THE LEFSETZ LETTER: Bands With Brands

Is it only about getting paid?


Don't tell me it's about breaking music, that canard disappeared in the last decade. It's almost impossible to get noticed. Kanye does a track with Paul McCartney and it's dead in a day, despite being featured in every newspaper and on every music website extant. Getting the message out is not that difficult, sticking is near impossible. How does a brand help with that?


The dirty little secret is the majordomos, the handlers, the business people in the music business, need to get paid. They're envious of their rich friends, they want to maintain their lifestyles, and the only people who can give them this kind of money is corporations.


Bob Lefsetz, Santa Monica-based industry legend, is the author of the e-mail newsletter, "The Lefsetz Letter". Famous for being beholden to no one, and speaking the truth, Lefsetz addresses the issues that are at the core of the music business: downloading, copy protection, pricing and the music itself.

His intense brilliance captivates readers from Steven Tyler to Rick Nielsen to Bryan Adams to Quincy Jones to music business honchos like Michael Rapino, Randy Phillips, Don Ienner, Cliff Burnstein, Irving Azoff and Tom Freston.

Never boring, always entertaining, Mr. Lefsetz's insights are fueled by his stint as an entertainment business attorney, majordomo of Sanctuary Music's American division and consultancies to major labels.

Bob has been a weekly contributor to CelebrityAccess and Encore since 2001, and we plan many more years of partnership with him. While we here at CelebrityAccess and Encore do not necessarily agree with all of Bob's opinions, we are proud to help share them with you.

But corporations are antithetical to art. Hell, they're antithetical to truth, that's why newspapers have Chinese Walls, keeping sales from editorial. Because once editorial is influenced by sales…


You get the inane online culture wherein everything's about clicks, about advertising, where writers are paid by the number of views. In other words, news is irrelevant unless most people care. And that's a piss-poor state of affairs. Because news is not a popularity contest.


Ultimately music is. Assuming you want to make a living from it. But who are you playing to? The audience or the brands?


When Michelin sells tires to BMW the public is not involved. Oh, the French tire company cuts a deal to be on the car so that ultimately buyers will replace their worn out Michelins with new ones, but art is different, art is sold directly to the audience.

Unless you start with radio. And radio is beholden to its advertisers, but they come after the audience. Radio is a gatekeeper, the most powerful one we have. But radio knows that the listener comes first, it's got to play what people want to hear.


And the inane acts pledge fealty to their fans.


But the truth is everybody in the music business is dying to get paid.


So where does the corporate money, the brand money, figure in?


It goes straight to the acts' bottom line. It's not about spreading the word, it's not about making the act bigger, it's about lining acts' coffers, because if you can sell out arenas you're just not rich enough, you've got to make more, you've got to be greedy, that's the American religion, greed, Christianity's got nothing to do with it.


And forget all the working class acts who say they can't pay their bills. Truth is brands want nothing to do with them, nothing significant.


So what we've got is a thin layer of blockbuster acts more interested in brands than fans. That's the truth, no matter what they say. It's not about art, it's about getting rich.


And it sucks.


What happened to truth, justice and the American Way? Speaking from the heart, resonating with the audience?


That went out the window. Now you'll put the whiskey name in the song. You think you've got your hand in the pocket of the brand, but really it's vice versa, there's a chilling effect.


The brand doesn't want to know you do dope. They don't want to know about your artistic lifestyle. The brands are run by people who play it safe, who haven't got a creative bone in their bodies. They're about spreadsheets and meeting expectations whereas art is about confounding expectations.


And you wonder why music is a second-class citizen. It's got no self-respect. It's like a whore who denies that fact. At least Gene Simmons says he's all about the money, at least he's honest, none of these other pricks trying to manipulate the public are.


Then again, we've got Hillary Clinton running for President by saying what she thinks people want to hear, as opposed to her own personal truth. Made her lose to Obama eight years ago, probably the same thing will happen this time. Really, the woman who said she didn't want to stay home and bake cookies says her favorite book is the Bible? Make me puke.


But we know politicians are duplicitous.


Artists are not supposed to be so.


So my problem isn't so much with the corporations themselves, the brands themselves getting into music, but the aforementioned chilling effect, the way it emphasizes the worst elements of the music game.


Isn't being adored by millions and being able to get laid every night of the week enough? Believe me, those billionaire businessmen don't have this, no way.


You've got your charisma, you live by your own hours, can't you revel in that? Why do you want to be like everybody else? People don't trust brands. Jeff Bezos may be rich, but he's hated more than Fred Durst. That's who you want to take money from and hang with? What are you gonna talk about? Whether to use a B flat?


It's not only the music business, our whole nation needs a reset.


The richies have polluted the waters. They say they create all the jobs, that we're worthless without them, that we need to be like them.


But nothing is further from the truth.


The truth is everybody should be able to pay their bills, have a roof over their head and food on the table, hopefully via a well-paying job. But after we institute the floor, life is about choices. And those who tell you to sell out to the man have no backbone.


Can you imagine a corporation tying up with John Lennon? Who incited controversy seemingly every time he opened his mouth? You wonder why we've got no more John Lennons? Because people are afraid to piss off the payers, the man.


But the truth is there's not a soul in the music business who will not make a deal with an act with a hit song. You have to be a rapist, you have to be a child molester not to get a deal. And the truth is, some of the biggest stars of all time are both!


Not that I'm condoning that. It's just that music is a seedy business. Always has been, always will be.


And the enemy is not the techies, but us. Yes, we who make the music and promote it, we've got no convictions, no balls, we can't say no. We judge everything by money and however much we've got is never enough.


Musicians have more Twitter followers than almost everybody.


Musicians dominate YouTube.


Ticket prices have far outpaced inflation, and the truth is you can't get a good one.


Enough with this hogwash about a financially challenged business. That's just for wannabe and working class acts and those working at the label who got caught in the middle of a paradigm shift, with most of the money now coming from live instead of recordings. The truth is there's a ton of money in music if you're a star.


And just like in business, stars get all the money. It's even that way in journalism. Don't deny reality. Hell, in a democracy we all gravitate to greatness, and in the internet age all greatness is easily accessible.

So have some self-respect. Be willing to leave some cash on the table. Know that your power is not money, but your voice.


Focus on that.

It'll deliver everything you need.

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