THE LEFSETZ LETTER: MTV

The biggest act in music isn’t Christina Aguilera OR Justin Timberlake.

It’s Pink Floyd.

Now if you asked me a couple of years back, I would have said Led Zeppelin. Jimmy and the boys are still huge, but they’ve been eclipsed. By the sheer magic of the head-spinning aural gyrations of Roger Waters, David Gilmour and even Syd Barrett. Yes, fifteen year olds know who Syd Barrett was. HOW COME MTV DOESN’T KNOW THIS??

August 1st marked the twenty fifth anniversary of MTV. But there was no hoopla on the channel. Better not to alienate the younger generation, WHOSE PARENTS were addicted to the twenty four hour music station in their youth. The only problem is, these kids are addicted to their parents’ music. Not the evanescent crap MTV aired in the eighties, not even the still-around U2, but the music of the sixties and seventies.


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.

These kids didn’t just fall off the turnip truck, they were weaned on the BEST MUSIC OF ALL TIME! They know every Beatle song, and most of the Eagles’ too. They know today’s music is crap just like our generation knows you can no longer buy a Chevrolet. But chasing advertisers with a fifteen year old formula, MTV completely missed the point.

This was evidenced most dramatically with MTV’s coverage last year of Live 8. MTV had the mistaken impression that being a member of the group, hanging with your buddies, ECLIPSED the music. Not only were there commercials during the broadcast, we had inane talking heads speaking with idiot concertgoers as the acts were reduced to background noise. How could MTV get it so WRONG?

The channel tried to make it up to us by airing an unexpurgated version after the fact. But if you think this makes a difference, you’re probably watching tape of last year’s Super Bowl. In a now world to be even tape-delayed is to lose audience to the Web. And that’s just what music fans did, they watched Live 8 on AOL.

You must never forget who you are. But somehow MTV did.

Realizing that the ratings of long form programming surpassed those of endless videos, they exorcised the videos. But in the process, the channel lost its spirit. MTV today is just reality programming for kids. And the music "stars" they get to drop by are tools of corporations, slaves to the grind, the ANTITHESIS of rock and roll. With no one believing in the channel, it’s got no soul.

The reason Pink Floyd is the biggest band in the world today is not only its music, but where it’s coming from. PInk Floyd never played by ANYBODY’S rules. And this appeals to today’s youth. They don’t expect anybody on MTV to come up with an opus like "Dark Side Of The Moon", god, how would they promote it on the channel? Pink Floyd was outside, but MTV is inside. Oh, for its first decade and a half the channel walked the line, trying to appear hip as it sold out to Madison Avenue, but after the boy bands, after the dating shows, it was clear. MTV would do what Pink Floyd never did. Which was follow the money.

Sure, music didn’t get ratings as good as reality shows. And music videos moved to the Web. But by sacrificing its soul, by eviscerating the music that was always its underpinning, MTV ceased standing for anything.

And its Web-presence was just as bad. It was a reflection of the television channel, when all the successful Websites had NO counterpart on the tube. Craigslist.org succeeds because it’s utilitarian, it not only delivers what you want, it does so QUICKLY! Whereas to visit mtv.com is to endure an interface akin to swimming through molasses. MySpace delivers the MUSIC of its members. If you’re lucky, you can figure out where on mtv.com to post your comments on the celebutantes and no-names featured on the TV channel. In an era where Websites from awfulplasticsurgery.com to perezhilton.com to egotastic.com make FUN of the very same people MTV exalts, the brass at MTV were too invested in these morons, and too stupid to know they were going down on the ship with them. Really, the only stars ARE those musicians who haven’t sold out. Oftentimes, like Ani DiFranco, never featured on MTV. But, rather than save its soul, MTV kept focusing on lower and lower common denominators, to the point where the only people watching the channel not making fun of it were four year olds.

There was a moment there when MTV could have said mea culpa. When stories started to appear everywhere, when there was an outcry, that there was no longer any MUSIC on the channel. The bigwigs didn’t realize they were losing their audience, figuring that it changed over every five years or so ANYWAY. But not only did this lack of music drive away oldsters, and let’s not forget, even the most ancient stopped by at MTV to try and stay hip, youngsters unexposed to the glory days of the outlet had no investment in the channel, no belief in it AT ALL!

The Academy Awards telecast is tanking in the ratings. Because movies don’t represent the soul of America anymore. Movies are where idiots like Wilmer Valderrama go for big paychecks made by studios looking for the safest, most success-insured product possible. Avoiding all risk, kids no longer take the movies seriously. As for stars… Do you really think kids want to tune in to sexagenarians, SEPTUAGENARIANS, mugging?

What are the VMAs for?

Fearful of conflicting with 9/11 memorials, MTV moved the show BEFORE Labor Day. What a big mistake. The show worked because you were ALREADY IN SCHOOL! Summer was over. It was a way to avoid doing your homework. AND, you tuned in so you wouldn’t be left out of the discussion at your school the next day. But with all the kids spread out over the landscape, there’s no center, the VMAs were/are not MUST SEE TV, so people don’t.

And the show no longer makes sense. Kids know there’s no music on the channel, and oldsters haven’t heard of the acts. What is the DRAW? MTV proved it in Miami. If you’re playing to the "National Enquirer" crowd, you’ve lost it. The VMAs were always hip, irreverent. Now they became what they were mocking. Vapid "stars" fawning over each other. The VMAs are just not where it’s at.

So the ratings tanked.

If they wanted the ratings to go up, MTV would have needed a revolution.

What would that revolution look like?

Well, control would have been taken out of the hands of the usual suspects and given to the audience. Yup, the VIEWERS’ VMAs. Performers selected by viewers, the show featuring the kind of YouTube videos that never seem to air on MTV.

And, the music wouldn’t be a slave to the Big Four, but the magic stuff kids want to hear.

Like Pink Floyd. Like Led Zeppelin. This is not OLD stuff, but CLASSIC stuff. Bob Geldof knew this, knowing he needed the world’s attention. Who did MTV get? JACK BLACK!

Who’d already done the show. Who, after "School Of Rock", has appeared in fly by night vanity projects.

Shit, how about Robert Plant hosting the show? MTV thinks the young won’t accept him, but that’s like saying that kids have no interest in seeing "The Godfather".

Yes, kids love the classics. And they love what they make themselves. They don’t love the crap that smug baby boomers who think they can hoodwink youngsters feed them.

If you think about it, MTV declined because it didn’t take heed of those musicians it featured. Haircut 100? A Flock Of Seagulls? MTV wore them out, sapped all their soul, along with all the acts who sold themselves on TRL. Even that afternoon train-wreck’s host, Carson Daly, WHO THE FUCK CARES?

Whereas people care about Neil Young. Because he MANAGES THE BRAND! He only does what he wants. He’s not beholden to others. He’s always trying something new, and even if he fails, we still pay attention, because we believe.

But Neil Young is not Pink Floyd. With Neil Young, it’s about him. With Pink Floyd, it’s about US. Neil Young is selling a story, whereas Pink Floyd is more basic, it’s like a drug, an LSD tab that you can take by dropping the needle, pushing play on your iPod, on ANY of their music.

It’s not about the personalities in the band, but how the music makes you feel. It’s not about your body, but your MIND!

MTV only focused on the body. The hotties on the channel. It lost control of its audience’s mind. And as a result, MTV’s got no fans, no believers.

And this is why the fact MTV Networks plays videos on its other TV channels is irrelevant. You buy "Atom Heart Mother" because you love "The Wall". But if there was no "Wall", kids wouldn’t be going back and buying the catalog. Without belief in the flagship, people don’t believe in the subsidiaries. A band might have a great album track, but if all the singles, 9/10ths of what people are exposed to SUCKS, they won’t care about it, because they’re looking for acts to believe in overall.

And this is why MTV is doomed to fail on the Web. Because MTV stands for something bad. Something even worse than network TV. MTV is crass. With no respect for its audience, nobody respects it. So why in the hell should people go to its Website when they can visit a zillion others, real estate/distribution not being a problem on the Internet as opposed to cable TV.

MTV got fat and happy. Until one day it all collapsed.

Not that different from the major labels, if you think about it.

Each wants us to come back. But that’s not going to happen. Because each has abused our trust. We AVOID them!

If you go for the short term bucks, if you don’t have one eye on the future, then you’re doomed to fall off a cliff at some point. When suddenly, EVERYBODY gets the memo. And realizes not only that you’re not what you used to be, but that you have contempt for them.

But the baby boomers running these enterprises believe they’re ENTITLED to their success. That it should go on forever. Not realizing they sold their souls for that million dollar lifestyle and lost touch with the peons as surely as Marie Antoinette did in Versailles.

Which is why kids are gonna take over. Contrary to boomers’ belief, they know what’s going on, they know what’s real, they can’t be so easily manipulated. And now, with the means of production AND distribution within their grasp, there’s no need for the old forms. Just like there’s no need for IBM in a PC world.

Oh, IBM reinvented itself. As a services company. And is doing well.

But it’s no longer dominant.

If you want an ubiquitous hit single, you must be with a major label. MTV is home to youth-oriented reality shows that can be profitable with a tiny sliver of the audience that networks demand to make their balance sheets work. Both will live on. But neither will have a grasp on the hearts and minds of the audience. They will be greatly diminished enterprises. Because when confronted with change, they just stuck to the course.

The labels should have authorized a pay version of the original Napster. And certainly shouldn’t have sued their customers.

And MTV should have aired more music.

In both cases the transition might have been wrenching, but by not seeing the handwriting on the wall, the major labels and MTV are now in the predicament of Floyd Landis. It’s their word against ours. And all that matters is the court of public opinion. And the people have determined that the major labels and MTV are worthless bottom fishers.

Floyd Landis isn’t coming back. And the major labels and MTV aren’t either. Because once you’re tainted with the stink of the skunk, you’re done.


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.

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