June 4, 1942: Capitol Records opened its doors on a vision founder Johnny Mercer expressed while golfing with friends. He was tired of listening to the way everyone treated music. And the musicians. He could do better.
1946: He proved himself right. Capitol had sold a total of 42 million records. Their acts – each brilliant in their own right – were loved and adored by fans. The Pied Pipers. Les Paul. Peggy Lee. Merle Travis. Benny Goodman. Nat King Cole.
These artists mattered. Capitol Records mattered too.
By the mid 60’s, the Capitol brand had grown to international recognition aided by the superstar (top producer) artists of the day: Frank Sinatra. Judy Garland. The Andrew Sisters. Gleason. Dean Martin.The Dave Clark Five. And The Beatles.
The Capitol brand was so powerful, so inventive, so clearly recognized for its “ear,” that new artists signed to the label would automatically be premiered on radio and TV, placed on tours, and desired by consumers.
Many of you would argue that these artists would have sold millions under any label. That Capitol meant nothing to the consumer. It was all about the individual acts. You would argue that point because you think a record label, like a real estate brokerage, is simply a clearing house for its independent talent.
That is true today. But it wasn’t always. Want proof? What emotions rise in you when you gaze upon this?
I get flashbacks of my childhood. And a warm feeling.
And if I rattled off names like The Doors, The Jackson Five and Led Zepplin, I defy you to not instantly recall what their label looked like affixed to the center of the 45.
But by the mid 80’s labels stopped mattering. Like brokerages, they lost their vision. They grew without purpose. Signed anyone who could carry a tune or who vaguely resembled some other rising star. They stopped developing talent. Never innovated. And provided little value for a $18.99 CD.
Just because labels didn’t matter, opportunity for some that chose to matter, arose.
By the late 80’s, major record label influence had withered. Sales were down. Small indie artists already took to the Web to merchandise and distribute in ways big label brands didn’t understand.
Seattle. A small label emerges. Sub Pop Records, credited with popularizing “grunge” amid a sea of hair bands and watered down New Wave, discovered and signed acts other labels weren’t even looking at. Soundgarden. The Shins. Mudhoney. Nirvana.
Acts that mattered.
As a result other lesser known acts within the Sub Pop roster began to matter too, catapulting this tiny little company into the world view. Sub Pop mattered so much that Geffen Records bought the rights to Nirvana and released Nevermind, one of the biggest selling records of all time.
Today you can hardly talk about the grunge scene without referencing this label. And it still matters, despite joint ventures with Warner and the loss of their independent luster.
Johnny Mercer saw a void. From that void great labels like Stax, Atlantic, Capitol, Decca and Motown emerged.
That void exists again.
I believe now would be an incredible time to start a new label.
Can a brokerage matter?
The conversations here are telling. Conventional thinking recognizes independent agents as the only brands that matter while dogmatic brokerages tied to the ball and chain of tradition have brand identities void of meaning.
I could cite ten brokerages right now that matter. But even if I couldn’t name one, I would argue vehemently that this is the condition of an industry that has lost its soul and made the choice not to matter.
A choice that can be remedied.
There are many things that are impossible in this world. Time travel. Me playing center for the Lakers. The Chicago Bears winning a Superbowl. But building a brokerage brand that matters? Not on that list.
If I were to attempt to create one I’d borrow from history. Like Johnny Mercer, I’d take note of what isn’t. What’s missing. What’s needed. I’d sign up the talent that could deliver that, package it and sell it.
And I’d hammer my value proposition on my shingle – my website. And bring on talent that shares my vision. I’d send a skywriter up and etch it into the heavens. I’d reward agents who delivered on our promise and behead those that didn’t. (Not literally).
I’d run the brokerage, handle the marketing, and dream up ways to lure the best talent in and provide unique services out. My agents, the people who connect with the consumer, would be the messengers of our collective service. Our hit records.
Together, we would build a brokerage label that matters.