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THE LEFSETZ LETTER: State Of The Industry

People just don't care.

Every day I get e-mail castigating me that I've pissed on someone's favorite act, or haven't given enough coverage to another. I don't doubt that you like these acts, but what fascinates me is most people don't. Music is now niche. Kind of like knitting or needlepoint, but a bit bigger.

Maybe we'll spread the analogy to sports. Music is tennis. Gargantuan decades ago, most people just don't care today. Billie Jean King, Jimmy Connors, even McEnroe… Today we've got Federer and Nadal and I can't tell them apart and might turn on a match once a year, whereas I used to watch religiously. But now there are few stars. Few personalities. And on the men's side, the game has become so damn fast as to be something completely different, the same way music veered off into hip-hop and divadom and most people stopped caring. Sure, some people cared, but relatively few, otherwise Mariah Carey would be selling out arenas every night, and she's not, and a rapper other than Jay-Z could do 20,000 a night too.

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.

Or maybe we should look at golf. There's one superstar, Tiger Woods, getting the whole nation golf-crazy, but if he's not playing, viewership drops dramatically. Sure, Phil Mickelson is a great golfer, but only golf devotees care about him, the average citizen might know his name and nothing more.

We're under the illusion that music is king, that it drives the culture, but it's not. Music has become the sideshow. Even on "American Idol"…does anybody expect Lee DeWyze to make it? We're interested in the comings and goings of Simon Cowell, not the contestants. Sure, music is featured on the show, OLD MUSIC!

And many people will go to hear old music live. But fewer each year at higher prices. After you've heard that famous act do its hits live, do you really need to go back? And the old acts are truly in it for the money, they've got no dignity, otherwise, why would they be shilling on TV, appearing on "American Idol"…I'm stunned they didn't lobby for a crawl with a link to tickets. Then again, everybody knows you go to for an experience you endure, but hate.

This business will not be vital again until there's a stable of stars, hopefully a plethora that people follow and want to see. And it would be great if they had something to say, if they were three-dimensional. GaGa is a start. Sure, she's got train-wreck value, but people believe there's substance underneath, and it's not what you think, it's what they think. Then, who else?

Everybody else lives and dies on the hit single. If Christina Aguilera had fans, she'd be able to sell tickets without airplay. But she needs hits to get bodies into seats. In the old days, bands could tour without hits whatsoever. But that was back when music drove the culture, when you knew the players like sports team members, when you had to go to the show, when you were addicted to the radio.

The radio. And then MTV. They centralized focus. They delivered a platform for star-building. Someone left of center could get exposure and make it. Like Culture Club. MTV broke Boy George big, radio followed. But FM radio built Hendrix and Cream, the music was so exciting you listened every night. Because everyone was different, everyone was testing limits, everybody wasn't the same. And if you don't think everybody's the same today, try listening to Top Forty radio.

So where do we go from here?

Attention without substance is worthless. In other words, if you shoot someone, we'll all know your name, but soon we'll be on to the next headline.

The audience demands universality, something mainstream. And mainstream does not mean compromised, it means quality! Something so good that it cannot be denied! Do you really think people care about a black/Asian golfer? Of course not, what drew people to Tiger was his ability, his greatness! So you've got a band that you like, are they so good that you can drag almost anybody to see them and they'll like them too? If not, they're niche.

But, like I said, the whole business is niche. Labels believe if file-trading is stopped, an impossibility, sales will go up dramatically. I doubt it. People don't care about music that much, they're satisfied with free YouTube play. And certainly most people don't care about the individual acts purveyed…how do we get them to care?

It would be great if there were a Website, like Yahoo or Amazon or Google, actually more like the Huffington Post, to focus attention and build acts. But the site builders are only interested in money, not music, and therefore they focus on advertising, everything but the consumer experience. MySpace had a music focus, but its user interface sucked, still, how come every year there's a new Net phenomenon, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and there's never one solely music based? Ever think about that?

The new Spotify is great, the social-networking elements trump iTunes, playlist sharing with instant listening ability is so cool…but it still doesn't solve the problem that we're lacking hit acts.

I don't want a world of endless niches. It's incomprehensible.

And the public doesn't want one either. Which is why sales are so damn bad. It's not like they just invented a new file-trading technique. No, most people can live without the music that's being sold.

You solve the problem the way you always have, with hit music. And the public doesn't believe today's music is full of hits. Their opinion, not yours. If you're happy in your private little backwater, salivating in front of the stage before your favorite niche act, fine. But you're not, because you keep telling everybody they should like your act too.

But most people are never going to like the Hold Steady, the National or the Black Keys. Never gonna happen. And the fact that you're a big fan and react to my point by going ballistic and e-mailing me does not solve the problem. I like "The Deadliest Catch", shouldn't you? No, that's too mainstream… I like A&E's "Intervention"…shouldn't you? No, that's pretty successful too. You can watch either of them even if you've never fished or never been addicted, because they've got underlying human elements that appeal to all. That's the way music used to be. And it's not that way now.