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Do you have to be an asshole to make it in the music industry? Pt.1 14 Sep 2016

If you ask the internet, pages like reddit will tell mostly you that Kanye West is the biggest asshole in the music industry; but Kanye is an artist and performer, his job is not just to have all eyes and ears on him, and this post is not about that at all.

My experience in the music industry has showed me that a portion of this ‘business’ is just a bunch of people trying to screw everyone else over while they try and avoid getting screwed over themselves.

So have those who’ve come out on top done so by not giving a fuck about who they bring down around them and their dollar sign eyes? Or is it actually possible to still care about the music and the people in the industry and still cast a widespread shadow on the music industry?

It was Steve Miller’s comments earlier in the year that got me thinking. Upon his induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Miller called everyone involved “kind of a dick and an asshole” before taking aim at the music industry as a whole. Talking to Rolling Stone about his disdain for making records now, Miller summed it up describing someone from his record label. “He's made a billion dollars off my work over the last 50 years and the motherfucker just came over and introduced himself tonight. That cheery little thing. You know he won't do any contract work, he won't clean anything up, he won't get anything done.” I’m not sure if Miller’s estimation of “a billion dollars” is correct given the current state of the industry, but from that statement alone his assessment of the guy as an asshole feels pretty correct.

I thought back to a couple of times I had really wondered before if caring more about money than artists is what really makes up the music industry. At Face the Music 2015, a Melbourne based industry conference, I watched a panel where The Rubens’ 2015 album ‘Hoops’ was broken down to unpack what made it a hit. One thing that stood out to me was how little Ivy League records’ Chris Maund actually seemed to give a shit. After having to ask the other members of the panel how many singles the band had released from the album under his label, he also made a statement regarding what attracted the label to The Rubens initially was the fact that they already had a booking agent and a Triple J high rotation single. It all left me pretty convinced this guy cared way more about how much money The Rubens had made him than anything else about the band. It seemed like others had gained the same perception as I had, a further question from the audience prodded whether he actually liked The Ruben’s songs before signing them…

dollar sign eyes

Throughout much of Stuart Coupe’s book Gudinski: The Godfather of Australian Rock ’n’ Roll, Mushroom empire legend Michael Gudinski is painted as a godfather type figure who lived by his own rules. At some stages of reading, it begs the questions if Gudinski is some soulless mogul who will chew bands up and spit them out if he needs to for the sake of his reputation as an influential figure, to get one up over those who crossed him or to prove that he is right.

While this has all the markings of an asshole, I’ve heard the guy speak and where that notion falls short is the part where he cares a lot about his artists. A stark contrast to the attitude of Ivy League’s Maund, Gudinski seems to take every opportunity to big up his artists and talk up their back catalogue – I do the same, who wouldn’t if they actually care about the artists. In fact, Gudinski has stuck by a lot of his artists that aren’t pumping out hits or acclaimed albums. Mark Seymour is one example, in the early parts of this decade Gudinski was a champion for Seymour’s solo work despite it’s failure to chart.

So now here we are back where we started.

Do you have to be an asshole to make it in the music industry or am I an asshole and do some people just make it?