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POP MUSIC | Pop Eye

G.A.S. Co. Won't Be in Ovitz's Pipeline

April 11, 1999|STEVE HOCHMAN

The long-anticipated deal to put Michael Ovitz's cash behind the new management and record company being started by former Capitol Records President Gary Gersh and artist manager John Silva is dead.

But that's hardly the end of talk about the supermogul's much-discussed entry into the music business, or about the fate of Gersh and Silva's outfit, the G.A.S. Co.

In fact, it's just fueled even hotter speculation, with reports that Ovitz is eyeing no less than Madonna and Hole--both recently departed from powerful New York management company Q Prime--to be the first music clients for his Artist Management Group. (There have been no comments from the principals in these matters so far.)

The questions being asked: What is Ovitz's music game plan and what kind of impact can he have? Where will G.A.S. now land? And what's up with Q Prime, which also recently was fired by the Smashing Pumpkins?

Among music managers, promoters and attorneys contacted by Pop Eye, Ovitz--who reshaped the Hollywood power structures by founding the Creative Artists Agency and then failed with a short-lived stint in Disney's executive suite and is now rocking the world of talent management with his new Artists Management Group--is viewed with equal amounts of awe, suspicion and fear.

Ovitz, who's also a principal backer of an L.A. bid for an NFL franchise, has sparked a firestorm in the film world with his new firm. He's been accused of acting as an unlicensed agent and of raiding rivals' rosters for clients, including Robin Williams, who defected from CAA. More pertinent to the music realm, his long-running feud with David Geffen is no secret.

"The thing that will be an interesting wake-up call for Ovitz is the difference between film-TV and music," says one manager who works in both fields. "The role of an agent that Ovitz knows is the closest thing to a manager in film. But what an agent does in music is just book concert dates. People who come to music from film are amazed at the amount of work it takes."

Still, with all the corporate shake-ups that have taken place in music recently, the time may be right for an Ovitz move.

"Things are changing more rapidly in music from a technological standpoint than anywhere else in the entertainment world, and that creates opportunity," says Wall Street entertainment business analyst Harold Vogel. "He can bring the right performers into the picture and they'll grab at it. He'll find a way to establish himself if that's what he wants to do."

The rise of music sales through the Internet and the dissatisfaction of many artists with the corporate music world seem to give Ovitz--who has close business ties to Microsoft--his strongest sales pitch.

"The best card Ovitz can play is his connections to Microsoft," says one prominent music attorney. "Artists I represent are really interested in taking back rights to their master recordings and selling their own material over the Internet. Management is essential in that because they'll be setting it up and making sure it runs. Ovitz is riding that wave. He's got the rap down about Microsoft.

"But he doesn't have anything else," the attorney adds. "And without hooking up with someone like John Silva, he can't offer much to music people."

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REFUELING: One widespread opinion is that it might be best for all involved that the G.A.S. deal fell apart. Gersh and Silva have had their biggest successes in the alternative music world, the former signing Nirvana at Geffen Records, the latter managing that band and now overseeing a roster topped by the Beastie Boys, Beck and Foo Fighters.

They've made it clear that they want to go with their strengths, taking a patient, long-range approach to building their label. Many observers felt that could have made for an ill fit in Ovitz's star-oriented galaxy.

Gersh and Silva are now refocusing their attention on several other suitors, reportedly including BMG (which had been set to distribute their label should the Ovitz teaming materialize), Universal Music Group's Interscope wing and Sony Music, with expectations that they are ready to sign new artists as soon as a deal is in place.

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Q BALL: Trying to find a thread linking the defections from Q Prime of the Smashing Pumpkins, Hole and Madonna is one of the music business' most popular pastimes these days.

Perceptions are that the Pumpkins' exit was due at least in part to the band's 1998 "Adore" album not meeting the sales levels of its predecessors, while Hole's departure is seen to be tied to the problems surrounding the recent aborted tour with Marilyn Manson--though there's certainly far more to each situation than that. Madonna is more of a puzzler, with her "Ray of Light" album a continuing strong seller--though the fact that she shelved tour plans to work on movies gives music managers little to do at this time.

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