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Op Ed: The Sensibility – Bob Lefsetz

People connect with artists, not executives. We're drawn to those who speak
their truth, from deep down inside. There is nothing more powerful than
listening to a song and feeling that the artist is expressing your inner
emotion. You bond. If the artist does this more than once, you become a
fan. You want to go see the artist live to feel the utmost communion with
them and their material.

A pop artist is something completely different. A pop artist creates a
confection that titillates the listener. Oftentimes working in
predetermined genres, a pop artist is not about testing limits so much as
building a bank account. A real artist is on his own exploratory adventure.
He may worry whether others will join him on his journey, but he does not
sway, he does not turn back, he does not do what's expedient, he soldiers

Historically, in between the artist and the audience has been a businessman.
As legendary as Ahmet and Mo might be to music business insiders, most
people outside this sphere are unaware of them. And that's the way it
should be. Artists come first. If the businessman could create the art, he
would, that's what we've got in the movie business, but in music, there's no
substitute for practicing, for paying your dues, you learn your skill and
jump off from there. Furthermore, beyond skills there is conception.
Anyone can tell you what to do, you can work for the man, but can you plot
your own path and follow it? That's what was so amazing about the Beatles.
They were not following a prescribed path. They truly went their own way.

In the nineties, the executive became bigger than the act. Tommy Mottola.
Clive Davis. These are interesting people to speak to, hearing their back
room stories, but they don't touch your soul. That's what artists do. But
the executives needed to feel their power.

And the executives made boatloads of cash. And after Reagan made greed
acceptable, the masses followed the rich. They too wanted to become
wealthy. Why be an artist when you can become a banker and make tons of

And our entire culture changed. Dollars became first. "Artists" all talked
about getting paid. They'd play music for a while, but if they weren't
successful, they'd go to graduate school. The concept of needing to create
music, needing to express yourself, was overshadowed by pop stars willing to
light themselves on fire for momentary attention and bucks. The executives
made the big money.

But now the executives make much less. And not having let anybody new in
the ranks, the truly creative went into tech. Artists lost their champions.
If nothing else, the label told you how and what to record, and said your
album wasn't coming out until there was a hit.

What's a hit? Something with beats that gets airplay on a Top Forty station
or something that touches hearts that will never be forgotten?

Careers are based on the latter. But suddenly very few performers had
careers. They'd played the money game, did what they were told, and now not
only does no one want their new music and nobody wants to see them live, no
one even wants to listen to their hits. They were expendable items. Like
dishrags or underwear. That served a purpose, were necessary for a time and
then thrown away and forgotten.

But the public still hungers for honesty, people still want connection.
Artists are more desirable than ever. And since mainstream pop pays fewer
dividends, more people are practicing, following their own path and becoming
artists. There are scores of players with burgeoning followings that you've
never heard of. They've got fans. Fans do it for the love, not the money.

Will there ever be tons of money in being an artist once again?

I'm not sure. Presently, recorded music is free and it's hard to get
everybody to listen to you. Then again, Apple makes tons of cash with less
than ten percent PC market share. And being in business for so long, they
came up with an accidental hit, the iPod, which was decried as being too
expensive and undesirable upon launch, but ultimately grew into a

But as much as you might love your iPod, you love what's on it even more.

Now that we're in a recession, money-grubbing is no longer the focus. Now
it's about experiences. Laughs, love, sex and music. Provide this
experience. People are clamoring for it.