THE LEFSETZ LETTER: Commercialization/Authenticity

If I hear one more time that commercials are the new radio, that no one cares about endorsements and sponsorships, I'm going to take my vinyl records and move to Tierra del Fuego.

Ain't that a laugh. Vinyl records. Even though I'm a big believer in vinyl, that it sounds better than CDs, it's not even a zit on the ass of the music business, it's an imperceptible blemish trumpeted by indie record stores on their way to extinction and fanned into flames by a media so out of touch one can't trust the presidential poll numbers bandied about, since they've been so wrong for the entire year.

Point being, conventional wisdom, what is jammed down our throats by people with an agenda, often bears no relation to reality, to truth.


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.

Record companies, managers and agents want to make money. They want their commissions. They know that acts are disposable, they can get a new one in to generate cash flow, that they're the establishment, that they last, and therefore they constantly goad acts to do endorsements, to do sponsorship deals, to take the short money, because they just don't give a damn about the long. They want their money and they want it now. But is this good for the act? Is there truly no price to whoring yourself out?

Of course there is! You sacrifice AUTHENTICITY! And that's what
bonds the act to the fan, that's what keeps the relationship going.
That's why Crosby, Stills & Nash mean so much less without Neil Young. It's why AC/DC is the second largest catalog act. It's why Tom Waits has fanatical fans. It's why past winners of "American Idol" can't go on the road and have to star as the umpteenth replacement in the revival of a Broadway show.

An old friend sent me this link:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPAO-lZ4_hU.

I won't say every minute of this video is riveting, but I will say it's more enjoyable than the evanescent Top Ten. All we hear from the fat cats is no stars ever broke online, but Michael Wesch says otherwise, that the Soulja Boy phenomenon was built on YouTube. And more acts will gain traction online. But the reason you've got to watch this video is the dissection of the YouTube community, its exploration OF WHAT IS HAPPENING ONLINE!

Rather than passively waiting to eat what is shoveled to them by the old guard, today people create their own content. Spreading the word regarding its quality by themselves, employing no marketing, no
advertising. And what creates a YouTube sensation is authenticity.
Every commercial online video endeavor has flopped. Turns out we don't want Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz to create bite-sized TV shows for our online consumption, but people just like us to display raw creativity, to tickle our fancy through their humanity.

The reason why there's no allegiance to today's new acts, why they don't have careers, is they're lacking this key element. They might be singing some vapid song created by Kara DioGuardi or Diane Warren that flows through the commercial sieve, but the audience knows this is pulp, that it's got no weight, that the act is just a vessel for hacks to make money. Therefore, they reject the act's further endeavors.

People love the Hold Steady because they believe they're authentic.

Fans were pissed at Wilco for taking VW's money because it crossed with their belief in who Jeff Tweedy and his band truly were. If Jeff needed the money THAT badly, THEY would have given it to him. Just like a blogger puts a tip jar on his page to raise funds to go to the political convention, an act could beg for money from its fans AND THEY'D DELIVER IT! Because they want to believe THEY OWN THE ACT, not the commercial concerns who abuse them on a daily basis.

Maybe synching a song to some TV show is not abhorred by your miniscule fanbase, they want to see you make it, and you're not really endorsing anything (and probably not getting any real traction either, since this paradigm has been overdone). But when you associate your music, your image with a COMMERCIAL ENTERPRISE as opposed to art, you're done. Your career is frozen in time from the moment you make this deal.

Look at the Stones… Has anybody cared about their new music since "Start Me Up"? The tour for "Tattoo You" was sponsored by Jovan, now the public knew the Stones were only about the money. It's hard to enjoy the new tunes when it's no longer a band doing drugs, searching for greatness, but a corporation as big and bad as any in the Fortune 500. Artists are supposed to be PURE!

Don't talk to me about athletes… That's not brain related. Who an
athlete is has very little to do with his performance on the field.
They work for the man usually, and they've got to perform their best or be demoted. Alex Rodriguez doesn't stand for anything. Hell, what made Muhammad Ali a legend was NOT fighting, standing up for WHAT HE BELIEVED IN!

Michael Phelps sacrificed in the pool, but we're not interested in his political beliefs, whereas we want to know everything about our artists, what made them who they are, how they came to this conclusion. We want to BELIEVE in our artists! Plaster them with logos and we no longer trust their utterances. Whereas no one believes a race car driver performs worse because his car is stickered with logos.

Like Michael Wesch says, in a land full of rampant commercialization, we're searching for authenticity. You can make some quick money via commercialization, but if you want to have a lasting career, you've got to have principles, you can't sell your audience out, you've got to draw people in!

They've got to believe your music is uncompromised, that you're beholden to only one master, yourself. That you took the road less traveled and you triumphed. Fans don't want to know you whored yourself out for the money. That's what THEY had to do. You're supposed to be BETTER than they are!

So, U2 can still tour and sell records. Sure, they made a deal with Apple, but Apple is an exception, Steve Jobs is the definitive rock star.

Dave Matthews Band isn't whored out, and they're near the top of the gross list, year after year.

But all those other post MTV bands? They've fallen by the wayside.
We can't build new superstars, because the audience doesn't trust who we're purveying. They can see the men behind the curtain, pulling the
strings. They see the choices based on money instead of career.
People might like a song, but they don't believe in the act.

Future stars will build slowly. They'll say no more than yes. And they'll make money for decades. While today's fat cats are living in beach communities spending that CD/video cash. MTV is not about music. The CD is dying. The old guard wishes it had control over the future, but it doesn't spend enough time in the pit with the audience to see what people really believe. Today's exec has CONTEMPT for the audience. If you want to survive in the creative fields, watch this video. It will pay more dividends than reading trade publications or listening to demos or listening to Top Forty radio or…

Yes, this YouTube video is a hit. Michael Wesch's effort from the beginning of last year has had 6,349,080 YouTube views! And he's an ANTHROPOLOGY PROFESSOR! But the community has embraced him. And they're not embracing your act. And that's the problem.

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