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Fortune's Fool: Edgar Bronfman, Jr., Warner Music, and an Industry in Crisis Hardcover – July 13, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
A former editor with Rolling Stone, Goodman (The Mansion on the Hill: Dylan, Young, Geffen, Springsteen, and the Collision of Rock and Commerce) probes further into the record business after conducting three years of interviews with Seagram™s Edgar Bronf-man Jr., CEO of Warner Music Group since 2004. The 1960s™ glory days of WMG (the Atlantic, Elektra, and Warner Bros. labels) are only a memory. Bronfman, who lost billion in failed deals, has a great passion for the entertainment industry, yet he faces huge difficulties because WMG has been "blown off its foundation" by "the gale force of cyberspace." What does the future hold if free digital copies are available of any recording? Beginning with Bronfman™s birth, Goodman covers his "dynastic destiny" from rebellious teen and anointed Seagram™s heir to his move into the film industry and Broadway, gaining full access to a trust worth millions on his 25th birthday. Covering the transitions from LP to CD, the rap controversies, musicians, mergers and acquisitions, hustlers and heavyweights, this hefty, well-researched book traces the trajectories of such companies as Apple, MCA, and Vivendi as CD sales plummeted, and the music business became a world of iTunes, MP3s, and online marketing.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Who better than a former Rolling Stone editor to chronicle the ups and downs ups of Warner Music and its larger industry? Thanks to his journalism experience and unparalleled access to executives, author Goodman (The Mansion on the Hill, 1997, and others) sings the songs of excess, ego, and a creative worldview at a crossroads. The characters seem to appear straight from a comic book: Crusty Seagram founder Sam Seagram––and bound-for-success heirs Edgar Sr. and Jr. (Bronfman); the brilliant Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic Records and all other industry (and greed-laden) copycats; demanding artists such as Madonna and Don Henley, who rebel against the labels’ Old World patronizing attitude. In the end, the story becomes one of increasing sobriety, asking if music and artists will survive in an Internet universe of illegal downloading. The author concludes, “the business record companies should be in: creating products and online services that add value to recordings and excite people rather than writing off a generation that never had anything worth buying.” --Barbara Jacobs
Top customer reviews
One thing that remains absolutely stunning is the "musical chairs" nature of label acquisitions and mergers. The corporate moves and record exec crossover departures and returns come off as a "whim of the week" operations philosophy. The first part of the week one rival is slitting the other's throat and by Friday both are back on the same team. Corporate cross pollination is commonplace, but reading Goodman's detailed documentation of those moves seem akin to rampant wife swapping.
The sums of money littering the various deals, buy-outs and severance bundles can make one queasy. At the very least it's an irresponsible way to run a business. Again, the "Music Business" monster in the closet is real.
One small quibble is the lack of ink dedicated to drug use among record executives and how those synthetic crutches may have fueled outlandish excesses. I assume that is the topic of Goodman's next book.
Just remember...all we need are more hits!
I was interested that one of Lyor Cohen's label heads had to scout strip clubs to understand what was happening in the music scene - says something about where society is going. Incredible amounts of money exchanging hands for trivial and thoughtless strategies. Goodman appropriately focuses on the central role of Ahmet Ertegun as the last of the old school of record and label makers.
As to Bronfman - he comes across as very wealthy with any ascribed successes coming from throwing enough against the wall that something sticks. $50 million bonuses and losing $130 million in 3 months trying something appear to be par for Bronfman's course. Wonder how he missed the Brooklyn Bridge.
As the other reviewer noted, the cast of characters lack the charm and idiosyncrasies of the record men of the 50s and 60s - Sid Nathan, Hy Weiss, Jerry Wexler, Berry Gordy etc. and the 80s not to ignore Malcolm McLaren. Not a business for the pure of heart.
In "Fortune's Fool," Fred Goodman details the Bronfman family's rise to power and fortune through the Seagram liquor brand. Goodman then takes us through Edgar Bronfman Jr.'s life as a young executive who desperately wants to shed his family's business and enter the entertainment industry. Edgar becomes the CEO of Universal Music Group, and eventually becomes the CEO of Warner Music Group. However, during Edgar's ventures, the music industry is turned on its heals by the digital revolution. Edgar now commands a strong battleship in a lake that is rapidly evaporating.
The ultimate problem that the recording industry has been facing over the last decade or so is how to get consumers to pay for what they can get for free. Fortune's Fool details the tactics that the industry has used to fight and then to find itself in the new environment that the internet has created.
Goodman does well to leave his own opinions and insight out of the story for the most part, and simply offer an objective view of what has happened to the industry. Goodman's insights are revealed, however, in the book's epilogue. Like most music fans, it is clear that Goodman believes that the record companies should receive some, if not most, of the blame for the situation that they have found themselves in. However, he also sees their continued existence as important. He paints a bleak future for music if consumers continue to be unwilling to pay for it and gives reasoning as to why he feels that the philosophy that music should be free is flawed. Goodman also offers his own idea of a solution (which is not unlike Spotify).
Overall, Fortune's Fool is a very informative book that is also entertaining and easy to read. Anyone who is interested or concerned about the music industry, or anyone who enjoys reading business books for that matter, should give this book a read.
Most recent customer reviews
The book is broken down into roughly 12 chapters, plus an introduction and an epilogue.Read more