Op-Ed: Roger Waters On Tech – By Bob Lefsetz – Industry Replies

Just because you're a rock star, that doesn't make you right.


In case you missed it, Roger Waters railed against techies in the London "Times" (behind a paywall, but read a snippet here: http://bit.ly/1FIXDrq) and now we've got to see his inane opinions trumpeted across all media because he was once a star and you know stars, we've got to listen to them. And I don't want to even touch his anti-semitic ravings. Sure, I'm Jewish, but to think the Israelis are the sole oppressors and no band should play there is denying thousands of years of anti-semitism and the obvious point that Israel can only lose once. It's a complicated story, and I am far from approving of everything the country does, but read Ari Shavit's "My Promised Land" if you want to know what's going on, Kerry did, it's his bible, but you'd rather have a knee-jerk reaction than research complicated issues, just like in tech.


The damn tech companies did not steal your business, did not steal your opportunity, did not make you broke.


The customer did.


Which way do you want it, do you love your fans or hate them? Love those who wanted everything you ever did, even the goose farts in the studio you never thought would be released, or hate those who now have access to everything and don't want to listen to you.


Let's state some rules.


1. It's the best time to be an artist in the history of the world…especially if you make popular music, if you are willing to do it yourself. There are no barriers to entry, but you'd rather sign a deal with a major label, which is kind of like a slave signing up with a plantation owner or those Scientologists who wanted to stay in the hole. I can't help it if you're too afraid to embrace the new paradigm, that's your fault. Meanwhile, you're bitching that the labels don't pay like they used to. You want more Spotify money, put your music out yourself.


2. Major labels push what sells. They're businesses, not museums. You can excoriate the Top Forty all you want, but if klezmer music was the new rage, the majors would pick up that. To bitch that the labels won't put out obscure music is like complaining to Detroit they don't make vent windows anymore. It's not cost-efficient.


3. When everything is available, there's a race to the top. The "Long Tail" and other tomes perpetrated the fiction that we'd all get rich in the internet economy. Didn't work during the dot com era and doesn't now. As a matter of fact, the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer, in not only business, but art. The public is confused. They're gravitating to the anointed and the popular. Tech helped grease the skids, by providing access, but it's the public that chooses what to listen to. You can get your music on Spotify easily, YouTube even easier than that, but that doesn't mean anybody wants to listen to it.


4. Change happens. Live went to wax cylinders went to shellac to 45s to 33s to cassettes and CDs and then files and now streams. The album was a result of the 33, didn't exist before that. But now you want to keep it. Keep the buggy whips while you're at it. You're supposed to be an artist, using new tools to create something different and exciting. You're like a painter bitching when Picasso and Braque came up with cubism. Embrace the new, it's the only way out.


5. Piracy is a problem for recorded music revenue, not artistry. It's actually good for artistry, you can reach your public for nothing, as you now can on YouTube. Get rid of music on YouTube and watch the ARTISTS go nuclear. They want to reach people for free. Because it's hard to make a fan.


6. Radio is not forever. Bitch all you want about a closed system. But suddenly TV is unbundling, and despite all the radio hogwash there are so many better ways to experience music that one day music radio is gonna crash, the same way AM and Viacom have. Did you see Viacom's ratings? Double digit declines, because their young target demo doesn't watch TV anymore, they utilize other platforms and want it instantly, on demand.


So Roger Waters blows hard and all the has-beens and never-wills throw their fists in the air and scream that he's right.


But it doesn't make a bit of difference. Railing against change is like bitching that you can now call across the country for free. Used to be expensive, with long distance tolls. But I don't see you taking up the cause of the telcos, who all saw the light and moved on to wireless, and when talk declined moved on to data. How come businesses can change and you can't?


And techies glommed on to music because it was desirable, they wanted to hear it, they wanted others to. They're the future, not you. People want to create an app, not a song, and that's sad.


And the truth is that despite you going on that today's music is as great as it was in the past, the so-called "classic rock era," it's not. Of course there are talented people working, of course there's money to be made, but once upon a time there was more experimentation and music was front and center in the culture, moving it. Now music is all about promotion and money. Don't be afraid to speak the truth for fear you'll look old, only in America do we denigrate our elders, experience counts.


And Waters's experience is of what happened in the seventies. If he wants to tell us how he did it, we're all ears. But if just wants to bitch that someone moved his cheese, tune him out and give him no press. The truth is Roger can't sing and no one wants his new music. He's not on good terms with David Gilmour and separately they're not desirable. Hell, Brooks & Dunn got back together but we're supposed to give every solo act a break? Going solo after the group breaks up and succeeding is the exception, not the rule.


We live in a wild, woolly time of cacophony, where the greats are at our fingertips for the same price as the dreck. And to be able to hear everything ever recorded is a boon to the listener, albeit overwhelming. As a result, there's a shifting revenue picture. It used to be those who jumped through the hoops made money and those who didn't didn't. But now that everybody can play, the revenue is tilting towards the winners.


And everybody can't be a winner.


But tech is inert. Software and devices are tools. They need juice to run on. Art can harness the tools and succeed in ways previously unknown. Could PSY's "Gangnam Style" have made it in the old era? OF COURSE NOT! Could you watch concerts 24/7 online for free? OF COURSE NOT! Could you have a world class studio in your home? OF COURSE NOT!


We've got all the time in the world for great art.


And creating greatness takes a long time, to get to that level and reach people. But the audience is always ready, the techies have provided the pipe, there's plenty of money and that's a GOOD THING!


Never forget it.


Ari Shavit – "My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel": http://amzn.to/1bqprEg


Industry Replies:


One clarification: Chris Anderson never said that the long tail would make everyone rich. In fact, his thesis (which turned out to be completely true) is that if you own the long tail (Amazon, Spotify, YouTube, anyone who stocks everything) you are way ahead in the future, because the aggregate gets ever more important than betting on a few hits.

Yes, there are opportunities for folks who live along the long tail (people like you and me and Amanda Palmer) but they don’t look like what happens to people who are bestsellers on the short head. Fun to be #1, but it doesn’t last.


Being trusted by a (relative) few is a fine place to be, it’s merely different than being the hot act.


Seth Godin


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Good piece. A quibble, though: Point #4, Change happens: I would argue that the "album" came along in the day of the 78, when you could buy a book of disks by the same artist, one that looked a lot like a photo album (which is where I suspect the term came from). Hence an "album" is a collection of songs, and I would argue that CDs are therefore albums too. But then I would also argue that "record" applies to any recording, regardless of the format in which it's presented, they are all, literally, records of something that happened earlier. But then I am old fashioned like that.


Tom Rush


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small nit-pic: albums came from 78s– book format. Got a couple in a box somewhere


Ron Gustavson


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Once Waters "outed" Alan Parsons for playing in Israel, I lost interest and haven't listened to Pink Floyd. And I really like(d) Pink Floyd. Meddle, Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here are a trilogy that will never be duplicated. (throw in Animals if you want). As we in Southern Cali would say, "Dude" (you know the inflection to use.)


alan fenton


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A great post. You are keeping me motivated. So glad Valerie turned me onto you.


Richie Miller


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Some think I'm nuts but after a couple rounds of his Anti-Semitic rants, I decided to no longer give him my audience. That goes for all his music.


Mar9966


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i read My Promised Land as well…great book made me proud and sometimes ashamed at different points. there is no country that is 100% clean i mean look at the British Empire or for that matter American history.


Michael Rosenblatt


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…….yup.


Tommy Allen


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This guy is a major douchebag! I went to his wall concert and sat 2nd row and it was horrible! Very boring! He had a blimp flying with Jewish stars and swastikas! He hates Jews and his time has passed! Gilmore has a better voice!
He is already a billionaire and if it weren't for his fans and Jewish business owners then he wouldn't have a pot to piss in! Fuck him! Next please!
Regards,

Jac Berman


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I am a huge fan of Roger's…. Yet I agree with everything you wrote.. Well, save for your comment, "Roger can't sing". What??


docknof


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We don't need no Roger Waters.


Neal Berz


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Right on!!


Mike McCready


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Magnificent.


John Dick


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Roger Waters is a Jew hating mother fucker and a real creep.


Roger is now the teacher he so loathed that does not leave those kids alone.


BGreen


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Good piece Bob!


Andrew Lurie


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star whose adoring audience had to get stoned to enjoy.


Bob Segarini


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Goose Farts. Was that from the "Animals" sessions?


Gotta track it down.


Thanks for the heads up!


Mike Errico


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Roger Waters: this guy has made some of the most incredible and strikingly moving music I've ever listened to. My walls are still covered with Floyd RIAA Awards to this day. He is also a perfect example of where an artist should shut up and play the damn song. This Englishman railing on about American politics has put a bug up my skirt for the past 8 years. I don't care about his opinions on other things. Especially politics! When he had the flying pig dropping confetti that said vote Obama on the Dark Side of the Moon tour it was just completely over the top! That pig belongs to all the fans, from the hard left to the hard right and everybody in the middle. Without the fans, he just be some guy out there in an empty room with a pig flying around. If he would just shut up, concentrate on making better music, he would make this man a lot happier with him.


Lavon Pagan

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He's a prick


Robin Millar


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Thank you for opening this with Waters' anti-semitism. I love the man's music, am currently obsessed with his version of "comfortably numb" with Van Morrison and The Band (what was left of them at the time). I'm obsessed because of Van's phrasing on this track, not because of Waters. I can barely listen to Floyd anymore. Only "Echoes" once in a while. I truly despise Waters' anti-semitism and am also glad you mentioned Shavit's book as to what is really going on. If you are ever in Washington and want to visit the world's premier bipartisan foreign policy and national security think tank, CSIS, please let me know. If you enjoy intellectually honest policy as I do, you'll be like a kid in a candy store. And, I can show you the technology we are using and the multi media we are producing in house on issues like the South China Sea which we recently made worldwide news with in front page NYT story using satellite tech and analysis of China's activities.


Andrew Schwartz


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Love your newsletters, especially when you compare music to the digital tech era. But did you have to talk about religious views, ugh it's a bit of a turn off.


Jeniferever


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Bit disappointed with you for the first time ever Bob – do you think Roger Waters? opposition to Israel is because he doesn't like Jews? Conflating anti-Zionism and anti-semitism is a dangerous game. By calling legitimate opposition to Israeli actions anti-semitic, it gives credibility to genuine anti-semitism.


I would also hesitate to say Waters is unfamiliar with the issues just because his opinions differ from yours (on either tech or the Middle East). There is plenty of room for different views on the high tech frontier, and Waters has travelled the Mideast extensively (hitchhiking in Lebanon etc).


Charles Kennedy


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fuck roger waters and his anti-israel bullshit.


Paul Hackner


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Thank you for this and for mentioning his anti semitisim. His tomes on Israel "occupying Gaza" (yes he actually wrote that) generally have enormous untruths, along with his anti semitisim.


Like you I don't agree with everything Israel does, but I'm Jewish. And have family and close friends there.


Amy Krakow


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Love Roger Waters, but I guess he got a call from Bob Ezrin to join the "old men yelling at the cloud" club.


Alex Speer

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FYI record albums date back to at least the 40's. My dad was a musician in the 30's forward. We had lots of 78 albums around the house when I was a kid in the 50's, Harry James, Bing Crosby etc. They looked like photo albums, thus the name I suspect. I don't think we would regard them as concept albums but they were there.
Always enjoy your observations and analysis.


Herb Lamberton


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how the mighty have fallin and how the mighty wail.


Art Polhemus


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Well, David Gilmour is desirable. The voice and guitar and most gifted writer in the band. And on the all and all, a proper English gentleman to boot.


Bravo Gilmour!


William Kevin Anderson


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When people criticized Johnny Rotten for playing Israel, he said "I will play to the people. I don't play to the Government of anything… I'm playing to human beings, and to deny me that right and turn music into some kind of political joystick is quite repulsive to me, and really, really wrong." At least he got it right!


Jeremy Ferrick


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Favorite post of the year (so far), Bob. Top to bottom? Kudos.


Joshua Hall

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Bob:


Great commentary!


In my eyes, Roger is done! He is a mediocre Bass player living in the Pink Floyd past. Even David Gilmour has moved on with some great music since the 80's and can dabble in some Floyd in concert for the die-hard fans. Roger thinks he can get away with his Anti-Sematic comments that just's distances his fan! Does he really think people will forget his ravings like Mel Gibson- Hell no!


Unfortunately, Roger is living in the past…. you cannot blame Tech.


Marc R.
Chicago


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Hey Bob:


Kim and I met Roger Waters the other week in New York City. He seemed like a helluva guy, sweet and sound. He walked into a small room of 50 people, carrying his own guitar and wearing his black tee-shirt and dad jeans. A true journey man. And gave us the time of day (and Kim a hug) even though we are basically nobody.


We should give him a chance to speak his mind even though it is against the popular view. Don't you keep telling us that's what real artists and real rock stars do? I'm not saying he should not have to fight for it, though.


But something tells me he doesn't mind.


But those are just pros and cons of being Roger Waters.


And who knows. Maybe he is right. Up against the wall! See pic attached.


Paul Koidis


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You're misunderstanding the point of a "long tail." Unlike a normal distribution of anything measured — profits, ticket sales, whatever — a long tail skews the distribution to fewer, now more wealthy, market participants.


The music industry moving to a long tail from a normal distribution is a transfer of those winnings from the market from a large number of average creators (those close to the median of a normal distribution) to a smaller number of creators (those who make the hits). As you've written, this market rebalance has happened in the overall economy, where wealth has skewed away from the middle class and to the fewer number of rich. That shift is evidenced by the fact that return to capital (robots, computing power, etc.) far exceeds the return to labor inputs (hiring one more middle-class worker).


Gordon Chaffin


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In the second line of this post you accused Roger Waters of being an anti-Semite. I feel you owe Waters a public and abject apology. As being familiar with Waters feelings about the policies of the Israeli government I strongly disagree with your assertion. You using that term in all its over-amped rhetorical vehemence are showing yourself to be stabbing wildly at an opponent exposing a lack of surety in your own position on the subject.


Because of you using this loaded political term in describing Mr Waters position I immediately discounted the rest of your argument from that point on in your post. Because of your use of the term to describe Mr. Waters I did not click on the link that I would have probably found enlightening about the problems facing the modern state of Israel. To top it all off you have the dishonesty to misdirect your accusation with a trope that this is all really about his Luddite views concerning tech shows a real lack of class. You yourself, despite your oft mentioned luncheons with the magnates of Silicon Valley really should approach some of the tech grunts on the software project teams before making some of your more specious fan-boy pronouncements about the latest and greatest of the digital age


I am not an especially devoted fan of Mr. Waters work and can take or leave a lot of his canon through his long career. in fact I think there is ample evidence in the public record for him to be officially named one sorry S.O.B at times but you have crossed a line with that particular term and it shall take many considered future posts by you for me to finally regain any esteem I have for you as a rhetorician and essayist.


Maurice Boucher


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Brilliant Bob!
I grew up in the 60s but try to stay current
Don't always agree with you but spot-on as ever
I had 6 record shops in Fair London Town (GB) until "progress" aka customers made them unviable so I moved online eventually in order to survive and grow.
As a small label owner as well I made the same move online with MP3 downloads – to survive
Customers (i.e. THE MARKETS) rule and now that music is not the top dog we had better get used to it
Keep 'em coming


Andrew J Titcombe
crucialmusic UK/ looserecordsGB


P S I also have Jewish connections in my grandmother & am fed up with anti Semitic sentiments


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Bob, Roger Water is a dick. We all know that. He stood next to Syd Barrett onstage at all the most important gatherings of the British counter-culture and STILL doesn't appreciate how special it was, how fortunate he was. He is an opinionated misery, a champagne socialist, one of the luckiest men in the world and all he has ever done is moan. He wrote one good song ("Wish You Were Here") forty odd years ago. FUCK HIM!


Adam Blake


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Poor bastard didn't make enough money? Who else is he angry with? The other members of PF, especially Dave Gilmour, absolutely loath him. He's an angry, jealous, venomous and nasty man.

This guy is right, although I haven't read the book he refers to and can't believe that Kerry would use anything as a bible that would be pro Israel…

Ros

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Bob,

In this column, you said…
"The album was a result of the 33, didn't exist before that."


I get that you meant this in a certain way, but not to be picky, albums were around since the days of the 78s. In fact, the very reason they were called albums was because they resembled photo albums. They first were mostly for classical music, as you could not put an entire symphony (or even shorter works) onto two sides of a 78.


Eventually, the record companies put together albums of popular artists' singles, effectively making the first 'greatest hits' albums. And some popular artists did release albums on 78s of new material, like Bing Crosby, who released an album called "St. Patrick's Day" featuring all Irish songs. And there were many others. As someone who has saved all my parents' 78 albums, I know this very well.


So, yes, I get that you are saying that when 33 1/3 albums appeared, that changed the game since you only had to turn over 1 record once, instead of 5 or 6. Which allowed for a more continuous listening experience.


But don't deny the existence of albums pre-33 1/3, especially as the very name 'album' came from those sets of 78s.


David Bly


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FUCK roger waters. I think you are spending too much time on a has been, who has only thought of himself. Flush the toilet.


Dennis Rubenstein


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Bob, if you are genuinely interested in opening your eyes to blatant anti-semitism coming from the left, sign up for the twitter feed from KC Johnson. He is a mostly liberal Brooklyn College professor that is extremely on point in calling out fellow liberals on this topic, and talks Israeli politics in general (he was a visiting professor there). He is famous for writing the definitive book on the Duke Lax case, "Until Proven Innocent", so his twitter feed is also heavy on due process in regard to the raging "Rape Culture" debate on campuses (I recall your recent mention of the UVA story in Rolling Stone).


And I'm not Jewish, I'm mostly traditionally liberal, but the left's actions on Israel alone reveal how brainwashed and full of selective anger and hate the modern left has become. Just take a look at the high selective divestment campaigns (BDS) in academia and UN resolutions. As you said, I don't necessarily agree with all of Israel's actions, but the double standards are glaring. Those double standards are coming from the left.


It's good to read from all sides of a debate, and not stay in an echo chamber, to have a fuller understanding of the issue. You might benefit from KC's feed if you have a genuine interest.


Eric Cole

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another excellent column, thanks Bob

Alan Segal

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Bob,


PLEASE publish Roger’s rant now so I can stop being called names and pelted with rotten vegetables in public for mine. I beg you!


🙂


Bob Ezrin

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