Sex & Drugs & Rock’n’Roll & Negotiation admin March 25, 2012

Sex & Drugs & Rock’n’Roll & Negotiation


The music business is all about making the deal.

Let’s say you’re a band wanting to play a gig. Should be simple, eh? Well, kind of.

Simple if talks between you, your manager, your agent, the promoter, the venue, the record company, the publishers, the television channel, the production company, the distributor, the merchandising people, the digital guys etc etc etc would be considered simple. I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few people. Oh, and if there are two support bands, multiply all of the above by 3.

How on earth do you make that deal happen?


The biggest, baddest dealmaker on the planet?

I’ve just finished reading a great book called “Howling at the Moon”, an autobiography of Walter Yetnikoff, the legendary head of CBS records in the 70’s and 80’s. He could make that deal happen.

And snort a kilometre of coke whilst doing so. He was the archetype of the excesses of the music business in its heyday. Sign Michael Jackson one day, wild orgy the next. Well, probably the same day actually. He brokered Sony’s $3bn purchase of Columbia Pictures from the rehab farm, whilst sharing his room with four other addicts.

I have to admit, part of me is not a little jealous! This was sex & drugs & rock’n’roll & making millions – can’t all be bad!

Of course, it all goes horribly wrong. He readily admits he created a monster. The excesses go too far and he is elbowed out by Sony. The career spirals rapidly downwards and in the end… he finds god. Now, he lives his life very differently, running rehab meetings in the Bowery for addicts trying to get off the street.


Understand power and understand relationship

But for twenty five years, he was the dealmaker supreme.

How comes? What was his secret?

He understood power and he understood relationship.

Let’s go back to that complex web of discussions we mentioned earlier for you to put on your gig. There is one key person in that list who is the lynch-pin – get them on board, and everyone else will follow. Sometimes it is the agent, sometimes the record company, sometimes it’s the artist’s granny’s dog.

Yetnikoff was the master at identifying who that lynch-pin was and persuading them. He understood the dynamics of the deal, and therefore where the best place to apply pressure and, crucially, what that pressure might be. A sweetener for the agent, a party for the record company, a bone for the artist’s granny’s dog.

But he understood relationship and charm, too. As just one example, he nurtured his relationship with Michael Jackson to the point of becoming  a father figure (poor Michael, now much is explained!).  This at the time of “Off the Wall”, “Thriller” and “Bad”.

Interestingly, he was replaced at CBS by Tommy Mottola, who’s girlfriend just happened to be a new young signing called Mariah Carey (went on to sell 200million records, I believe). Someone else, it seemed, understood power and relationship.


So, want that gig to go ahead? Work out who you need to get on board and what will persuade them. And nurture those relationships. Easy.

See you at the bar afterwards.