The Inaugural “Power 10" List
Here are my picks for influential music business people who aren’t on Billboard’s 2019 Power 100 list.
Billboard’s latest Power 100 is out today. Just for fun, I thought I’d make my own list of powerful, influential people not likely to make Billboard’s list.
Do these lists matter? I don’t know. They could matter to the extent Billbchart position matters in the record industry—which is a lot! At the very least a power teaches you who does what and where, and which names you should know. You might learn something new and see unfamiliar names. Industry newbies would be wise to study this list.
Let me qualify this list by pointing out the difficulty in creating a power list that represents the breadth of the music business. Each Billboard contributor has a beat and can claim to be an expert in a few fields. A digital writer knows digital executives better than publishing executives. A country writer knows country music better than business management. And so on. I can only make my list according to my limited knowledge and the help of some trusted sources.
The list was built to include anybody unlikely to make the Power 100. For example, a friend of mine made a good case that Jared Smith, president for North America at Ticketmaster, carries an underappreciated amount of power. But Jared made the list—he shares #88 with David Marcus, Ticketmaster’s EVP/head of music—so he’s not on my Power 10.
In alphabetical order:
The Chief Product Officers at music streaming companies. Gustav Söderström at Spotify (Chief R&D Officer). Neal Mohan at YouTube (Chief Product Officer). Chris Phillips at Pandora (Chief Product Officer). Eric Wahlforss at SoundCloud (he was Chief Product Officer until he stepped down last month). And I’m not sure who at Apple and Amazon should get the nods. A streaming service’s outcome is practically binary: you win or lose based on the product more than marketing, promotion, partnerships, or ad sales. A bad product won’t attract and retain users. Not even a mediocre product is enough to win over (many) listeners. CEOs have power, but CPOs have an enormous amount of influence. The actual streaming service, the product, is the final hurdle in racing the last mile to reach listeners.
Makan Delrahim, Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division, the United States Department of Justice. Makan makes the list because the DOJ is currently reviewing its consent decrees with ASCAP and BMI, the two largest performing rights organization in the United States. Last year, Delrahim said in spite of improvements in music licensing, regulators “need to take a look and see if these consent decrees are still relevant in the marketplace.” The consent decrees outline how ASCAP and BMI will not use their outsized market power when licensing their repertoires. Any change could have large aftershocks.
Marcus Frazier, founder and CEO of DatPiff. The mixtape side of the music business doesn’t get the attention it deserves, in my opinion. That means DatPiff deserves a nod. (It calls itself “The authority in free mixtapes.”) Let’s think about it for a moment. Has any rapper built a career off a mixtape? Yes, many. Are mixtapes crucial to hip hop music? Absolutely. Could a source for mixtapes have an influence on what people hear? Most likely. Where do people get mixtapes? DatPiff is one of the — if not the — leading source for long-form, hip hop mixtapes. It deserves to make a power list somewhere.
The heads of various trade groups and organizations. It’s a long list: NMPA (David Israelite—he made the list this year), the RIAA (Mitch Glazier—he made the list), DiMA (Chris Harrison), NAB (Gordon Smith), CTA (Gary Shapiro), IFPI (Frances Moore), IA (Michael Beckerman) BPI (Geoff Taylor), A2IM (Richard Burgess), EFF (Cindy Cohn), MMF (Annabella Coldrick), MusicFIRST (Chris Israel), and many more I’ve left out. These and other advocacy leaders are always underappreciated and underestimated, in my opinion. They shape public policy and the public debate about music, copyright, royalties, and technology. The Music Modernization Act succeeded because of the industry trade groups’ efforts. And some legislation has been thwarted in part because of the opposition group’s efforts. The NAB is an unmovable force in the industry’s effort to get broadcast radio a performance right for sound recordings. The EFF is a longtime, vocal critic of the music industry. Bonus points if you know these group’s full names.
David Lowery, musician, activist, and lecturer at University of Georiga’s Terry College of Business. Depending on which side of the aisle you sit, David is either an effective activist or a thorn in the side. At his blog, The Trichordist, Lowery publishes the list of his streaming royalties (through his bands Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker) and effectively establishes reference points that are often taken as gospel and quoted in articles. Over the years, David has brought attention to publishing rights — he sued Spotify for streaming his music without the proper mechanical licenses — and advertisers who support illegal download sites. Most recently, he was named to the Unclaimed Royalties Oversight Committee, a group of publishing executives and songwriters that advises the new Music Licensing Collective.
Jerrold Nadler, Chair of the House Judiciary Committee. Rep. Nadler deserves a mention here. He ascended from the Subcommittee that oversees intellectual property issues—and thus the music business—to the Chair of House Judiciary Committee. While issues are first heard in the Subcommittee, Nadler’s important because he has been an active supporter of creators and rights owners in the music business. Speaking at a Grammy Week dinner in 2014, Nadler memorably told the music business to get it together. “If the industry is not united it will not be well represented or able to participate adequately in the discussions going on in the halls of Congress. These discussions are going to happen with or without you.” And then he was instrumental in the passage of the Musical Modernization Act. He may be busy investigating President Trump, however, so who knows how much bandwidth music will get?
Ghazi Shami, founder and CEO of Empire Distribution. Ghazi founded Empire in 2010 in San Francisco. Over the years he’s created a powerful, hip hop-focused distributor. Empire’s client list has included Top Dawg Entertainment (Kendrick Lamar), Fat Joe and Remy, XXXTentacion, Steel Wool (Anderson Paak), ESGN (Freddie Gibbs), and Funk Volume. Empire is well known in hip hop circles; here’s a good profile at HipHopDX. And it’s on Billboard’s radar: Gail Mitchell and Dan Rys wrote a great article in 2016. Atlantic Records
Taylor Swift. Drake should be on this list (I mean, he’s Drake) but I’m adding Taylor for her negotiation with Universal/Republic before leaving Big Machine Music Group. An influential critic of streaming services and their royalties, Taylor secured a landmark deal: not only would she own her masters and license them to Universal, but Universal also agreed proceeds from its sale of Spotify stock would non-recoupable—meaning not be applied against artists’ accounts. Otherwise, the money could be consumed by an artist’s in-the-red account.
Dan M. Wall, partner at Latham & Watkins. Dan represents Live Nation and Ticketmaster in anti-trust matters and keeps them in the good graces of the Department of Justice. In 2009, the DOJ, concerned with potential antitrade leverage gained by combining the largest promoters and ticketing companies, OK’d the Live Nation-Ticketmaster merger if they agreed to jettison its Paciolan ticket company and make some other concessions. In 2013, for example, Wall helped Live Nation win an arbitration with ticketing company CTS Eventim that alleged Live Nation violation its covenant of good faith with the DOJ. Currently, Wall is contesting claims made by AEG regarding the antitrust lawsuit brought against AEG by singer Ozzy Osbourne over an alleged “block booking” practice (Live Nation is not a party to the lawsuit).
Finally, one of the 10 is a lifetime achievement award to…
Jim DeRogotis. Jim deserves a lifetime achievement award for covering Kelly for nearly two decades. His impactful work predated and corroborates allegations from the “Surviving R Kelly” docu-series that has probably damaged Kelly’s career permanently. In 2000, he co-wrote an article “Kelly accused of sex with teenage girls,” for the Chicago Sun-Times; the reporting was based on court records and interviews. The other bookend was a fantastic article in 2017 on Kelly’s harem of enslaved women; it should have made larger waves in music and broader society, frankly, but it was valuable reporting. Jim’s impressive CV also includes writing—criticism, books—and his long-running radio show, Sound Opinions, co-hosted with Chicago music writer Greg Kot.