THE LEFSETZ LETTER: Sales-Week Ending-9/30/12

1. Mumford & Sons "Babel"

Sales this week: 599,915

The revolution has begun! And it will not be televised!

You've waited a long time, ever since 1999, when Napster reared its ugly head until a year later when everybody found out about it and shortly thereafter when everybody else got a high speed connection to play. We've heard the doomsayers prognosticate, music is finished, but as the Carpenters so eloquently sang, we've only just begun.

Credit Daniel Glass. Someone without a private plane who shows up in more places than Coran Capshaw, who has one. Wanna learn a rock and roll lesson? Daniel started out as a DJ, at Regine's! Do you even know what Regine's is/was? If not, you're blowing it. Music is all about history and influences, read up.

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.

And skipping a few chapters he was then a promo guy at Chrysalis. Ditto at SBK, ultimately morphing into head of EMI. And then he went to work for Doug Morris at Universal. Then indie. Then with Danny Goldberg he ran Artemis, until that ran out of steam. And now he's triumphant, when his hair has finally turned gray but he can still run a marathon. And you expect to be successful before your pubes grow in? And what is success? One and done? If you want to last in this business, you're gonna have tons of ups and downs. It's about character as much as skills. Can you build relationships, learn the game, adjust to change, continue to risk?

But to give Daniel all the credit would be missing the point. Because we all know it comes down to the music. And that's where Mumford shines.

They don't dance. They don't wear designer clothing. They don't do beer commercials. They underplay and undercharge. They do everything the complainers say you cannot.

And then they blow up the chart.

The big story has been that the album was available on Spotify yet still sold a ton. That's missing the point. If you think digital sales are the future, you're still watching TV on a cathode ray tube. It's not only music that's in the cloud, everything's on demand all the time. Ever notice that laptop storage is getting smaller? You used to want a big hard drive, now you just want a modicum of speedy flash.

But Daniel and Mumford have it right. In truth, this number is irrelevant. It's all about mindshare. Being available. For far too long the music business has been like a carnival. Pay first, get screwed second. You've got to trust your audience. You've got to be available. If you think being on Spotify hurts your sales, you're completely missing the point.

But this is not about Spotify. This is about music. That sounds nothing like the Dr. Luke/Max Martin fake drum Top Forty drivel. Turns out there's a huge market for an alterna-sound. Before the Net, if you couldn't sign to a major label and get on the radio or TV, you were finished. Now MTV is not about music and if radio were so powerful, a different album would have racked up these sales.

This is only the beginning. Careers are now in the hands of the audience. That's who spread the word on Mumford. It wasn't a top-down media campaign, but a grass roots thing. People bought the album because they needed to belong, it was a badge of honor. Remember that, when you defined yourself based on musicians?

How can you define yourself by someone who's beholden to corporations and puts music second?

You can't.

Which is why music has been heading for the dumper.

But no longer…

("Babel" is the biggest SoundScan chart debut of the year. One out of ten Spotify users played a song from the album in its initial week, for a total of 8 million streams, a record.)

2. Green Day "Uno!"

Sales this week: 138,686
You can't say there wasn't enough publicity. We've been hearing about the three albums for more than three months and Billie Joe's meltdown at the iHeartRadio Festival got major press, as did his subsequent entry into rehab.

But none of that has anything to do with music.

If you want to sell records, if you want people to listen to your music on Spotify, you must focus on the tunes first. Green Day was so busy being on Broadway that they lost their audience's focus. People were no longer hungry for what came next.

Let this be a lesson to you. If you're a musician, focus on music, forget the rest!

3. No Doubt "Push & Shove"

Sales this week: 114,911

They're an oldies act!

Wow, isn't that scary. Gwen Stefani's not even that old.

They waited too long. Gwen's now your mother, not your friend.

This is the modern world. Create all the time, have music in the marketplace all the time. Isn't that what Kanye does?

17. Bob Dylan "Tempest"

Sales this week: 19,198
Percentage change: -46
Weeks on: 3
Cume: 164,781

Bob's on Spotify.

This is an anemic cume. We live in a country of 300 million, 165,000 is like the number of kids in detention at any given time. That's the modern music business. The media cares, the audience does not. Which is why you have to make it easy for the audience. That's why you've got to be on Spotify, that's why you've got to do everything new.

If you're only in it for the money, wait for the turning point, when everybody else is already in, like Zeppelin and the Beatles did with iTunes. But those bands are dead. If you're alive, you've got to catch the wave and ride the curl. Otherwise, people forget you, and there's nothing worse than that.

20. Carly Rae Jepsen "Kiss"

Sales this week: 16,084
Percentage change: -65
Weeks on: 2
Cume: 61,771

She's a singles act! There never should have been an album, and if there was, it should have come out when the single was hot, even if it was a compilation of goose farts, people don't buy the albums of these one hit wonders based on quality, they're sheer impulse items for nagging kids who know no better.

Why'd she waste her time with an album?

She should only be focusing on hit singles.

And so should you.

Because if Carly Rae Jepsen can be ignored, after having the hottest track of the summer, you're not even on the radar screen.

24. Justin Bieber "Believe"

Sales this week: 14,869
Percentage change: -6
Weeks on: 15
Cume: 902,145

Mumford's bigger than Bieber! Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

But the reason I'm writing this is I just can't believe there's no traction about Bieber scalping his own tickets. The audience is busy hating Ticketmaster and the media won't pick up on the story.

David Carr! You brought down the "Tribune" brass with one front page "New York Times" story… Can you do one on ticketing?

Then again, it's the "Tribune" brass that fired the execs. Who has power over the acts?

No one but the fans.

And the fans don't want to believe their heroes are guilty, because then they've truly got nothing to believe in. No politicians, no bankers… They're just broke chumps.

That's what artists are… Repositories for hopes and dreams. Take your mission very seriously.

Justin Bieber, despite all his protestations, is not.

And in case you missed the story, once again, it's here:

"Documents Show 'Bieber Is Scalping His Own Tickets":

29. Matchbox Twenty "North"

Sales this week: 13.254
Percentage change: -29
Weeks on: 4
Cume: 154,990


If you're a radio band, you only need a single.

Otherwise, you're a touring band.

Do I really think Matchbox Twenty is gonna grind it out doing 250 dates a year, not only this year, but next?

Of course not.

The album, which is actually good, was a circle jerk. Led by the band, the producer and the label. They didn't know what better to do. It's like Microsoft rewriting Office for desktops and ignoring tablets.

Once upon a time, artists were on the cutting edge. They were leaders. In tech, you snooze for six months and you're history. In music, you take a multi-year vacation and come back doing the same old thing and expect it to work. Ridiculous!

78. Aimee Mann "Charmer"

Sales this week: 4,702
Percentage change: -63
Weeks on: 2
Cume: 17,536

Maybe she's just not that good.

I love "Voices Carry," and "That's Just What You Are" from her solo career thereafter. But despite all the press hosannas, she doesn't have a motivated fanbase. This is not Bonnie Raitt, who goes indie and her audience comes out in even greater numbers.

Oh, don't get your knickers in a twist. She's talented and lovable. But my point is in the new game, if you're not spectacularly great, you can barely make a living. I'm just pointing out the truth.

148. Richie Sambora "Aftermath Of The Low"

Sales this week: 2,927
Percentage change: +16
Weeks on: 2
Cume: 5,442

This is almost too sad to comment.

You wake up one day and you realize no one cares anymore. They see you as a memory, they just want to hear the old hits, you're a nostalgia item.



Don't e-mail me and ask what your favorite band did. The only reason I wrote this is because of Mumford's spectacular number. It's an illustration that everything you thought you knew is wrong.

I'm fearful of Universal's negotiating power with digital services, I am not afraid of their dominance of new music. Because they're playing by an old metric, with far too many zeroes. They don't realize it's all about grass roots and getting lucky. If you're chasing a hit, give up before you start.

And speaking of starting… Begin with the audience. I'm not saying you can't woodshed at home, recording up a storm. I'm just saying if you want to have a growing career, see the landscape through the audience's eyes.

They're overwhelmed. Media is a sea of garbage. Except for young people and old execs, the radio/retail/press game is ignored. People have been burned too many times.

Assuming you're good, and for the umpteenth time I will say you're probably not, Aimee Mann and Richie Sambora could compose circles around you in their sleep and they can't get arrested, what you're looking for is a reaction. If you've got none, go back to the drawing board. If you play your music for someone and they don't start jumping up and down, clamoring for more, you didn't get it right. Not in a commercial sense. And by commercial I mean earning enough to eat. You wanna do it in private, think it's great, be my guest. But unless you're suddenly consumed by rabid fans asking for more, either give up or get ready for a very long journey.

That's what you want. People so rabid to hear it that they spread it. That's what broke Mumford. It wasn't their tweeting or social networking, it was the honesty of their music and message, in a phony world, their fans couldn't stop spreading the word.

But to follow Mumford you have to give up everything you know. You've got to stop going on singing shows. You've got to stop angling for a major label record deal. You've got to stop haranguing gatekeepers to give you a chance. It's only you and your music, in a world that doesn't need it. We need food and water, we don't need your music, it's a luxury item. But can you somehow make it necessary? Can it stand alone?

Advertising doesn't sell ice cream, it's the experience itself. It's just so damn good… Let me tell you about Phish Food, mmm, with chocolate and marshmallow and little chocolate goldfish… You see what I'm doing? I'm salivating, I'm trying to convince you to try it, not because I'm being paid by Ben & Jerry's but because I want you too to experience the joy. And then I want to be in a club of like-minded people with you. That's the music game.