THE LEFSETZ LETTER: Power Top Five

1. Michael Rapino


He writes the checks. And in the twenty first century, it’s all about money.


It’s not how many albums you sell, but how many tickets. The live business rules. Live Nation is the dominant player. Sure, anybody can write a check once, but if you want to tour the world, more than your local market, chances are you’re going to come in contact with Live Nation. Build your relationships.


Furthermore, Rapino controls Artist Nation, i.e. the acts. Did this make him overpay for the Miley Cyrus tour, since she’s a client? I’ll let you decide.


Rapino worked his way up from the bottom, he’s a survivor. He put the knife in Barry Diller and Michael Cohl. If you don’t think Rapino is a formidable competitor, you’re too busy reading the trades instead of knowing the people who control this business.


And it is a people business.


And the key is to interact with and know as many people as possible.


2. Jay Marciano


Who?


That’s the essence of the live business. People are so focused on the flash of recordings that they don’t know who’s really in control.


Marciano worked his way up from local promoter to Universal Concerts to House of Blues to MSG to AEG Europe to his present role as majordomo of AEG.


And everybody loves him.


Live Nation is run on fear. AEG is a family.


Live Nation is Walmart. AEG is Costco.


AEG is a multifarious company. From its Concerts West division with Meglen and Gongaware, Las Vegas and the Stones, to Paul Tollett and Coachella. And it’s constantly expanding, it’s got a stake in China.


It’s a two horse race. Live Nation and AEG. They all know each other. A good number have worked for both.


They both write the checks. They’re the key to your survival.


3. Lucian Grainge


Wasn’t Universal supposed to fold after Doug Morris left?


Grainge is a swashbuckler. He slimmed Universal and continued to have hits, and it is a hit business. Major labels have had a remarkable resurgence. Unlike Mr. Morris, Grainge has many years ahead of him. It’s his record business, the rest of us just live in it.


4. Daniel Ek


Rail against Spotify, but that demonstrates how behind the times you are. Spotify doesn’t care about you, it cares about its competitors…YouTube, Rdio, Deezer, Beats… Only one will survive, and Spotify is so well-positioned the game is almost over, the only company that can compete is Google, but Sergey and Larry’s company can’t shoot straight, they get it wrong time and again. Unlike Apple, which insists on getting it right, Google releases me-too product marketed poorly. But with YouTube they have a head start.


As for Beats… Its best option is to gain headway in the U.S. and force a merger with Spotify, this is not the headphone business, with the rest of the industry sleeping. This is not a marketing game so much as an investment game. Look at how many countries Spotify is in, the scale. Spotify is a poor marketer, who even knows it’s got chips in devices, but while you were lamenting payouts, Spotify invested. All that hogwash about it being unprofitable… Look at the cell phone and cable industries. You invest and invest and invest and then you dominate and rake in cash seemingly forever.


As for streaming revenues, read this recent story from Ethan Smith in the “Wall Street Journal”:
“Dollar-and-Cents Secrets of Music Streaming-Staying Power Is More Important Than Bursting on the Scene”


That’s right, while you were busy forwarding that inane Iron Maiden propaganda, about touring where the pirates are (pirates are everywhere, but they mean less every day), the business journal of record, behind a paywall, gave facts and figures, instead of hyped conjecture.


Yup, while you believed the web was democratic, and anybody could play and survive, it turned into the rest of the society, comprised of winners and losers. The rich go to good schools and rule the world and pay for information, the poor watch the flat screen and keep praying, believing if they just do their affirmations, they will be rich too. The joke’s on them!


5. Independent Concert Promoters


Whether it be Don Fox’s Beaver Productions, the C3 guys, SFX or JAM, they’ve all got checkbooks, they’re all open to opportunities, they too have money, they’re not as powerful as Live Nation and AEG, but they dwarf the power of any independent label. They spend cash every day. And, except for SFX, it’s their money. So they market and do their best to get it back.


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IN THE MIX


1. Sony Music:


Doug Morris, Rob Stringer and L.A. Reid


Don’t get swayed by the Beyonce hype. This isn’t the disaster of Warner, but this is a ship taking on water. L.A. Reid overspends and delivers little and Doug Morris is running out of time and Rob Stringer can’t run the whole operation himself. The plan was to bring in Morris and save the ship, but with Sony itself in disarray, the record label has not gotten the overhaul it needs. They’re selling Gracenote instead of investing. They’re heading for a cliff. When Doug goes, it’s over.


2. Warner Music

Benefits from the Parlophone acquisition but is hampered by being run by non-music guys. You need engineers to make the trains run on time. Atlantic has got Bruno Mars, Warner is starting from scratch. There’s no vision, only bean counters. I’d turn it into a catalog only label, but if it’s gonna break new acts it’s got to learn from T-Mobile, Warner Music has got to be the anti-major. T-Mobile got rid of contracts and exorbitant foreign roaming charges. Warner has to become the act-friendly enterprise. With better royalty rates and open accounting and shorter deals… They’ve got to attract new talent with less onerous terms. They’ve got to do something different.


3. Irving Azoff


An enigma. Always two steps ahead of the game, no one is quite sure where Irving is going other than himself. Right now he’s involved with deep-pocketed James Dolan (who made his money in cable, see above!) and is opening the Forum in Los Angeles in January. He’ll win there, because with no sports teams, and every date available, the schedule will fill, irrelevant of the infrastructure investment and despite the Inglewood location.


Will Irving scoop up acts after his Live Nation exit restrictions expire?


Will he invest in technology? Manage other entertainers?


Irving’s making the best movie going, even Geffen retired. Watch and marvel.


4. Coran Capshaw/Red Light

Hmm… A lot of assets that don’t add up to much.


He’s got Dave Matthews, who is past his peak (everybody ages, Paul McCartney and the Eagles are past their peak too) and a couple of other major acts, but it’s mostly a ragtag management operation just this side of disarray wherein it looks like nobody’s really home and nobody’s really in charge. This is not how you build an empire.


Yes, Capshaw also has an investment in live enterprises, but that gives him a bit of leverage and some cash but it doesn’t make him a visionary.


Who does Coran Capshaw want to be? Manager? Promoter? Restaurateur?


He needs to decide and double down. We’re waiting for the innovation.


5. Scooter Braun


Wet behind the ears. Don’t take bankers’ money without an ironclad plan to return it on their terms. Who knows if Bieber is really retiring. Troy Carter lost Lady Gaga. This is a roll-up without a plan. Scooter got the money, now what?


6. Jay Z


Read the Business Insider story:


“Jay Z’s Brand Is Suffering Because People Don’t Trust Him Anymore”


We’ve been sold a fiction that the public cares not a whit who you get paid by, who you sell out to. But this is not true. Acts survive on credibility, don’t ever forget it. It comes right after the music. Build your legend and protect your image.


7. Adele


XL. Richard Russell. Martin Mills. They’re the power here. Adele is just the face. Hell, look what they did with Vampire Weekend. Expect more hits, but Beggars/XL, unlike Coran Capshaw, doesn’t dream big, but they keep on delivering.


8. One Direction


A boy band. But the first one of the Internet era. That’s why they’re so big. You don’t have to watch TV or read the paper to know what’s going on, you just pull up your phone and communicate with other fans and become part of the action. In the future, big acts will be bigger and bigger, One Direction is just the first. And if you measure success by record sales, you’re not privy to One Direction’s merch numbers.


. Steve Barnett/Capitol Records

Great marketing machine. Let’s see the enterprise develop its own hit acts.


10. Monty Lipman/Republic


The little engine that could. Monty learned from his mentors and runs a lean machine that keeps delivering. Expect him to keep doing so.


11. Daniel Glass


It’s the losses that delivered Daniel his success. Just like a techie, Daniel has learned from failure. Now he knows where every body is buried and is unafraid of anyone. He draws acts to his label because of his commitment, drive and no b.s. attitude. Acts want someone to believe in them. That’s the one asset Daniel Glass delivers better than anybody.


12. Marc Geiger, Rob Light and Chip Hooper


Go hand in hand with Rapino, Marciano and the indie promoters.


Their styles are different.


Rob Light is old school. Wood-paneled and respectable.


Geiger is the visionary.


Hooper gets it done, like the deal with AM Only.


You pick which one you want to work with.


Or you could always go with Tom Windish, he’s younger, he’ll probably want you before the other three do


13. Clear Channel Radio


The most nimble of the terrestrial guys, it’s still unclear if they can make the transition to the Internet.


On one hand, it seems like they’ve read Clayton Christensen’s “Innovator’s Dilemma,” on the other, there’s nothing innovative or sexy or compelling about their Internet offerings. Yes, Clear Channel is playing on the Internet, but tell me why I want to listen?


14. Sirius XM


Owes it success to Howard Stern.


But trumps terrestrial because there are no commercials on its music channels and there’s a ton more depth. Satellite is a real player. The company is profitable, but it has no reasonable Internet strategy. It doesn’t look like Sirius XM will ever dominate. Then again, there’s a radio in every car, and that should never be underestimated.


15. Rolling Stone


The problem is musicians are just not that interesting, nor that powerful, which is why Jann Wenner makes all his money from “Us.”


It’s hard to blame “Rolling Stone,” the artists deserve scorn, but watching the magazine straddle music, tech and alternative news has you wondering…is it lost in the seventies?


16. Sean Parker


He’s rich, that does not mean he deserves your attention.


All these techies get so much press. Most are one trick ponies. But they are wealthy, and they do change the world more than musicians.


17. Mobile phones


The number two story of 2013, behind online cacophony. The desktop is dead, unless you’re literally chained to your desk, which other than at work, most people are not. It all happens on mobile. It’s an iOS and Android world. BlackBerry isn’t worth reading about, to believe the Microsoft/Nokia pairing will pay dividends is to believe the Surface will kill the iPad. Right now, Apple rules productivity, more people buy Androids but don’t utilize them as much. Will this stay so? I’m not so sure it matters, that’s the horse race, pay attention to the ecosystem, i.e. mobile apps and mobile purchasing.


18. Pasquale Rotella


Changed the world. At least the U.S. Every mainstream concert promoter missed it. Irrelevant of the Live Nation deal, Rotella’s success with Electric Daisy proves once again that music is about the left field success. That just when you think things are becoming complacent, a new trend emerges out of thin air…seemingly. Yes, Rotella has decades in electronic music. It’s all about commitment and the long haul, if only the acts realized this.

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