Peter Gabriel, a founder of the rock group Genesis, is today an investor in Internet music delivery systems.
By FRED GOODMAN
Published: August 9, 2008
WHEN Charles Grimsdale, a British investor, started the Internet music venture OD2 in 1999, he had a hard time persuading large record companies to license their music.
While major record companies have spent heavily on the Internet with relatively little to show, Mr. Gabriel and his partners started OD2 on a tight budget,
“When most labels were banging their heads, he got it and saw the liberating value of Internet distribution to artists, and that’s what excited him,” says Mr. Grimsdale, a partner at Eden Ventures, of Mr. Gabriel.
OD2’s success also catapulted Mr. Gabriel, after decades as a top-selling artist, into a second career as a powerful player in the emerging online music industry,
But Mr. Gabriel, the son of an inventor, keeps devising new ways for musicians and record labels to use the Web to control their work and to make — not lose — money.
His two newest Internet ventures — We7, an advertising-driven music site, and TheFilter.com, which offers personally tailored multimedia recommendations
As an artist, Mr. Gabriel was quick to embrace new technologies like music videos, interactive CDs and high-definition television.
“He’s very technically savvy,” says Tom Teichman, chairman
Those attributes set Mr. Gabriel apart from most musicians and, indeed, from most record executives.
Mr. Gabriel is betting that they will have to make that leap, and recent record industry history seems to be on his side.
Though the major record companies succeeded in shutting down Napster, their subsequent attempts to control online music proved fruitless, largely because the labels either lacked the skill or disliked one another too much to agree on delivery systems.
More recently, outside services like Apple iTunes, Amazon.com, eMusic and Rhapsody have succeeded to the point that paid digital downloads
That’s hardly enough to make up for the drop in CD sales. Moreover, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, a trade group, says that freely traded music downloads still outnumber paid tracks by 20 to 1.
But encouraged by the growth of the commercial digital marketplace — and worried about the success a handful of established artists like Radiohead and Trent Reznor
We7, which lets users choose between buying recordings and downloading a free version with a 10-second ad (which expires after a month),
Twenty years ago, Mr. Gabriel says, the idea of tying a recording to an ad would have felt sacrilegious.
Royalties from downloads on We7 are paid to the record companies, which then pay a portion to the artists.
Though still in its test phase, the company, which is based in Britain, already has a licensing agreement with one of the majors, Sony Music Entertainment.
Mr. Gabriel say the interest from big labels is a welcome change.
Not all his Web efforts have succeeded.
If Mudda proved a failure, it still enhanced Mr. Gabriel’s reputation with other musicians.
“Peter approaches business the way he approaches his music: it’s not digital, it’s organic,” says Thomas Dolby,
MR. GABRIEL, 58, was born in Cobham, a town in the English county of Surrey.
And while Peter inherited his father’s interest in exploring new technologies, he credits his maternal grandfather with his investment activities.
Friends and business associates say Mr. Gabriel has always been entranced by the lure of new ideas.
“In the early days, we’d go skiing together and Peter would have an idea every 30 seconds,” says the British entrepreneur Richard Branson, whose Virgin Group includes more than 200 companies.
As a recording artist, Mr. Gabriel has always been hard to pigeonhole.
Departing the band in 1975, he embarked on a solo career (sans such costumes) that has proved successful.
Early in his music career, he showed signs of being keenly aware of the business of being a musician.
Ms. Colson saw that Mr. Gabriel’s interest in technology could pay dividends when, in 1982, he signed with Geffen Records and, in contravention of typical practice, insisted on paying for his videos and retaining ownership.
“At that time, no one knew how important videos and MTV were going to be,” she says.
“He used to sit and tell me how he saw the future,” Ms. Colson says.
Michael Large, an astrophysicist by training and a former lighting and studio designer for the BBC, is one-third of Mr. Gabriel’s current business management team, which also includes his lawyer, Michael Thomas.
Mr. Large also helped Mr. Gabriel with two of the projects on which he flexed his entrepreneurial muscles:
Womad, a pioneering Western showcase for world music begun in 1982, currently presents annual concerts and workshops in Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
“The mission became to take the music and content from artists without access to the Western music industry machinery and set it on an equal footing with Peter’s own catalog,” Mr. Large says.
In 1995, Mr. Gabriel bought half of Solid State Logic, or SSL, a leading maker of high-end recording studio consoles. Mr. Large once worked for the company.