#TBT: Stewart Copeland of The Police — You Only Make Money When You Sweat

Happy #TBT. To celebrate, we’re sharing an oldie-but-goodie post from Jim: Stewart Copeland of The Police — You Only Make Money When You Sweat.

Jim spoke with Stewart Copeland, drummer of the legendary rock band The Police, about live entertainment today [2009] versus during the ’70s and ’80s and about strategies for success whether you’re a rock star or not.

Jim: The recent tour (2007-08) was very successful despite the band’s not having been together for a long time. Why was that?

Stewart Copeland: It was successful because the band hadn’t been together for a while. The band was pristine and, therefore, when we pulled it off the shelf, it was all shiny. It was a classic, well preserved. It’s an antique that has all the handles still on it, and all the filigree is still in place.

In other words, there were no wrong versions of the band that went out there. All members of the band [Copeland, Andy Summers and Sting] are alive and can still play.

So when we picked it up again, there was no chaff with the wheat.

Jim: How is concert marketing different now as compared to, say, 20 or 30 years ago?

SC: Now there are more players. As far as the media that you buy, there are a million different kinds of media, so you don’t just buy that one Rolling Stone ad and get everyone; you have to buy 10 magazines. In fact, it’s not just one kind of media that you have to buy 10 different competitors in; there’re different kinds of media. It’s not just print; it’s internet, television and radio.

And it’s not even just the internet anymore; it’s making sure you get your tune onto Rock Band or Guitar Hero.

Jim: As big stars, you have some marketing options not available to most people, so if you’re an artist or organization with a solid following, what do you need to do to continue to grow it?

SC: You need to work on breadth so that you’ll get depth. If you’re big in California, you’re going to lose your depth in California unless you can take your fan base into the entire West. That means you’re not overplowing California. While you’re in Colorado or Washington, California is lying fallow and [simultaneously] increasing your resources.

So that when you go back to California you haven’t overdone it. If the theater troupe is secure in California, they’ve got to work on expanding their territory so that they can nurture the depth in California.

In England, it was an accepted rule that if you break America, you’ll be bigger in England. That’s because if you’re only big in England and you’re touring again and again and again, you overdo it. [It’s better] if you can go off to America for six months and sustain and enrich yourself. Then, when you come back to England, you’ve got a better light show, because you paid for it out of the American tour.

You’ve got to spread it wide so you can get it deep. So that [for example] England can be a market that you can totally count on.

Jim: Do you think success as an artist is more about owning a niche now as compared to in the past?

SC: Oh, yeah. Because there is no otherwise. Unless you are selected by the titans of industry to be the next iPod icon like U2 or something, you’ve got to find a niche.

Niches are all there are except for the huge, huge, huge mega-names.

Jim: Are you part of the last generation of traditional rock stars?

SC: I think that’s true. The rock star of the future is a niche guy. He’s not going to be paid nearly the fortunes, but he might have a more secure future. He might be in more personal control of his career. It’s just not going to be the huge jet set career.

Jim: No more drive-a-Rolls-Royce-into-a-swimming-pool type of rock stars?

SC: Yeah, that was our stuff. We are barely in the pack with The Doors, Hendrix, Zeppelin and AC/DC.  Not as securely as I would like to be, but we’re in there.

For some reason, to kids these days, unlike us when we were kids, the idea of “old school” is not a pejorative; it’s a good thing.

God, I don’t know how that happened, but thank you, thank you, Lord!

What’s so strange for me in particular is that the generation I am a part of is the Punk Generation, which was totally anti-nostalgia, anti-classic. In fact our battle was against the classics. And here I am 20 years later thanking my lucky stars that I am considered to be among the classics.

Jim: Well, perspectives change on things as you get older.

SC: Oh yeah. Well, we have kids. Then we get a mortgage, then we have a stake in the status quo. F*** the revolution.

Jim: In your view, has the live portion of the business gone from a supporting role to the lead role?

SC: Oh, it’s beautiful to see. Live Nation are masters of the Universe. The poor little record company guy showing up at the show, I mean, do they even get a backstage pass? Uhhh, maybe. I don’t know … go talk to [Live Nation Chairman Arthur] Fogel. The president of Universal? Go talk to Fogel.

It’s absolutely the case that we put out an album, we sold maybe 300,000 units, and they’re breaking out the champagne. Me, I was embarrassed! What do you mean, 300,000 units? I think we even got a chart position out of 300,000 albums.

Jim: I think in 1984, Thriller was selling 500,000 copies a week.

SC: Yeah, and that doesn’t happen anymore. I don’t know how Madonna is doing or how anyone is doing, but those numbers don’t exist anymore, and the amount of money that Universal has to spend to get that … we exploded in A&M’s face, and that doesn’t happen anymore. They’ve gotta make it happen; they’ve gotta buy it.

I’m sorta enjoying the fact that all those grubbing around promoters … I’m enjoying the fact that they’ve got a secure industry now. I actually kinda like those guys; I identified with those guys. The street hustlers, the local guys, are kind of doing OK when the fat cats back in the head office are not doing so OK.

Jim: Isn’t the live show important in driving interest in selling other things, too, like T-shirts?

SC: The idea of a concert as a catalyst for selling a CD is bass-ackward now. You make a CD and go through all that hassle and give it away, as Madonna has done her deal with not Universal, but Live Nation, and as Prince gave away his album, and as Radiohead [has done]; it’s the other way around now.

Let’s just make a record so that people will like us and come to the show.

The hassle with that is that you have to go out there your g*dd**n self, work up a sweat and f***in’ pound away for an hour and a half, damn it. Instead of going to a studio in the Caribbean and flaunting about for a couple months, and then the money rolls in while you sleep.

Jim: Isn’t that democratizing, too?

SC: Well, nowadays you don’t have to go to Montserrat; you can do it in your living room, and it doesn’t cost any money. But the hassle is that effort that you do in your living room doesn’t feed you while you sleep. You have to go out to f***in’ Minneapolis and Chicago and …. You actually have to go out there physically and with physical labor, pry the money out of their pockets. Instead of having a piece of plastic in Minneapolis that will get the money out of their pockets.

Jim: Doesn’t that make it a little more humanized?

SC: That dehumanizing/rehumanizing part? I never even got that far. All I got as far as is that it’s a lot of work. When you get to my age, it’s not just a matter of the work involved. I’m not lazy. It’s a matter of I’ve got a wife, I’ve got children who need me. A family. I wanna be at home. I don’t want to spend my life on the road.

But the future musician to make a living, sadly … well, there’re all kinds of good things. He can make all the music he wants any way he wants to make it with nobody telling him otherwise. He doesn’t have to ask for money or permission. The problem is, he doesn’t have a life. He has to go out there and earn, physically, with labor, every dollar. He doesn’t make money while he sleeps anymore. He only makes money while he sweats.

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