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Edgar Bronfman (Junior)
What a name. What an Edgar.
Who names their child 'Edgar'? The Bronfmans is who. They're one of the most powerful families in Canada. Even the world. Their name dates back to Samuel Bronfman who lived two centuries ago. Much as Edgar does today. They're the people behind that yucky whisky brand Seagram and today they have branched out into entertainment. And with Edgar at the helm they've taken control of Warner Music.
Edgar's the one who in the heat of the Napster controversy ten years ago officially likened P2P networks and file sharing to 'slavery and Soviet communism'. He's quite the character. He's also the one who pulled Warner's support at YouTube. So you see video clips without the sound. Because Edgar believes he loses precious cash if you get to hear the sound of a promotional video without paying for it.
Now Edgar is speaking out against streaming music services like Spotify, We7, Tunerec, and Last.fm. He's filling his mouth with new pebbles such as streaming is 'clearly not positive for the industry'.
Pray tell, Edgar: what is positive for the industry? What do you have in mind, Mr Seagram? Could you be thinking of one of your former classic ideas that fell flat on its ignominious face?
What's interesting - and so typical of Edgar - is that these embarrassing remarks come on the heels of remarks by Rob Wells of Universal who only weeks earlier praised Spotify to the heavens.
Spotify is a very sustainable financial model - full stop.
- Rob Wells, Universal Music Group
Most labels are behind Wells and Universal. 'It would be an absolute tragedy if they were to adhere to that to such a degree that in their renegotiations with Spotify, they withdrew their content without even giving them a chance to see how well they could convert their users to the premium version', says Paul Brindley of digital music consultants Music Ally.
Of course there's the big question why the F they insist on a subscription model anyway. Daniel Ek and Spotify don't want it. Daniel Ek and Spotify know it's a sucky idea. But people like Edgar never listened when Steve Jobs told them they were full of it. They never learned even when Steve Jobs came in with his iTunes and proved them wrong. Edgar demanded Spotify use it - or no contract.
How can Edgar get things so wrong?
Edgar wasn't always a music industry Edgar - at least not like he is today. Once upon a time he fancied himself quite the songwriter. He worked under the catchy pseudonyms Junior Miles and Sam Román. He once 'collaborated' with lesser known singer/songwriter Bruce Roberts to create a song for Dionne Warwick. Roberts has otherwise been relatively prolific, writing for Engelbert Humperdink, Jennifer Rush, Elton John, Rita Coolidge, Donna Summer, Laura Branigan, Barbra Streisand, Patti LaBelle, Alice Cooper, the Pointer Sisters, Cliff Richard, Carole Bayer Sager, and Dolly Parton.
Edgar was involved in one song before moving on.
Not everything Edgar has done has met with approval either. Edgar was first married to African-American actress Sherry Brewer. His Russian-Jewish patriarch father didn't exactly approve. Edgar told his father he could get Sherry to become a Jew. That wasn't the point! wrote the understanding Edgar senior in his memoirs. Edgar remarried fourteen years later, this time to someone of sturdy British stock, and today they have four racially acceptable children.
The 'get all your music you want for free, and then maybe with a few bells and whistles we can move you to a premium price' strategy is not the kind of approach to business that we will be supporting in the future.
- Edgar Bronfman (Junior)
Edgar has also been involved in movie production. But there wasn't much of a career there either. Yet because wee Edgar was born with a diamond studded spoon in his mouth, all was forgiven when he decided to get back in the fold. Which was in 1982 when he moved to London as managing director of Seagram Europe. Nice change from playing 'down and out Edgar'.
Two years later he returned not home but to New York City as president of 'House of Seagram' and in 1994 became their CEO - but he worked hard, our wee Edgar.
Edgar began moving away from booze (and other lucrative investments) as soon as he took over. His father had made an investment in DuPont in 1981 that by 1995, despite the North American's penchant for third-rate liquor, represented 70% of the family's total revenues. Gee whiz and what a big surprise when DuPont got the offer to buy back that chunk of stock? They thought about it for more than five nanoseconds before leaping on it - and Edgar.
But DuPont paid 9 billion bananas for the stock and Edgar used the money to buy Polygram, MCA, and Universal Pictures. Things didn't go too good, so Edgar entered into a rescue agreement with Vivendi. By now his father was probably wishing Edgar had stuck to songwriting.
Edgar manoeuvred to become CEO of the company founded out of the merger - Vivendi Universal - but gee whiz: Edgar lost control of his entertainment investments; and an even bigger 'gee whiz': Pernod Ricard and Diageo got the family crown jewel Seagram's which for all intents and purposes ceased to exist.
It was probably about this time that Edgar Senior placed a call to Bruce Roberts and then another call to Dionne Warwick.
And a year later, Edgar sort of had to step down as CEO of Vivendi Universal. Win some, lose some. But by 2004 he was back to full capacity again, now acquiring Warner Music Group and acting as CEO and chairman ever since.
And then Warner stock started to plummet, something no one saw coming. Yet company sales were good, despite the digital revolution that caused all the misery felt by Edgar and his acquisitions, so much so that Edgar actually found the time to pen two more unforgettable hits for Celine Dion and Barbra Streisand.
Edgar & Lars
Charles Mann of the Atlantic Online wrote about Edgar already ten years ago. Of course back then Edgar wasn't the big Edgar - Lars Ulrich was. Ulrich whose Internet savvy extended to having logged into AOL a few times to check hockey scores and who admitted he really didn't know his group were actually losing money by file sharing, only that he didn't like it.
'You suck, Lars! You sellout!'
'This is not about pounding the fans, this is about Napster!'
'Then why are you busting them? Have you ever even used Napster, Lars?'
It was also about this time that Edgar likened Napster to both slavery and Soviet communism - this despite utterances such as the one immediately below that must have been authored by his PR department instead.
A few clicks of your mouse will make it possible for you to summon every book ever written in any language, every movie ever made, every television show ever produced, and every piece of music ever recorded.
- Edgar Bronfman (Junior)
Mann pegged it ten years ago.
In the short run the struggle is for control of the heavenly jukebox. Technophiles claim the major labels, profitable concerns today, will rapidly cease to exist, because the Internet makes copying and distributing recorded music so fast, cheap, and easy that charging for it will effectively become impossible.
Adding to the labels' fears, a horde of dot-coms, rising from the bogs of San Francisco like so many stinging insects, are trying to hasten the demise. Through their trade association, the Recording Industry Association of America, the labels are fighting back with every available weapon: litigation, lobbying, public relations, and, behind the trenches, jiggery-pokery with technical standards.
'Down in front! Down in front! Metallica sucks!'
'Hey, Lars! Are you able to quantify the revenue lost?'
'It's not about revenue.'
'Yeah? What's it about, then?'
But as Mann points out in his prophetic article, musicians never risked losing money through file sharing - they're already getting screwed a lot harder by their record labels. It's the record labels - the Edgars - who are losing. Most rock musicians can't understand the bookkeeping and the Edgars sure aren't going to explain it to them.
'It's not about our bank accounts, it's about the thousands and thousands of artists out there who aren't fortunate enough to have the -'
'Radio is free! What about radio?'
'We have the right to control our music!'
'Fuck you, Lars. It's our music too!'
The lawsuit against Napster was called A&M Records et al v. Napster. But A&M Records, founded by Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss in 1962, got acquired by Polygram in 1989 and Polygram got acquired by Seagrams in 1998. So guess who was behind the harassment of Napster?
Alpert and Moss later sued Edgar, claiming Edgar had violated his contractual agreement to let A&M retain their corporate culture. Edgar settled out of court. During their farewell get-together, A&M staff placed a black band over the corporate sign above the main entrance. Most of them were let go, as were many of A&M's artists.
And now Edgar is pulling his 'property' from YouTube and announcing to the media that streaming music is wrong and that subscription services such as those he's already failed at are right.
This is the same Edgar who:
- Keeps failing as a songwriter.
- Married 'wrong' the first time around.
- Sold off 70% of the family's corporate revenues.
- Moved the family business from whisky into entertainment.
- Went after Napster and has been whining like an Edgar ever since.
You're in the Hall of Monkeys now, Edgar. No one expects you to be a success here, Edgar, but no one really cares what you do either. And if you want to get along? Don't write or play any music. And try to keep your mouth shut, Edgar.
The Geffen and A&M names live on. But their days as living, breathing movers and shakers are all but over - their resources spent. Signaling the death of A&M, Los Angeles-based workers (or ex-workers) wrapped the company's sign in black on Thursday. The new bosses at Seagram later ordered the 'arm band' removed, the Times reported.
- E! Online 22 January 1999
A wake-like atmosphere descended over both coasts at the offices of Island, Mercury, Geffen, Motown and A&M where a total of about 500 US employees were dismissed following the absorption of music giant Polygram by Seagram's Universal Music Group.
- Hollywood Reporter 22 January 1999
Artists and executives hugged in the parking lot as weeping employees carried boxes of personal belongings to their cars. Above them, the A&M sign was draped with a black band to commemorate the record label.
- LA Times 22 January 1999
A&M Corner: Black Thursday - A&M Shut Doors
BBC News: Warner retreat from free music streaming
The Atlantic Online: Charles Mann: The Heavenly Jukebox