Bob Ezrin GEMS speech

Video 3 – transcription

[Note: If you like to improve your english, you can watch the video on the right and read along simultaneously. If you're German, you may want to check out the German translation. Von dieser Rede gibt es eine deutsche Übersetzung.]

Bob Ezrin: "... however you want to call it. Well, then, affording an opportunity to work in a kind of, in a kind of creative paradise. Wrong! It was hell. It was actually hell. You know The Devil's Advocate? That movie, did you see that movie? So, it was actually hell. It looks like everything you've ever wanted in life, but it turns out to be everything that you didn't want. Everything that you shouldn't have had. Those artists who are supported by these patrons, these sponsors, these major labels at that stage in their careers were suddenly ... they became the property of the sponsor, the patron.

And they had to write that which pleased the patron. So we've now gotten out of the point of, now, creating for yourself and creating for creativity's sake; now you're creating for your supper, you're creating for your dollar, you're creating for your support. And of course, living in the court ... as they would in those days ... they developed expensive habits; they get fancy clothes, they have a lot of women, you know, some of them developed drug habits, they'd all have fancy carriages and stuff and all the accoutrements of the, you know, medieval rock star.

And in order to maintain their lifestyle, they found themselves having to kiss ass more and more and more, and do more and more the will of the patron and less and less their own bidding.

So, fast forward. In the early 20th century, recorded music started to happen and changed the face of the art form and created ... spawned ... a new industry that had never existed before. It sort of existed in the form of sheet music, but I'm going to bypass that stage altogether; that's a lecture in and of itself. But in the very beginning, when recording technology was, when recording technology became pervasive, manufacturers of these recording boxes and play back boxes would go out and hire musicians to record stuff to help them sell their boxes. That was the whole point of recorded music, it had no other purpose in life. It's purpose was to sell boxes.

So, some people who were very popular on the live circuit ... great artists, great composers and so on ... would be brought in and given a big check, period. Or a small check. Some people from Tin Pan Alley would get 25 bucks; they'd go in, they'd sell their song and their performance to the manufacturer, the Columbia Recording Company, for example, which made boxes. And those people would own their, their performance, well, let's say, press up enough copies to give away with the box, to help to sell the box.

And then they realized, well, you know, once people have the box we need to give them more stuff because they want to play more stuff. So they started, these manufacturing companies, started to create more recorded content to be able to sell along with their boxes. It all, the impetus behind it was then ... and actually it really is today ... to sell boxes. That's what it was about. It wasn't about disseminating art; it wasn't about anything else. It was about giving them the software necessary to sell the hardware. It was like OEM disks you get with your computer when you buy it, right?

So, it wasn't until 1910 when a guy by the name of John McCormack, who was a great Irish tenor, first of the real international superstars, turned to his recording company and said, “I'm not going to sell my stuff to you, but I'll rent it to you.” It wasn't until then that royalties came into play. Prior to that, there were publishing royalties; that's another story, again, we'll, one day we'll do the whole publishing rap, but, we're just talking about the record business right now.

So, in 1910 John McCormack was able charge $10,000 advance against 1% of all the money that was taken in by the recording company on any performance that he did. And bingo, the modern record industry was born. He set the tone for many great artists who until then would have nothing to do with the box manufacturers, because they felt they were giving away their stuff and they just weren't interested in doing that.

And then all of a sudden everybody signing up to do it. Everybody wanted to record, everybody wanted ... you know, they heard about $10,000; that's amazing! I want $10,000, I want 1% of all these things that they're selling. I hear this is a burgeoning industry, I want to be a part of it. I want to get into this thing. And re-propelled everybody, just like the guy who signed up to the patron and the sponsor, to sign up to one of these companies and get their 10,000 bucks and their 1% and pump up their lifestyle and all the other stuff that they were doing, and suddenly become effectively the employees of a box company.

What do they know about music? They know about boxes! They do know that certain kinds of music make people buy more boxes, so they're interested in that. Do they think it's good? They don't care! “I don't give a shit. Everybody's doing the [unclear] right now. We're putting out [unclear] records. Okay!”

So, these ... all these artists started to sign up and the...[about 10 seconds pause; Bob Ezrin turns to someone in the audience; apparently he hears him saying something to his neighbour which cannot be understood at the recording] ... I can hear everything. That was fantastic. [laughter] Anyway, so, that was the beginning of the modern record industry, and then, you know, you guys know kind of what happens; an explosion of recordings and suddenly people realize, “Wow, there's a lot of boxes out there and everybody wants stuff for their boxes,” so actual dedicated recording companies started to grow.

And they went out and competed with the box manufacturers. And they did the same thing. They signed people up, they gave them an advance, they gave them royalties, and they put out their material. And their job, then, was not selling boxes, but to take advantage of the sale of boxes and just sell platters. They called them platters. Big round disks, that's what they were, they were selling disks.

Again, they didn't know anything about music. They knew about disks. They knew how to move stuff, they knew how to get it in through the channel, they knew how to put it up in stores, they knew what was going and what wasn't going, and that was their impetus to sell ... err, their impetus to sign, rather.

Once they have a sort of handle on where the marketplace was going, they would, they would impose upon their charges to do just that, because that's the business they were in. And again, you know, the artists who signed up to them were enticed by checks and the possibility of broader stardom, and so on, burned basically by greed, and they sold their souls, and they got involved with these big companies, and on they went.

In the very early stages of the record business, making records was heavy lifting, it was big stuff. Not everybody could do it. In fact, almost nobody could do it. Only big companies could afford the lathes and the huge horns and these big, you know, soundproof rooms that they had to build to make records. So, it really was the domain of four or five major companies. Um, and that kind of lasted all the way through the 1930's and 40's, until the second World War.

And during the second World War, this country, Japan, and Germany developed much better technology and much, much smaller more portable stuff for the war effort. And the Germans, in particular, developed a technology called recording tape. In fact, America stole the tape machine from the Germans when they defeated them. The first stereo tape machine was actually, it was actually created in the late 30's, but it was a technology that the Americans stumbled over during the war. And they brought it back here, and some of the miniaturization that the Germans were involved in, and the Japanese, got into the technology. The technology became more widely available and the next thing you know, by the early 1950's it was affordable, and people could actually create their own studios.

It wasn't cheap, but it wasn't prohibitive. So guys like Sam Phillips could mortgage his house and rent a storefront in downtown Memphis and create a recording studio with an investment of 5,000 bucks and invite anybody in town who was talented to come in and track. And the indie label was born. The entrepreneurial, musically driven, street level indie was born.

These people were not about moving boxes. They couldn't even think about that; they were just little guys, they had no clue. They were about finding amazing talent. They were about capturing the performance. They were addicted to recording. And then they were about maybe getting it on the radio locally, or maybe even regionally, so that that artist could go around and play live. And they were about developing that artist to a point where they no longer knew what to do with them.

There was a plethora of these labels that grew up around the 1950's. You can all look them up but, you know, from Chess Records to Stacks to, you know, Sun, and DelRay and, just, tons of these labels that came all around the country in the strangest of places. Little labels in New Orleans, and little labels in Detroit, and Buffalo, and Cleveland and... And that was where the talent was discovered.

Continue here with Part 04