THE LEFSETZ LETTER: Irving Walks

It's an entrepreneurial business.


Remember when Matsushita bought MCA? They left David Geffen out of the loop,

despite his huge stockholdings. Because Geffen plays by his own rules, he could

cock up a deal, make it turn out in his favor. Best to leave wildcatters out of

corporate business.


The same goes for Irving Azoff.


To think Irving Azoff could work for a public company is to believe Kim

Kardashian could marry a white guy. He doesn't believe in any controls that he

doesn't impose upon others. That's what the Front Line rollup was about to

begin with. It may be hard to recollect, but there was a time, at the turn of

the last decade, that the major labels held all the power in the music business

(and if you still believe that, you work for one!) Irving would call them and

ask for something and some lawyer would refuse, saying it was "corporate

policy." It was then that Irving decided to gather all the artists and tell the

labels that they had their own policy. Then the record companies failed and the

artists gained all the power. Musical artists have more power than ever since

the Beatles, if you don't believe this you're never going to make it, you're

too busy looking for a sugar daddy, someone to tell you what to do. But today

you make your own decisions. And you want someone in your corner to advise you.

And that's Irving Azoff.


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.

A better artist representative has never existed. Acts don't leave Irving, even

though every once in a while he fires one. Because Irving extracts what no one

else can. And if you look up the word "loyalty" you see his picture. If you're

on his team, Irving will do anything for you, literally anything, even carry

your dope. Ask him to tell you that story, how he was willing to take the fall

for…


But a guy like that can't work for the man.


Could Steve Jobs work for the man?


No, he got fired.


If you haven't been fired by the man, or walked in frustration, then you're not

an entrepreneur. An entrepreneur makes things happen. A corporate citizen plays

politics, wins for himself, not others. Whereas when an entrepreneur wins, cash

rains down on many.


So Irving had fourteen months left on his contract, had no intention of

renewing and didn't want to be a lame duck. So he ankled Live Nation. Why now?

THE FISCAL CLIFF! And everybody's happy. He walks with twenty acts, the ones

you think, but his goal is not to stick it in the side of Live Nation but to do

something new. To go back to his natural skill. Of artist representation.


But you may have heard that the music business is challenged.


So Irving's not limiting himself to music, but is kicking the tires at sports,

fashion, tech…


But what about power?


It all comes down to contacts. And the only person with a better rolodex than

Irving Azoff is Barack Obama.


So where does this leave us?


With a whole new music business.


The progenitors, those who constructed the modern music business, they're gone.

Not even Doug Morris was there at the beginning. As for Lucian Grainge and

Jimmy Iovine… Business was booming when they got in. Whereas Irving Azoff got

started representing WLS deejays and dealing with Morris Levy


Michael Rapino is forty four. He's the last man standing at Live Nation.

Everybody else walked or was killed. It's his company to run. And he's not

beholden to the past, he can't remember it because he wasn't there.


Over at AEG… Irving gave Randy Phillips his job.


So what happens now?


You take over.


You young 'uns who are Internet savvy who don't even remember when MTV played

videos. It's your sandbox. Record at home, distribute online and ignore the old

farts lamenting the way it used to be, those days are never coming back.


Music has been a second class citizen for this entire decade. Sure, it was the

canary in the coal mine for technology, but it's become a football kicked

around by fat cats and is peopled by lowest common denominator denizens. Music

can't drive the culture, because the people in it know little about data and

think that you win through intimidation.


No, you win through ideas.


That's what songs are.


One great one can change the world.


Rihanna can't change the world. There's no there there. Hell, Kendrick Lamar

sold more albums in the first week and he didn't even have a radio hit!


And if you write a great song, Live Nation and AEG are there to write you a big

check to perform live.


But music will only really count when it recaptures the ethos of Irving Azoff.

Isn't it interesting that the most powerful person in music can't work for the

man and everybody in the business is looking to sell out to the man! You can't

go anywhere without someone talking about a payment from the Fortune 500 or a

TV network or…

Music must stand by itself. The acts must be beholden to no one but themselves.


Irving's been unleashed. Will he re-emerge as the most powerful person in the

media landscape, will he become a household name, or will he retire with his

riches like David Geffen or be an almost powerless blowhard like Barry Diller

who owns a ragtag bunch of almost worthless companies but has the dying press

at his beck and call?


I don't know.


But nature abhors a vacuum. Someone always comes in to fill the space.


It's not Lyor Cohen. What he did best was extract money from others. He's not a

builder, he's a taker.


Nor Jimmy Iovine, who doesn't have the balls to walk from Interscope, despite

building Beats. I mean if he's so good at signing and breaking talent why does

he need Universal again? Isn't that like someone too afraid to leave Microsoft?


The future of entertainment is not selling out. Art is not widgets. It makes

people uncomfortable, angry, it's frequently banned. But art always emerges

triumphant. It's no different from Warner caving to pressure and getting rid of

Interscope and Death Row. Rap only went on to become more successful! The man

never understands the game.


Everything's intertwined now. From music to the Internet to mobile handsets to

politics. Without the shenanigans in D.C., Irving's exit never would have

happened today.


Can you manage all this data? Can you be emotional in your art but cold-hearted

in your business? Can you forget the past and look to the future?


That's what Irving Azoff did today.


Look to him for direction.

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