Sony vs. UMG: Every Picture Tells A Story

Doug or Lucien--who's on top?

Rod Stewart kicked off a two-year run last night at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, the latest addition to the hotel’s pantheon of resident hitmakers that includes Celine Dion, Elton John and Bette Midler. Fortunately Rod the Mod will not be performing any of the Clive Davis saccharin-coated crap from the American Songbook series. “I tried mixing them in, but I’ve decided to instead go with more of my bigger hits, as well as some obscure Rod Stewart stuff,” the singer says. Evidently the standards tend to “slow the show down”, according to Stewart’s manager, Arnold Stiefel. So instead happy concertgoers will be treated with a more caffeinated show featuring hits like Broken Arrow,The Killing of Georgie (Part I and II)Every Picture Tells A StoryMaggie MayReason To Believe,Tonight’s the Night and Infatuation.

This indicates a departure for Stewart in more ways than one. The singer has left his label of the last decade, Sony Music’s RCA/J Records (and former industry heavyweight, octogenarian Clive Davis), and has signed a new recording contract with none other than the competition—Lucien Grainge and Universal Music. Coincidentally Universal owns Mercury Records where Rod had his first solo successes.

The competition between the two labels, actually the two CEO’s, is expected to become very heated. Insiders tell me that the music business is “now all about Lucien and Doug. If Doug offers an act $1 million to sign, Lucien will offer the act $2 million, and vice versa.” However others feel differently. One manager told me that he thinks that “neither one of them would act so irrationally and fiscally irresponsible to the detriment of the company, especially given the current economic climate.” The manager went on to say, “But that doesn’t mean there won’t be competition. You can bet they’ll be at it like a couple of feral cats.” He went on to postulate that Grainge would probably come out on top in the long run because (septuagenarian Sony CEO) “Doug Morris, for better or worse, already has his legacy written. Lucien has not, so he has something to prove.”

"Bye, bye, Clive."

This follows the executive rotation that has gone down since both men took over their new jobs—Barry Weiss to Universal, L.A. Reid and Mel Lewinter (and others, eventually) to Sony. I had written previously that Jive COO Ivan Gavin would most likely be heading to Universal and that may be happening sooner than later. Gavin had agreed to be moved over to Epic Records to work for L.A. Reid. But yesterday Reid decided that he didn’t want Ivan around. According to one label insider, “Ivan is very difficult, to put it mildly. He’s not exactly beloved around the building and L.A. decided that he just didn’t need the aggravation.”

Another thing L.A. Reid didn’t need from Gavin was financial oversight. Always known as a profligate spender both on himself and the label-Reid, refused to fly commercial for years, always demanding private jets. This, of course, is all part of his legendary multi-million dollar personal T&E expense accounts.  According to one label veteran, Reid “has not been successful at his last two record company jobs. Sure, he’s had hits, but at what cost? When he was at LaFace (a joint venture with Arista Records) his spending could be hidden, especially since Clive is quite the spender too. And at Island-Def Jam, Doug didn’t care about finances and the company was so big that they could sweep the losses under the rug. At Island-Def Jam, L.A. went through his entire overall annual budget by June every year and the staff had to scramble to get their holiday sales budgets together. It was a nightmare.”

Of course I would be remiss if while discussing any comings and goings at Sony Music I did not mention the latest Beyoncé album, 4, Columbia’s most important summer release. It has been out in the marketplace for two full months now and has sold a total of 679,000 units. Not bad…if you’re Randy Newman. By comparison, Beyoncé’s first album, Dangerously In Love, sold roughly 3.3 million. Her next album, B’Day, did around 3 million units followed by 5 million copies of I Am…Sasha Fierce. Does anybody see a trend here?



Wayne provides biting, hard edged, entertaining, humorous, sometime satiric but always provocative commentary on current events and trends in the music industry.

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