Harvey Goldsmith interview

Straight talking

Anita Awbi
  • By Anita Awbi
  • 6 Apr 2010
  • min read
You’d be right in thinking that after more than 40 years in the music business Harvey Goldsmith would have a few bugbears. And what is it about it that really gets his blood up? Certainly not the live scene he’s been living and breathing since The Beatles were on the road. What really winds him up is the record industry.

‘The recorded industry is lost, and they need to sort themselves out,’ he says. ‘The arrogance of the major record labels is beyond belief. I think they’ve just forgotten what they’re there for.’

That’s not an accusation that could be levelled at Goldsmith. From the time he first started organising musical events as a student in the mid-60s, he worked single-mindedly to make a reputation as one of the top promoters in the business.

Live Aid with Bob Geldof in 1985 established his name and major events such as Pavarotti in the Park in 1991 and Live8 in 2005 cemented his reputation as the man who makes the really big occasions work. Precious few of the world’s biggest acts have not, at some time, passed through his hands.

The growth of the live music industry, he admits, is not without its problems. ‘I do have a concern about the live industry, that it’s become a little bit too greedy. Ticket prices are going up a bit too high. All these on-charges need attention paid to them.’

But Goldsmith’s concerns about live music are minor compared to his criticism of the recorded industry. The record industry, he believes, has only itself to blame for the problems it’s having coming to terms with the online age.

‘They spent so much time berating everybody else about the problem,’ he says. ‘What they failed to do was strike up better relationships with artists, and they didn’t talk to each other. If they had talked to each other in the beginning, they wouldn’t have the problem they’ve got now.

A central element of the problem with the record industry, he believes, is in the way it relates to artists. ‘The recorded industry has got to learn to treat artists as partners. They’re still trying to be what they consider to be the controlling factor. Well they’re not any more.

‘Once you treat artists as partners, and you react with them in a different way, you can strike deals that aren’t just totally money-orientated.

‘If the major labels are going to survive, and I hope they do, they need to be prepared to invest and to stick with acts to allow them to develop, instead of demanding results going in. That might mean signing less talent but concentrating and delivering on the talent they are signing. We’re not developing enough new talent that has global attraction, and we’re not bringing up enough new talent behind the scenes.’

For Goldsmith himself, direct promotion is no longer the main game. ‘My life’s shifted. I’m doing very little promotion now. I’m working with some acts that I’ve worked with for a long time, and some quirky stuff, but I’m spending much more time producing events all over the world and managing artists.’

But that still means an impressive stack of engagements coming up. This year alone, Goldsmith’s upcoming events include Cirque du Soleil, a Jeff Beck tour, working with Fifa on the World Cup, a Jools Holland tour going out of Britain, an Andrea Bocelli tour coming in and a musical with Yusuf, the artist formerly known as Yusuf Islam and even more formerly as Cat Stevens.

That should be enough to keep anyone busy. But there’s at least one objective for the year that Goldsmith is not going to meet. ‘I made a New Year’s resolution to stop moaning about the business,’ he says. ‘Oh well.’