THE LEFSETZ LETTER: The Harlem Shake Phenomenon

It's the ultimate in participation.


It all started with rap. You didn't need training, you didn't need to know anything about music or the music business. You just lifted a track and freestyled above it.


Then came reality television. Where suddenly people could be famous for nothing. Whether it be the denizens of the "Real World" house, Richard Hatch on "Survivor" or Kim Kardashian.


Now it's "Harlem Shake."

Hubris. Believing that they dictated culture, that they were in power, when nothing could be further from the truth. Credit the Internet, where the public's power could suddenly be seen. Gatekeepers are passe. We live in an era of chaos. One in which not only TV producers and record labels are clueless, but so are political parties.


How did the prognosticators, how did the powers-that-be get it so wrong?


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.

The hero of the 2012 election? A geek! Nate Silver! Who based his predictions on data and analysis, as opposed to bloviating and intimidation. When an entire party is beaten by one nerd and his laptop, you know things have changed.


And then there's NBC, which recently descended to fifth place in the network race. Its mistake? Programming for an audience that doesn't exist. Used to be network television was about blandly creating a big tent. Now the world is populated by a zillion niches. Whatever you're interested in has a website, maybe dozens, with more depth and more edge than anything on the box. The film companies have punted. Believing that if they just bland their product out further, localize it not a bit, even remove most of the dialog, the whole world will come running. But in an era where Twitter and Facebook bring down dictators, are there truly that many unwashed and ignorant? China not only makes our electronics, it uses them too.


The movie business is having its wedding/coronation/celebration this weekend. Once upon a time, the Oscars mattered. Today they're a dying enterprise. Because the younger generation can't relate, the same way it passed on boxing for mixed martial arts. Oblivion is only a handful of years away, if you don't constantly take the temperature of the populace and get down into the pit with your audience.


Yes, the tail is wagging the dog.


And nothing happens slowly anymore. "Harlem Shake" may have been released last May, but the phenomenon began only a few weeks ago. And if you think it's got a future, you're probably in business with PSY. Internet memes are now about coming together, providing commonality in a world with very little. This is how we connect, in an environment where we don't watch the same television shows, don't listen to the same music and only watch movies at home, on Netflix.


Call it democratization. Something the sold out government could not achieve. Yes, both political parties are beholden to money and lobbyists, yet the public is 100% uncontrollable. This is what the record labels can't understand. They used to be in control…of radio, of distribution, now they've lost their power. Now it comes down to excellence and luck.


We've got no time for mediocre.


If you're not the best, if you're not a star, we've got no time for you. Whether it be a film, a TV show or music. All those flicks at Sundance? Most of them will never get distribution, most of them will never be seen. It's the triumph of the few. In a world where everybody has access and nobody has any time.


Furthermore, barriers to success have been torn down. Used to be you needed the fat cat cigar-chomping impresario to make you a success. You had to grovel and sell out. Now you do it for yourself.


As for money…


That's one of the fascinating things about "Harlem Shake." The money is in the imitations, not the real thing, all those YouTube videos created and watched. Think about this, this is what the labels' said was going to ruin the world. If copyright was loosened, if YouTube gained power, if the artist wasn't 100% in control of his art. But just the opposite has come true. If you loosen the strings, not only do you have a greater chance of success, but there's a ton of money to be made.


Don't fear the future, embrace it. Because the past is never coming back.


Innovate or die. Even though "Billboard" is on its last gasp, give the magazine credit for making YouTube part of its chart. It might piss off the old men, but they're trying to reflect reality. Something every punter on the street knows, but no one in the corridors of power wants to admit.


You can still make it.


But you've got to be innovative, and different. That's more important than talent or skill. Kind of like the era of classic rock. Conception is more important than execution. Can you titillate the audience? Can you inspire it?


They're in control.


There's no such thing as a turntable hit anymore. Not one that lasts more than a week, that's propped up by mainstream media.


No, now, more than ever, success has underpinnings. Whether it be the awfulness of Rebecca Black or the quality of "The Walking Dead" and the rest of the cable dramas.


All those cable shows made it on word of mouth. Took them years to rise above the rabble-rousing, the hype of the mainstream product. That's the modern world, it works both fast and slow, and there's nothing in between. Either it takes years to reach critical mass, for everybody to tell everybody else, to anoint what was seen as off the grid as positively mainstream, or there's a Vesuvius effect, and something bubbles over uncontrollably, going from percolation to explosion overnight.


It's not your grandpa's era. It's not the twentieth century.


It's a brand new world. Where the public is constantly communicating on those hand-held devices oldsters say is ruining humanity, and everybody's got the tools of creation at their fingertips. All they need is putty. Starter. Something to grab on to. Then they'll make it their own and turn it into a huge success.


Or not.

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