Bob Johnston on the Future of the Music Industry

Bob Johnston on tour with Leonard Cohen, 1972In the latest issue of TapeOp, there’s a fantastic interview with Bob Johnston, the legendary producer who made all the best albums by Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash, and Simon and Garfunkel. He’s a character who has left a remarkable legacy of refusing to take shit from label executives. He was asked about where he thought the music industry is going and his response is classic:

The future of the industry is that the major labels will collapse, and the attorneys and all those people will be gone. There will be a few because there will always be rap and they’ll be a few [big] things. But when somebody finds out that the company doesn’t control them, they don’t pay them, they run their debt up, turn down what’s good, put out what’s bad and charge them for everything in the world – promotion, marketing, merchandising, girls, hookers. You have the septic tank cleaners judging music. “We don’t like this. We don’t want this.” They get you caught up for a half a million so they won’t have to pay you, and that’s what they do. You’re at the mercy of sitting at a big table, listening to a bunch of clones watching their president to see what he’s going to say. It’s a horrible situation.

The whole interview is great, so you should seek it out. And if you don’t subscribe to TapeOp already, you really should. It’s one of the best music magazines out there (which isn’t really saying a lot these days, ha ha), and it’s free.

One thought on “Bob Johnston on the Future of the Music Industry”

  1. The major labels will never die. They might eventually mutate into some other unholy entity, but they’ll continue to exist ’til right before cockroaches are wiped out. As long as they have financial resources available to them and are able to find mainstream-sounding artists w/hit potential who are either disinclined or somehow otherwise unable to handle their own careers, the majors will be around in some form or another.

    Don’t think so? Well, check out this 2009 NYT piece on Adam Young aka Owl City:

    [In 2008] Mr. Young’s Web success came to the attention of scouts at Universal Republic Records…Avery Lipman, the label’s co-president, invited Mr. Young to New York for discussions and found him completely unschooled in the ways of the music business.

    ‘It was the most bizarre meeting I’ve ever had,’ Mr. Lipman said. ‘I actually had to discuss and explain the record business 101. I had to explain to him what a record company is, the need for a lawyer, a manager, a booking agent. It was actually kind of tough.’

    For management, the label recommended [Steve] Bursky…With this new representation Mr. Young signed a long-term contract with Universal Republic.

    The label recommended which manager for Young to choose. Nice. If the above is not the 21st century version of the old Cadillac-in-lieu-of-royalties scenario just waiting to happen, I dunno what is.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *