John Caldwell – Lessons from rock n’ roll, volume 1

John Caldwell, co-founder of ASG Solutions.

Despite boasting a career of more than 15 years in the gaming ecosystem, John Caldwell, co-founder of software company ASG Solutions, had a whole different life in the music business before gambling.

Working alongside acts that boasted sales of more than 60 million in the 1990s, Caldwell, who now works in the gambling/crypto intersection, recounts his time in music in a new CasinoBeats column. First up, a tale of innovation.

Many people don’t know that before I was in the gambling business, I was in the music business. I worked for Atlantic Records, then in artist management, then later was named the president of an Atlantic subsidiary label. With the advent and adoption of the CD, the music business was booming.  

But dark skies were lurking. The advent of file sharing was still a fringe activity, but it was starting to have an impact. People weren’t buying music, they were giving it away by sharing it. iTunes was still a couple years away, but people were starting to move these things called ‘MP3 files’ around the internet.

Three of us younger execs at the company got together and asked for a meeting with a couple top music execs to discuss ‘the future of technology and recorded music’.  We worked tirelessly for a couple weeks to prep for ‘our day in court’.   

We walked into the room confident (cocky?) we were going to convince the heavy hitters that the future of music was digital, and we should be proactive in that regard.  Did I mention we were young? We were also naïve.

We finished the presentation, and the lead guy was the first to speak. He started off by saying: “First of all, you guys clearly worked very hard on that. Well done.” Our chests puffed with confidence.

“But frankly, you guys don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. I still remember the feeling of my heart sinking and my shoulders with it.

“People want to touch the artist,” he said. “They want to connect. Things like liner notes, lyrics, the actual physical piece…these are things that will survive. Always.”

“But, people can read the lyrics and stuff on the internet,” one of my colleagues piped up.

“Bah,” said the executive, and waved his hand in a dismissive fashion. We were in that room for another fifteen minutes, but the meeting effectively ended with that wave of his hand.

Make no mistake, this is not an ‘I was right’ piece. The gentleman in question went on to have one of the most successful careers in the music business ever. Top ten all time for sure. No, I will not out him.

Now to the point. I just recently had a flashback to that meeting. I was in yet another conference room, but this time 5,500 miles and a lifetime away from that twenty-something who was certain he could convince people nearly twice his age to change. Now, I was (probably) the oldest one in this room.

“We don’t have a trust problem,” said the gambling executive. 

“I know you saw the UKGC report where something like 70 per cent of people don’t think gambling companies can be trusted,” a colleague said.

This time it was not a ‘bah’. This time it was more of a ‘pffft’. The wave of the hand was not the same, but the air of dismissiveness was.

With all the innovation that is going on in gambling, specifically around veracity of results, decentralization of protocols and integration into digital identity and digital currency systems, those in legacy gaming companies who act last are going to get their lunch eaten.  

I believe that as much as I believed in digital music twenty years ago.

Make no mistake. I’ll be the first to admit I have been wrong before, and I will be wrong again. But, on this matter I am convinced.

I was out of the music business less than five years after the above mentioned meeting, as I watched the industry collapse and most of my friends lose their jobs too. Artists I worked with directly sold over fifty million albums in the six year period from 1993 to 1999, yet by 2004, I was done.

By no means am I saying the gambling business cannot adjust, nor is it ‘too late’, nor all we all doomed. People will always want to gamble – even if they don’t need to read the lyrics.

John Caldwell is the co-founder of ASG Solutions, a software provider of blockchain and crypto products to the gaming industry. Prior to ASG, John spent four years as a director at PokerStars, and four years as the first CEO of 

Prior to gaming, he had a 15 year career in the music business as an artist manager and record label president, working with Stone Temple Pilots, Hootie and the Blowfish and others.

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