Adele's manager: 'Streaming's the future, whether people like it or not'

06 Nov Adele's manager: 'Streaming's the future, whether people like it or not'

The Guardian
By Stuart Dredge, Thursday 6 November 2014 11.05 EST

But Jonathan Dickens wants Spotify to change policy of not allowing some albums to be restricted to paying subscribers only


Adele’s manager has backed streaming services like Spotify as the future of music, but warned the company that it may need to change its policy of insisting all albums be made available on both its free and premium tiers.

“Personally, I think streaming’s the future, whether people like it or not, but I don’t believe one size necessarily fits all with streaming,” said Jonathan Dickens, speaking at the Web Summit conference in Dublin this afternoon.

He was responding to a question about Taylor Swift’s back catalogue being removed from Spotify earlier in the week.

“Spotify have always been pictured as the bad guys in this, but the biggest music streamer out there is YouTube, without a doubt,” he said, pointing out that when artists or labels remove music from Spotify, it is often still easy to find it on YouTube.

“If I make a search now for Taylor Swift on YouTube, give me 30 seconds and I can have the whole Taylor Swift album there streamed. Some of it’s ad-supported, so there is revenue, and some of it’s not,” he said.

“On the one hand, labels are trumpeting YouTube as a marketing tool: 10 million views on YouTube and it’s a marketing stroke of genius. But on the other hand they’re looking at 10 million streams on Spotify and saying that’s x amount of lost sales.”

He elaborated on his theory that one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to streaming, suggesting that Spotify could “make it easier for themselves” by relenting in its policy of having albums available to all its users, rather than allowing some to be restricted to its paying customers.

“The premium tier to me are real active record buyers, paying their $9.99 or €9.99 or £9.99 a month. My feeling would be to get around the situation with someone like Taylor Swift – but Spotify won’t do it – is a window between making something available on the premium service, earlier than it’s made available on the free service.”

Dickens has first-hand experience of this policy, with reports in 2012 that Spotify refused to allow Adele’s last album 21 to be made available in this way. The album was added to the service later that year.

Even so, he was positive about the prospects for streaming overall, and Spotify in particular. “It’s all about scale. Spotify will work if they get enough payers.”

Dickens, who also manages artists and producers including London Grammar, Jamie T, Rick Rubin and Paul Epworth, was speaking as part of a panel of managers alongside Jeff Jampol, who manages The Doors and The Ramones, along with the estates of other artists.

Jampol talked about the changing nature of the music industry, suggesting that record labels are no longer at the centre of an artist’s business.

“Here’s the way an income pie should look for a successful or current artist: 60-65% of their income is going to come from tickets, 15-25% from tour merch, 10-15% from publishing, 2-4% from ancillary and 2-4% from record sales,” said Jampol.

Dickens agreed that touring is becoming hugely important to most artists. “Adele is the exception not the rule. The record 21 came out in 2011, we’ve sold 30 million copies of that album,” he said. “We haven’t toured that much, for many different reasons. But I think touring has become a major focus point for 99.9% of current artists’ careers.”

Jampol talked about the importance for managers of being able to handle many different business areas, from books and merchandise to publishing income and even museum partnerships – he’s worked on several for his artists.

“The record business is a key but small part of it. A book publisher knows nothing about the record business, who knows nothing about the apparel business, who knows nothing about museums, who knows nothing about publishing,” he said.

“We’re in the middle. We’re the quarterback, and the artist is the CEO… We have to get all these players to work together.”

Dickens talked about the importance of turning down opportunities, rather than trying to do everything. “The one thing the internet has done: content is everywhere…. and part of the hunger for content is we’ve reached saturation point. and when you reach saturation point it cheapens it. And one of the things I do is say no,” he said.

“That might be ‘no, I don’t want to do an Adele perfume, we’re not doing a nail polish’. Or ‘that ticket price is too expensive’. Whatever it is, the power of saying no, and being the gatekeeper to these opportunities is key.”

He said that major labels nowadays “live under a culture of fear… people live with these two-three year deals, whatever they’ve got, they’ve got kids at school, and they have to produce hits. And if they have a hit – which are few and far between – there’s the opportunity to kill: to rinse every last bit of blood out of a record. And I think it’s dangerous.”

Jampol agreed: “Labels are all about getting their profit and loss for the third or fourth quarter. We’re about the long-term vision. We plan in decades!” he said.

“Having an artist legacy is kinda like walking up a down escalator. If you’re standing still, you’re not standing still, you’re moving backwards. You have to find that sweet spot that’s not doing nothing and not doing too much. And over-saturation is a big problem.”

Meanwhile, Dickens said that managers are getting to grips with the biggest change in the music industry, which is its transition from sales to streaming.

“The business was always about buying stuff. When it was cassettes and vinyl, then it became about CD, then the disasters like DCC [digital compact cassette] and mini-disc,” he said.

“Streaming will be ubiquitous in five years. We are going now into a streaming model. Whether you want to be in it or not, within five years it will be everywhere. That something does not become about buying any more. It becomes about consumption and it becomes about access… and that hasn’t been done before.”