Copyright© 2016 by Jay Cantrell
Romantic Sex Story: Chapter 127 - Travis Blakely had a comfortable existence. He had a decent job and good friends. He was comfortable with what the future held for him. Then he ran into a girl he remembered from high school. His life got a lot more interesting - and infinitely more complicated
Liz didn’t have to go through myriad assistants to speak to Glen Carter.
I knew his grandchildren worked for him in some capacity and that his son was running most of the man’s business empire (along with Glen’s brother, George). He had arrived in Dallas with an entourage that consisted entirely of family members.
He had brought his wife, his son and daughter-in-law, a grandson and a granddaughter to the concert. The son and his wife were in their middle 40s; the grandchildren in their late teens or early 20s.
They all struck me much as Glen had: Genuine and earnest. The man appeared (to me, at least) to have no ego despite the fact that among country music fans his name was as recognizable as the woman in the room with me, Jill and Skye.
I doubted I would have much to contribute so I spent my time reading over the documents that had been released and the impact they were having on the (admittedly fabricated) conversation.
“Hello, Liz,” the legendary singer answered. “I’m sorry I’ve been away for the past few days.”
“You deserve to get away anytime you want,” Liz answered.
“Well, I’m glad I could get your statement up on my website,” he told her. “That’s turning into something up there, isn’t it?”
“I’m not sure exactly what that something is but, yeah,” Liz returned.
“How can I help?” Glen asked.
Liz paused. Glen was retired. He hadn’t put out a disc in four years and he’d removed himself from the Nashville politics long before that.
“Right now we’re just sort of rolling with things, Mr. Carter,” I cut in after looking up from my tablet when the room went silent. “Oh, this is Travis Blakely. I should have led with that.”
“I can see your hand in what’s going on so I figured you’d be on the call,” Glen said. I wasn’t sure if seeing my hand in things was good or bad. “You let me know if you can think of anything I can do. My website has been trying to keep up ... but it’s tough for her. Uh ... my great-niece runs the thing and she has school.”
I had looked at Glen’s website and it was good. I thought it was a little easier to navigate than Liz’s (although I hadn’t said anything like that).
“Please give her our compliments on the job she’s doing,” I said. “It looks great and it’s really easy to find what you’re looking for. I was really impressed when I saw it.”
“I’ll pass that along,” Glen said, clearly pleased. “She was pretty excited when my son told her she had a chance to help out up there. She’s a great kid. I wish I got to see her more often.”
“Is this ... George’s granddaughter?” Liz asked.
“Yep,” Glen replied. “Fifteen years old ... going on 30.”
“Well, Travis is 30 years old ... going on 15,” Liz said. “It evens out.”
Glen’s laughter was rich and full.
“I wanted to talk to you about your brother if we could,” Liz said.
I heard a deep sigh.
“Did he shoot his mouth off?” Glen asked. “He’s no fan of the labels so I can’t imagine anything he said would hurt what you’re trying to do.”
“It’s not that,” Liz said. “It’s ... I’d like to talk to him about the possibility of becoming my manager.”
There was silence on the other end of the line. I could hear breathing so I knew the connection hadn’t been cut.
“I was thinking along those lines while we were in Dallas,” Glen admitted after a long moment. “Then the thing with your label came down and I wasn’t sure about it.”
“Was George upset?” Liz asked, glancing at me with a look of disbelief.
“He was plenty upset,” Glen replied. “We all were.”
“I don’t see what we could have done differently,” Liz said. Her tone was pointed.
“Oh, no, no, no,” Glen said. “We weren’t upset about what you did. We were ... I’ll just say it. We were pissed off at how RFN acted. That whole scene was ... it was so typical. You know, that’s why I left Nashville. It’s why I started my own label. George and I talked it over and we just couldn’t play the game up there anymore. So I came back down here and started Black Hat Productions.”
“Is your label still operating?” Liz wondered.
“No,” Glen said. “We started to move the artists out about 10 years ago. My retirement was about five years in the making, Liz. It took us that long to get everybody somewhere else. We were mostly local distribution in the Texas and Oklahoma regions. We never handled more than six or seven singers at a time. We’d be too small to help you out.”
“I was thinking more along the lines of George still having ties to it,” Liz said.
“Nah, that’s closed up,” Glen said.
“But you don’t think George would be interested in helping me out?” Liz asked.
“I think a lot of it depends on where you land,” he admitted. “When you were at RFN, he might have thought about it. Given what we know, he’d have left ... or strangled somebody at that place. I’m not sure which. The truth is ... there are some labels George just won’t deal with. If you sign with one of them, he won’t be interested.”
Liz looked around the room to Jill, Skye and me. I could see the question in her eyes. I looked to Jill and we both nodded slightly. Skye nodded a moment later.
“We’re going to go a different route,” she hedged. “He won’t have to deal with anybody from a label he doesn’t like.”
“I thought you might try to start your own label up there,” Glen said. “I can see it working. But it’s a lot of work for you.”
“That’s not our plan,” Liz said. “I thought about it. I even looked into it. But taking care of the distribution is just more than I want to take on. Maybe a few years down the road when I can either devote more of my time to it or have people in place that I trust to handle it but I’m changing over too much to add something that ... cumbersome. Maybe if it went completely digital, it’d be different. But I just don’t want to deal with getting my music distributed to the brick and mortar locations ... and I don’t really want to deal with programming directors. We’re ... going in a new direction with this.”
“I see,” Glen said in a tone of voice that clearly said he didn’t see.
“You know about the exclusive negotiating period I’m under,” Liz said.
“Yes, I do,” Glen said with disgust.
“There are things I just can’t get into right now, even with you, unless we were face to face,” Liz told him.
“I understand,” Glen replied. “I live out in the boonies so I don’t have to worry about anybody intercepting my calls. But my security guys were always on George and me about what we could talk about over an open line.”
“I’m glad you didn’t think I was just trying to put you off,” Liz said. “But what we’re doing here is going to be completely different. If you’ve been following the stuff that’s been happening this week then maybe you can connect the dots to what is going to happen next.”
The phone went silent while Glen contemplated.
“Yeah,” he said. I could hear the man smiling. “You’re moving a lot of your operations out from under the label’s influence. I thought ... I thought Travis was because you two are together. You know, there have been some rumors up there. George is pretty well connected still and he likes to pass along what he hears when we talk. Even before that girl lost her mind, there was some talk about you breaking away from Nashville completely.”
“I’m not breaking away from country music,” Liz said. “But ... I’m going to do what you did. I’m going to put some distance between me and the layer of crap you have to wade through in this town to get anything done.”
“I ... I don’t want to influence your decision, Liz,” Glen said hesitantly, “but I ran a label. Granted, it was a small one but the situation is the same. Black Hat did a lot of things that nobody really saw. I don’t want you walking into something thinking it’s one thing when it’s really something else.”
“Thanks, Glen,” Liz said. “I appreciate that you’re looking out for me. I’m like you in another way. This has been five years in the making. I started to talk to people about the ancillary services the label offers a few years ago. At the time it was because I was thinking about starting my own. Then I got a good look at some of the aspects like distribution and the idea cooled off. But I kept looking at how much I was paying the label and how little I was getting in return. I figured out that I could do a lot of what they do myself for about a quarter of the cost. So I started to put people into positions to do that once my time at RFN ended. Right now, I’m in good shape except for distribution. And there are people out there that solely handle that part of the process.”
“That girl in L.A.,” Glen said. Again, I could detect a smile when he spoke. “Well, I’ll be. That is going to be ... something. You know, right now, every single record label in America and a few in Europe are lining up to make a pitch to you in a few weeks. I hope the supermarkets up there stock up on tissues because there is going to be a lot of crying in those big fancy offices.”
“I hope so,” Liz said. “It’s a mess of their own making.”
“I had some problems with my first two labels,” Glen said. “When I broke away and started Black Hat ... it opened my eyes a little bit. It’s harder than it looks. I know it irritated me to no end to pay those guys 60 percent off the top but...”
“But nothing,” I cut in. “The rate now is 72 percent in a lot of cases. Almost three-quarters of the money from disc sales goes to the label. Half of the tour gross goes to expenses. It’s fine for somebody like you or like Liz. It isn’t fine for the Chelsea Romes of the world. When you toss in how little streaming services are paying the young artists and how expensive it is to try to make a living playing music, the model is broken. Over the last decade, producing music has gotten increasingly simpler. The cost of marketing an artist has decreased because more options mean more competitive pricing; the cost of distribution has decreased because the number of discs being printed and shipped to brick and mortar locations is at an all-time low.
“Music is almost entirely digital now. It’s produced digitally and it’s distributed digitally. To be generous, it takes two minutes to upload a disc. Then it’s pure profit because the same thing is downloaded hundreds of thousands of times. It’s no longer necessary to produce a million physical discs for a Glen Carter album and ship them all over the world. In five years, your great-niece is going to be all you really need for distribution.
“And it’s never been easier to find talent. Every aspiring singer has a dozen videos on YouTube. Talent scouts don’t have to troll honkytonks and dive bars to find people. They have to log on, listen and send an email – or they have to watch one of the hundreds of talent shows on TV every single night. The problem is that while the actual cost of doing business has decreased, the prices charged to the artist and the consumer have risen! It’s why the number of people owning music is decreasing every year. That’s why streaming services and Internet radio has boomed.
“Yeah, sure, the labels have a convenient scapegoat in file sharing, piracy and streaming sites. It’s a smokescreen to hide what’s really happening from the public and from the artists. Piracy is not killing entertainment ... well, maybe the porn industry ... but it’s not what is causing the executives in Nashville and L.A. and New York to gouge the consumer and the artist. That, Mr. Carter, is pure greed.”
“Is that something you can prove?” Glen asked seemingly unperturbed at the tone of my voice. Liz, on the other hand, was staring at me like I’d pooped on the Pope’s shoe. “I heard what you said about piracy when we were in Texas together. I’ll admit, as a theory, it has merit. I’m no bigger fan of the business model than you are but it won’t change unless somebody can prove what’s going on. I just don’t see that happening.”
“Have you heard of Train Records?”
“Yep,” Glen said.
“Somebody leaked their financials,” I said.
“Well, that’s interesting,” Glen said. “I worked for them ... close to 40 years ago. They were my second label. They closed up shop and moved out of Nashville. I wasn’t aware that they’d returned.”
“They haven’t,” I said. “They handle Top-40 and hip-hop right now. This is bigger than just country music. Look, from what I’ve heard, the top 17 executives are pulling down 58 percent of their gross revenues. Their top shareholders are getting another 12 percent. By the time everything is said and done, less than 10 percent of the pie is going back into artist services. The money comes solely from the musicians and the buyers. And it’s going straight into somebody’s pocket. I refuse to believe that Train is the exception and not the rule.”
“Oh, this is going to get ugly, isn’t it?” Glen asked.
“The first shot in the revolution has been fired,” I said. “Like a lot of wars, it didn’t seem like much when it happened. It took people like Conny, Melissa and Liz to rally the troops but now I think it’s unavoidable. The consumers are angry; the artists are angry; the bigwigs have too much invested to back away. Yeah, it’s going to be a fight. That’s why it is so important to have people like you and your brother in Liz’s corner. You fought the first revolution 35 years ago. You didn’t win but you gained ground. You know the ways the labels operate and what tricks they have up their sleeves. This time ... I think the artists have to win or the consumer is going to be left in the wreckage.”
I paused and took a deep breath.
“And like it or not, without the consumer to buy what you put out there, you might as well have gone to work in a bakery,” I concluded.
Glen promised to “put a bug” in his brother’s ear when George arrived later in the day.
The end of the call left me to look at the frowning face of Liz Larimer.
“I cannot believe you just lectured Glen Carter on the music business,” she said in exasperation.
“I didn’t lecture him,” I said defensively.
“He totally lectured him,” Jill said, turning to Skye.
“I didn’t mean to lecture him!” I said.
“He wasn’t trying to lecture him,” Skye told Jill.
“Will you two cut it out?” Liz hissed at her assistant and her road manager. “This is serious!”
“I don’t think it’s as serious as you make it out to be,” I said to put the focus of Liz’s unhappiness back where it belonged. “He would have told me to pound sand if he was offended.”
“It’s just the thought of what you just did,” Liz said. “That man has forgotten more about entertainment than we’ll ever know!”
“You’re wrong,” I replied, knowing full well how little Liz liked to hear those words.
I continued despite the fact her face had clouded in anger.
“He might have known the business 30 years ago,” I said. “He might have known the business 10 years ago. Hell, Liz, he might have known the business five years ago. He doesn’t know the business today. He’s been away for five years now. He hasn’t put out a disc in almost seven years. He hasn’t had to market himself; he hasn’t had to plan a tour; he hasn’t had to deal with the politics since he retired. What’s going on today is different than it was five years ago. You’ve said that yourself.”
“I don’t think Glen was offended,” Jill said.
“And I think some of his ideas show that he’s ... dated,” Skye added. “He didn’t have to deal with Mp3World. He didn’t have to pay much attention to Twitter or Facebook. He left before those things grew into what they are today. He didn’t have to deal with a career where every fan had a platform to critique and criticize. He just had to go out and play music. Travis is right in that regard: The industry has changed a lot since Glen left it.”
Liz nodded slowly but I knew she was still unhappy.
“What I told him ... the facts that I just tossed at him,” I said in modulated tones, “they came from the arguments that other artists are making.”