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FORTUNE’S FOOL by Fred Goodman

FORTUNE’S FOOL

Edgar Bronfman Jr., Warner Music, and an Industry in Crisis

By Fred Goodman

Pub Date: July 13th, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-7432-6998-8
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

The compellingly told story of the Seagram heir's music-business adventures at Universal and Warner Music, and what went terribly wrong.

Music journalist Goodman (The Mansion on the Hill: Dylan, Young, Geffen, and Springsteen and the Head-on Collision of Rock and Commerce, 1997) takes a deep look at a chaotic couple of decades in the embattled industry, in which Edgar Bronfman Jr. played a central role. Scion of an iron-fisted Canadian distilling clan who dominated the global liquor business, and Bronfman, enamored of show business from youth, tinkered in movie production and songwriting before setting his sights on an executive role in entertainment. In 1995, Seagram acquired 80 percent of MCA from Japanese electronics firm Matsushita. The music division was renamed Universal Music Group and became the biggest label unit in the world with the 1998 acquisition of PolyGram. But Bronfman's ambitions were mocked after the 2000 purchase of Seagram by Vivendi led to near-bankruptcy, thanks to profligate spending by the French firm's chairman Jean-Marie Messier. Bronfman next took control of Warner Music Group, once the U.S. market leader, in a 2004 purchase engineered with private-equity money. Rocked by mismanagement during the ’90s, Warner's fortunes continued to sink in the new millennium, as online piracy exploded, CD sales plummeted and the Internet and mobile bonanzas envisioned by Bronfman never materialized. Goodman tells the story briskly, with total command of both the financial and aesthetic elements of his tale. Especially engrossing is his account of Warner's catastrophic decline under corporate hatchet men Robert Morgado and Michael Fuchs. The executives who played key roles in the latter-day fortunes of Universal and Warner—canny vet Doug Morris, rap-savvy combatants Jimmy Iovine and Lyor Cohen—are all sharply delineated. Bronfman, who has often been raked in the press as a dilettante who grievously mishandled his music assets, receives sympathetic treatment, somewhat belying the book's tart title, and makes a good case for himself in interviews with the author.

Deftly balanced and well-sourced—one of the most solid music-biz bios in recent memory.