Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Jermaine Dupri Does Talk Straight

Last Thursday I did a posting on Edgar Bronfman Jr.'s reported comments about the music industry and delivery of products of services that consumers wants. Other were skeptical or critical of his remarks, but I take them at face value. Two days ago on the Huffington non-blog (which I got to via the AlleyInsider blog), hip hop artist/producer Jermaine Dupri definitely talked straight. I reproduce his whole column below because I think it important to read all his remarks in their context. I found it fascinating that Mr. Dupri repeats the mantra in the industry vowing never again to repeat the "MTV mistake," an alleged mistake so catastrophic that it has apparently embedded itself into the very DNA of music industry figures, passed on through generations, much like the Biblical admonition to never forget Amalek.

Also of interest is a article in today's New York Post which refers to a deal between Yahoo! and Sony BMG to permit consumers to incorporate content from the label's artists into consumers' own videos, and to enable viewers to embed Sony BMG videos in blogs and other personal pages. It would be instructive to hear Mr. Dupri's thoughts on those developments. In any event, here is his column:
A Good Album is More than Just a Collection of Singles Some people find it hard to understand my man Jay-Z's decision not to let iTunes break up his American Gangster album and sell it as single tracks. They say he's fighting the future and losing out on sales from fans who only want to download singles. But I say it was a stand somebody had to take in the music industry. Jay is speaking for all of us. He's not the first. He's not the lone cowboy in all of this. Radiohead and AC/DC have turned their backs on iTunes for the same reason. Doug Morris, the CEO of Universal Group, has been fighting Steve Jobs on this for a minute now. But Jay is at a level people are going to pay attention to. He's had 10 number one albums. He may run Def Jam but he's also an artist who put his heart and soul into something that he wants people to hear all the way through. As the creator and investor, he has every right to demand this. Not only that, I believe he's starting a movement that's necessary. More artists and producers are gonna take back control of how their art is sold because his strategy has paid off. Maybe Hova coulda sold another 100,000 to 200,000 units by playing it iTunes' way, but he still had the number one album last week. He STILL sold 425,000 units. Even more, he's proven you can still sell an album without those guys. Jay made everyone realize that iTunes taking what we give them and doing what they want with it isn't the way it has to be. He put the light on and made other people realize, "Oh these guys are just selling our music, they ain't making it." If anything, WE made iTunes. It's like how we spent $300,000 to $500,000 each on our videos and MTV and BET went ahead and built an entire video television industry off of our backs. We can't let that happen again. These businesses exist solely because of our music. So if we as artists, producers and label executives stand up, those guys at Apple can either cooperate, or have nothing for people to buy and download on their iPods. Apple thinks that's never gonna happen. They think that we as the record industry will never stick together. But Universal sells one out of every three records. All it'll take is for Warner Music to say, "You know what, I'm with you," for us to shut 'em down. No more iPods! They won't have nothin' to play on their players! We can take back the power if we're willing to sacrifice some sales to make our point. These days people just assume that you need a number one single to have a number one album. But look at what's really happening. Soulja Boy sold almost 4 million singles and only 300,000 albums! We let the consumer have too much of what they want, too soon, and we hurt ourselves. Back in the day when people were excited about a record coming out we'd put out a single to get the ball going and if we sold a lot of singles that was an indication we'd sell a lot of albums. But we'd cut the single off a few weeks before the album came out to get people to wait and let the excitement build. When I put out Kris Kross we did that. We sold two million singles, then we stopped. Eventually we sold eight million albums! Did consumers complain? Maybe so. But at what point does any business care when a consumer complains about the money? Why do people not care how we - the people who make music - eat? If they just want the single, they gotta get the album. That was how life was. Today we should at least have that option. Yeah, it's about the money, but it's also about quality. Creating each album as a body of work that means something gives the consumer something better to listen to, It's that simple. Otherwise all anyone would care about is making a bunch of ringtones. A good album is more than just a collection of singles. American Gangster was a story with a beginning, middle and end. I came in at the end and did the last song, "Fallin'." But every joint was related. Each song gets better from listening to the one next to it, and the one after that. I didn't just sit by myself in my studio in Atlanta, crank somethin' out, and throw it in the pot. That album was the product of the best minds in hip hop today: Jay, Puffy, the Neptunes, No I.D., Just Blaze and me. We all came together and threw ideas around. Me and Jay had long conversations about our favorite mafia movies, and that moment in all those gangsta stories - Scarface, The Godfather -- when the hero makes his big mistake and falls. We came in with respect for each others' craft so the whole album could do right by the story. We made quality music for our consumers. We made art. None of this is new. Every record is in some way a concept album. The whole always strives to be better than its parts. I dedicate a whole chapter in my book to this process. Every thing I produce is a product of me spending time with the artist and getting to know where his or her head is at. Usher's Confessions album was all about where he was at that point in his life. Same with Mariah's Emancipation of Mimi. Even if I'm not executive producing and I'm brought in at the end on someone else's album, I listen to what everyone else has done and try to make my tracks fit. I'm like an interior decorator who comes into a house and fixes up one room. It doesn't look like every other room, but at least it picks up some threads so that room looks like it belongs in the same home. Every album is created for you to hear the next song, especially on rap albums. Rappers make intros on their records for a reason- they want you to listen it to set the mood and get ready for that second song. I'm not saying that music can't ever be sold as singles. Not every album is equal and consumers are always going to try to cherry pick the songs they like. But that doesn't mean the people who investing their time, money and sweat into a record shouldn't have the right to decide how it's gonna be sold, whether that's in single units or as a whole. My book, Young, Rich and Dangerous: The Making of a Music Mogul, came out in hardcover last month, but Simon & Schuster doesn't let the book stores tear it up and sell it chapter by chapter. A record is no different. Asking us to let other people mess with all our hard work like that is disrespectful. It's like when you go an art auction, and an Andy Warhol painting is up for sale at $5 million, but a buyer is allowed to just by off the top right hand corner of the canvas for a hundred thou' Apple, why are you helping the consumer destroy our canvas? We don't tell you to break up your computers into bits and pieces and sell off each thing. When you go to the Apple store you may only need one thing, but you have to buy all their plug ins and stuff. You have to buy their whole package, even if you don't necessarily want it, or your equipment won't work. We're just saying, if you have the audacity to sell your products like that, don't treat our products as something less than yours. Respect the craft


Dean C. Rowan said...

Straight talk, yep. A bit naive, a bit stuck in a modernist aesthetic (the whole transcends the parts, the album as a body of work, the artist as the exclusive source of the work)...but then it's my contention that we will never escape it anyway, nor should we. Mash-ups hardly amount to its undoing. Modernism has always been about mash-ups and integration, fracture and wholism. Pound's Cantos, for instance?

A better example than the Warhol scenario, I think, of destructive dismemberment of a work is the ages old practice of separating illuminations from medieval manuscripts. Their piecemeal sale reaps a much higher profit than the integral work. See, e.g, Christopher de Hamel, Cutting Up Manuscripts for Pleasure and Profit.

Anonymous said...

But that doesn't mean the people who investing their time, money and sweat into a record shouldn't have the right to decide how it's gonna be sold, whether that's in single units or as a whole.

That's all well and good. But he should remember that there are other alternatives: if someone doesn't want to pay for an entire album, and can't reasonably purchase singles, piracy will be a more convenient and satisfying option. Exclusivity just isn't what it once was; it's probably better to try to adapt to the changing world than to fight against the tide.

My book, Young, Rich and Dangerous: The Making of a Music Mogul, came out in hardcover last month, but Simon & Schuster doesn't let the book stores tear it up and sell it chapter by chapter.

Someone should tell him about first sale. Bookstores could do that if they wanted to. They might not want to (it's kind of unprofessional, and could be bad for business relationships that go way beyond one mere author), but authors don't get that much control.

And while it's sad to see illuminated manuscripts broken apart, mass-produced books du jour don't elicit the same sympathies. It's got nothing to do with it being a book: it's just an antique object. We'd all feel the same way if it was a classic car or house, I'm sure.

Anonymous said...

I think reggae Gangsta Girl Tanya Stephens may have had the best advance retort to Mr Dupri's comments in her hit from 2004 Way Back

Click the link to buy it at the iTunes Music Store. ;-)

I think she gets it "right on" in viewing the rise of illegal distribution and copying of individual songs as partly resulting from a trend starting in the 90s of musicians and labels attempting to produce one good single and sell it with a bunch of junk for the price of an album.

Selected lyrics:

"And it came to pass, that in the glorious days of charts That the music ailed

and we danced to it and threw a party but in our hearts WE knew the musicans had failed

Then came along brothers Napster and Aimster and though they were definitely wrong

I think it's worse to be forced to buy a whole bull*#it album just to get that one good song.....Can I get a Amen?"

Matt Agnello said...

His analogies are a little weak. A chapter in a book has significantly less meaning out of context. Buying the top corner of an original Warhol painting also doesn't make sense because it would physically ruin the painting. (Although buying a copy and cropping it might make sense.) On the other hand, music is always chopped up and mixed. You hear songs out of context all the time. If he wants consumers to buy albums as a whole, consumers need a good reason to. That can be a loyalty to the artist to experience the album as the artist intended, or it can be something else. I personally prefer listening to albums as a whole. But consumers should have the freedom to decide how they want to experience their music.

Anonymous said...

This is crazy talk. I read about this on WWW.GLOBALGRIND.COM and had to come check out more. Of course Jay-Z can sell a whole album, he's the man and got one sick song after the next. But a lot of these new artists have only one song that you really want to hear, so why buy the cd for that one song. Dupri says people like him made mtv and bet and itunes. Actually, the fans made all of this. Without the fans, artists wouldn't be selling anything. You're still making money, way more money than you even know what to do with, as a result of your fans, so why go against what your fans want? It makes no sense!

Unknown said...

Thats where I heard about it too dre. i have to disagree though, dupri makes a great point in saying that you can't break up art into separate pieces, its different buying a single that was released as a single, but buying songs that weren't released without listening to the other ones, breaks up the concept. Its not about money, obviously, Jermaine Dupri is one of the most successful producers in Hip-Hop, let alone the fact that he runs So So Def, its about the art, no one can see that.