"There's always room in rock 'n' roll for some stuff to start happening at a grassroots level, and the most interesting stuff seems to start there."
Column: off the record..., vol. 13-593
November 17, 2013
If you had asked me what big U2 news we'd hear in mid-November 2013, probably the last thing on my list would've been "Paul McGuinness is stepping away as U2's manager." And that Madonna's manager is going to take over day-to-day functions? Insane.
But, by all accounts it's true. And that includes confirmation from McGuinness himself even though the parties involved in the business deal haven't confirmed anything.
Reactions came loud and swift as the news spread through the music industry. Here are some....
Eternal curmudgeon Bob Lefsetz:
What we're seeing here is a generational transition. And I'm worried that U2 is playing with the B team.
Billboard magazine's Bill Werde:
Journalist and longtime U2 friend, Neil McCormick:
The primary reaction that fans shared with us on Twitter could be summed up in six words: "beginning of the end for U2." In our forum, fans are up to 13 pages of discussion as I type this.
Part of me thinks we should've seen this coming. For starters, U2 started using Instagram last month. (The account dates back to April, but semi-regular posts didn't happen until a month ago.)
Then there was the name change of U2's official Twitter account. It used to @U2com, but is now just @U2. That, of course, has been the name of our website since 1998. That Twitter name has been inactive for years, and I've often wondered why the band didn't try to use it -- I even contacted some of the U2.com folks a few years ago, offering to put them in touch with some people I know at Twitter in case they wanted to use it. When they didn't, I thought (and still think) that it was management being very generous toward us and not wanting to cause confusion by using the name of our website as their Twitter account.
I think the switch to @U2 on Twitter is something the new management did, although that's just a guess on my part. I doubt I'll ever know. And even though I recognize that it makes perfect sense for the band to be @U2 on Twitter, if I'm being completely honest with you, I have to admit that it bothers me a bit. That's been our name and brand for more than 15 years now. For that long, when someone types @U2, I assume they're talking to us. Not anymore.
But those two social media items slipped under the radar and, like many of you, I was stunned by the news of the management change last week.
My first reaction was a selfish one: How does this affect what we're doing here on @U2? We've developed what I think is a very good and respectful relationship with U2's management over the years, since the first time they contacted us on February 5, 1999. (I still have the email.) But fan sites like ours have a delicate relationship with artists no matter how good the relationship is. We use the band's trademark in the name of our website. We use their copyrighted images/photography (like the band shot up next to our logo). We're a common reason why some fans say they don't pay for a U2.com membership -- they get all the news they need from @U2. We're critical of the band (and U2.com) when we feel it's warranted.
On the other hand, I'd like to think we're also a big reason why U2 sells albums, concert tickets and whatever else they're selling. We keep fans informed. We report news and information that an official site would never care to report. We keep fans connected with U2 -- all of which serves a positive role for the band. (The same goes for other U2 fan sites and communities.)
It's a delicate relationship, but we always hope that the band and its management sees a value in what we do for them and for U2 fans. That's been the case for years, but now we're left to wonder if things will change with Paul McGuinness stepping away and a complete unknown taking over. (Aaron J. Sams wrote an excellent piece with background about Guy Oseary's management style with Madonna that sounds very positive to me.)
There are some popular and long-standing Madonna fan sites, so I'm optimistic that Oseary will have a positive attitude toward @U2. Fingers are crossed.
Beyond our own situation, I'm still a mix of thoughts about what the change means for U2. Part of me agrees with the fans that said on Twitter (and elsewhere) that this is the beginning of the end for U2. Part of me thinks, no, for a band that makes its living (and money) on tour, it makes sense for Live Nation to own the management company and it's smart for a younger manager -- one who's more social media savvy -- to run things day-to-day.
But the main thought I have is that this could be the end of the U2 family. The patriarch is leaving. Who will stay behind? I disagree with Neil McCormick, who said that most of Principle Management will stick around after the change. Yes, that might be the case in the short term. There's an album and tour on the immediate horizon, after all.
But I'll be shocked if Principle Management still exists two years from now, or whenever this next U2 cycle comes to an end. Many of the longtime PM staffers have long since said goodbye; what would keep the current crew on board and wanting to work for a new manager? More importantly, why would Oseary want to keep a team that someone else assembled? When managers take over new organizations, they almost always like to bring in their own people -- people that they've worked with before. You can bet Oseary will want to do that when he can do it without impacting U2's album/tour management.
I wonder what the relationship will be like between Oseary and U2. For the first time, U2 has an actual "manager" -- someone hired to handle business. He's not the "fifth member of the band," as McGuinness has been described over the years. The relationship won't be the same because the history and friendship aren't there. How will the inevitable frustrations be handled? Larry Mullen has expressed some fatigue with the business part of being in U2 in recent years (I think that was in the December 2008 Q magazine interview, which I can't locate right now), so who knows how he'll feel about having a new, traditional manager on board.
Ultimately, this is a significant development and don't listen to anyone who says otherwise. U2 has built a very tight-knit organization over the years and one of the main family members is saying goodbye. It's inevitable that this will change things. The only questions are how and when.
See you next time!
© @U2, 2013.