Jack Ponti’s credits align him with Bon Jovi, Alice Cooper, India.Arie, Sebastian Bach, just to name a few.
He has written songs, produced albums, ran music companies and always called a spade a spade.
Ponti is one brutally honest music industry executive whose truth shocks but needs to be heard.
When others are sucking up to acts, pissing in their pockets, telling them how great they are or will be, Jack always comes right out and puts the story in perspective.
You may not like what he has to say here, but you better read it.
With permission from Jack Ponti, Noise11 warns artists, “be careful what you wish for!”
Who cares about the major labels? Steal our music, don’t pay for it, we’ll make money off of merch and touring.
How’d that work out for you? You see, your little battle cry, and all of your other positions, only put gas on a smoldering fire. You helped a few generations think that bit torrents were fine, you supported the idea, you made them believe you didn’t care about that revenue stream.
Problem is, people (once called “consumers”) believed you and stopped reaching for their wallets.
Why should folks pay for albums that only have a few good songs?
Well that’s nothing new. Few albums are brilliant pieces of work, top to bottom.
Many a great artist has made a dreadful record. If you’ve ever been a devoted fan of a band or artist, you’ve no doubt dealt with this, but you stayed loyal because you were a true and indebted fan. But then some of you took the position that this was not fair: why should you, the consumer, pay for an album that didn’t contain 12 songs of brilliance?
“Steal this record”, indeed.
Abbie Hoffman would be proud, except for the tiny fact that he was a real revolutionary who still managed to sell over 250,000 copies a book entitled, quite unapologetically, “Steal This Book”.
We don’t need anyone, we have the Internet, labels are unfair, distribution is unfair, radio is unfair, unfair, unfair, unfair.
Well guess what? Life is unfair.
So how did that DIY Internet marketing, self distribution work out for you? The battle cry you helped spark became the norm and, lo and behold, it became perfectly acceptable to not care about buying music anymore.
I guess you kind of forgot that hit records create hit tours, old timer.
Say what? You’re going to build a base touring?
OK, in 1973, when there were thousands of places to play, a young band could get on great bills in markets where people went to concerts multiple times a week, or month.
But as the industry consolidated, the pie got smaller and so did your cut of the pie. Since your cut of said pie was never that big to being with, any and all attrition hurt you, the artist.
And that myth of making your money from merch and touring didn’t really pan out, did it?
Those 50 cap rooms might have swelled to 200 cap rooms, but then you figured out there wasn’t enough money to live on.
So your girlfriend got an extra job, you sold weed to get yours for free, and you extolled the virtues of Ramen. Plus, mom still made you the occasional meal.
But I don’t care because life is not a popularity contest for me.
To attain critical mass, you need to be embraced by large groups of consumers.
(Not people, consumers. People who “consume” what you make and “pay you money” for the privilege of doing so.)
Not your friends and their friends, and buddies on the Internet, but large groups of people. (with money)
Oh I know…
Commercial music sucks, selling out is bullshit, real art is art.
However, the minute you decide to leave your room and sell your art, guess what? That shit becomes commerce and creating and promoting that product becomes your job.
Won’t admit that? OK.
Jean-Michele Basquiat was an artist, but he was also a business person. His art had real value then, and continues to do so now, as a direct result of that.
Not based on his opinion (past tense) or his friends, or his girlfriends, but by the entire art world, and mass amounts of consumers; an entire universe of commerce.
Don’t relate to him? OK, cool. How about Cobain? Same thing.
On that subject, you’ve been lied to, which fueled your false sense of reality.
See Dave Grohl is full of shit.
Nice guy and all, great band he has, but he is not indie, at all.
His label is financed by RCA, a major. The marketing and promotion is handled by RCA, a major. The distribution is by Sony, also a major.
The only thing indie is, he didn’t have anyone A&R’ing the record.
And……he had the great luck of having a massive fan base off the back of Cobain. But you loved that story because it gave you hope.
Same shit with Macklemore.
But he’s Indie, right??
Well. he used ADA (which is owned by Warner Bros.) to launch the record, and all of the radio was handled by Peter Gray and the Warner Brothers Records staff….ta da! Yup, another major.
Oh yeah, did you all know most majors were actually once indies?
Scary, but true.
Go do some research on say, Atlantic, Elektra, A&M, Republic, Interscope, etc.
They all started life as indies, signing cool, non-cookie-cutter artists and nurturing music that was ultimately embraced by the masses.
But it was the acts that you hate that paid the bills, affording them that ability to embrace and develop acts that were left of center.
See? They didn’t always suck.
So, yeah, “fuck the majors!”
But that little MP3 issue ate into your wallet as well.
Doesn’t matter, we’ll still make our money in synchs!
No you won’t. Well, maybe enough for a vegan smorgasbord, and some wine, but check this out:
Once upon a time, synchronization licenses paid a lot of money, a LOT of money.
Then someone figured out that you didn’t need to license Led Zeppelin for ten million dollars (actual figure) to sell your product, film, TV show, etc. when you could nab someone else’s song for the money Ahmet Ertegun used to spend on lunch and still have plenty left over.
And who was waiting in the wings with zero idea of commerce, legs wide open, and a tube of KY?
And because you had zero reference point, 2,500 bucks was golden (when the budget could have been 50k).
Right on! To Hell with commerce, my shit is on TV.
Then you started hired your bro as your manager.
But just because a guy can do OK at the merch table, and usually has some good drugs, and is fun to hang with, doesn’t mean he can manage your career.
But hey, fuck commerce.
Your bro needs to remain your bro. Hire a real manager.
Streaming? Uh yeah. You can’t replace lost dollars with pennies.
And why are you bitching about that anyway?
This is your art, not commerce. Right?
Yeah, there’s also this little thing called “talent”.
We can all agree that what qualifies as “great music” is subjective and everyone’s opinion is valid, but the other cute little thing the Internet brought with it was zero filter, zero standard, zero scale. No gatekeepers, either, to help you weed out the crap.
Now anyone with Garageband, three months on guitar, a few friends, and a website is now a possible contender for genius.
Except, even in the case of “God-given talent”, it needs to be developed, nurtured and perfected over a period of years.
Not days, not weeks. Years.
Oh yeah, there is also a pattern of progression that, by it’s nature, makes you a better musician, better songwriter, better performer.
But who needs that?
One thing does remain the same: Only a small percentage truly have enough talent to make it.
The majority sucked then, and the majority sucks now.
Except now, the majority has a false confidence, fed by…yup, those same friends, and all that cool stuff you are lead to believe via your best friend, the Internet.
Maybe you suck. Maybe you’re a genius. Could be either.
So it’s all cool and shit that you point the finger at the dinosaurs of the music industry, blame us for everything wrong, I get it.
But let me clue you in; a lot of those dinosaurs are already banked to the hilt and, as the business falls apart with this incurable disease, they have a nest egg.
Who cares about money? I’m an artist.
But you will, when you’re 40, with no resume, no college degree, and the most you can say in a job interview is “I was in a band that played Warped”, you’ll wish you’d paid attention to “the commerce”.
So blame us old timers all you want. ‘Tis true, we all had a hand in the demise of this business, but you fucked things up more than you know.
This article previously appeared at http://superiorshit.blogspot.com.au/2014/07/music-industry-veteran-jack-ponti-to.html It is republished with permission from Jack Ponti.