Which Executive Is Most Responsible For Killing The Music Industry?


From the moment L.A. Reid became a music executive, I knew that the major label system was in trouble because, let's face it, this guy wasn't done being a rock star, so to speak.  See, if you've heard the song "Two Occasions", a sultry little slow jam that rocketed to #10 on the pop charts back in 1988, then you're already familiar with his work as a member of The Deele.

Of course, the real artistic vision of that band was a guy named Kenneth Edmonds, better known to the music world as "Babyface".  Reid was just the drummer who, with Babyface, took a production credit, but he just had to have been kicking himself for not getting invcolved in the songwriting because THAT was where the money was at.  Just ask Babyface, Darnell Bristol and Sid Johnson, who Reid saw collecting sizable royalty checks for years after the song's release.



Was Reid a team player or was he only out for himself, you ask?  That depends on how you classify leaving a successful R&B band at the height of their career, which he and Babyface did after "Two Occasions" became a hit.  While "not breaking up the band" when the band still had some serious juice would have been the obvious thing to do, Reid and Babyface were determined to establish themselves as producers and songwriters for other artists.

More than anyone, they must have known that platinum artists came and went with a startling frequency, but the producers and songwriters behind the scenes remained the same.  The managers and agents, the concert promoters, the merch companies who worked with all the major acts all remained the same.

Reid knew that Babyface was his ticket to "the show" and would have followed that dude into a burning building.  So when Babyface decided to write and produce tracks for other artists, what else was Reid to do, keep playing drums for a band whose shining star had just walked out the door?
Leaving the Deele wasn't so much a dick move as an act of survival, plain and simple.

As lucrative as his career as a music executive has proven to be, it has come at the expense of "the artist". Put simply, L.A. Reid saw early on that, out of all the components that comprise a successful music career, the role of artist has the shortest shelf life.  The key to career longevity, in Reid's mind, was to continue producing songs with Babyface and to merely plug in the artist as the opportunity presented itself.

Point blank, if Babyface's girlfriend Pebbles needed a tune for her next album, who were they to say no?  If The Whispers were looking to freshen their sound, who were they to say no?



By saying yes to both of those opportunities, the production team of "Babyface and L.A." officially had their first two top 10 pop hits with "Girlfriend" and "Rock Steady".  That's right, POP hits.
See, back then, you could top the R&B charts and be a complete no-show on the pop charts.  The Whispers' previous album So Good had peaked at #8 on the R&B charts, but only got as far as #88 on the pop charts.  With L.A. and Reid's help, 1987's Just Gets Better With Time hit #3 on the R&B charts and #22 on the pop charts.

Long story short, being able to take credit for getting a bunch of mustachioed R&B veterans well past their prime back into the top ten gave L.A. and Babyface the ability to write their own ticket.  As if that weren't enough, the band they had already decided to leave (The Deele) was now the owner of their own hit, "Two Occasions".

The obvious thing to do at that point would have been to KEEP THE DEELE TOGETHER and strike with another strong single while the iron was hot.  Did they do that?  Nope.

Instead, L.A. and Babyface formed their own label, LaFace Records, and inked a marketing and distribution deal with Arista Records.  Through the '90's, they established artists like Toni Braxton, TLC, Goodie Mob, Donell Jones, and P!nk.  The label was later absorbed by Arista Records in 1999, with L.A. Reid being appointed to Chairman/CEO of Arista in 2001.



See, the LaFace empire had been built on the strength of "the song" and the belief that the artist was an afterthought so, when L.A. Reid became head honcho for Arista, that mindset was fast becoming the norm in the industry.  Human nature being what it is, record executives had, for decades, been exasperated by the egos and whims of their artists.  "If only so-and-so would play ball and record a Christmas album," said the frustrated music exec.  "If I was the rock star..."

That's when the light bulb went on and, more and more, the executives in the industry believed that they were the rock stars.  Never mind that dozens of greater musical minds had come before them and successfully navigated the tumultuous waters of "dealing with artists" and the industry was the better for it.

Because the likes of Jerry Wexler and Ahmet Ertugen - or even David Geffen (who, sadly, would go on to pioneer the "executive as rock star" mindset) - had tolerated Led Zep's trashing of hotel rooms and bevy of private jets, or Jackson Browne's coke habit, they now had the iconic albums that continue to finance the industry through strong back catalog sales.

L.A. Reid, while amazingly successful in the short term, has not given the industry the long-term back catalog sales that it needs to continue to prosper.  Much as Toni Braxton may have sold a shit-ton of cassingles in her time, she's no Pink Floyd or Journey when it comes to back catalog sales.
Granted, "Unbreak My Heart" will continue to lead a few folks to buy the track on iTunes or pick up a budget compilation at Wal-Mart, but beyond a few semi-hits, her long-term sales impact is minimal.

Rather than create a stable of artists whose music will continue to sell for decades, L.A Reid, more than any other exec, is the poster boy for "movie industry thinking" - a.k.a. big opening weeks over long-term sales, ruining the music industry.

Where's the motivation for him to think any other way, though?  As part of a company beholden to their stockholders, he needs hits now.  Those 4Q earnings aren't going to make themselves. It's better for him if he can tout ten singles that debuted at #1 rather than ten albums that continue to line stockholder pockets thirty years after their release because, in thirty years, he'll be gone.

In other words, he doesn't care about leaving the music world a better place after he's gone, it's all about the here and now and THAT thinking is what killed the industry.  It's akin to fracking.  Sure, you reap some huge rewards right away, but at what long-term expense?  Oh, the ground water in an entire region is decimated for decades to come?  Oops.



Despite a lengthy list of disposable hits, L.A. Reid's legacy will prove to be an empty one, leaving behind a stable of artists incapable of propelling the industry with strong back catalog sales.  As if tat wasn't bad enough, executives continue to knock themselves over to be the next judge, or executive producer, of the next nationally-televised karaoke music show because, in their own eyes, THEY are real rock stars.  Those kids onstage singing their hearts out?  They come and go.

In a recent interview, Iggy Pop hit upon a similar sentiment, saying:
“Mmm, I don’t think that the music business is always good for artists. I don’t think that the glorification of the music business is always really truly good for artist. It’s been good for… wouldn’t you say that it’s been good for Simon Cowell?” he says, waggling his eyebrows. “Well, how much do you think he’s doing for the artists? Do you see what I’m saying?”

Destructive though it may be, it's easy to forgive Simon Cowell for seeing himself as the ultimate rock star, and gutting the UK music industry in the process, much like Reid did on the American side, but what makes Reid's crimes against the very industry that celebrates his success unforgivable is that he was an artist first.  If anyone was ever going to go to bat for "the artist", one would have thought it would have been him.

He could easily have become the sort of executive who recognized how integral to the survival of the industry "career artists" were and who defended them to the death, but, instead, he saw them as a liability and has systematically sought to make all but the most disposable of artists obsolete.

Not convinced?  Okay, let's pretend that the music industry is a forest of apple trees.  In said forest, Pink Floyd, Rolling Stones, Journey, Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty are some of the biggest trees and, like most big apple trees, generate a large amount of the forest's apples.  They were once small trees, planted by visionary executives whose decisions were not dictated by shareholders who wanted RESULTS NOW!  Sure, not every tree they planted would blossom into the gigantic behemoth it is today, but enough did that the forest was able to prosper, even as the current crop of executives proved to be a bunch of short-sighted, self-serving a-holes.

If anything, execs like L.A. Reid seem almost hell-bent in decimating entire forests for the sole purpose of putting up a parking lot, complete with a statue of their own likeness and a plaque that reads:

"This parking lot brought to you by L.A. Reid."

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