Friday, September 24, 2010

Tom Jones gets “Praise & Blame” from his own label

Judging by the response to my Tom Jones post yesterday (see “Tom Jones rocks Letterman” here), it appears Tom is doing a fine job of turning heads with his new album, “Praise & Blame.”

Ironically, one of the first heads that was turned belonged to Island Records’ vice-president, David Sharpe.

Upon first hearing Jones’ new music, Sharpe reportedly wrote an email to a colleague on May 19 calling the record “a sick joke,” insisting the label "pull back this project immediately or get my money back." Sharpe’s email was leaked to the press in early July, just weeks before “Praise” was released; some have speculated that this was a marketing stunt, while others believe it happened naturally, as reported.

I haven’t been able to locate a copy of the full email, but there are certainly enough quotes reported in the media to piece its key points together.

Here are parts of Sharpe’s email, as reported by several sources:
“Imagine my surprise when I walked into the office this morning to hear hymns coming from your office – it could have been Sunday morning. My initial pleasure came to an abrupt halt when I realised that Tom Jones was singing the hymns! I have just listened to the album in its entirety and want to know if this is some sick joke????”

“We did not invest a fortune in an established artist for him to deliver 12 tracks from the common book of prayer. Having lured him from EMI, the deal was that you would deliver a record of upbeat tracks along the lines of Sex Bomb and Mama Told Me…”

"As venerable and interesting as Tom's story is, this is not what was agreed and certainly not what we paid for. Please don't give me the art over commerce argument, it's run its course...what are you thinking when he went all spiritual?”
Tom was, naturally, not pleased with the news that a VP at his new label was slamming his first project for them. “People are going to read this and think the record company doesn’t like this or that I’ve made a mistake,” he told the Welsh paper, Western Mail. “It’s not coming from the creative people in the record company, because they’re backing it up all the way, I mean they’re thrilled with it, so I don’t understand it. When I questioned them and said ‘what the hell is this all about? Who is this fella? I don’t even know who he is, I found out that he’s some fella who signs cheques or something. But he’s not in the creative side of it and they’re 100% behind it, but people don’t know that.”

Tom added, “They’ve apologized, they can’t apologize enough – and they’ve said ‘we’ll make good on this’.”

To make matters worse, it’s been reported that Sharpe refused to back down on his stand following the leak; he’s been quoted as saying “Parts of this record company wanted to deliver an album for the typical Tom Jones fan and I don't know if that is what we got. Shall we say we've paid for a Mercedes - we've got the hearse that's arrived".

As for the stunt vs. reality angle, I can’t imagine why a label exec would make himself look this ignorant and out of touch in a public way – especially when the music has such an obvious amount of soul – so I suspect the email was written, as reported, and a leak did happen.

Look, Sharpe isn’t the first record exec in history to be ignorant and out of touch; heck, The Beatles were turned down by all kinds of music industry people who had no sense of vision and, historically, the industry is littered with stories of this kind.

Sharpe’s lack of musical sensibilities and his desire to play it safe, by simply having Jones do what he’s done before, is symptomatic of an ongoing problem in the music industry as a whole. Labels fall all over themselves to find artists and acts that sound just like someone else who’s had success: “let’s just copy that formula and make some money for ourselves.” Without making any connection between “safe” and declining music sales, the industry continues to want to make a quick buck profiting from trends and the public’s short attention span.

The other side of the coin is artist development: allowing an artist to grow their vision organically without interference from accountants disguised as management, like Sharpe. It’s rare to find long term thinking with artist development at major labels, and part of the reason artists have always debated the pros and cons of signing with a small or major label – or simply do it themselves.

Ironically, the success of “Praise” will make Sharpe look even more foolish while making his company more money.

Things to consider: if “Praise” succeeds in a big way, will Sharpe earn a bonus? On the other hand, if “Praise” stiffs, will Sharpe lose his job?

I suspect Sharpe was worried about his job - note the phrase: "pull back this project immediately or get my money back." How did Island’s investment become “his” money? Is that why he appeared to be in panic mode when he wrote his nasty email, or was he simply trying to cover his ass (like the contestants on “The Apprentice” do every week)?

Private company emails are one thing, but for Sharpe to continue to blast his own artist publicly is, essentially, an act of sabotage – is it enough to get him fired by his bosses?

Would you lose your job for doing the same thing?

Praise Praise & Blame - Tom Jones

Tom Jones – What Good Am I?
Original by Bob Dylan
Later With Jools Holland – May 26, 2010

Tom Jones – Strange Things
From Tom’s studio in Wiltshire, UK
GMTV, London, UK – July 27, 2010

Tom Jones – Did Trouble Me
From Tom’s studio in Wiltshire, UK
GMTV, London, UK – July 27, 2010