Miles CopelandMiles Copeland has made a career of doing what others felt was crazy. In the process, he changed the music and entertainment business with acts such as The Police and The Bellydance Superstars.

Electric Sky has interviewed Miles’ brothers, Ian (click here for Ian) and Stewart (click here for Stewart).

Photo: The Copeland Group website

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Transcript of Portrait – Miles Copeland

Miles Copeland: This is Miles Copeland and you’re listening to Electric Sky.

[Portrait theme music] Podcasting visual insound, this is another edition of Portrait on Electric Sky.

Mark Blevis: It takes vision, confidence and a lot of passion to make an idea success especially when others think you’re crazy. I am your host, Mark Blevis. On this edition of Portrait, a man whose ideas and personal dedication have played a significant role in shaping the music and entertainment industries for 30 years, Miles Copeland.

Mark Blevis: Which three ideas are you most proud of?

Miles Copeland: The Bellydance Superstars, which is my current project, because everybody thought I was crazy to do that and it’s succeeding. I guess secondary to that would be my promotion of Arabic music which everybody thought was crazy after September 11th and, of course, getting involved in the whole punk-rock era of The Police and all of the bands that came out of that Wall of Voodoo and Oingo Boingo and Squeeze and all that sort of thing. I mean that was another period where, again, it was considered whacko to be dealing with this kind of music. So, those are really kind of the three areas that I would say were definitely out of the box.

Mark Blevis: And they’re all incredibly successful, which begs the question why aren’t more people daring like you?

Miles Copeland: Well, there are, but they’re in different walks of life. I mean there are people that are making huge successes in the computer world, in the Internet world, and all sorts of places and those people become successful, but it’s often; I’m actually writing a book at the moment called Marketing the Impossible and I sort of say that sometimes the most left feel things, the things that are mistakes that become the big successes.

In the laboratory, you put two chemicals together to try to make fire and it turns out it cures cancer. So, it’s sometimes mistakes that lead to great things and it’s a matter of being able to spot them and have the right attitude to be able to spot them.

I think there’s successes in every walk of life.

In the music world, people tend — the problem of the entertainment world is that people tend to want to follow successes. So, if a movie about a mouse is successful, then the next studio says, “Well, gee, we better have a mouse movie,” and if a French group happens then the next label comes along and said, “Gee, we need a French group.” So they tend to be followers. I think that usually means that you get one or two things in and then it’s like, well, it’s not unique and original. Most people do not want to venture out and do things on their own because it’s risky. There’s no guide. Like what I did to Bellydance Superstars. There was no other dance troupe like it in the world, so who are you going to point to as your template? You just have to just create it from scratch, but that’s what makes it exciting.

Mark Blevis: How do you create those processes by scratch?

Miles Copeland: Well, you just do it. You’re going to fail sometimes, you’re going to win sometimes, but I think if you believe in it and you think the thing is good there should be enough people — I always felt that I was not such a freak, but if something I really liked, that very fact was enough to make me think, “Well, if I like it, there must be some other people to. I just have to find those people.”

Mark Blevis: So thinking in terms of record industry then from your early days, well they even pre-date 1976, but let us go back 30 years for argument’s sake. What are the significant differences between 1976 and 2006?

Miles Copeland: Well the Internet has meant music is so available and it’s so free that it’s very hard to make money in the traditional ways where you could sell an album and that in itself would be a moneymaking business. Now you tend to think in terms of, “Well, I got to sell an album, I got to sell a T-shirt, I got to sell a concert ticket, I got to sell the program, I got to sell the sponsorship, I got to sell-” and it all adds up.

You have to now look at it as an overall business as opposed to compartmentalized where you just do the song, you do the album, you do this or that. That’s the major difference. I think that the advent of the Internet is exciting on one level, but it’s a problem on another and digital rights are very hard to protect.

Mark Blevis: To the outsider it seems that the music industry is far less creative than it used to be and perhaps even agile as well. Do you think the industry has the same sense of daring it once had — or do you think it ever had any sense of daring?

Miles Copeland: Well I think the industry had — I think there’s those who have been daring and those that are not. I think it’s as exciting today. It’s very easy to say, “Oh, well the music’s different now.” I think for an 18- or for a 17-year-old, he would not think so, but we tend to get older and we do not really know what’s going on.

I think there’s a lot of great music being made today but I would not necessarily know about it because I am not looking at it the same way I did when I was 18. I mean it’s always dangerous to say, “Well, you know, it isn’t the same anymore.” The structure’s different. The way you make money is different but I think music will always be — there will be always interesting music coming.

Mark Blevis: Does the music industry treat the, I guess the creative process of music and the promotion of music differently now than it did? I mean, obviously the Internet…

Miles Copeland: Well, it has to because they — it has to treat it differently now because the finances are different. It’s much harder to make money. The number one selling record in the United States about three weeks ago sold 85,000 copies. That’s a disaster. To sell only 85,000 copies and you’re the number one record in the country? That just means that the economics of advertising and marketing have just gone through the toilet. Eight years ago, a label might not have — they would have spent $2-3 million promoting a record and thought nothing of it. Now, they spent half a million and it’s an issue. It means the acts have to learn more about how to promote themselves than to rely on the label because the labels do not have the money anymore.

Mark Blevis: Okay. This actually brings up an interesting point. Do you think the balance of power has shifted from the majors to the independents or do you think that the majors still have the strength that they need to move to the next level?

Miles Copeland: There’s no set rule on that. I think a hot act is very powerful no matter what the situation is. I think if a label happens to be very strong and it has a lot of good relationships, they can open doors for people, but the problem is that the economics have made things very difficult right now for the majors and for smaller companies. Well, actually the very small companies and the very big companies I think always will succeed. It’s the ones in the middle who do not quite have enough money to really go for it, but they still got a big overhead and everything is a little scarier. I think a really big company who has got all the facility if they decide to push a button, the chances they can come through are greater than the middle company who puts the hammer down and then three weeks later isn’t working fast enough and they panic because they make a mistake they are out of business and here is where they pull the plug. A small company that has no overhead can kind of be risky, can take more risks. You’re neither a fish nor foul, that’s the real danger in this business.

Mark Blevis: Now I would consider and many people would consider the Bellydance Superstars to be an unqualified success and you basically rammed with that on your own.

Miles Copeland: Yeah, yeah. Well, that was not easy. I had to do it on my own because nobody would listen to me. They would all laugh at me and thinking, “Well this isn’t gonna work,” but we did it by keeping the costs down and being very careful where we went and building it step by step same way we did with The Police. If The Police had been a six-piece group and they all needed big salaries, we needed big road, trucks and big equipment, The Police would have never happened. The same with the Bellydance Superstars as if they had been –if I had to pay fortunes for everything, but everybody realized what we were doing and since nobody — it was the only professional troop in the world. The girls kind of rolled their shirtsleeves up and said, “Let’s make this happen,” because what was the alternative? It was the only game in town.

Mark Blevis: The Copeland family is clearly creative. I mean Ian documents that in his book Wild Thing, Stewart obviously his accomplishments speak for themselves and as do yours. Where does that creativity come from?

Miles Copeland: I think we were always encouraged when we were young that we could do anything if we just put our minds to it and I think it comes from that. I mean I say that because I have cousins on both sides of my family who are as smart, if not smarter than we are, on our side of the family but they never succeeded in doing anything because in both cases the parents were very cynical about their kids being successful.

My father and mother were always very encouraging and I think we never thought about it. We just thought, “Yeah, we can do music, why not? Let’s do it,” and nobody would stand there going, “What do you think you’re doing? You can’t do that. You’re stupid. You can’t do it.” I think just the basic positive attitude — and it’s whether you have certain good instincts and you are smart enough and you learn by your mistakes.

[Portrait theme music]

Mark Blevis: Links and more information can be found in the show notes on my website While you’re there, be sure to check out my podcast archives and my outtakes and behind the scenes feed, ES2. The theme song for Portrait is Bigfoot by Robert Farrell. Electric Sky is a proud member of the Rogic Podcast Conglomerate. Thanks for listening and please stay subscribed.

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