalypse of today. It’s time to turn things around. It’s time to put money behind developing artist talent. It’s time to make great music again. Let’s do it.
For the abstract on John Seabrook’s article titled “The Money Note” see: