THE LEFSETZ LETTER: Consolidation

You've been sold a bill of goods.

You read "The Long Tail" and believed a new era was upon us, an egalitarian one in which everybody got to play and be recognized, where music was plentiful and those making it survived financially…but this is untrue.

Consolidation is always lurking.

Happened with record companies. Happened in live entertainment. And it's going to happen in the new world.

Or another way of putting it is there's only one winner online. One Google, one Facebook, one Amazon, and there's only one iPod. As for the iPhone… Android may have penetrated the marketplace but what is fascinating is that the contenders have all collapsed, Windows, Nokia's Symbian and RIM, and they're not coming back.

The titans can be toppled. But usually this only happens with a paradigm shift, i.e. the shift from physical to digital. It's killing the major labels. But don't think what eventually emerges won't be similar, a limited number of players purveying a limited amount of music.

No, it won't look exactly like today. MTV's out of the music game and it looks like the same thing might be happening in terrestrial radio. The new music will not sound like the old, but only a few acts will rule.

I know you don't want to hear this.

But put yourself in the shoes of the listener. He's confronted with chaos, he wants someone to make sense of the clutter, and the person/site who does this will have all the power and ultimately all the money.



Hipsters will hate these people. Because what will survive won't be edgy, different and unlistenable. A level of quality will pervade, whether the records are made by committee or by individuals breaking new ground. Skill and inspiration, what a concept. It's what listeners want, even though players might recoil at the thought of this.


Because it leaves them out.


Yes, you can make your music with GarageBand, even sell it on iTunes via Tunecore. You think you've made it, but you're nowhere.


And with everybody able to hear your music instantly, word spreads pretty fast that you're mediocre. You just can't shove what people don't want down their throats. This is a sea change in advertising, in music. The product leads, it must be intrinsically good.


So, like the Marines, we're looking for a few good men, and women. Very few. You've got to be insanely great, it's hard to become a Navy Seal and it's going to be almost impossible to make it in the music game.


Niches will survive. You can play and get traction like in no other era. But your odds of blowing up, crossing genres, is extremely limited.


Because new people understanding the new rules are going to roll up the new acts. And everybody's interested in money. They just haven't got time to sell what's bad, it's too difficult, when people can sample and move on instantly.


So we're coming to an era of consolidation. There will be a limited number of sites/players and a limited number of bands. And the public will like this.


The only people left out will be the wannabes, who thought it was all going to be easier, those sour grapes individuals who always thought the man was against them.


No, you just weren't good enough.


And you're not going to be good enough tomorrow.


And with good being the main criterion, it's less important what kind of music you play than your ability to infect people and grow an audience. Anybody can make it. It's about self-starting as opposed to getting a check from a major.


But at the end of the day only a very few will triumph, will be ubiquitous.


And the people in control of their exhibition will be few in number, and they'll control all the acts.


Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss. Just with less smoke and mirrors and transparent accounting. Get ready.

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