Bob Ezrin GEMS speech

Video 4 – 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: "The guys who had been doing the heavy lifting and who had signed everybody, the big major labels, were less and less involved at the street level. Because everything that they did was expensive. It was expensive to record. It was expensive to promote. It was expensive to market it, and distribution was heavy, you know, they had to put these big platters all across the whole country, a big country. So these little guys were actually out there doing the A&R, and they were out there because of their passion for music, and their … if they weren't creators, they were the lovers of creativity. They were the true amateurs. It comes from the word aimer in French, it means lovers. That's what they were. They were passionate amateurs.

And those people signed everybody we care about. Everybody we ever thought of, everybody in Motown Records. Take a look at it… I'm actually meeting up with Barry Gordy on Monday, and doing his life story. Which will … that will be standing in the spotlight of Motown, as opposed to standing in the shadows. That's got to be an amazing story.

So all these fantastic entrepreneurial, artistic, wonderful people who were simply just lovers of the form, and had to record. They found all the talent that we care about. At some point, when the talent became recognized by people outside of a four block radius, the smell would rise up to the level of the major labels. They'd go out, they'd approach the little label, or the artist directly, and with a big check, entice them to sell their contract and sign up. Mephistopheles would enter the room [laughter] with a big check, and say, [in an ominous voice] “Come with me, I'll give you riches beyond your wildest dreams.” And people signed.

Some of them were wildly successful. Their lifestyles changed. They became slaves to their new masters, to a certain extent. Some were able to transcend and dictate their own careers, but very few. Very few. Most of them had to succumb to the pressures of the business. And that's where the music business went for awhile. And then, it became more and more competitive, and it was no good to have scratchy [unclear] recordings that were done in back rooms anymore. And people were now, you know, stereo was coming, and FM radio was coming, and people wanted better sounding stuff. More production and so on. And studios started becoming important again. And consoles got very sophisticated, and out board gear started coming along, and people like Larry Fast had to have a whole room full of electronics.

It was not good enough just to have keyboard. And, suddenly it was very expensive to make records again. Suddenly the recording business became heavy lifting one more time. And that lasted through the late 1960's, the 1970's, the 1980's, even into the '90's, and pretty well until now. Where it was a heavy lifting business, it was all about spending a lot of money to make stuff, spending a lot of money to market it, and drive it, and putting it out to make a lot of money. And anything that didn't make a lot of money, was instantly disposed of, because it was too expensive to keep it around.

And people who signed in those days, didn't even have the intermediary step, didn't even have … they didn't even get to go from the passion of the garage and the little town, through Sam Phillips, or someone who would love them, and nurture them, and work with them, and, you know, and just help them to achieve their dreams. They would go straight to a major, because Mephistopheles would show up with a big check and say, “I'm going to make it possible for you to be a star,” and they'd go for it. They'd sign right away, they'd go for the money.

And interesting, like, I've been in so many of these meetings, and I have seen so many of these deals go down, I have never once heard the artist stand up and … usually because they are intimidated, but also because they're also, kind of, just so overwhelmed by the opportunity and the money, that they don't sit there and say, “Can I have creative freedom? Do I get to make what I want, when I want it?” “Well, no, of course not. I mean, we have a business to run here. We need a product, we need a certain kind of product, we need it at a certain time ….” And they compromise. They compromise because they go for the gold. That's been happening for 30 years ... over 30 years. 30 years of going for the gold, and no longer working with passioned amateurs. But simply working with nothing but cold hearted professionals. You hear the term 'bean counters'? Everything that that connotes is true, that there literally are people there who are doing financial projections every quarter now for every one of these companies, trying to figure out what they need to sell, who they need to sell it with, what that person would have to do to sell it, and so on and so on. And the “artist”, quote unquote, has to sing for their supper. Dance to the tune of the company that owns them. And you all know what's happened. It's just amazing to me.

Last night I went to the Tribecca Club. And I went to see a show at the Tribecca Club. You know The School of Rock? I went and saw the real School of Rock play, the real guy, Paul Green with his kids. They did The Wall. And I was in the audience watching this, I … halfway through the first set, the first half, a little girl this tall came on the stage and sang Mother. And she was just this little teeny thing with her hair behind her ears, she was like one of those little troll dolls, so cute, she had a little.... And she sang Mother, and I was just watching this show going … and I just burst into tears.

It was the most beautiful thing that I had seen. They asked me to say something, so I got up in between sets and I spoke to the parents in that room, and talked about how the feeling of watching these children perform that day, was pretty well equal to the feeling I had when we had completed it. It was just pure passion. And it was just purely about the music, and the performance, and the joy of it. None of these kids was standing up there because they were looking for a contract. You know what I mean? None of these kids were up there because they were being forced to be up there. There were some pushy parents in the audience, but for the most part it was just passion. Passion, passion, passion.

So … but there they were, these little kids, like 9 and 10 year olds, and I went downstairs to talk to them. And I said, “Do you like this? Do you guys actually like this?” And they're going, “Yeah, you know, we really like it!” “Well, what do you like about it?” They said, “Wow, it's like, the words, you know, the words are like so … and the music, we love the music, and playing and doing ….” They were really passionate about it. They really loved it. They latched onto it. So, then I was like, “Okay, what's your favorite song, right now, not counting The Wall?”

Silence; they had to think. Then they came up with a couple of things, Lindsay Lohan, you know, little stuff, little girls and stuff, what would you expect. But for the most part, it was a really telling moment. “What's your favorite song, right now?” Silence! Whoa, you're kidding … so I'm not wrong. And I'm not wrong when I put on the radio and I go, “Shit …. “ [laughter and applause]

What are we doing?! What are we doing?

Well, we're chasing a dollar. Now, every single one of the record companies, this 'record business' of ours, this business of records, has become so expensive, and so hit driven, and so much about the bottom line. Because all of these companies have now been bought by companies who are publicly traded, or are themselves publicly traded ….

[cellphone rings] Go ahead and get it, we'll wait. It may be the kids. Is it the kids? Oh, I tell you, I'm just … I'm just teasing you. My wife used to call me in the middle of these, like I'd be doing a lecture, and … I did one in Alberta, at the University of Edmonton, and my wife called me in the middle of thing, so I took it. I go, “Hi, honey! I'm giving a lecture right now. Everybody say 'Hi Jan!'” Everybody went 'Hi Jan!' “Okay, so what's up?” [laughter]

So, anyway, you know where I'm going with all of this stuff. The industry itself is what it says. It's an industry. It's a business. It is about money. It is about selling things. It is not about you. It is not about your art. It is not about making you better people. It is certainly not about helping you to create what you need to create.

It is about taking what it sees of you that might be commercially viable, sucking it out of you as quickly and as efficiently as they can, and putting it out into the market to sell it to as many people as they possibly can. And then, moving on. See ya. Bye. That's the reality.

Continue here with Part 05