New Yorker staff writer Seabrook (Flash of Genius: And Other True Stories of Invention, 2008, etc.) examines the seismic shifts in the music industry.
There are plenty of good books that have shown how “hits are the source of hard dealings and dark deeds.” If it’s no surprise that the music industry can be a dirty business, the author shows just how radically the business has changed, with power shifting from the American-British axis to Sweden (and Korea and China on the horizon), with album-oriented rock eclipsed by contemporary hit pop and with streaming undermining not only the sales of CDs and downloads, but the future of the music business as we know it. Even those well-versed in the trade might be surprised to learn that a South African native named Clive Calder, through his Jive label, “is and for the foreseeable future will be the single richest man the music business ever produced.” Those riches accrued from his involvement with the Backstreet Boys, ’N Sync, and Britney Spears but even more from his visionary focus on producers rather than performers and publishing rights rather than record sales. His story intersects with that of the notorious Lou Pearlman, now imprisoned for “a giant Ponzi scheme” but formerly involved in manufacturing those acts and more. But some of the freshest and most fascinating material concerns the way that Swedish musical masterminds whose names are little-known to American music consumers have been able to dominate over decades and genres by bridging pop hooks and dance-floor beats. Max Martin, for one, has enjoyed a string of Billboard chart-toppers extending from Spears' breakthrough and Bon Jovi’s comeback through recent work with Taylor Swift. Seabrook goes deeper into the career developments of Rihanna and Katy Perry, but most of the artists hold insignificant power within the international behemoth that this industry has become and even less control over their own musical progression.
A revelatory ear-opener, as the music business remains in a state of significant flux.