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THE LEFSETZ LETTER: Phish Live From Madison Square Garden

I don’t care if you don’t care.

This is not about Phish, this is about the future. The future is establishing a tribe that never wants to be left out, even if it’s half a continent away.

Dear Bob,

I am watching the second set of the Phish webcast from MSG, NY right now sitting in Berlin, Germany. I happily paid 39,99 USD for all 3 nights and stay up all night (2am – 6am, CET) to see it. Last year I travelled to Miami but TECHNOLOGY makes it possible to follow my favourite band everywhere. Their "from the road" Twitter feed gives you setlists in real time, every show is downloadable 30min after it ends, they give away free download compilations of each tour to keep people hooked, downloads are now included in the ticket price, they film every show with 7 HD cams, post clips on vimeo, etc. If one band understands fans and technology than its Phish. There is nothing to be afraid of the future if you have true fans.


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.

Holger Christoph

In other words, if you’re a one hit wonder, someone in all the magazines but with no real fans, you’re fucked.

If you’re someone with a body of work and fans, you can exist in the new world. You’ve just got to get your head out of the traditional paradigm. Don’t think about a $13.99 CD, think about multiple price points, think about everything you’d want to own if you were a fan.

There’s the autographed physical product. Which people will overpay for since you gave them MP3s for free online. You don’t charge for everything, you give away a bit to make more.

And you can sell the same music again and again. If it’s live, if it’s different. People want to hear the warts, that’s what makes you human. The music on the radio may be made by computers, but the music people want to see live, that they bond to and want to hear again and again, is not. It’s truly analog. It speeds up and slows down. It’s imperfect, just like you and me. Think about it, music is supposed to be a reflection of life…are you a robot?

You can charge not only to actually be at the live show, but to watch it online. Maybe when you go home. Maybe it’s evanescent, it’s gone if you didn’t see it then. Then again, maybe you can download MP3s, or FLAC if you’re into quality and willing to pay more.

I’d like to tell you this Phish broadcast from MSG sucks. That technology is not up to snuff. But I’d be lying if I said so. The majordomos at the labels may think the public is not ready for the future, but the public is already living in it!

Hell, Phish just dropped "Auld Lang Syne" into the number they’re playing. That’s what you can do when you’re not locked into a corporate track written by hacks you barely know that’s been driven up the chart by the label which insists you play it just like it is on the recording, if you don’t mime to the recording to begin with.

Don’t you get it? It’s about satiating the fans!

First and foremost you must own your own material. This gives you the freedom to take chances, to experiment, to see what works. The sky’s the limit, let your imagination flow, fans love the weird, the unpredictable, the cool.

Then you must get fans.

Fans are the people who pay. That’s not critics, that’s not radio, that’s not any intermediary or filter. That’s the person sitting at home on the couch, listening to your music on headphones just to survive.

Forget trying to convince everybody who doesn’t care. That’s not the future. Who knows, you may get lucky and everybody might ultimately pay attention… Then again, for how long? Treasure every fan, treat each and every one like a blood relative. Then they’ll continue to give you their money. They’ve got to do something with it. Investing in you makes them feel good, they believe they’re part of something.

And if you’re trying to make it in the music game, it’s about the music. It’s not about the outfits, not about the videos, they’re just trappings. It’s about what goes into your ears.

Know that you’re not going to be successful overnight. Do you play in the MLB the first time after you throw a ball? Do you suit up in the NBA after your first layup? Music is a calling, an adventure, you go on a journey and if you’re unique and good enough you gain followers. But don’t let your followers imprison you. Your music must satiate you first. Because only by satiating ourselves can we truly inspire others. Don’t give people what they want, but what they need.

Know that you don’t know when you’ll be successful. That it will happen after you want it to. Or, if it happens soon, it’s going to evaporate, because you don’t have a catalog and your fans haven’t had enough time to bond and form a tribe.

Know that you charge last.


Jenny said when she was just five years old
There was nothin’ happenin’ at all

But then she turned on the radio and discovered rock & roll!

They say rock & roll is dead. But that’s only if you’re listening to the radio, the critics, the prognosticators crunching data. But music isn’t data. Music is alive, it breathes, it’s something that gets inside and possesses you.

I won’t forget the first time I heard "Rock & Roll". On "Loaded".

But have you ever heard the take on "Rock N Roll Animal"? WHEW!

And we may be missing Dick Wagner and Steven Hunter’s interplay, that seventies magic, but last time I checked it was 2010, 2011! And these young ‘uns in Phish are taking that nugget and making it their own. Paying tribute and bringing it forward all at the same time. It’s about the ENERGY!

Come on, you know what it’s like to go to the show. You don’t sit there passively, you’re energized, you’re alive, every other show and moment in your life is just a synapse away. This is the essence of the experience, not nitwits dancing to click tracks.

Stop swinging for the fences. Contrary to what the old wavers tell you, technology is your friend. It allows you to get ever closer to your fans, to know who each and every one is. It allows them to interconnect and bond with each other and create a family even when you’re asleep…because music never sleeps, it’s playable always, now everywhere!

The old model has been destroyed. But don’t cry, we’re rebuilding right this very second! And we don’t know how or where it’s gonna go. There’s no formula. It’s 1968 all over again. There’s no kingpin, no programmer at MTV, no one telling you what you can or cannot do, unless you’re tied up with the old fogies.

So don’t watch Phish live at Madison Square Garden tonight.

But know that many are paying $19.99 for the privilege. And lovin’ it.

And unlike Justin Timberlake, Phish didn’t have to sell its soul to Mickey D’s, whore itself out to a corporation to be lovin’ it. They just followed the yellow brick road of music all the way to Madison Square Garden, three nights in a row, with no hit singles, no ubiquitous television coverage, none of the things the rulemakers tell you you need in order to make it.

There are no rules. Except for the ones you make yourself.

Live for the music. Each and every day. It will absolve you of your sins, it will save you, it will elate you, if you just respect it, if you don’t sully it, if you don’t bring it down to the gutter but exalt it.

And where there’s music there’s money. Always. Maybe not in the old ways, but in brand new ways, which are being invented right this very second.

Happy New Year!

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