THE LEFSETZ LETTER: Festivals

If you weren't at Coachella are you a loser? Hopelessly out of touch? Living in a world where the memo never gets to your inbox?

It's Bon Jovi night on "American Idol". Funny to think that Jon Bongiovi was once a hungry musician from New Jersey who would do anything to make it, and now will do just about anything to stay on top. Jon worked at the Power Station, his uncle's place. He wrote songs. He made demos, he assembled a band. And when hooked up with Desmond Child and Bruce Fairbairn he recorded an album that captured the zeitgeist of the late eighties, when the hip and the mainstream merged, when Generation X threw off the restrictions of its baby boomer big brothers and grabbed hold of the reins of popular culture.


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.

That's how you made it back in the eighties, you got your mug on the MTV. Exposure sold records. But MTV is now meaningless. Just ask teenagers, it's got nothing to do with music. Kind of like the major labels. That sound they're purveying has got nothing to do with music, with art, and really just centers on money. Isn't that what they say? They're only making what sells? It's not about musicianship, Clive Davis finds a beautiful face, puts it together with the usual behind the board suspects, and a new star is born. But the public no longer respects said stars. What are you to do if you want to play in the mainstream?

That's exactly the point. There is no mainstream.

Coachella is not mainstream. And neither is Bonnaroo. The Live Earth concerts try to be, and that's why they leave one cold. If you're playing to the mainstream, you're screwed. Because no one lives there. No one is that uninformed, that unhip. Except maybe the prepubescent kids soon to reject what they now embrace.

The major labels are still trying to figure out how to get paid for their wares. They've been arguing about it for eight years. Trying to prop up the CD, suing their customers and arguing with Steve Jobs. All the while, fewer and fewer people are paying attention.

The ruckus about Net Radio fees? It's positively sixties. It's about us vs. them. How dare you mess with us? How dare you deprive us of what we're building, what we're enjoying!

In order to survive, the major labels have to change their paradigm. Sign acts for less, make records for less, sell more music for less and be willing to make less up front themselves, be invested on a percentage basis as opposed to earning fat salaries. But it appears that the majors don't want to save themselves, they'd rather just cry about losing what they've got.

Meanwhile, the scene moves on.

There's a festival on every block this summer. Even one in Baltimore, sponsored by Virgin Mobile. Starring the Police and Cheap Trick as well as the hipsters of Coachella.

So, if you flew all the way to Palm Springs are you a he-man of the universe or a laughable loser? If you went to have a good time, and did, more power to you. But your attendance at Coachella is no longer a badge of honor. Because there no longer are any badges of honor. The scene's been democratized, it's positively niche. If you expect those new acts that played at Coachella to break out, I'm laughing. But that's not what it's about. It's just one person's vision/scene, Paul Tollett's. Nothing more, nothing less. Despite the hype in the major media, Coachella is not representative of the country at large, never mind the world, it's not where you break acts, it's jus a scene.

As is Lollapalooza in Chicago. And Bumbershoot. And Summerfest. And JazzFest.

Want to know what the recorded music landscape will look like in the future? Just look at today's live music landscape. Rejecting the overpriced, performed to hard disk indoor extravaganzas, the audience prefers to go outdoors, where it gets more cluck for its buck. That's the story of festivals. You get to experience a lot. And, it is an experience. A festival is like a night at the Fillmore East, as opposed to an assault in a hockey rink.

In the future recorded music will feature far fewer winners. Just more acts making a living. With fan bases, and not much more. Rather than argue about DRM and raising the price of tracks, to save themselves recorded music purveyors must realize the days of diamond sales are done. And you've got to sell something interesting. And you've got to give people a lot, for a little.

It's not about Coachella being a new Woodstock, it's about 2007 being a revolution in the touring industry. With festivals creating a buzz, an excitement, unseen for years. Will some acts break out of these extravaganzas? Probably not. Unless they play every one of them, and add to their fan bases. One performance is not enough. It gets lost in the shuffle. For everybody raving about Coachella, there are many more shrugging their shoulders, not even paying attention.

Then again, Bon Jovi had better songs than so many of these new acts. But when these young 'uns get their material together, all but high water marks like Mr. New Jersey will be unable to tour, they will be pushed aside by acts people believe in.

That's the main criterion, belief! You can play every festival because they all have different audiences. Appear on "American Idol" and other mainstream outlets and the multiple impressions eviscerate belief.

I don't want to denigrate Paul Tollett, that's not my point. It's just that it's not only him. It's he, Marc Geiger and Michael Rapino that are the new kingmakers. The promoters and agents now rule. The label guys… You don't really want to work at a label, do you? There's no risk, no innovation. That's all outdoors. At a one time only performance.

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