The Hot Seat: Vince Bannon, Getty Images

Published in The Music Network


Vince Bannon is the music man within the billion-dollar Getty Images content library. The Canadian-born exec oversees Getty’s vast and growing vault of digital music-related resources. Bannon began his music biz career back in 1979 when he launched Concert Company Ritual while still at college. The promoter grew to 110 staff, and worked with the likes of Nirvana, The Police, Prince, Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews, Nine Inch Nails and Guns ‘N’ Roses. Bannon served as president of the company until 1993. The following year, he moved on to become Senior VP of Artist Development at 550/ Epic Records, where he worked with Oasis, Celine Dion, Travis and Macy Gray. Mark Getty and Jonathan Klein established Getty Images back in 1995, with an ambition to bring the stock photography specialist into the digital era. Bannon has been on board since 2004, during which time he’s played a hand in the company’s exclusive Led Zeppelin reunion pact, the acquisition of Pump Audio, and the recent launches of Premium Playlist and the Guestlist music supervision project.

You’ve had your time within the major-label machine. How did the big labels miss a beat?
In the end of the ‘90s, they wanted to be risk averse. They wanted really big wins. The record industry made so much money from people going from vinyl and cassettes to CD. I’m a total believer that artists should be paid, and copyright should be protected. But, sorry, you don’t sue your customers. And if your customers want something in a particular format, you give them the possibilities of doing it. It’s happening with the film industry. The fact they don’t release on all formats right away is the biggest mistake they make. But they’re into this idea of a chart position, a box score, rather than trying to find where the audience is.

What happened in the music business, the audience embraced and fell in love with Napster. The industry had an opportunity there and they did everything they could to decimate it to protect the old way of doing business. I made a firm commitment to embrace technology when I left the labels. And I felt it would only get better for everybody. You’re finally seeing that now. When streaming came out, it was stuck to the laptop. You’re no longer tied to the laptop. There’s still a really decent concert business and festival business. Unless the artist charges too much, it’ll continue to be. Every time I got up to the Bay Area, or Silicon Alley in New York, I see all these young people, building really interesting and great things, and having the mind-power to do it. I’m really optimistic for the future.

Are the major labels sitting on a goldmine of art?
Absolutely. I’ve approached them all to do deals where I could make them revenue. And every one of them gets bogged- down because they don’t have the bandwidth. They don’t understand the rights they have and don’t understand how we monetise that. There’s so much great artwork–especially with some of the legacy companies, like Sony’s Columbia and Epic, and EMI’s Parlophone and Capitol–but it’s sitting in warehouses and basements. There’s so much money left on the table by every major record company. A lot of them haven’t totally embraced the change. It’s not about it being a premium, it’s about micro-payments.

Where does music fit into your business?
It’s easy. We’re a digital content business. We started in the stock imagery business. They moved over to editorial when they acquired Allsport [in 1998]. They grew both businesses through acquisitions, then they moved into the film business. As a rights and clearance partner we were already getting music for many of our clients. So it was a natural fit for us to add music. It’s been a business that’s grown 100% year on year on year. Who can say that in the music business right now?

How big is the Getty beast?
There’s probably 100 million images and every day they’re adding 30,000 more. We manage Time & Life, Sports Illustrated, the Washington Post, Paris Match, Discovery Channel, National Geographic. We aggregate the content and re-licence it for editorial and creative use. We’ve added a lot of Australian partners to the market. Our Australian office is a hub for a lot of our developing businesses throughout Asia. We have 650 sales people around the world.

How do photographers get involved?

The quickest and fastest way is iStockphoto. When Getty acquired it [in 2006], that business went from doing half-a-million dollars a month, to a million dollars a day. There are photographers who contribute to it who make a million dollars a year. It’s really a primer on how to become a really great photographer.

There’s been some debate here from photographers blasting bands for placing draconian conditions on them.
I think [those bands] are hurting themselves. It’s not like they’re making millions of dollars licensing their photos. A lot of bands look at everything they do as their intellectual property. The fact they won’t let really decent wire-photographers shoot – the AP, Reuters, us – its just silly. A lot of my photographers have great personal relationships with the really big artists. So, we don’t find that. Also, what are the artists doing about hanging onto those photos? Where are they putting that stuff for when it all starts going down the other way?

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