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THE LEFSETZ LETTER: Radio Acts/Road Acts

Could it be that major labels and mainstream media foist endless hip-hop and vapid pop on the marketplace because they don't know how to SELL the road bands? In other words, is it 1967 all over again?

Yes, "Are You Experienced" came out in 1967. Did it have any mainstream traction? Of course not. What Top Forty radio station was going to play "Purple Haze"?

People ended up hearing "Purple Haze" and the rest of the first wave of classic rock acts on underground FM radio. The Internet is today's underground FM radio.

In order to make it in the Top Forty world of the sixties, you needed a hit. A hit is a brief, catchy track with immediate hooks, that will not cause a radio listener to tune out.

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.

Today's Top Forty world is even worse than the one of yore. For there used to be novelty tracks, even oldster tracks like Frank Sinatra's "Strangers In The Night", sixties Top Forty was supposedly the best of the best. Whereas today's Top Forty is urban and pop. Oh, there's an occasional Nickelback, or Nickelback-lite song on the playlist, but that's an anomaly. Everybody who does not fit into this paradigm is frozen out.

And the economics of those frozen out is not good. To the point where the major labels have dropped these acts. So, you go number one Alternative…how many Alternative stations are there? Same deal with Active Rock. You just can't sell enough records.

What we have is a pinnacle, controlled by the major labels and mainstream media, and then a vast valley, far below, where everything else resides. You'd think major labels would look at HBO, and see how they grew shows from left field. But no, the majors are only interested in network television, they want the most eyeballs. Which they gain through endless hype of lowest common denominator, formula stuff.

But the public has alternatives.

Oh, the elite in power will ask you to tell them one hit act that has been broken on the Net. But doesn't that question beg the point? That maybe it's not about asking what acts have broken through to wide public consciousness, but what is the definition of a hit?

Is a hit a track? Is it an act?

Hit tracks turned out to be a costly business. No one believes in the act, there's no longevity, you're constantly reinventing the wheel. But, if you have an act that can generate capital for years, you can make much more money at a far reduced cost over a long period of time.

The majors don't have this time, but the new indie acts do. They create MySpace pages, they allow live taping and trading and they go on the road. They're building an enterprise based on them, not on a specific song.

And the songs these acts tend to write… They're not three and a half minute ditties. They're akin to that underground FM music of the sixties, completely counter to the system, new and different.

The big time purveyors still believe that there's one mainstream, that everybody adheres to, that everybody is interested in the antics of Jay-Z and Britney. And there are those who pay attention. But a great segment of the public has tuned completely out. They want something more real. And they turn to the Internet to get it.

They comb Websites, they participate in newsgroups, they go anywhere and everywhere, instantly all over the world, to find like-minded people who will turn them on to stuff that appeals to them. And when they find it, they support it. They're not about ripping off the bands they embrace, they're about buying all their merch and turning their friends on to them.

We definitely have two worlds. Flummoxed by the new game, the old powers refuse to participate in it and rail against it. Decry file-
trading all you want, but so many of the new acts give their music away for free, stealing isn't an issue for them. And, interestingly, their fans ultimately buy the CD as a badge of honor, to support the act!

Will superstars emerge from the Net world?

Interesting question, but not the point. The point is the changing percentages. The major sector is declining, and the indie sphere is growing. And the indies don't want to play in the majors' world. They can do it via their own systems. Oh, maybe a new enterprise will emerge that groups and markets these indie acts, but it won't look like a traditional label, and the deals won't be the same. Terms will be straightforward and honest. Accounting will be transparent.

Some might say the lunatics have taken over the asylum.

I say thank god. It's time a new generation dominates, one with different values, one that is not beholden to the blow 'em up on TV paradigm embraced by those running the major labels today. These new players are about the music, and the culture. Elements way off the radar of those making quarterly reports.

Give people something to believe in and they'll give you all their money. Hell, isn't that what religion is about? Think about your act as a religion. Gain adherents. They'll spread the word. And guard your core principles very closely. The more honest and trustworthy you are, the more people will flock to you. And the slower the build, the longer the career.