Op-Ed: Aspen Live – By Bob Lefsetz

“I close for a living.” –Scott Borchetta

Yes, he was there, and I could have listened to him all night, the journey from 19 year old bass player on the road with a country band to the majordomo of today’s most successful label(s). That’s right, Scott’s got a few, because each can only work a few acts and Scott’s got so many hits, Florida Georgia Line, Thomas Rhett, Maddie & Tae and…Taylor Swift.

We got the story. He was playing out his contract at MCA and she came to his office, broke out her guitar and Scott heard a hit. That’s what separates the stars from the wannabes on the recorded music side, those who know what will fly up the chart and those who do not. You’ve got to have something to work with. Then you can employ all your skills of persuasion, which Borchetta honed as a promo honcho at multiple labels.

Scott talked about records “spilling over,” not “crossing over.” About getting radio stations to test records in order to convince them, especially if the track does not look like a good fit. And Scott got Taylor’s dad to invest in Big Machine by asking him.

Reminded me of my dad. Who said if “You don’t ask, you don’t get.” And made me feel inferior, because all this stuff skips a generation, I was embarrassed by my dad’s gregarious personality, by his asking, and therefore I’m shy and hold it close to my vest and if I could only ask would my bank account be bigger?

And Borchetta was not the only speaker. Mark Williamson from Spotify showed the hockey sticks. That’s right, the amount of airplay hit tracks get just a year later, now a few months later, Spotify is burgeoning, and if acts only saw the statistics they’d be convinced. And no, Borchetta did not tell us about Taylor Swift’s Apple Music deal, the one for the concert, but it was interesting that the rest of his acts are on the freemium tier of Spotify, not that he does not believe change is necessary.

Just like Marc Geiger.

Geiger thought there should be multiple tiers, numerous add-ons, he thought Spotify was an opportunity to build a bigger platform. He owned his failure at ArtistDirect, said he was wet behind the ears, ignorant of so much, did not know how to massage Wall Street, like Michael Rapino does so well. And over at WME Geiger’s got a twelve person festival team, and is writing festival bylaws, trying to eradicate old practices and smooth the process and Marc is a go-getter who believes the future’s so bright you’ve gotta wear shades and his optimism is infectious and it’s astounding how everybody talking was so positive and yet the scuttlebutt in the media about music is so negative.

Yet we own the experience. A college professor came with data illustrating experiences trump material goods all the time, unless you’re broke. And that’s what a concert is, an experience.

And that’s what Aspen Live is, an experience.

It was the twentieth year, we all got jackets, we were recognizable on the hill. And that’s where the most informative discussions take place, in the gondola, on the chair, on the hill. Rick Mueller was supervising the Springsteen on sale in L.A. It was fascinating to hear how they adjust on the fly, the vision for the future. Don Strasburg’s vision for the future is a ticket lottery, so every fan has a chance of getting in, he says it works already. And to be present made you feel like an insider, like this was where it was happening, which is so exciting.

Credit Jim Lewi, whose brainchild Aspen Live is. The conference has mutated from an emphasis on labels to touring, younger players have replaced so many of the greybeards. But the pulse remains the same. The classic era may be behind us, but the music train keeps rolling down the track.

And there were too many friends and too many stories. We were regaled at Matsuhisa about star choices and demands. Do you know the difference between a G5 and a G6? Turns out the latter can fly from the west coast to Europe without refueling, and there’s room for all your luggage. One person whose name I will not mention paid an extra eighty grand to fly on a G6 from London, alone, to Los Angeles, just so he didn’t have to stop in Canada to refuel on a G5. And there’s a deep five digit budget for a nail person. And a budget to appear on Fallon can near a hundred grand, and if the label doesn’t cough it all up, the act will just appear at a nightclub or two to make up the difference.

Actually, the conference was too short. It’d be like going to summer camp for a weekend instead of a month. I didn’t have time to get deep with everybody, some friends I barely said more than hello to.

So I express my deepest gratitude to Mr. Lewi for enabling me to have such a fantastic time.

I can’t wait until next year!

P.S. One more thing. I heard Peter Shapiro tell the story of Soldier Field, the 50th Anniversary of the Grateful Dead, Fare Thee Well. He’d been trying to put it together for ten years, and as Andrew Dreskin of Ticketfly remarked, when Peter says he’s gonna do something, it happens. And I was struck by the power of the individual, to make things happen. We think corporations rule the world, but one person, with a vision and desire, who is willing to stay in the trenches and execute, can achieve the impossible. Remember that.

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