THE LONG GOODBYE
The Doug Morris Farewell Tour has been the longest running show in the music business. It’s taken about 2 years for Vivendi to pry him away, and even though his successor, Lucien Grainge, took over day-to-day operations several months ago, Morris is still hanging on to his chairman title until the end of the year.
Rumors have been circulating that Morris, instead of going quietly into the night, will be going to take the top job at Sony to succeed Rolf What’s-His-Name. As the rumors go, Sir Howard Stringer is being pressured by the Japanese not to promote his brother Rob into the top spot. Forgetting the nepotism factor, which hasn’t seemed to affect Sir Howard in the past, brother Rob hasn’t exactly been setting the world on fire with the Columbia/Epic Records Group.
Now most observers scoff at the idea of Doug Morris going to Sony and dismiss it as ridiculous. Which is why it could actually happen.
About six months ago the top execs were given marching orders to let go of every exec making $500,000 or more a year. The top guys, of course, were exempt. So why not bring in Morris? And along with him would come “Doug’s guys”, the Jimmy Iovine’s, LA Reid’s, (who is know to cost UMG $5.5 million in salary and expenses per year) and Sylvia Rhone’s of the world. And they’re not exactly financial bargains.
Sony today is saddled with extremely highly paid, low return execs. Rick Rubin has cost the company in excess of $50 million and seems to be more interested in producing acts for Warner than for Sony. And there’s Clive, of course. Clive makes millions and costs the company millions more in upkeep (he’s very high maintenance) and insists on spending lavishly to make his project at least look like successes. Many former Clive employees swear that he never made money because he always spent too much on marketing. Would a Doug Morris, or anyone else for that matter, have the nerve to finally tell Clive to hit the road as he has just signed a multi-million dollar two-year extension?
What I don’t understand is why the very top guys at record labels are exempt from the salary axe. What have these guys done to deserve to be paid well into the millions and live like royalty in a business that is melting faster than a popsicle on a radiator? I have no problem with people making as much money as they can, but record label heads are employees, not entrepreneurs. The Ahmet Erteguns, Jerry Moss’s, Chris Blackwell’s, Clive Calder’s, Chris Wright’s and Terry Ellis’s of the world were the real entrepreneurs who built labels from the ground up and sold when the market peaked.
Maybe it’s time that labels pay top execs based on a new concept: performance (although that may not be easy at UMG since Doug supposedly gave his “guys” new 5-year contracts in anticipation of a Grainge housecleaning). How about mid-6 figure annual salary with a bonus tied to earnings as opposed to the typical 8-figure multi-year employment contract? If everyone else who works at a label has to suffer, why not the top guys too? How come things have to change for everyone except for a very few? In many if not all cases their expense accounts equal or surpass their annual salary. In this day and age does Sylvia Rhone really need a chauffeur-driven Mercedes? CORRECTION: “Doug Morris had instituted certain executive perk cutbacks. Sylvia Rhone’s chauffer-driven car was downgraded from a Bentley to a high-end Mercedes. My apologies for the oversight”
So will Doug Morris and his multi-million dollar team end up at Sony? That would be really stupid. And Sony would never do anything stupid. Would they?