22.04.2015So Zack, who are you?
I cover the business side of the music industry at Forbes Magazine, as well as media and entertainment. Going forward itís going to be the entire entertainment-industry. Thatís what weíre working towards.
When I was a kid I wanted to be a major-league baseballplayer, and then I wanted to be a major-league baseball manager. But both jobs turned out to be harder to get than wanting to be a journalist these days.
But Iíve always loved writing. And it was actually the writing, that came first. I wrote all throughout Yale (college) and developed a passion for hip hop. One thing led to another, I did a summer-internship with Forbes, and I just learned so much better by doing.
One day an editor came to my office and asked ďHey, do you wanna help put together a list of the top earning rappers of all time?Ē and I said yeah. Apparently I was the only person under 30 - and so I was perfectly suited for that kind of assignment.
So we did this list ďThe first hip hop cash links list in 2007Ē, which got a page in the magazine a long with a story about 2Pac Shakur - and how he was making more money dead, than all of the Top 5 rappers alive at that point in time. (Jay-Z, Diddy, 50 Cent, Dr. Dre and Timbaland).
The story was out - and I didnít pay much attention to it. One day, on assignment in New Mexico, I was driving, and on the radio this verse ďI Get Money MoneyĒ comes on - and the name of the single was ďThe Forbes 123 RemixĒ
and itís all about the above mentioned rappers. So the article suddenly became newsworthy, hip hop had recognized Forbes, and from that point on - I became the editor. So it seems as if hip hop was your starting point with Forbes. How come there was a necessity to focus on that genre - rather than the music industry in whole?
Well periodically, Forbes did lists about the top earning musicians in all genres, and had done a celebrity-issue for about 10-15 years.
The story about the rappers was just a starting point in the ďTop EarningĒ section. Now itís broadened itself to top-earning American idols, country-stars, celebrities and so forth.
Forbes has been taken pop very seriously for a long time - and hip hop has been taken more seriously. Hip hop has become a serious business. Weíre (Forbes) probably one of the first business-publications to really engage in the hip-hop industry, and as a result of that, weíve been getting a lot of good feedback. Forbes Magazine is known to be a hardcore business magazine. And ever since you were one the pioneers to introduce music to the magazine, how has the relationship between such a culturally interesting world affected Forbes?
I think early on, we (Forbes) didnít cover hip hop. People from the industry were like - what the hell is Forbes doing covering hip hop? But after a couple of years - it kind of came together. One cannot survive without the other - and that goes for Forbes vs. Hip Hop as well. So whatís a normal day like for you?
HmmÖ I get up, check the trades, read whatís trending on Twitter, if thereís breaking news - I try to put together an article fast, file thru emails, have a lunch interview with someone, do photoshoots with the interview target and so forth.
It really depends on where I am - since I split my time between LA and New York. When Iím in LA I typically do more interviews than when Iím in NY. In New York - I tend to spend more time at the Forbes office than in LA - which I guess is typically for Los Angeles. Have you ever been starstruck?
Iím a little bit immune to it. When I was 6 years old, I was in a movie with Susan Sarandon - who played my mother. And 15 years later - I realized how big of a star she is. I just consider her my fake-film-mother. So I guess Iíve grown up with stardom - and therefore Iím immune to it. Also - when iím out with celebrities doing interviews, it happens pretty often, that fans comes up to them - and almost shit their pants, because Jon Bon Jovi is in front of them. And in a way - itís dehumanizing to watch, and I guess even more so to be in. And to watch that kind of celebrity and fan interaction - it feels as if the fan is looking at a product rather than a human-being. So I focus on the human being in front of me. Zack, how do you see the European music-industry vs. the American? Differences and such.
Well, you guys have it figured out really. Looking at Scandinavia and the penetration of streaming and how Spotify was able to get such incredible marketshare, I think if we (USA) could do that our situation would be a lot more profitable; record labels, streaming services etc. But I think part of the reason why thereís so many issues in the American market is that adoption hasnít gone up yet. I think Europe - and in particular Scandinavia - is in a much better position in regards to streaming!
I know the Scandinavian Spotify model is a business case in the US, because itís been done so right. Because of your knowledge - in regards to hip hop - where would you say the European genre is going?
Itís hard for me to tell, because, honestly iím mostly focused on the American industry - and then my experience with European music is ďwhat makes its way across the pond?Ē. But pop-soul has become quite popular, I can tell. Sam Smith, Adele, Hozier. Why do you think those guys make it big in the US?
Thatís a really
interesting question. It might have something to do with timing. Itís not necessarily a hot genre. Labels arenít going out saying ďWhere can we find the next hot pop-soul act?Ē But when thereís an undeniable success that comes from Europe / UK - like Hoziers ďTake me To ChurchĒ - it just hits homerun, because it is an undeniable hit. I guess itís that easy. Itís really interesting for me to watch that transition. Cause a lot of brit-pop is making it big in the US. Which is no news - look at the history from since the Beatles. However - thereís so much other great music and many other extremely talented artists from other countries in Europe - that do not make it in the US. Why do you think that is?
Part of it is just that thereís not really a huge gap in between Great Britain and the US - culturally we match. Thereís not much lost in translation.
Whereas in non-english countries, things can get lost in translation. And itís not, at first sight, relateable to American culture. But then sometimes stuff breaks thru.
Itís interesting that music or just in general Ďstuffí thatís really popular in Europe - sometimes it takes a while for it to break thru in the US. Yeah - look at H&MÖ.
Yeah, thats so right. Itís not music - but itís a perfect parallel though.
Every time iím in Europe I really enjoy listening to the radio just to tap into whatís on. And inevitably itís this mix of stuff thatís already big in the US and stuff that iíve never heard of before.
A couple of years back I was in Ireland. And it was that summer when "Get Lucky" (Pharrell and Daft Punk) was hip. It was on every other 30 minutes. Equally played as much - that I - at that point had never heard of - was a single from Bastille. And I remember thinking, this is gonna crossover and be a huge hit. And sure enough - it happened. Zack, whatís your favorite song of the moment?
Itís hard, cause man, do I listen to a lot of different great music. But if I were to chose one, right now it would be ďJackie and WilsonĒ from Hozier. Everyone says - I love ďTake me To ChurchĒ - but Ďmyí song has a great hook, and a rocky-boozey undertone.Itís funny, the first time I heard Take me to Church, I found it so annoying - and then it kept on getting airtime, so I just adjusted to it, and now Iíve grown accustomed to it. And also - itís everywhere in Denmark. Plus - what the hell is the song about?
Oh - itís about sex. Itís a whole metaphor. Most certainly about sex. Have you asked Hozier about the meaning?
Iíve never met him, but Iíll bet itís about sex, and you can quote me on that!It thought it was about religion.. There was a Danish radio host that introduced the song - when it came out last year, and she goes ďTake me to Church, itís about practicing religionĒ
Yeah no. I wouldnít agree on that. I know heís very pro-gay-rights and very outspoken on that. I think heís trying to twist the whole religion thing.
And see - speaking of getting lost in translation, this is a perfect example. Hereís a song from Ireland that has made it huge in the US. Itís point in being alternate and using ďDeathless DeathĒ (Shakespeare) just works in the US - because we do not need the translation. Being from a record-label, weíre trying to reinvent ourselves along with everyone else in the industry, because of what the internet offers nowadays. Do you think itís a larger struggle than we know - or do you view it as a force?
Itís certainly not a bad thing, that music is more available than it has ever been - in the history of music. More music, more available, to more people. The question is, how do you make it more sustainable for the people who put it out? And I think that the tools are there to make it profitable, and I think the record labels in general need to imagine what theyíre going to be - and be strict with that. Traditionally a record label has been, in a weird way, a venture-capitalist; it finds new up-and-coming artists, tries to invest in them and profits off of their success. Sometimes even in a predatory way. And itís like that with venture-capitalists to. But now weíre seeing record labels investing in smaller startups, Soundcloud, Spotify and so forth. So theyíre holding a stake in this new distribution-system.
For indie-labels, like yourselves, the question is that; how do you get in on that and keep your integrity? The bigger labels have so much leverage.
At the end of the day, the label is the distributor. The label puts out the product. So a thought comes to mind; what would happen if we were to do the netflix-model. So we skip the label and sign artists directly.
So the labels are very entrenched. But because the larger labels own stakes in the streaming companies, Iím sure labels will always exist - but yeah, you guys do need to reinvent yourselves.
And the vinyl sales increases every year - so the regular distribution is still ongoing. Thereís nothing that you canít get on CD that you can get digitally. However - on vinyl - there is. And itís the pure raw sound. Couldnít agree more. Fake Diamond Records just tried out an interesting partnership with a Danish chainstore. And theyíre going to sell 5000 vinyls of one our artists newest albums. For us - and most certainly for the artist, it was a unique chance to showcase the album in its full length - and thatís what happens on a vinyl. You get the full story there. Versus digitally - you get a snippet of a interesting story.
Oh - thatís a great idea. Weíve seen artists sign up with Walmart - and the exposure is just great - and extremely beneficial for the artist - as well as gaining a new fan base. So thatís a great idea. Good thinking. Thank you, Zack. It's been a pleasure having coffee.