There’s only room for one majordomo, and it’s not him.
People forget that Jimmy was an independent, a record producer, who ultimately teamed with Ted Field to start a label, i.e. Interscope. And ask someone under thirty if they know who Field is, I doubt it, he’s a footnote, although Ted did have a great run in the movie business and did lay down the money for the label and hired Jimmy and got out of his way.
And never forget that Interscope Records was Doug Morris’s pet project. And when Warner excommunicated it, and Doug himself got bounced, they both reemerged over at MCA/Universal, an also-ran now nearly the only-ran. That’s right, Doug Morris saw talent. You always invest in executives in the music business. And one of the problems we have is so few have anything at risk/stake anymore. It’s only when you’ve scrambled to put food on your plate that you truly understand the game. Which is why the music biz’s lunch is repeatedly eaten by outsiders, the insiders are now rarely entrepreneurs but managers, to their detriment.
But Jimmy gets sick of being a label guy. He’s got bigger ambitions. He tries them. And people forget that so many of his endeavors failed, from QSound to the Farm Club to… Then again, isn’t that the mantra of Silicon Valley, you fail until you succeed?
Jimmy did with Beats.
And he wanted to cash out. You have to know when to take money off the table. Your stake rarely goes up and up, it plateaus, and if you’re looking to only sell at the peak the joke is oftentimes upon you, you don’t wait for every last dollar, you go.
Not that Jimmy’s Beats Music was going in the right direction. It was the Tidal of yesteryear, only with less cash.
So a deal was made.
Now you must realize this deal was not done with Steve Jobs. Jobs and Iovine are alike, they’re hustlers. Jimmy tried to get Steve to buy Beats forever, but Steve said no, because it didn’t make sense, a me-too product, i.e. headphones, as for the streaming service, Jobs wasn’t yet convinced.
And then Steve died, and there was only one boss at Apple, but he was a supply chain savant, a key element of corporate success, but far from a visionary product guy was Tim Cook. So Apple was rudderless, run by design, i.e. Jony Ive and trusted lieutenants, i.e. Eddy Cue and Phil Schiller, and they missed streaming completely, talk about hubris, so they were open to Jimmy’s offer, a deal was made.
But there still was no foresight. Amazon just canceled its locker service, Apple is still in the MP3 game with an app that’s still confusing. This from the company where they were famous for eliminating ports?
So Jimmy’s in charge.
But he’s not. Because you don’t come in from outside and have power. Especially if you don’t have the DNA, the roots. In Silicon Valley you want to know how to code, you want to know about roadmaps and organization and although one can draw a parallel to music production, the details are really quite different. Furthermore, outsiders don’t like newbies in their business. Remember when Andy Lack went to Sony Music? A disaster that was.
So Jimmy starts to sell. Only Jimmy’s expertise is selling from the outside, being the renegade, and Apple’s as establishment as they come.
And Jimmy’s got no feel for the digital landscape. Everything he does backfires. Like the U2 promotion/distribution. Jimmy’s about subterfuge, paying back friends, loyalty, tech is about transparency, with the best software winning, and no one thought the U2 album was cutting edge, even great.
Now Jimmy becomes the mouthpiece of the music industry.
But he’s a distributor. How does that make sense?
Jimmy’s gonna save the industry, make sure everybody is properly compensated. This is the mantra of musicians, but Apple customers could care less, all they keep reading about is how rich the musicians are, about their lifestyle, meanwhile Iovine is donating money and…
There’s no sympathy.
So Jimmy becomes further and further isolated. At Apple it’s about keeping your head down, leading with success. But Beats 1 radio was and still is a disaster, no one is listening.
So Jimmy turned to his relationships, he’d build success on exclusives.
The only thing is this was to the detriment of the business, you don’t want to confuse the customer, Lucian Grainge put the kibosh on that and suddenly Jimmy’s hands were tied, he could no longer pull a rabbit out of the hat, he could just inch along, and Jimmy’s all about the big play, planning for supernova, but there is none at Apple Music, only hard work.
His job is done.
It’s about the money, which is why he hasn’t gone earlier.
But this is a good thing, for both Apple and Jimmy.
Jimmy never benefited Apple as a spokesman. The product is supposed to be the star. The problem is no one is testifying about Apple Music, all they’re hearing is Jimmy bitching about YouTube and free tiers. Now Apple can focus on integration with voice and try to make people wanna subscribe to Apple Music based on its performance as opposed to the sizzle.
As for Jimmy…
He never should have worked at Apple to begin with, he can’t work for anybody else, he can work WITH people…as long as they respect him, as long as they do it his way.
So he’s got to find another playground. Very few go back to where they once belonged. Richard Palmese went back to promotion after being President of MCA Records, but oftentimes the ego is just too big.
As for going back inside…
We look to the lesson of Irving Azoff, who also chafed under the collar of the company. Irving left Live Nation and is now in new enterprises with Jim Dolan and Tim Leiweke. What new ventures could Jimmy engage in?
Or is he tapped out?
Kinda like his hero David Geffen, the most feared man in Hollywood, that’s why he was so lionized in the press. Tom King wrote that book about him and Geffen took a step back, he assured the financial futures of Spielberg and Katzenberg and now he’s a philanthropist, pulling the strings behind the scenes. But Geffen always played that role, he always shunned the spotlight, even when he got it.
But Jimmy craves it.
So what we have here is an American story. “What Makes Sammy Run.” Jimmy Iovine is not satisfied with impacting the culture, producing some of the greatest records of the era, he needs more, he needs money. But when he gets his money, he loses his power. You don’t have to fear Jimmy Iovine anymore. Most people have already stopped listening.
Meanwhile, Apple will continue to engage in battle.
Long live the king.