Op-Ed: More Elvis Costello – By Bob Lefsetz

"The A&R man said I don't hear a single"

"Into The Great Wide Open"
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

That's exactly where we're going. Into the great wide open.

Single-mania didn't hit until the era of MTV, when everything became focused on the track. You honed the music, shot an expensive video, rolling the dice, hoping that you ended up with ALL the money.

The labels say that MTV ended up with all the money, but if you've checked their ratings recently, you wouldn't agree. The numbers are positively abysmal. And what's the future? More reality programming, competing with every basic cable outlet known to man? MTV can't go back to music, that's something you see/hear on demand on the Net. But the labels are crying. They can no longer build superstars!

But what about the musicians?

It's a golden era for musicians. They've been unshackled. They finally fit the description once again. A musician is someone who plays. Live and in the studio. It's a calling, not a gamble on stardom. I'm not sure we'll have stars in the future, a band as big as U2, but we'll certainly have musicians.

I was reading about the cornucopia of efforts Elvis Costello has made/is making in today's "Wall Street Journal". The key quote is by Bill Flanagan, ironically employed by MTV Networks, hanging on to a job when the musicians he adores have jumped ship, expanding their horizons in the new world:

"'What seemed like career-wise counterproductive now seems pretty smart, because he has a tremendous live audience who never know what they're going to see,' says Mr. Flanagan. 'That actually turned out to be a good strategy for the post-record company world that we're entering.'"

Gets pretty boring paying a hundred dollars or more to see the aged band reprise their greatest hits. Which is why ticket sales for Aerosmith are off. How many times can a person go and see the same shtick? Sure, by expanding your horizons you're going to lose some of your live audience, but who needs those casual posers who probably weren't even into your music the first time around, when it was relevant?

You can become a prisoner of your fame, locked in musical adolescence, or you can start experimenting, taking chances, driving towards fulfillment. I mean how happy can you be playing the same riffs every night? Sure, it pays the rent. But is that why you got in the business?

Take a zero off of every number. Your sales, your income. Stop thinking about how to maintain your old stats and focus on being a musician. Your core audience will follow you. You may not be paid as well, but money isn't everything. Life is about that singing sensation you get inside when you pluck that note on your guitar, when you achieve something new.

Take chances. Make mistakes. That's the only way you can continue to achieve greatness, that's the only way you can truly stay relevant, that's the only way people will care.

WSJ Article

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