How did Major Record Companies take control of Black Music?(Part 2)


In order to approach the situation scientifically, CBS
Records commissioned the Harvard University Business
School to do a study. Westbrooks served as the
coordinator. The title of the study was, A Study of the Soul
Music Environment Prepared for Columbia Records Group.
The Harvard team was officially titled the “Columbia
Records Project Group.” In his book The Anatomy Of A
Record Company: How To Survive The Record Business,
Westbrooks outlined some of the key rationales for the
study.
First, CBS wanted to determine the profit potential, so they
would not forfeit any market share. Second, CBS wanted to
examine the crossover potential (crossover indicating
crossing over from the Soul chart to the Pop chart in the
music industry trade magazines, or as many described it,
from the black chart to the White chart). Charts contribute
heavily to records being played on radio.
In 1972, when the study was conducted, CBS Records had
only two acts they felt could effectively penetrate the black
market: Sly Stone and Santana. “The following
recommendations were suggested to correct this: purchase
already developed talent rosters from companies like
Philadelphia International Records, Stax Records; revive
and re-establish proven talents (Isley Brothers, O’Jays, Lou
Rawls); take breaking groups and break them bigger (Earth
Wind and Fire, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes); buy into
breaking trends (Jazz Fusion through Miles Davis and his
‘alumni’: Weather Report, Headhunters, Mahavishnu
Orchestra), and perpetuate success, Michael Jackson.”
Westbrooks.
The results of the study were quite striking. For instance,
CBS Records developed a black Music Marketing Division
that was copied throughout the industry by every major
record company doing business in black music. CBS
increased its artist roster from two progressive black oriented
acts in 1972, to one hundred and twenty-five in
1980 – the largest roster of black artists in the industry.
Michael Jackson broke all previous sales records with his
album “Thriller,” anticipating another big one with his next
album, “Bad.” At that time he was the number one music
artist/entertainer in the world. The bittersweet side of this, it
institutionalized black popular music, but it caused other
forms of music: blues, jazz and folk music to suffer virtual
elimination on most radio play lists and concert bills.
According to the study, it created more jobs for blacks, a
point that must be clarified. Though dozens of blacks were
employed to capitalize on this new found market, if the
discontinued black-owned record companies had survived,
hundreds of blacks would have been employed.

Ironically, Clive Davis, President of CBS Records during the
time of the study, denies ever having used it, “I went ahead
on creative feel, intuitive reasoning and common sense, not
because I had any study or blueprint. I’ve never read that
study, I’ve never seen it, and I’ve certainly never used it as
a blueprint. [The study] did not form the basis for any move
that I made,” Westbrooks.
According to Verdine White, bass player for Earth Wind and
Fire, “Columbia did a Harvard study on black music. Clive
followed the Harvard study in terms of the viability of black
music. He really made black music his goal. By signing us,
Philadelphia International, Bill Withers, and Herbie Hancock
(Miles was already on the label), they wanted to make a
change.” Mr. White said that since the 1920s and Bessie
Smith, Columbia had not been successful with black music.
Ray Barnes, a successful record producer at the time (late
1980s), suggests that there
may have been a hidden agenda behind the Harvard study.
He speaks of a conversation
he had with a top black executive associated with the study
(Westbrooks): I met with him
and he had just left the major company that he was working
with (CBS). He said, Im going
to tell you something about this industry that will probably
surprise you. He said, when I
was working for the major company, they had me do a
study on what it was that enabled
black people to make the kind of music that they do. He
said, the industry realized that
black people influenced from 75 to 90 percent of all music
made in America and the world. So that meant that these
people, black people, have the influence which influenced
almost all the music. The danger that was happening at
that time was: you had Motown, you had Stax, you had
Sussex. You had these black record companies at that time
who had the majority of the black acts.
He told me that CBS, Warner Brothers, Atlantic, Polygram,
all of them got together to do
this study. They wanted to find out what it is that makes
black music what it is. The idea is
that, if we can find the ingredients, then maybe we can
make the music without black
people. Then we wont have to have them. We can make
the music ourselves.

2 thoughts on “How did Major Record Companies take control of Black Music?(Part 2)

  1. The Harvard study said that as long as you control distribution you can control the economics of the music industry. You can’t give blacks the labels, the catalogs, everything else but you need to control distribution. See the movie Hidden Colors.

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