LEFSETZ LETTER: Sales

Movies have no career!!

A flick is a one shot deal. A studio does everything in its power to jack up the first weekend's gross to impress the industry, the media and the public. Make them believe it's HAPPENING! So they'll cash in not only theatrically, but on DVD and pay cable.

And then they're done.

Oh, they make sequels. But the only sequel that was ever better than the original was "Godfather II".

And sequels are now like soundtrack albums. The public knows they stink. They're not buying. Unless everybody tells them it's great. Running out on instinct to pay ten bucks for a movie sequel or fifteen bucks for a soundtrack…NOT GONNA HAPPEN!

And there you have the movie business. Ruined by the blockbuster concept, but that's the game.

But how did this become the game in the MUSIC business?

Oh, everybody blames it on SoundScan.

Well, I'll tell you. SoundScan neither walks nor talks. And it doesn't spin either.

Make no mistake, contrary to their protestations, the messed up music business is a result of its EXECUTIVES!

Used to be people OWNED record labels.

That's the main reason music sucks. Big music. Major label music. Because the only person with an investment has got NO SAY! Yup, some downstream investor… Believe me, Doug Morris and Andy Lack are not listening to THEM!

Then again, these corporate honchos ARE listening to the investors' putative representative. WALL STREET!

Everything's a stock play. Even Warner, which is private. Hell, have you ever heard of a PRIVATE company releasing its numbers?? That's why you GO private, so you're not beholden to the street. What kind of crazy messed up world do we live in where investors own the best catalog in the business and their only goal is to steal all the revenue from that asset and then sell the detritus to the ignorant?? God, if Peter Grant were still alive he'd be running through the halls of Atlantic Records with a pool cue. Hell, he'd go to Boston, to where the suited men reside. And he'd threaten to BREAK THEIR LEGS!

And believe me, MONEY is no match for violence.

Peter Grant didn't work for a corporation. He had only one asset, Led Zeppelin. And it only paid if he nurtured it, fed it, made sure it LIVED! For a VERY LONG TIME!

Believe me, if Led Zeppelin had broken up after the first record, fifteen year olds wouldn't consider them to be their favorite band today. Hell, even after the SECOND RECORD! THE THIRD!

But the FOURTH record put it all in context.

Okay, the first is the debut. Where they riff on old blues licks. Discover who they are.

The second is a confident sell-out.

The third is the experimental record.

And the masterpiece fourth demonstrates that the whole thing wasn't just hit and miss, rather the band was CONSCIOUS of what they were doing, they were experimenting, DEVELOPING!

And the labels of yore encouraged this. Even though eventually Ahmet sold out to the man, he realized the money was in longevity. You had to keep the band ALIVE!

And HELL, he'd kept Atlantic alive independently for DECADES!

Labels don't last for decades anymore. They're CLOSED DOWN!

Hell, Geffen and A&M are imprints.

As for Elektra…god, I could understand closing it down, since it wasn't making gobs of money, but how, after combining it with Atlantic, do you end up with LESS?? Yes, the two put together make some kind of weird financial success to accountants seemingly trained by Bernie Ebbers, but look at the chart. The remnants of these two labels have almost NOTHING!

When Jac Holzman owned Elektra it was different. Jac Holzman was in the RECORDING business, not the STAR business.

And believe me, they're VERY different.

The star business is just about getting someone SO well known that the public will purchase souvenirs.

The recording business is about ADVENTURE! How can we create something that penetrates people's SOULS!!

You wonder why today's stars don't last. Well, the public WAKES UP! And realizes THERE'S NOTHING THERE!

Whereas with the bands of yore, somehow the public believes the bands were in it for the MUSIC! That they wanted to make a STATEMENT! Sure, they wanted to get laid and make some money, but those weren't the primary goals except for hacks like KISS. KISS is kept alive by fortysomething adolescents. And if you've checked the recent grosses, they're tuning out now too.

Whereas you can't get a ticket to see the Eagles.

And even though there's no reason to see Fleetwood Mac for the umpteenth time, their catalog sales are quite fine.

And then there are gods, like the aforementioned Led Zeppelin.

But WHO THE HELL working at a major label would want to create a god TODAY?? It doesn't PAY!

If you're scratching your head wondering why the major labels don't move into the digital age, you're missing the point. The guys running these companies DON'T WANT to move into the digital age. They're planning to CASH OUT and then TURN OUT THE LIGHTS!

Oh, they're making a last ditch effort to try to make the new paradigm look like the old paradigm. Even trumpeting the lame iTunes Music Store when people are ripping off more tracks in a month than are sold on CD in a year. They want to control distribution.

God, if they OWNED these companies they wouldn't be acting the same way. They'd be FREAKED OUT!

Got to give it to Metallica. At least they were in touch with the fact they had an ASSET, which they wanted to PROTECT! The major label executives are letting THEIR asset waste away. They're ONLY interested in getting paid. Usually, an exorbitant amount. Which GOES UP if they have a good year. So, the incentive is to throw stuff against the wall and then jam down the throat of the public anything that sticks. And this is expensive. And is akin to strip-mining. When you're done, the land/act is dead, completely unusable. And the SURROUNDING land, in this case the public, has been burned out too. I mean do I REALLY want to hear one more J. Lo story? Oh, don't tell me she sells a million records. That means almost THREE HUNDRED MILLION people want NOTHING to do with her. It's not like some indie band. With that kind of hype, if J. Lo were any good, more people would buy her records.

It's a circle jerk. Involving the labels, MTV, radio and the media. All in the pursuit of one thing, and one thing ONLY! And that's money.

But the kind of money they make is one night stand money.

Yeah, it's great to get your rocks off. But what happens when you RUN INTO that person again. God, you avoid them. It freaks you out too much. NOW you know how the public feels about these overhyped acts and the major label business. They're CREEPED OUT! Many times bitten and AWFULLY shy!

No, the public wants a RELATIONSHIP! Just like YOU do. They want the discovery phase. And not everybody wants the same person. Just like everybody doesn't want the SAME RECORDS!!! And, they want to kick the tires a bit. Learn more about the person. And THEN go deeper. Yup, hearing a track leads to an album purchase to a concert ticket to FANDOM, where you buy EVERYTHING RELATING to the act. Why would you want to KILL this??

But that's just what the major label business is doing.

The major label business is a slut, a whore. That girl in high school with the bad reputation. The easy one. The one who threw herself at EVERYBODY! The one NOBODY wanted to date on a regular basis, the one NOBODY wanted to have a relationship with.

SoundScan is a TOOL, not the BIBLE!

Used properly, it will tell you where your marketing efforts are bearing fruit. It will tell you how to direct future efforts. It's not a TROPHY which is up for grabs every week. God, you can't SELL enough records in a week. Every Tuesday is not the Super Bowl, every Tuesday is just another week in the season. But the industry TRUMPETS the numbers like the Super Bowl.

Oh, the labels LOVE publicizing that their record entered at number one. How many copies it sold.

If you LIKE the band, if it has CREDIBILITY, and YOU own it, does it make any difference how many other people bought it??

Oh, it's a SALES tool. Well, only if you're selling to the ignorant culture surfers who buy what's hot. And certainly won't STAY with it.

God, if they're going to publish a chart, at least it should be CUMULATIVE!

Yup, every week tell how many copies the Eagles' "Greatest Hits" has now sold. You might not like the Eagles, but in this case, 30 million people can't be wrong.

Even the new stuff.

Conor Oberst???

The whore of all time. Blew all his credibility to sell a hundred thousand copies of two albums for one week?? Isn't this like screwing the greatest looking person of all time knowing you're going to get VD??

Yup, the audience is turned off to Conor and his Bright Eyes troupe. He's the system's now.

And the dirty little secret is HE'S NOT THAT GOOD!

But that doesn't bother you if he's yours. You cut him a break. You don't expect your girlfriend to be perfect. But if she leaves you and goes on TV and tries to make it as a star, she'd BETTER be damn perfect or you're going to be LAUGHING YOUR ASS OFF!

How lame a business can it be where the best way to hype ART is to release sales figures. Since the music you're selling is such crap it can't penetrate society any other way.

Arcade Fire might not be the Beatles, but by being honest, they're the hot new thing.

THAT'S the model of the future.

Hell, you've got to be YOUR OWN label. An opportunity which the new technological tools provide. Because if you throw in with these corporate behemoths they're just going to run you into the ground. Telling you they're doing you a favor by blowing you up, when really, EVERY SINGLE DECISION THEY'RE MAKING IS ABOUT LINING THEIR POCKETS! TODAY!

Contact Bob Lefsetz | View Lefsetz Letter Archives

NOTE: The views expressed in this editorial do not necessarily reflect the opinion of CelebrityAccess, Encore or its employees.

Related Post