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Op Ed: GaGaMania – Bob Lefsetz

1,108,000 copies sold?


Okay kids. Stop that knee-jerk reaction. Be able to hold two opposing thoughts in your head. That’s the mark of an educated person.

Yes, by conventional SoundScan standards a tick over a million copies in a week is a significant sum.

But is there anybody in the U.S. who did not know GaGa had a new album out? Was there a problem finding a place to buy it?

What we’ve learned here is most people just don’t care. They don’t want GaGa at any price.

Welcome to the modern world.

We’ve been hearing from major labels for a decade that the problem is theft. But that’s not the true issue, more accurately it’s diversity, choice. We no longer have to pay attention to what you want us to. You can pour on the hype, you can tell us to care, but most of just don’t.

You can’t argue about the price. "Born This Way" was available at Amazon for 99 cents. And then, just in case you didn’t catch it the first time around, they repeated the promotion a couple of days later. Only 400,000 odd people took Amazon up on this offer. Meaning for many, they just don’t want to hear GaGa AT ANY PRICE!

It’s not about the quality of the record. If it had been better, it wouldn’t have sold significantly more.

It’s not about set-up. How many singles were there? GaGa was all over TV, giving quotes to media outlets ad infinitum.

But it fell on deaf ears.

There was a hard core of people who wanted the new album. And then she hit a brick wall. After that, NO MAS!

Mainstream media just can’t fathom this. That the mainstream is dead. That we’ve all scattered off into our own little niches. Fox keeps touting how many people watched the "American Idol" finale, but I can’t even remember the winner’s name.

It wasn’t about the winner. It wasn’t about music.

And the hipsters can’t fathom this either. For decades the sport of insiders has been to put down the taste of the outsiders, the unhip. There’s been a sieve through which music had to pass, to the point where we had an anointed few. For a couple of decades it was those tracks that made it on to the MTV playlist. They were the winners, everybody else was a loser. Now there is no major league. There are no winners. Just a bunch of sideshows.

In other words, the only people who cared about Lady GaGa’s music were her little monsters. THAT’S IT!

If you’re an act satiate your core. That’s all there is. GaGa has proven that you can prostitute yourself all over TV, come up with outrageous quotes, and most people shrug their shoulders, they could care less.

Like I said, this is not about theft. Hell, you’re lucky if someone steals your music, that means THEY CARE! And if they really truly care, maybe they’ll come to the gig and buy some merch.

But don’t ask me to care.

Don’t ask the person next door to care.

We’ve got little time, we’ve got so many choices. We’ve got our own interests. Even if you gain our attention, that does not mean your interests will comport with mine. Beat me over the head with the story of that basketball player, I’m watching ski racing. And others are fans of B.A.S.E. jumping and still others are out skateboarding.

This leaves us with a Tower of Babel society. Which is what brings us to festivals. Where it’s less about individual acts than being there, amongst our peers. That’s the hook, we’re all in it together, not the music!

This is SO different from the last century.

And just like we’re never going back to a three network TV universe, we’re not going back to a few musical superstars and a bunch of losers. Now we’ve got a ton of journeymen. The business at large is huge, but no act within it is very big.

Oh, the mainstream media tells us Lady GaGa is a superstar. But she’s not, not by the standards of yore. How many people actually went to her show? How many people have purchased her music? If she were a network TV show, they’d cancel her. And network TV shows have a fraction of the audience they once had. Three networks used to have 90% of the audience. Now four and a half networks have less than 30%. The rest is made up of endless cable channels, endless niches. Many of them quite profitable, in some cases more profitable than the networks, because costs are watched and a premium is charged for their audience.

In other words, maybe you can’t afford to spend so much making your album. And if you’ve got hard core fans you can get a lot of money from them. That’s the game. Getting a hundred bucks from one fan, who buys music, tickets and merch and even joins the fan club, as opposed to trying to beat people into buying an album they don’t want to hear for ten bucks.

It’s a brand new era.

The old one is done.

Set yourself on fire. Everybody will know who you are for a day.

But you won’t have fans.

And now it’s all about fans. And a fan base takes time to build, it must be nurtured, you must give back, you must treat your fans right, from delivering more music to fair ticket prices to access to…

It’s easier than ever to get started.

But more difficult than ever to succeed.

But don’t let that discourage you.

Human nature is to look for something new.

We’re always kicking the tires. We’re listening to the recommendations of like-minded friends. If you gain a fan base, you’ve got a chance some of those fans will grow your audience. But your audience won’t go instantly nuclear based on ANY mainstream exposure.

Those days are history.