Another wild night in the record biz

Thursday 5 April 2001

Listen to me when I tell you that the record business is no fun. It is very cutthroat. I don't think movie execs would last a day in it. (Well, I suppose we could ask Michael Fuchs that question. The successful head of HBO had his career foreshortened when he became the head of Warner Music years ago.)
So I do feel bad for Sony Music's Tommy Mottola. Why? Mariah Carey is gone, but not forgotten. On her Web site,, the scantily clad singer has left a voice message for fans. It's only 11 seconds long, but basically Mariah sings, "I'm freeeeeeeeee." Followed by a laugh and a shriek. That says it all, no?
What could be worse? Tomorrow night the urbane rapper Wyclef Jean is performing at the 40th birthday party of Arista Records' executive vice president Jerry Blair. You may recall that some months ago, Blair, who'd been head of promotion at Sony for 11 years, left the company to join L.A. Reid at Arista. This so infuriated Mottola when he found out about the negotiations that he had Blair removed from the Sony building on Madison Avenue by security guards.
A few months later, Wyclef was told he could stuff his label deal with Sony. Wyclef's manager David Sonnenberg, as I reported here, immediately called Clive Davis at J Records and voilá; - Clef Records is now with Davis. J and Arista are both owned by BMG Music, which is trying to merge with EMI Music - the parent company of Virgin Records, which just signed Sony's biggest-selling artist, Mariah Carey.
Got that so far? There's more. About 18 months ago, Sony fired Michael Mauldin, the head of black music, who also happens to be the father of rapper Jermaine Dupri. For quite a while, Mauldin had his eye on a teenager with a lot of talent who was signed to Columbia Records. Her name: Alicia Keys. When Alicia was eventually dropped by Columbia, she was picked up by Arista.
Last year, when Davis left Arista, he took Keys with him. Mauldin, meantime, is still her manager. Tonight, Keys performs the second of her two showcases at the Bottom Line in New York. Her debut album comes out in June. From all signs so far, it looks like she will be a gigantic new star. It's not clear whether Mottola realizes that Mauldin, whom they fired, is now managing Keys, whom they dropped.
And Wyclef? Without Blair to help him, his second solo album for Columbia was a bust - even though it should have been a bestseller and a Grammy nominee. Like its predecessor, The Carnival, the The Ecleftic is an ambitious, funny, musically complex piece of work. Now that Wyclef has moved his label away from Sony, it's only a matter of time before he probably tries to exit as a solo act.
Of course, his value to Sony remains because of one dangling carrot - the possibility that he will somehow make another Fugees record with Lauryn Hill. But Hill seems adamantly opposed to that idea. As Wyclef raps on Ecleftic - "Fugee this, Fugee that, Where Fugee at?" And to think that Barbra Streisand and James Brolin want to do a TV series about all this. Not even The Sopranos is this violent.
As for Sony, there's always that Train album. Love that Train album. People ask me, "Why do you pick on Sony Music all the time?" I'll tell you why. At least there are people to talk about. At Sony's former rival, Warner Bros. Records, the game is over. Eric Clapton's newest album, Reptile, was on and off the charts in record time. No one's run that shop for a long time, and it shows. At least Sony's out there developing and releasing some new artists.

(Fox 411)

Many thanks to Will from MCWNO.

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