He came from nothing.
And when you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose. You go with the flow, you take risks, you glom on to advantages, your goal is to get ahead, not protect what you’ve got.
This is what the other entertainment industries cannot understand about music. How it’s run by street hustlers. Few with college educations. What they saw was opportunity, and they followed it.
Peter Grant is legendary as Led Zeppelin’s manager.
But what this book makes clear is that there was a pre-story, he didn’t come from nowhere, and his wrestling exploits were a sideshow having little to do with his advancement. He was a bouncer, a driver, a collector. He sidled up to artists and looked for opportunities. Some colleagues say he wasn’t even smart. But he was there, in the thick of the action, learning. From legendary crooks like…
You might be owed money, but that does not mean you can collect! In other words, a contract is no guarantee. This is something the inexperienced just cannot fathom. How someone can owe you money and just refuse to pay, willy-nilly. And although in the era of public Live Nation that’s much more rare on the promotion front, go beneath the surface and you’ll find it’s still true, it’s why producers never open their own wallet, try getting paid after you’ve done the work, it’s nearly impossible.
But these are life lessons you learn on the road, in the game. Is someone really gonna shoot you for a thousand dollars? They don’t teach you this stuff in school. About leverage, about people. And there are very few venues where you can get rich knowing solely what you’ve picked up on the way, needing no formal education, and one of them is music.
It’s still this way. Hip-hop, the dominant force, is built on eruptions from different parts of the country by people heretofore unknown. And despite the lore, usually this is not their first rodeo, very few make it right out of the box, even though they say they did.
And you cannot make it alone. Jimmy Page needed Peter Grant to succeed. Grant glommed on to Jimmy because he saw the guitarist dominating the Yardbirds and Page picked Grant because unlike the usual manager Peter went on the road and knew where money was made and lost. Don’t order room service, it’s too expensive. Beware of the promoter providing his own limos. This is stuff you can only learn by being there.
So today’s music business is a conundrum. You’ve got the nobodies from nowhere mixing it up with the seemingly know-betters trying to make the business legitimate. But how legitimate can a business be that cheats on its primary payment method, i.e. royalties? So Andy Lack comes in to make the trains run on time and he’s squeezed out. Meanwhile, septuagenarian Doug Morris, having run all three major label groups, is starting over once again, and you should not count him out.
But Doug’s a record guy. The business is changing, records have never been less important than in our era. Now the music is about the experience, it’s those who provide the shows who win. Why? BECAUSE THAT’S WHERE THE MONEY IS! That’s what Peter Grant and all the legends were looking for, to get paid. That’s how Peter bonded with Page, by getting the guitarist paid. Where there’s money, there are hustlers. And there’s still money in music. Not as much as in finance and tech, but where else can someone without a CV become a zillionaire?
Only in music.
P.S. And that’s why it’s exciting, that’s why we’re interested, we’re always looking to be surprised by music. Ironically, codification is rampant, people are following trends more than ever, but it’s the outside we’re looking for. Records are cheap. You can make a statement for next to nothing. And there’s an audience looking to find it, hear it and spread the word about it. Then again, Peter Grant got started before the Beatles, in the days of variety, before all the money came pouring in. Maybe today’s depressed revenues are a harbinger of good things to come. But they won’t come from frat boys on a lark prior to professionalism, but outsiders with no direction home, who are pushing the envelope.