March 23, 2010

Magic, not managed

Filed under: business,marketing,music — Erik Dobberkau @ 22:27

If you’re into music you might have heard of CD Baby and know about their story — if not, you should pay them a visit.

A few days days ago, CD Baby founder Derek Sivers posted two tweets:

Definitions of “founder”: (1) a person who founds or establishes some instituion (2) stumble and nearly fall: “the horse foundered”

Oh I definitely stumbled and fell bad. I was a horrible manager. That’s why I sold the company: personal failure, not success.

Having listened to some interviews with him, Derek seems a modest person to me, but very clear and determined about what he wants to achieve with what he’s doing. I didn’t know that when I gave my former band’s first album to CD Baby back in 2004 — but because I had a good feeling about the company. Today I know that Derek himself put a lot of effort in to make it work and keep it going, spending long hours on programming, maintaining and improving the system. And somehow you noticed.

Maybe I’m romancing here, but you think different about something when you have an idea of what’s going on behind the scenes. What the public didn’t know back then was that Derek wasn’t good at managing (if you want to know in detail, most of his interviews are still available). But it wasn’t important. Maybe this caused some occasional damage, but I’m pretty certain that his vision and his passion were enough to create a tribe and make people come to work every day at CD Baby, as well as it attracted musicians who would have CD Baby distribute their music, and millions of people spending millions of dollars to discover new music by original artists.

And then Derek sold the company, for reasons I can understand in a certain way. And I believe this was when the game changed as an inevitable matter of course. Though he’d been releasing newsletters announcing CD Baby had sold 5 million albums and more, generating tens of millions of dollars of profit paid to the musicians, people were not really aware that this had been a multi million dollar company. It didn’t look like it. It didn’t feel like it either. But selling your company for $22 million changes everything, especially when you sell it to another company. Had he sold it to an individual, it might not have changed that much — but that’s speculation.

A company as new owner shone a different light on the company you thought you knew. Besides, they made one of the top mistakes: a site design overhaul. That’s IMO the worst, because most egocentric, first official action you can commit. Good news was, the first new president wasn’t in charge for long. Then came a new one, and he screwed up completely by deciding the whole system (including the visual design, once again) needed to be rebuilt. The rest is (sad) history. I’ve rarely seen such an outrage persisting over months on the one hand, and on the other such an unmatched foolishness (Statements like “Good news! We’ve set up a new system and we haven’t tested it beforehand. It’s not fully functional as of now, but it will be in no time! Stay tuned! CD Baby loves you!” No time turned out to be about 5 months. Not only was the site not working, but artists were not having access to their accounts, money was getting lost, the no-works).

Not only doesn’t it feel right any more, but millions of people have been let down by a company they used to love. Here’s the real mistake. The magic is gone. Now management is in charge. People did forgive mistakes back then because they didn’t expect flawless results as long as they were certain someone was doing everything they could becaused they loved their work. With management in charge, people get the notion that now they’re doing serious business. Serious as in unforgiving, no kidding, meet my lawyer. Doesn’t sound like musicians helping musicians, does it?

No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Powered by WordPress