“No one gives you power. You have to take it from them.” Nancy Pelosi in the New York Times.
“You have to skate where the puck is going, not where it has been.” Wayne Gretzky’s statement could be the most famous aphorism of our lifetimes, yet still many ignore it.
That’s why Irving Azoff continues to win. He can see where the puck is going. He’s always two steps ahead, ask anybody who knows or deals with him, not the rabble rousers who talk crap about him, those with power learn to ignore the haters, otherwise they cannot succeed.
Yet the media is littered with commentators saying we must stop Facebook. But the truth is we must stop Instagram and WhatsApp, both ironically owned by Facebook, both where the puck is going.
Unless you live in the U.S. or China, you’re aware that the de facto messaging platform is WhatsApp. But it’s more than text, it’s more than iMessage, it’s got groups, you can live your whole life on WhatsApp, and misinformation on WhatsApp was one of the reasons Jair Bolsonaro was elected in Brazil, but American citizens hew to Trump’s nationalism, believing the rest of the world does not count.
But it does.
Mark Zuckerberg could see where the puck was going, that’s why he purchased WhatsApp and Instagram. Snap stayed single, it’s in the process of dying. Sometimes you have to sell. The skill is knowing when.
So the world is divided into two groups, those seizing power and those refraining from doing so. The latter believe they’re entitled to a fair deal, or have given up and are pessimistic. But the individual can change everything, like Alastair Mactaggart, who nearly single-handedly got California’s new privacy bill passed. Congress holds hearings, Mactaggart gets things done.
Kind of like Pelosi.
I know, I know, she’s been demonized by the right, give Republicans credit, they’ve been playing a long game. Most notably with the Federalist Society. When the left turns on itself, after Elizabeth Warren takes a DNA test that shows she’s a smidgen of Native American, the right circles the wagons and laughs. It’s a skill to get people to turn on their own leaders.
But Pelosi is not backing down, and the Democratic cabal that is attacking her…has no candidate. This is like saying you’re gonna win a game without fielding a team, or win a boxing match with no fighter, you not only lose the contest, you lose ground.
Now today’s artists have got it all wrong. They believe power is playing the business person’s game. But the business person is duplicitous, the artist’s power comes from truth, embodied in their art. And there’s this concept that that power is immediate, when the truth is it’s also a long game. Bob Dylan was making records long before he was an icon. But he never would have reached the heights without Albert Grossman. You see artists need business people to do their dirty work, and to aid them in their vision.
So where does this leave you?
You’ve got to decide, are you a leader or a follower. And today, more than ever, followers get screwed. Unions have been decimated, there is no long term employment. If you’re putting your faith in others you’re the ball in the pinball machine when you want to be the flippers.
Not that everybody can be a leader. Then again, the U.S. is a giant pecking order centered around a greased ladder.
But, you must know who you are, you must be a student of the game, you must know when to risk.
That’s what the techies really talk about when they say failure is a badge of honor, they walk into the wilderness without a net, with no guarantee. Most people are afraid of doing that, they’re worried about moving backwards on the game board of life.
And it’s also why the scions of the powerful rarely are powerful themselves. They grew up in a cushy environment, removed from the action, they have not learned the rules, they’re unaware of the people their parents killed to succeed.
I’m speaking metaphorically, but if you’re not willing to hurt another’s career or business, don’t become a leader.
And a leader is about loyalty. If you read the above article about Pelosi you’ll see she insists on it. And you may criticize her for it, but she’s playing a long game, she wants to get her legislation passed, it’s all in service to the goal. The route may be ugly, but in politics the end justifies the means.
And you want to be loyal to the powerful of your choice. That’s why Irving is loyal to Rapino. Rapino holds the purse strings, you don’t want to alienate those who pay, those whose choices you depend upon.
Furthermore, you must be willing to raise your voice, make a stand if you’re powerful. Notice that all the powerful tend to be colorful characters? You just wish you could be like them, but you’re afraid of the blowback, you just want everybody to love you,
Meanwhile, the powerful are not self-deprecating. Don’t play that game, the powerful are supremely self-confident. When someone is making fun of themselves they take themselves out of the game. Then again, there is a style in which it succeeds, but that’s a deeper lesson.
But Americans can’t handle the truth. They don’t want to learn the lessons. And they alternately admire and denigrate power as they’re whipsawed by those who have it.
Furthermore, the powerful are rarely brought up in the system. They tend to be outsiders. That’s one of the reasons the music business is moribund, almost nobody involved ever had their own money at risk. Except Irving, Rapino and Jay Marciano. They understand the game, and power. It’s visceral when it’s your own money on the line.
And Chance the Rapper. Sure, he did it outside the system with a backer, but still it was a huge risk. Taylor Swift was never going to go to Spotify, that’s inane, she needs the label team to deliver press and spins via their ongoing connections. But this is not a story, she’s now on the downswing, nobody lasts forever, and despite most of her tour doing well, her album did abysmally, certainly regarding expectations, so those who think this is a story are not Wayne Gretzky, certainly not Irving Azoff. As for extracting a promise that Universal would split Spotify stock proceeds with artists regardless of their royalty position, that’s like Kirsten Gillibrand saying she would not run for President in 2020 and then reversing course. Meanwhile, Spotify’s stock is now in the dumper, Universal’s not selling now, if ever, by owning that stock they have impact, you never ignore such a big stockholder, owning a piece gives you power. Yes, Lucian Grainge knows how to play the power game.
And the truly powerful stay out of the press, or utilize their PR people to trade horses and spin stories. Because they can deliver access, and without it you’re doomed.
That’s what you want, access, to the powerful, so you can see how the game is played. And if you don’t want power, you’re going down, not up. And one of the reasons artists today are so powerless is because they’re uneducated and from the lower classes. The middle class that used to inhabit the chart understood their power, and learned their most powerful asset was the ability to say no. That’s right, no to the sponsor, no to the candidate, no to the label, no to the promoter. Your power is worthless unless you exercise it. But don’t employ your theoretical leverage if you have none.
Now the weak and uninformed will e-mail me about Nancy Pelosi, painting a negative picture. They missed the point. Too many people miss the point.
That’s right, don’t look where the puck is, but where it’s going.
And then strike at the right moment and seize power.
Then you’re truly in the game.