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THE LEFSETZ LETTER: Measuring Sticks

Recorded Music Sales

Tracks are not evanescent. You don’t consume them and they disappear. Some people, like me,

still have all their vinyl, but most don’t. So just because someone bought your CD once, don’t

think you live on into eternity.

Arguably, you’re better off selling an MP3 than a CD. Said MP3 might be able to be deleted

with a click, but it can also be put into a playlist, e-mailed to friends, spread far and

wide. And with this distribution not only can new fans be made, you have a greater possibility

of longevity.

What makes a Website grow is word of mouth. Word of mouth had a more difficult time in the


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.

You had to save up for an album, get to the store, always difficult if you don’t have a

driver’s license, and then get someone to come to your house to hear the music. And that was

before not only video games and DVDs and cable TV competed for attention, but before tens of

thousands of people were making and distributing music. If you can get someone to spread your

music far and wide, so much easier to do online, you don’t have a criminal, but a dyed-in-the

-wool fan you should take to dinner.

Don’t take the short term view. Don’t believe just because you sold this many discs that you

have a presence, that you have a career. The music must not only live on on the disc, which

might be in someone’s closet, but in hearts and minds.


Are a badge of honor. A point of identification. Mostly used by young people as evidence of

their personality and hipness. Sure, oldsters buy classics as ringtones, but they’re already

fans of the bands, they’ve already been converted.

Selling a ton of ringtones means nothing when it comes to longevity. They can disappear into

the ether about as quickly as the conversation that transpires on the hand-set. Furthermore,

don’t young people prefer to text rather than talk?

And then there’s the question of how long paid-for ringtones will survive, with sideloading

already here and spreading further.

As for giving away ringtones… Like I stated above, you can make your own in so many cases. And

they don’t have lasting value. You burn out on them and replace them. You might as well charge

while you can, but don’t say you’ve made it forever because your song sold a lot of tones.


If you’re putting a band wallpaper on your computer, chances are you’re very young and will

switch loyalties soon.

Sure, teen males may employ a wallpaper. But not for the bands trumpeted by the mainstream,

the acts have got to be cool.

Fuck the wallpaper. Anybody who wants one can make one himself, kids are just that computer-

savvy. A wallpaper giveaway identifies you as a teenybopper act. And, unless you’re part of

the Disney empire, you probably want to avoid this.

Ticket Sales

Are evidence of loyalty. It’s less about how many you did once than how many you can continue

to do. Underplay the market, keep prices on the low side. It’s not about being number one on

the chart, but being able to go on the road year after year, whenever you want to.

Also, give the audience what it expects. It’s all right to play obscurities if you’re known

for that, but if you’re a sold-out popster, people only want to hear the hits. If you’re a

classic rock act, no one wants to hear your new material. Sad, but true. Just know if you

don’t fulfill audience expectations, you might be happy, yet your listeners might not. Fine if

you don’t mind playing ever-smaller buildings, not cool if you want to maintain your lofty

perch. And that begs the question of safety… If you’re a new act and not willing to risk, your

longevity will be decreased. Unfortunately, it’s the opposite with old acts. Old acts would be

better off innovating in side projects. No one wanted to see the formula of Coke fucked with.


The cheaper you make it, the better it is for your career. You want every fan to own a t-

shirt. They’re walking billboards, with CREDIBILITY! Not only did people pay for the shirt,

they chose to wear it of their own volition!

You know how you can tell who is really legendary? By scoping out what t-shirts you see

walking down the sidewalk. That’s one of the reasons we know AC/DC is gigantic.

As for other tchotchkes… Hell, if people want to buy, great. But make them unique and know

that although they show evidence of fan dedication, most do nothing for your ongoing career.

Tour books are looked at for a day and then filed.


Big stars get paid once, but there’s minimal benefit to their career. Yes, Sting’s album was

revived by a Jaguar ad, but that was in the last century, before everybody tried to play this

game, before we were so bombarded with messages, back when everybody was still watching


So, if you want a check, take it. But even though you’ll be heard and/or seen by so many, it’s

doubtful there will be a benefit to your career. Conventional wisdom is Mellencamp’s car

commercial HURT his career.

As for developing acts… You don’t have an identity yet. You’ll be forever linked with the

brand. Feist…isn’t she the iPod girl? It can be a shortcut to success, but can also damage

your long term career. You get notoriety and… Well, sometimes you don’t even get that

notoriety. The blip tends to be momentary… Hell, how many commercials can you remember from

three months ago?


Are all about the cash. Count your dollars, because they do nothing positive for your career.

To what degree they hurt it we can debate all day long, but there’s no long term benefit.


Are heard by fewer people than you think. And the endless lifespan of these tracks burns fans

out on the act and the song itself. Just because your MediaBase number is good, that doesn’t

mean you’ve got a career. Either they’re playing your classic tracks and you already have one,

or, if you’re fighting up the ladder, unless you’re a Top Forty act, the target audience

doesn’t listen to the radio. And those Top Forty acts tend not to do road business. They’re

like dessert. Something sweet and forgettable, if they don’t make you sick.

TV Appearances

Sheryl Crow showed up everywhere, but it didn’t move her new album. She’s owned by the media

now, she’s no longer famous for her music. Maybe at her age and her career arc it can’t be

about the music anymore. Then again, it is for Bonnie Raitt.


A deal with Starbucks elicits a yawn at best from the audience. As for the Wal-Mart

imprimatur…check the SoundScan numbers for Bryan Adams.

Starbucks is history. Wal-Mart is all about name recognition and price. Is your name that big

and is the package that cheap. Very few acts fit this paradigm.


Are you in the money business or the career business. There are a lot of choices you can make

to generate capital. But although they might be trumpeted in the press, they don’t guarantee a

career. If you want a career, you must widely distribute your music. Your goal is to be on as

many iPods as possible, irrelevant of whether the songs were paid for or not. And you’ll know

if you’re successful based on your ticket count and merch numbers. They seem to be the only

tangible evidence of an ongoing career. And, in order to be ongoing, you must leave a certain

amount of money on the table, to foster good will, to keep people coming back. People want to

sit up close at a relatively cheap price.