This week, The Hollywood Reporter investigates the tumultuous twenty-month reign of former Epic Records president Amanda Ghost, and in the process provides a glimpse into the mind-set of the music industry in its death throes.
Ghost, a 36-year-old songwriter whose biggest success came with James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful,” was hired by Sony Music Label Group chairman Rob Stringer to mix things up at the stagnant Epic. It didn’t quite go as planned: Amid clashes with artists who claimed Ghost was too hands-on and charges that she didn’t know how to manage a company, Epic continued to slip. Things came to a head at CMJ just last month, where a technical glitch during a set by Epic band Augustana caused Ghost to fly into a rage onstage and abruptly end the show. She was fired six days later, and Stringer now sounds contrite about hiring her in the first place: “The reason I made a radical decision with Amanda, rightly or wrongly, was that I wanted someone to try and inject that adrenaline back into the creative side of it.”
Interestingly, some of the strife stemmed from Ghost acting as if she was running a record label during the carefree heyday of the industry. For example:
It was commonly known among Epic and Columbia employees from all ranks that Ghost was a more than casual marijuana smoker who would regularly light up in her office and admonish so-called creatives who didn’t partake. “Her motto was, ‘If you don’t smoke pot, you can’t work here,’” one former staffer says. “In her A&R meetings, she’d say things like, ‘If you’re not high, like, how do you like music?’”
During another meeting, a staffer recalls Ghost throwing a CD across the room to make a point. “She thought it was cool and edgy to do stuff like that. She’d say, ‘This is shit; you know we can’t put this out!’”
As THR explains, things like the home-run swing of hiring a songwriter to run a record label happen when no one’s quite sure how long that label is going to exist for anyways. Here are a bunch of sad quotes:
“I saw the writing on the wall when we were told to cut back using FedEx and messengers and informed that we’d no longer have free bottled water at the office,” recalls a former department head. “But there was plenty of frivolous spending, too. Jessica Simpson’s hair, makeup and entourage alone cost so much, it was ridiculous.”
“The place is just kind of dead,” one recent roamer says. “No one’s in their offices, Amanda isn’t there, there’s no energy. … Most of the people still there have been through it all; they’re numb at this point.” Another described it this way: “Ding dong, the witch is dead!” … As for whether Epic will exist a year from now, Stringer says he’s “optimistic.”
And our favorite, from Stringer:
“When I got into this business, I didn’t think I’d be having to downsize 20 years later because it’s screwed up. I just wanted to stand in the back of a hall watching the Clash.”
Hugs are definitely called for.