The Magic Is the Music

I was in New York last week on business and had the occasion to dine at my favorite Italian restaurant in the Village – Il Mulino.

Claudio, the maître d' right out of Central Casting for little Italian restaurants, was saying how Glenn Frey was in the night before the Eagles concerts at Madison Square Garden.

Yes, the Eagles are on another farewell tour – of sorts – built around their album Long Road Out of Eden sold online and through Wal-Mart. It is a critically acclaimed assortment of meaningful songs about the world as the Eagles see it and love. Millions of CDs have been sold – quite a feat in the era of troubled record labels and music downloading.

Of course, the Eagles faithful have no reason not to buy a CD – for them, nothing changes including the Eagles unique sound and treatment of their tunes. The New York Times ran a piece to coincide with their MSG concerts talking about the Eagles, their work, their troubles getting along and patching up past differences.

Why can’t there be more Eagles for the record labels? They sell CDs. That’s the holy grail for the labels, isn’t it?

High School Musical and Hannah Montana also sell CDs – to another generation – on the other end of the demographic spectrum. Disney sells millions of CDs – out distancing the Kanye’s of the music world and other impressive acts.

Maybe there is nothing wrong with the traditional record business.

Maybe not.

I also took in the outstanding revival of South Pacific at Lincoln Center. This show is the real deal, but while I attended in a suit and tie (I chatted with one of the kind gentleman of radio, Ralph Guild, nattily dressed), the unthinkable has, of course, made its way to Broadway.


Young people in shorts, being threatened by ushers to turn off their cell phones (“you’ve got two seconds to turn it off”). Most people dressed for this Broadway show like schleppers. But, then again, times have changed.

The gal selling programs and CDs of the remade classic couldn’t get arrested hawking the new version. The demos were too young – and too old.

New York is, of course, the ultimate live venue with jazz and live performance clubs almost everywhere people gather. In a city obsessed with the opening of the “Sex and the City” movie at Radio City Music Hall while I was in town (lucky me), there was more live music entertaining the masses by far.

As my old friend, the late program director Julian Breen used to say on his “Magic 103” WMGK in Philadelphia, the magic is the music.

And that’s it.

The labels are too concerned with CDs – not nearly as interested in selling what they used to call “singles” or as they are known today – downloads. Their obsession with driving album sales is terminal. Even when they admit that they can’t sell albums as they have in the past, they try damn hard to do so anyway.

Too obsessed with the medium and not the music.

The Eagles are making music and selling it – their fans are buyng it. They do it their way. It works.

Disney doesn’t sit down and say, “we’ve got to come up with a pre-teen act that sells CDs for us”.

They develop a brand and no one markets entertainment better than Disney in my opinion. They sell CDs which is great, but also fuel a cable channel, sell High School Musical merch and on and on.

So it strikes me that the record business is caught up in the “what comes first – the chicken or the egg” question and they choose the wrong answer almost every time.


The pressures of being a record label as a public company.

Which comes first – the music or the medium?

The right answer is the music.

The music will sell itself and consumers will buy and support it as they like to consume it.

Restructuring the labels to concentrate on the music, the artists, the live venues, the branding, the merch – now that’s the magic that the labels have long ago lost.

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