Tag Archives: Virgin Records

The Record Label of the Future. Lean. Mobile. App-enabled. Social. Real-time.

Mobile killed the radio star

Last night, I had a conversation with my mentee, Chris Anokute, the (now) Senior VP A&R at Island DefJam Records.

We’re on two different coasts, and don’t get to talk as frequently as we did when he was still in NY.

So our conversations tend to go on for hours.

Yesterday was no exception.

His label recently exercised the renewal option on his contract, and he wondered aloud, what the future held for him at the label.

At any label for that matter.

As we talked about his options – stay at the label, entertain offers from others, pool a few investors and set up his own company – the discussion invariably turned to what the future music industry would look like.

I told him that the music industry, as we know it, is dead.

Record labels are the walking dead.

Artists who are still trying to catch that brass ring, a record deal, are disillusioned zombies.

The future of music lies in embracing technology.

Period.

Any label exec, artist or producer, whose strategy isn’t explicitly tied to leveraging technology should call it quits – now.

2012 was the first time that digital music sales topped physical sales.

Worldwide, digital music sales exceeded $10B.

This trend is only going to continue.

And while the record labels are still giving out plaques for physical sales records, unsigned artists are generating revenues in the hundreds of thousands.

Without labels.

When he asked what the record label of the 21st century looked like, I told him.

And now I’m telling you.

1. It’s lean. Record labels today are bloated with unnecessary and often duplicative staff. You only need a few cats, who know their shit, to run a label effectively. A good A&R, product/project manager, marketing & PR specialist, radio promotions & street team, and a techie. Add a publishing guru, competent counsel, an anal accountant, a few eager beaver interns (for grunt work) and you’re set.

2. It’s mobile. There are more mobile phones than people on earth. But the labels don’t know that. Visit any label’s website from your phone. Universal Music Group, Virgin Records, Capitol Records, Epic Records, Island Records, Sony BMG, EMI, Warner Music Group. Not one of them – NOT ONE – had a mobile website. Or rather, not one of them had a site that was enabled to auto detect mobile browsers and render the appropriate content for the device viewing the site. If you’re going to connect with fans, you’ve got to make your site easy to navigate from a mobile device. a full HTML site on a phone is a shitty experience. Can we say “increased bounce rate”?

3. It’s app-enabled. I remember trying to convince Chris that he should drop an app when he released his next artist’s single. He told me (to my shock and horror – and I’m paraphrasing now) “apps are for established acts only.” That was the label talking – not Chris. Like hell! One thing that should accompany the release of every new artist is a free app. The app should be your personal portal into your favorite artist’s world. At a minimum, the app should include the artist’s bio, picture gallery, discography, music videos, songs, Twitter stream, and upcoming show dates. The app should have e-commerce capabilities, allowing a user to purchase a song, tickets to a show, or any media/content available for sale.

4. It’s social. Social media and music fit together like a hand in glove. Listening, discovering, sharing, liking are all the things fans do with their music. Apps like Spotify, Pandora and Last.fm let you stream music and share what you’re streaming/listening to via social media. Social media makes it so much easier to let your personal network know what you’re into and get them into it too. Labels of the future should make sure that everything they do is equipped to leverage social media to the fullest.

5. It’s real time. Labels are always whining about leaks and lost sales due to content being pirated and available to the public before its been officially released. You know how you prevent that? Make content available to consumers as soon as its ready! Artists are prolific, and production costs are remarkably low. So instead of trying to filter music before its released, release it and let the public decide what they want to pay for. Rabid fans want it all, even the crap. Look at all those Prince and the New Power Generation (NPG) albums that Warner Bros. sold. Not his best work, but you couldn’t tell Prince fans that.

The record label of the future is one that acts like a unified system, providing fans with seamless unobstructed access to the artists on the label.

In the second coming of the record labels, websites will be a one-stop shop, where you can browse artists, listen to music, watch streaming videos, download songs right to your device (and have them perpetually available in the cloud for future download/use on as many devices as you own), comment, like, favorite and share via any of your social media profiles.

They’ll rely less and less on iTunes, and as a result, see more profits as fans start purchasing digital music directly from the labels (again) and not from resellers.

Their marketing will be personal and focus on the mobile device and a primary point of entry.

They’ll operate less like record labels, and more like software companies, continually tweaking and updating their offerings to give their users the best user experience possible.

The 360 degree contract was the record label’s reaction to the fact that they weren’t recouping the bloated album budgets from record sales.

Tomorrow’s label has to be more focused on creating alternate revenue streams for the content they produce, and less reliant on the artist’s alternate sources of income.

Video games, toys, digital greeting cards, third-party apps, all represent new opportunities for labels to leverage their catalogues.

Needless to say, I’ve got opinions.

Chris and I will talk again.

And I will give him another earful.

But for now, you’re dismissed.

I hope you were taking notes.

10 Comments

Filed under apps, digital advocacy, mobile, music, opinion

Chris Anokute: The Making of A Music Mogul

Kissed a Girl. California Gurls. Yeah, Chris did that.

A little over 12 years ago, I met this young man eager to make it in the music industry.

One day, a motley entourage of Black men, pushing some blond dreadlocked artist, walked into my office looking for an entertainment attorney.

At the center of this mass of Black men was an R&B singer named Don Conner.

In addition to Don, there was a ‘manager’ whose name escapes me (but claimed he was behind numerous successful boy groups), and a ‘money guy’ named Isaac Morgan.

A few other non-descript hanger-onners rounded out the posse and filled up my (then) small office.

And the very back of the office, sat Chris.

Mr. Manager started jabbering about how talented Don was, and how he was the next Jaheim.

Money Morgan talked about the distribution agreement they were ‘just about’ to sign, and the need to make sure that they had all their ‘paperwork’ in order.

Don said he simply wanted to sing and to ensure that his people were ‘taken care of.’

Their mouths moved a lot during that meeting, but very little was actually said.

The person who spoke the loudest to me, never opened his mouth.

That was Chris.

The entire meeting, he sat in the back of the room, listening, clearly taking it all in.

When the talking heads stopped, Mr. Manager-whose-name-I-can’t-remember got up and assured me that we were ‘going to do business.’

Mr. Money promised to follow up, once they had ‘things in place.’

The various hangers-onners gave pounds, head nods or blank stares as the entourage filed out of the room.

Chris politely shook my hand, and joined the large moving mass of Black men making their way out of my Montclair office.

Needless to say, nothing ever became of Don Conner.

Turns out he was already being managed, under a production contract with a distribution agreement in place to deliver six records.

A few years later, who should walk into my office, but Chris.

There was no motley entourage or talking heads.

Just Chris, solo.

This time, he came to ask for my advice on the best way to make it in the music industry.

Since that day he visited my office those many years ago, he remembered our initial meeting.

I impressed him as someone who shot straight, even if I said things that you didn’t want to hear.

We spoke at length about all the things he had done to this date, including working in Whitney Houston’s camp, promoting independent artists and hosting parties, along with waiting tables and going to school.

He told me that he had a passion for music and felt that God had given him the gift of an ‘ear.’

He could hear a hit instantly. We’ll talk about this platinum ear in at length in another post.

Although I felt his ‘ear’ was immaterial at the time, he impressed me as an individual with singular purpose and drive.

It was clear that he had experience in production, management, and promotion.

And had a hustler’s get-it-done-at-all-costs mentality, which was impressive for someone so young.

I told him that he was on the right path, because he was seeking out knowledge and advice from people in the industry.

The only thing I felt he was missing from his repertoire, was an understanding of the business side of the industry.

The music industry is a business, first and foremost.

And without the ability to understand the rights, liabilities and obligations of the respective parties to transactions, you were simply spinning your wheels.

So I gave him an internship.

A few years later, we started a management company.

Signed a few acts (Alkatraz and JUS). Hmm…wonder where are they now?

Got our first publishing deal.

Fast forward to 2010, and Chris is one of the youngest and most successful A&R’s in the music industry.

After a three year stint as Senior A&R pop at Virgin/Capitol Records, he is now Sylvia Rhone‘s most recent executive acquisition at Universal/Motown, charged with giving the label a pop presence.

For the guy who A&R’d Joss Stone, found Katy Perry, Stacie Orrico (and many more) he’s up to the task.

Check out Christian TV.

I’ve skipped over some of the juicy bits of Chris’ rise to fame.

But that’s for another time.

23 Comments

Filed under branding