Major Labels

Creative Leadership Absent In Major Labels – Or Why the Record Industry Is Fucked Nowadays

image from A new study suggests that people who express creative ideas are less likely to be identified as having leadership potential. In other words, when staff members in major label boardroom meetings talk about ways to move the record industry in profitable new directions, questions about their suitability for roles of higher leadership arise.

Even though the record industry knows that it needs creative leadership to get it out of the mess that it's in now, the fact is that thinking outside of the box is at odds with the stereotypical view of what leaders should do. Real leaders create goals, diminish uncertainty, and maintain the status quo.

Creative leaders, on the other hand, see the bigger picture, traverse unfamiliar terrain, and challenge the old way of doing things. Researcher Jennifer Mueller and her collaborators have concluded that organizations are biased in favor of selecting leaders who would "preserve the status quo by sticking with feasible but relatively unoriginal solutions." This is, perhaps, why things are they way they are in the record industry nowadays. There's a complete lack of creative leadership.

Of course, major labels have tried to embrace creative leaders in the past and many of them failed spectacularly at it too. So it goes both ways. But, it's more than a little disheartening to think that for the last decade or more, creative leaders that could've potentially reinvented the record industry were likely looked down upon. Inferior. Not capable of handling a leadership role. This is not to say that there aren't creative leaders in the labels either. Clearly, there are many smart and brilliant people who understand the potential of our times and want nothing more than embrace radical and disruptive technologies and new business models. But, when push comes to shove, these leaders are more likely to get a pink slip than a promotion. The record industry needs to familiarize itself with this bias and realize the potential of the creative leaders that lie within their ranks.

Practical, yet tired solutions won't save the major labels – not this time. And maybe creative leaders won't either. But we'll never know if they aren't promoted.

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  1. This is quite a complex question. At different stages of their life-cycle organisations need different leaders. The two basic types are transformational and administrational. You could argue that administrators are never safe unless they are pumping a cash cow. The promotion question is probably a separate one. All managers like people like themselves, which is why UMG doesn’t have exciting managers (Doug Morris) and why I’m baffled Sony is taking him on. He’s about 70 and grew up flogging shellac 78s (quite successfully) but he admitted during his battle with Napster that he knew nothing about the web. Whatever the business theory behind it, that just looks like a disaster waiting to happen. Or to be more precise… happening.

  2. even thought you have a point about the creative vs administrators types. its really not that difficult to see whats happing and what will eventually happen. the majority of people in control of the music business are NOT music people, even though they promote that they are. they have know creative passions or sensibilities. when they say music people, they mean the people who understand the game (hustle). and the hustle is to keep the same clueless people at the top playing musical chairs with high paying jobs, for example mr. doug morris. there is NOTHING, new, fresh or exciting that this gentleman can bring to the table of any real value in the digital age. but yet they are about to again play musical chairs and waste millions of dollars on a salary that can do nothing to help find new talent, come up with creative business models or inspire the YOUNG artist and business entrepreneurs in creating a new way of doing things. NO!! thats not part of the game (hustle). his job to stay getting a check and SUCK the life out of young creative artist and entrepreneurs until there is nothing left, and thats exactly what is happing. THE GAME IS TO BE SOLD, NOT TOLD.

  3. at the end of this day at least, the majors still own the greater majority of the market and all the clever outside execs have failed to make any significant headway.
    The film/TV business is no different.
    The music startups that are doing well (Ish) are capitalizing on the talentless hordes who now see the barrier to entry as being lowered to nothing and want to be rock stars.
    The majors shifted their business models years ago, they are simply shedding off the excess staff, focusing on individual product lines as opposed to some of everything. Like Jobs did with Apple.

  4. Steve Knopper’s book “Appetite for Self Destruction” has a bunch of sections where people came to board meetings at major labels in the 90’s with detailed proposals of exact replicas of the iTunes Music Store, Napster, and Myspace. They all dismissed the ideas because they wouldn’t earn the same profits as CD’s. They clearly lack an ear for creative or good music either now that we’re on the subject.

  5. The creative people (read imaginitive, passionate, and inventive) are the people mid-management and bean counters fire first when downsizing a record or radio corp staff in order to protect the stockholders and executive salaries and status quo. THOSE people should be the first to go. You don’t just need a creative guy at the helm. You need a smart leader who is wise enough to hire and keep people on the front lines (broadcasters, A&R, etc) with passion and ideas that he can listen to and at least try.

  6. this is a bullshit argument. The only reason majors are making any $ at all is because of their deep catalog. People will always buy “Back in Black” and “rubber soul”. That doesn’t mean that EMI and Sony arent rotting from the top down due to lazy incompetent non-creative hacks.

  7. The majors don’t own the majority of the record industry market right now. They are down over 50% since 2000 and a good third of the mainstream market already goes to independents. If you factor in all the DIY acts (big and small), and all the music web sites I would be flabbergasted if you can get the majors above half the record industry today. And next year will be worse for them. And the year after. Publishing is a different story.

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