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Ed Sheeran

The Lefsetz Letter: Ed Sheeran

Ed Sheeran. Courtesy Image.
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What kind of crazy, f*cked up world do we live in where Morgan Wallen outstreams Ed Sheeran?

One in which Latin and country eclipse the traditionally narrow hip-hop/pop music perceived to be dominant in America.

“‘To a large degree, the charts you mention are engineered by whoever has the biggest financial resources anyway; it massively matters how much money you put behind a track to reach or stay at No.1. Why is that not changing? Why are shareholders not becoming more nervous about this narrative?

“The fact is, even if nobody spent money on marketing new music you would still have charts, because consumers drive those charts, and consumers would still discover new music.'”

That’s Hartwig Masuch, departing head of BMG.

You can read what he says here: Bottom line, he can’t understand why the majors keep investing in profitless hit product when the money is in catalog:

“If you look at the body of work the majors have, if they’d have focused much earlier on maximizing the relevance of their catalogs versus building zero-EBITDA-producing, huge-revenue labels, their numbers would look great from a dynamic perspective. I think that’s now dawning on them.”

Of course, the devil is in the details. As in what is considered to be catalog, and you’ve got to make new music to generate catalog revenue. Also, hit music is not a world BMG plays in. But…

Is the era of the hit single history?

Of course, it’s not, but never has a hit meant less. And never in the modern era has recorded music been less of a percentage of an act’s overall revenues.

So, if you’re building your act from the top down, you’re experiencing headwinds, you might make a splash, but also make no money. But if you come from the ground up…

Well, Ed Sheeran came from the ground up. And he has the second most streamed track extant, i.e. “Shape of You.” Why is the public not mesmerized, not enticed, not streaming his new album?

It’s not like you can fault the hype. Sheeran bared his soul on Howard Stern, and unlike many “artists,” despite lacking education Sheeran is intelligent and articulate.

And there was that streaming special on Disney+. I mean we can’t sit here and say the public is unaware…

But maybe that’s not true. Because the traditional ways of reaching the active audience punch way below their historical weight. It’s actually hard to reach anybody. And the younger you are, the more you live online, where centralized hype reaching everybody…doesn’t.

It’s not like Ed Sheeran will stop selling tickets.

The dirty little secret is not that many people go to the show.

Let’s say you play thirty stadiums. That’s 1,500,000 tickets. Give or take. Some stadiums don’t even hold 50,000, and this is assuming you sell out. But the bottom line is a million and a half people is an almost insignificant portion of the population of the United States. Sure, traditional media outlets might be bowing at your feet, you may even get the key to the city, but does all that matter anymore?

Furthermore, Sheeran is taking no chances, he’s doing arenas this time around.

[Editor’s note: The current leg of Ed Sheeran’s North American tour includes stadiums and a small selection of theaters, with no arena shows scheduled for the U.S. or Canada.]

But why is “-” streaming so poorly? The album has been out almost two weeks, but most tracks have been streamed in the single digit millions on Spotify, and not high single digit millions.

Then again, the initial single, released towards the end of March, “Eyes Closed,” did not burn up the chart. As a matter of fact, it’s presently #70 on the daily Spotify chart, going down.

Going back to the manipulated chart…

Sheeran sold 81,000 copies of his new album last week. You know, the physical mania driven by vinyl, which ends not long after an album’s release. That should have put him at #1 instead of #2, right? Especially against an album as “old” as Morgan Wallen’s “One Thing at a Time,” which sold only 5,000 copies in its tenth week of release.

But Wallen’s album had 179 million streams, whereas Sheeran’s had 38 million.

But wasn’t Sheeran just everywhere, winning that copyright suit, being perceived as standing up for the integrity of artists, beating down the troll? I mean who wasn’t aware of that?

But it didn’t drive streams.

In addition, the paradigm of yore doesn’t exist today. Yesterday, in the physical era, the goal was to sell as much product as fast as you could, before people were even aware of whether the album was good or bad. Longevity was great, but it wasn’t necessary. Today longevity is everything.

And Morgan Wallen’s “One Thing at a Time” is number one for the tenth week. Eclipsing not only Ed Sheeran, but Metallica.

Somehow people are resonating with Wallen. He’s perceived to be authentic. There’s no jet-setting, he isn’t seen everywhere, he somehow still seems attached to his roots, unlike Sheeran and so many.

And maybe screwing up made Wallen even more relatable. If you haven’t committed any faux pas, you’re drawing way too far inside the lines. How can people relate to someone who is airbrushed physically and when it comes to identity?

But Sheeran is scruffy…

Maybe people are just sick of the movie. Sheeran never leaves their consciousness.

You could say Sheeran’s new album is an artistic disappointment, but the reviews are quite good. But today reviews are meaningless, more important is what your friends have to say.

And I’m not saying that “-” won’t be resuscitated. But for a superstar, this is a poor debut.

And I’m not saying everybody is going to like Morgan Wallen. Or even Bad Bunny. There are many titans today, in many genres. It’s hard to cover all the bases, and this is what the major labels do so poorly. Today you have to play in all musical verticals, because if you hit enough singles and doubles, they add up to even more than one home run.

So what we’ve got here is a media industrial network acting like it’s still the twentieth century when nothing could be further from the truth. We no longer live in a monoculture, MTV is deep in the rearview mirror. Today most acts are unique, operating as an enterprise of one. It’s not about the competition, it’s about you and your audience. And your audience wants to own you, believe that you’re playing to them, not those who don’t care, who you’re desperately trying to add to your flock. And instead of asking where you are on the chart, you should be asking how many people are diehards, in it for the long haul. Sure, if you need awards, this philosophy might not get you any, but awards are b.s. anyway. Who cares what members of the Academy who are unknown by the public have to say, most with minimal musical careers to begin with. You don’t need an award to make yourself feel good. The adulation of your fans is enough.

The game in days of yore was to reach every last person on the planet and try to get them to buy your record, this would be a multi-year attack, as you dribbled out singles.

But today you want to put out product more frequently. Satiate your fans, not a broken down system. And casual fans don’t pay dividends, they don’t come to the show, at least not every tour.

What you’re selling is belief.

People want to see Ed Sheeran, but do they believe in him?

People believe in Morgan Wallen.

And it’s not like Sheeran didn’t try to buy insurance, he cowrote “Eyes Closed” with Max Martin, Shellback and Fred Again, and four producers are credited, those three and Aaron Dessner. Maybe in the process of trying to create a hit truth was excised, the track was polished to the point that people couldn’t relate to it. This is the major label paradigm, redo and remix until you get it perfect. But that’s not art, art is about inspiration.

Not that Morgan Wallen didn’t have contributors, many in fact. But the end result sounded more personal.

And Wallen did originally get a boost from TV.

But the bottom line is there’s room for everybody today, even you.

Well, that’s not true. You can post your music to Spotify and literally no one can listen. But if you have a spark that touches people, you can have a career. You don’t need the major label; you just need you. It’s all about you, don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.

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