Management Shuffle Signals End of U2’s Beautiful Day

Paul McGuinness U2
L.Cohen/WireImage

Guy Oseary and Live Nation can’t save an aging band that’s lost its creative spark

Paul McGuinness could never break another hit act — and usually the mark of a great manager is the ability to do it more than once.

One of the best managers most people have never heard of? Gary Borman. He built Faith Hill, Lady Antebellum and Keith Urban, and knows it’s who’s onstage who counts, not the genius behind the curtain.

That’s the downfall of the music business: the belief that suits count more than artists.

Credit McGuinness with building U2.

But now’s a good time to get out, because the band is at a crossroads. It took all the money out of the market with a multiyear stadium trek and, without a hit single, it will probably never be able to tour at this scale again.

Hits are what U2 is dependent upon if it wants to keep the mantle of the world’s greatest rock and roll band, which it stole from the Stones decades ago, even if Mick Jagger doesn’t know that.

But rock is dead. At least on Top-40 radio, where hits are made.

What’s a poor boy to do?

Become a venture capitalist, like Bono did with Roger McNamee and Elevation.

Or try and save the world, which Bono is also doing.

But if he wants to stay a relevant musician, that’s a much harder goal to achieve.

But he’s got Guy Oseary in his corner! Oseary becomes the manager of U2 with McGuinness’ sale of Principle Management to Live Nation.

To believe Oseary is a great manager is to think Metallica svengali Cliff Burnstein can front a band, and Irving Azoff can play in the NBA. What Oseary does best is get into the head of Madonna and make her believe he’s indispensable, which he’s not. Madge has had a series of managers since she broke through, even the aforementioned Mr. Burnstein, who helped her stay relevant with “Ray of Light.”

But Madonna’s relevant no more. It pains her, but athletes retire. And in music, the game changes. It’s less about age than fads and desire and other elements elder people just can’t keep up with, and oftentimes look bad trying to. If you’re not willing to admit your age, you’re gonna have a hard time in popular culture.

And so often music is youth culture.

And you can tour to your core, but as you age that core cannot fill stadiums — not usually.

If you know McGuinness, he’s a force of nature. Someone who’s all what he’s promoting, 24/7. It’s not easy to find someone like that, who lives and dies for you. He’s essentially Col. Parker, but with a fairer deal and a worldwide viewpoint.

In other words, no one’s gonna care as much.

So U2 has lost its rudder.

And although Live Nation’s Arthur Fogel is brilliant at what he does — one of the absolute best — U2’s problem is not touring financials so much as creative issues.

Music has always operated best when unrestricted. When those involved were free to reinvent the wheel at their leisure, to test limits, be offensive and charm us all at the same time.

Tying up with Live Nation is no different from selling out to Google or Microsoft. You’ll get paid, but you’ll lose control. Happens every day: The founders get frustrated and leave, and their products often go into decline.

But music is not a mere product. When done right, it’s not evanescent. It pricks our hearts and stimulates our brains and makes us believe life is worth living.

Bono once had that power. He’s sacrificed it. So goodbye ’80s rock. And goodbye ’80s pop, too. We’re in a new era where the most stimulating productions emanate from bedrooms, get traction on YouTube and are shared virally by the general public.

There’s business and there’s music. Business ain’t bad. But music’s in sad shape.

Because everybody’s looking to sell out.

Read more Bob Lefsetz columns at Lefsetz.com.

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    1. Con says:

      Paul McGuinness didn’t have to create more than one successful band . The fact is he successfully managed the biggest band in history. Don’t be fooled into thinking that U2 have lost their creative spark. U2 as a band have created some of the worlds best known songs and will continue to create new music well into the future.

    2. RedRiver says:

      Memo to Bob Lefsetz: The Rolling Stones, the “former greatest rock & roll band in the world”, had a hugely successful tour in 2013 that made millions. I believe they even headlined most celebrated music festival in the world in Glastonbury, England this past Summer. They haven’t been on Top 40 radio for years. I think U2, the “current greatest rock & roll band in the world”, will continue to have great success in touring. To think otherwise just shows what an out of touch twit you appear to be. Pathetic article.

    3. Tony Toronto says:

      This.Article.Is.So.Stupid. The height of intelectual laziness . Writer has zero clue on what makes U2 tick and obviously does not have a pulse on the fan base ( a well travelled fan base ) .

    4. Fred says:

      I feel like this article should have been written 15-20 years ago after the floundering of Pop where U2 tried to follow the trends of electronic trip-hop music. That was the last of U2 trying to be innovative. That was the end of U2 as the “World’s Greatest Rock Band.” They lost that title to Radiohead for one and there are 100s of better bands now. But the sentiments of the article I completely agree. “Business ain’t bad. But music’s in sad shape. Because everybody’s looking to sell out.” The funny thing is U2 said they’d break up if they ever felt like they were making “crap music.” Well it’s been 20 years since then and they’re still making c*** music.

      The suits won. They have it down to a science now. Kids will buy any cute idol and defend it to the high heavens. Just change up the line-up every few years and put out a new cute kitten. The older musicians have no power because their audience doesn’t spend nearly the same amount of cash and time that kids do and everyone is willing to follow along.

    5. PS says:

      What a preposterously stupid article. Now get off of your soap box and let people talk, who know what they are talking about. U2 are filling stadiums around the world, since over 25 years! Who cares about hit singles? They will never have to worry about filling stadiums. People that go see them, do not go based on hitsingles. They go based on the body of work the band put in the past 30 years.

      Same for Madonna! She played stadiums around the world. The majority of them sold out. Again, who cares about hit singles? These artists are legacy artists. People go see them because of the body of work in the past 30 years.

      I don’t see any of the Justin Biebers, Rihannas, Lady Gagas, Justin Timberlakes, in short, the so-called youth with hit singles (despite me personally seldomly having heard any of their songs) play stadiums.

    6. JB says:

      U2 have soul. It comes from deep down. Going to their gigs transcends the human and at one point or the other becomes a collective Spiritual experience. Unfortunately most columnists don’t get or buy into the Spiritual, it dost sell space.

      The U2 360 tour played to 7 million people. Every stadium they played in they broke box office records for capacity. Oh and it was the biggest grossing tour in history. Oh and they were all in their 50’s. So they are too old and not revelant. Could’ve fooled me.

    7. Sam E. says:

      1. The most popular touring acts are by and large rock bands whose most famous work was produced at least a few decades ago: Rolling Stones, Springsteen, Neil Young, Aerosmith, Paul McCartney and Bon Jovi. Producing radio hits has very little to do with whether or not a band is able to sell tickets.

      2. Beautiful Day and Vertigo were both hits and even Get on Your Boots managed a fair amount of radio time despite being subpar music. So, I don’t see why it’s a given u2 can’t have a top 40 hit.

    8. Rothchild Boccara says:

      I strongly disagree with the uninformed opinion expressed in this article. Can someone explain to me how acts like U2 and Madonna are irrelevant? In 2013, Madonna sold out 3 nights at Yankee Stadium …that’s like almost 500K people in one city alone! None of these watered-down pop-rock bands or pop divas could top that today. Could One Direction top that? Gaga? Miley? U2, like the Rolling Stones, Madonna, Elton John, Fleetwood Mac or Kiss etc have no need to have current “hits” and are doing just fine touring off their back catalogue and legions of fans.

      When “With Or Without You” went #1 in 1987, it was selling 30K copies PER DAY. In 2013, you only need to sell 30K copies **TOTAL** to achieve a #1 single. The media and a desperate music industry is trying to shove the flavor-of-the-day music acts down our throat and boasting their relevance but the sales figures don’t add up. Look at Gaga (sorry to pick on her, I actually do like her), Interscope spent $25 million promoting her album…got her on SNL, got her on TV with the Muppets. And still, she only sold 260K copies of her album and STILL had the largest % sale drop from first week to 2nd week. And she didn’t outsell Katy Perry or Cyrus who only did marginally better at 280K and 270K…and she’s more relevant than U2?? Absolutely not.

    9. Nick Kostenborder says:

      One thing about U2: whenever an album has failed to produce a hit, its not because they’ve tried to hammer the same old tired formula ala Springsteen and Bon Jovi (neither of which has had a worthwhile tune in over a decade, yet both still fill stadiums incidentally.) When a U2 album fails to meet expectations, its because they’ve tried to break new ground, and every now and then they swing and miss. Although, if you go back and listen to 1997’s Pop you’ll hear some pretty interesting stuff.
      Finally, its difficult to imagine a scenario where the suits take over and influence U2’s art in any way. Bono and the boys built those corporations. They can release any album they want, nobody is going to tell them “no”.

    10. John D'Isselt says:

      You are a very silly man, Mr. Lefsetz.

    11. Debra Carter says:

      Sounds to me like this guy doesn’t appreciate the fact that it’s not opinions or popularity that matters brother it’s the message. Music is more than top 40 hits its how it makes you feel when you listen to it. U2 to me is more than just a band its a concept. Hasn’t U2 provided you with a decent living. Your poll watching will get you old.

    12. JD says:

      U2 does not need anymore hits to sell out massive stadiums. Period.

    13. Everyone’s going to age. It’s just a matter of doing it gracefully during so, or not. Are their best days behind them? They would obviously say no, but musically, creatively, probably.

      I’m glad that they’re still going for it, but ruling the world in the music industry … not seeing it.

      The idea that they need ‘another’ new hit in order to have a big tour again though is complete nonsense. They have enough hits to tour successfully until they all die on stage. I wouldn’t want to see that and likely their base wouldn’t either.

      I think their base would actually prefer to stay home and purchase DVD’s of them playing in their studio at home, having reflective conversations about their career and reading biographies that are not filtered through a co-writer.

      I personally wish U2 would own their age set, and behave so. Seeing them as parents and grand-parents is not a liability, but likely the best chapter in their long career. I chuckle every time I stumble across a new image or video of Bono hours after he found another box of honey colored Just For Men hair color.

      Head gracefully towards that horizon boys. Head gracefully. Adam has always been the quiet leader, take a queue.

    14. Daniel Hazard says:

      Was there a point to this column? or any relevant relatable facts? More of a collection of rambling paragraphs.

    15. Joe Smart says:

      There are some serious problems with the logic employed in this column. While it’s true that U2 didn’t have a hit off it’s last album not being able to produce a new hit hasn’t been much of an impediment to artists who were huge and already have a large number of hits in their catalog. Madonna was listed by Forbes as the top paid musician of 2013 in spite of the fact that she isn’t a musician and hasn’t had a hit in 15 years. When the Rolling Stones tour they typically gross a half billion dollars in spite of the fact that they haven’t had a real hit since Mixed Emotions in 1989. There simply isn’t any reason to believe that U2 won’t continue to be a huge concert draw, even if they don’t manage to ever have another hit record.

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