It’s been a blockbuster couple of weeks in the world of high-level band management. First, Lady Gaga announces that she’s splitting with Troy Carter, just days before her Artpopalbum was released. Since Carter is widely considered to be one of the best in the business–and considering the timing of the slip–this was huge news.
But then came The Big One.
Paul McGuinness, the only manager U2 has ever had, is selling his management company to Live Nation. Not only that, but in a deal that also includes Maverick, Madonna’s management company, her manager, Guy Oseary, is now the guy looking after the day-to-day affairs of U2?
To quote PJ O’Rourke, What the f**k? What the f**kin’ f**k?
Hold on. There are actually some solid business reasons for this.
First of all McGuinness is a decade-and-a-half older than the guys in U2 (he’s 63). Second, he’s had issues with his health. With a new album (due in April) and an evitable multi-leg, multi-year world tour, he’d be a senior citizen by the time it ended. It was perhaps time to stand aside and let someone younger take over. (Oseary is 41.)
Meanwhile, this has set off all kinds of speculation about what this means for U2. Fans are annoyed and maybe a little frightened. After all, McGuinness has functioned as a fifth member of the band (he gets 20% of the profits, just like everyone else) since the beginning.
But stepping back a little, this might be another one of McGuinness’ brilliant business moves. By getting out of the way now, U2 is possibly pre-empting a crisis. What would happen to the band in the midst of and album and touring cycle if their manager and chief career architect was suddenly laid up?
Look what happened to the Beatles when Brian Epstein suddenly died. Their finances were thrown into such a loop that they ended up losing control of a huge chunk of their music publishing. Money issues were a huge strain and a factor on their eventual break-up.
Meanwhile, Oseary is one smart dude. If he can deal with Madonna and her attitude, U2 will be a picnic.
I don’t think we’ll see much change at all in the way U2 is run. In fact, Oseary might bring in some new ideas and a freshness. He’s up-to-date in the way new technologies are reshaping music. He gets things like sponsorships and brand partnerships. Working with Madonna, he understands the challenges a legacy act faces when it comes to constantly re-inventing themselves.
Besides, McGuinness isn’t going away. He’s staying on to offer guidance from the back row. He’s just not going to be as hands-on as he once was.
Hey, if I were McGuinness, I’d want to go out on top like this, too. And after the critical and financial triumph of the 360 Tour, what could be and U2 do together to top that? Nothing, probably. Time for someone else to give it a shot.