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LE Newsletter - February 24, 2005

  Interview with Ivan Berry

I sat down with the very busy Ivan Berry last week to discuss his transition from BMG/Sony to Ole, a publishing company.  As well, we discussed the music industry as a whole and his candid advice to Canadian urban artists. 

Youíve been gone from BMG now for a bit, whatís your new company about and what are your objectives within that new company.

Thereís two new companies.  The first company is called Ole and the managing partners are Robert Ott, who was the president of BMG Publishing and Tim Laing who comes from the financial world.  And Iím the senior partner, international.  That company is simply a publishing company is proud to say we are doing what other publishers are not doing.  We are a highly financed publishing company.  We consider ourselves majorly indie because we are a major as far as acquisition budgets are concerned and weíre indie because weíre fast and flexible and weíre not going to make the mistakes the major publishers are making.

Our job is to acquire whether by purchase, co-publishing or administration deals, acquire catalogues globally of any language, any genre of music and then re-exploit them back into all mediums of exploitation.  The CD is one and that seems to be the focus of everybody elseís attention but for us, the CD is just one of the mediums.  Weíre heavily into film and TV, ring tones, ring backs, video games and all the other mediums that houses music.  Weíre not going to be stuck looking for the next big hit of the next big artist.  That just happens to be one of the mediums where weíre going to be exploiting music but by far, not the only medium.  So, thatís what Ole does. 

Then I also have my own individual company called IB Entertainment Ė thatís a management company and I currently manage Keshia Chante Ė co-manage her with her Mom, Tess.  I also manage Rupert Gayle, my long time partner, songwriter, etc.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of this transition for you?

You know, BMG has been a fantastic company for me.  Lisa Zbitnew and her team have been great and it was a fantastic five years, heading up A&R and international over at BMG.  For me, BMG is by far the most independent of the majors.  Meaning I was really allowed to be entrepreneurial and to be again fast and flexible and we kind of moved with the time and we adhered to shifting paradigms.  We were kind of cool and we made things happen.  If something hot is out, we could jump on it really fast.  It was good in that way.  However, it was still a major.  So, I would say for me in this new company, Ole, it is a whole different world and a whole different business, although itís still in music and entertainment.  Itís a business that has always intrigued me.  The big advantage to it is I think, the music business in general is at its all time high.  People are enjoying more music.  People are acquiring more music, etc. but I think the CD business is at its all time low.  Thatís why people have to really focus and understand when people are saying the music business is in disarray.  Itís not.  The CD business is.  Thereís less people that are buying CDs and its becoming a little bit more stabilized now but it definitely decreased in CD sales.  This is the nature of the record business versus the publishing business.  When a new medium or new technology is born, it becomes really bad for the record business and for the publishing business, it becomes a really good thing.  Because itís one more avenue to exploit the song.  So, Iím not in the CD and artist business at Ole, Iím in the song exploitation business.  So, the advantage is that we have a hell of a lot more avenues to exploits songs, no matter how, when and where technology increases and mediums become more flexible, etc., they all need to acquire intellectual property.  And weíre in the business of owning intellectual property as opposed to owning masters. 

Do you think that the industry will eventually all go online as far as selling product online first.  Prince gave away CDs and incorporated the price in his tickets.  Do you feel like this is working?  Do you feel that thereís new types of avenues that people will grasp on to?

I donít think the CD or whatever new format that may replace the CD, I donít think a hard copy of a medium will ever really vanish.  Because itís very similar to when all these magazines closed down their shops and stopped printing magazines and went online.  People still enjoy picking up a magazine and leafing through Ė something tangible.  So I think the CD will be around but it becomes not the only source of purchasing music and where record companies went wrong is that they thought the CD was the almighty God.  The Internet is not replacing the CD, itís just taking a piece of the pie.  There are three things that consumers want.  They want great quality content, they want it in a convenient way and they want it at a great price.  Itís real simple and the middle word is convenience.  So having mediums like your cell phone is just another medium to be able to acquire music in a convenient way.  They want content and they want it on demand. 

Marketing people have to change their strategies is what it boils down to. 

Exactly, so when you hear about Prince including CDs in his ticket price, when you hear about Robbie Williams releasing his album on his little phone SIM card, I mean, itís not that everything is going to vanish and people are not going to acquire CDs or any one particular medium is going to take over, it just simply means that theyíre going to be now 15 different ways of acquiring music.  Whoever markets the best medium is going to be at the top of the pot.  Itís real simple.

In your experience from Sony/BMG, Beat Factory to now, what are some of the highlights and low points youíve experienced.  What stands out the most for you?  As well, what is the least favourite of your experiences in the music industry?

I think, and it happens often because Iím a little bit of a kook and traditionally, if you followed my career, I was doing Michie Mee before there was anything called reggae rap.  I was doing Dream Warriors before there was anything called jazz rap and I was doing HDV before there was the west coast doing the pimp of the microphone way before there was Snoop Doggy Dogg and NWA.  So, weíve always kind of stumbled on our multiculturalism in Canada and embraced using East Indian samples to African samples to jazz samples, and frankly to country and western samples. 

A lot of people may not know this but the West Indies have been a fantastic territory for country and western music.  Itís huge in the Caribbean, always has been.  As a matter of fact, Beenie Man did a country and western song on his album.  Itís soulful and itís from the heart and also itís got a Ďsinging the bluesí element and lyrics to it.  The Caribbean obviously had those trials and tribulations.  For me, Iím at BMG and Sony and I tried to experiment with lots of things, including the Wyclef Creole album and I think itís a huge company but getting everybody to really believe in the vision of Lisa and myself, from who weíre signing and why Ė because we as A&R people have to predict whatís going to be the next phase of music.  I refuse to go out there and sign something thatís happening right now. 

When I thought about Keshia, I thought about whatís missing from the marketplace.  I didnít stumble on Keshia, I went looking for a 14 year old girl that is much cooler than Hilary Duff.  Somebody that caters to all cultures and colours of people but with an R&B, hip hop element to it.  I really think thereís two types of 12 year olds Ė there are the ones that really like Hilary Duff and then thereís ones that really like Keshia.  And thatís why people like Aaliyah, God bless her soul, were so successful.  Whereís the cool, hip version for young people.  There was none.  Both Aaliyah and TLC was the last.  We had it in a male, like Bow Wow but we didnít have it in a female.  Somebody thatí really kind of fashionable and glamorous and can sing but be really cool and be a spokesperson and role model for ages 8 Ė 17.  It didnít exist so I went looking for that. 

I think to quickly answer the question, again, I had a great experience at BMG but itís a huge company so trying to get everybody to buy in on what your crazy ideas are about, is sometimes really difficult.  Itís not necessarily a flaw of Sony/BMG, thatís definitely a flaw of a big system.  Thatís was probably the biggest disadvantage.  The advantage of BMG is obvious Ė they have offices in 50 countries worldwide.  Thereís huge budgets to spend when you really believe in something.  And Keshia is a perfect example.  When the team really believes, then itís natural that you can see what happens. 

Iíve never seen a label clap as much for their artist as I did for Keshia [Chante] winning at the UMAC Awards.  The whole label stood up and was cheering. 

Iíve been in the music business for 23 years and to be very frank, this is probably the third time in my entire career that Iíve seen that much support and commitment and enthusiasm for a domestic artist.  Itís kind of a Ďput your money where your mouth is and letís make it happen - this girl is a super talentí kind of thing.  And weíre seeing the effects.  Itís weird. 

Sometimes I look at it now.  All the other Canadian artists that all of us individually believe that were global superstars at one point or another Ė if the same type of enthusiasm and effort was given, would it have worked?  Who knows?  All I know is that BMG couldnít have been a more perfect label for Keshia.  We got the team riled up and itís now showing in her success.  Sheís breaking records left, right and centre.  Sheís crossed over now into America.  Weíre slowly going to build that situation and thatí the advantage of having a big company Ė when the button gets pushed, it gets pushed. 

Who are some of the Canadian artists that you respect with respect to their business sense?  And who are some of your Canadian artists overall, incorporating their business sense?

The Canadian artists that I respect for their business savvy on all levels Ė the ones who have figured out who they really are and sticking to their guns, whether we like what their guns are or not.  K-os.  I think by far my home girl, Michie Mee.  Her and I are close.  We speak on a regular basis but literally, I havenít managed Michie for probably 12-13 years and sheís still out there doing her thing and still surviving.  Frankly, she hasnít had a record for about 15 years and she still comes in the top 5 artists in Canada when you think about whoís the top five artists in Canada.  That in itself is a fantastic accomplishment.  So, I think k-os, Michie Mee.  I also really respect Maestro, to be honest.  Maestro has broken now into the film world and heís acting.  I respect 100% groups like the Bare Naked Ladies and groups like Nickelback because they just have an entire machine and itís not just about management for them.  But itís about a lot of other things. 

Itís about them taking control of their career and itís them understanding what management is.  Management is to add value Ė not to tell you what to do and you just kind of put your tail between your legs and do it.  But to be able to have debates, discussions and even arguments and maybe a couple of fist fights with your manager over your career.  And have really valuable conversations and debate your managerís decisions and vice versa.  I think knowing the business and knowing exactly who you are and how and where and when you want to go to point A to Z is extremely important.  Otherwise your manager is just going to come up with a plan for you and youíre going to have no other way but to follow it.  The problem that always occurs is when you follow it and it doesnít work out, then your managerís a rip off artist and all the above.  Thatís just stupid.  Donít sue your manager if it doesnít work out, sue YOURSELF for not handling your business!

What are the two pieces of advice that youíd give to Canadian urban artists?  What do you want them to know that you think that theyíre missing?

Two pieces of advice that I can give to Canadian urban artists - #1 Ė the most important one.  Iíve lived my entire life and career and Iíve been able to survive on it, is youíve got to be global.  The music business Ė itís not the Canadian music business Ė itís get off the kick of signing a Canadian deal is bad for you.  Itís not bad for you if records are coming out in Canada.  At the end of the day, you sign an American deal, itís the same Canadian label thatís going to release your record in Canada.  Right?  But have enough global connections that you can pick and choose who, when and where you release your records Ė France, Austria, Australia, Italy, Japan and Indonesia and Columbia and Brazil.  These are all territories that enjoy our genre and sells hundreds of thousands of records.  Itís the trick to the music business and even the majors follow it Ė in most cases, when they make a record domestically, whatever that entire cost is Ė recording costs, videos, marketing, etc. - that recoupable amount that is attached to ĎXí amount of record sales is usually, in most cases, a break even point in the domestic market and what we depend on for profitability is what we call matrix income, which is global sales. 

Letís given an example. If it takes 100,000 records to break even on a Canadian artist, most Canadian artists will tell you Ė Iíll never see a cent so why sign a recording contact with a Canadian label because itís so difficult to have a platinum album in Canada.  Yeah, but what if the platinum album in Canada pays for all of the costs and you do it without a hit record, without anybody knowing who you are, you do another 400,000 records worldwide.

Does that count for a platinum status in Canada?

No it doesnít but what it counts for is 400,000 multiplied by your royalty rate which is all 100% profit.  So, youíre right.  If you only have connections in Canada, then you are screwed.  Itís real simple.  But if youíre global, then a Canadian record deal could never hamper your career globally.

I think it depends on what you want out of it.  If you want some notoriety, you can have that in Canada tomorrow Ė but you might not be paid. 

And Canada is also a great stomping ground to get yourself ready for the rest of the world.  Rolling Stones do it.  They come here and have concerts all the time and warm them up for the rest of the tour.  The thing about it, youíve got to think globally and youíve got to be a global artist.  The other most important thing that theyíre missing out on is that you have to flip your inverted pyramid.  You have to have a concrete foundation Ė itís the business of music Ė itís not the music business.  Most artists in Canada are so talented, theyíre self-contained, theyíre songwriters, theyíre producers, they got their own studio, theyíve got everything.  But they donít have proper management, they donít know about the music business, they donít know anything about publishing, they donít know anything about networking, they donít know anything about distribution, they donít know anything about technology outside of recording equipment.  they donít know anything about the infrastructure thatís going to support their career if and when they have a successful record.  Itís like theyíre always thinking about failure before it happens. 

When I do recording contracts, I remember a lot of my artists used to say ĎWhy is that clause in there because it doesnít apply to usí.  I said that I donít do contracts for selling 5,000 records, I do contracts for selling 10 million records.  It totally 100% applies to you.  I used to put life insurance clauses in my management agreement.  Some artists would be like Ďwhy?í.  I said itís because when youíre selling 10 million records, at any given point, a manager could be out of pocket a $500,000 just by Ė ĎWe canít wait for the promoters, IĎll just front the tour right now.  Weíve got to do what weíve got to do.í  Next week, the money will come in and Iíll put $500,000  - why?  Because thereís probably $10 million in the bank somewhere.  So, itís no problem.  When thereís lots of money involved, itís not an issue in relative scale in terms of millions of dollars. 

What happens when the artist croaks on the motorcycle or skydiving or bungee jumping Ė all this crazy stuff they enjoy doing, right?  So, the life insurance clause is an example of things that are relative to success but not relative to failure. 

So, think big - think outside the box. 

I canít go into a relationship thinking, this is just a little Ďtingí Iím trying.  If it blows up, then weíll fix it then Ė NO!  This is going to be 10 million records and if it [screws] up, then it will be, ía little Ďtingí Iím tryingí. 

What do you want people to remember you for? 

Well, I hope I donít die soon.  I was actually having a conversation with a friend of mine about this exact same topic.  Iíve had numerous offers to move to the States and to make millions of dollars, the way that I didnít want to make millions of dollars, and some people might agree with this and some people might disagree with it but I think that Iíve contributed my time, effort and money to the Canadian music business in general.  I consider myself somebody that has helped artists and other business executives along the way. 

Whether it was when EMI gave me my deal (with Beat Factory), I could have moved into their offices.  Instead, I put out compilations.  I could have taken all the money and put it into one artist and blow them up and have a successful artist.  Instead, I did compilation artists to kind of level out the scene and made lots of other people bubble in their careers, etc.  It was also very important that I went out and hired 12 staff members immediately.  Iím proud to say that theyíre scattered all over Ė Duane Watson, Jonathan Ramos, Stephane Lecuyer and Mansa Trotman.  These are all people Ė whether itís in graphic design, label, publishing, concept promotion or film, they are all fairly senior in their positions and all started at Beat Factory.  Every one of them.  So, itís not about money.  I made $20 million next year, I donít want people to say Ďwow, he made a lot of moneyí.  The one thing I live for is my props.  Donít ever [screw] with my props.  You can rip me off of money and I wouldnít be as upset as much if you tried to take my props.  I just work really really hard to help people and I want people to remember that and respect that.  Thatís all.

Many thanks to Ivan for his insight and captivating thoughts and we should all be thankful for his contribution to Canadian artists and the industry as a whole.