Interview with Ivan Berry
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Does that count for a platinum status in
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
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
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.