THE LEFSETZ LETTER: SXSW

Can an unsigned band get noticed? And, do we even bother to use that term anymore, "unsigned". Do you want to get signed?

I mean what are the chances that the cognoscenti are going to care about your band when R.E.M. and even Van Morrison are shilling for attention. Oh, it makes you feel good, to rent a U-Haul, sleep four to a room and perform a set no one cares about. The same way it makes you feel good to send a CD to me! It’s amazing what people will do to make themselves feel good, make them believe they’re making progress.

The new music business isn’t at SXSW. Why should it be?

Think about it. If Yahoo and Google sprung up out of nowhere, what makes you think the powers-that-be in the music industry are going to rule in the future?


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.

So you’re gonna make a deal with a major, a 360 deal, because that’s all they want. You’re gonna put yourself in the hands of the old generation, lock yourself up completely, because it seems easier this way, you can sleep at night, knowing you’ve got a signed contract locked up somewhere. But when your record stiffs since the label is chasing the product of the good-looker who recorded the songs they wanted them to, the radio-friendly stuff, and you’re tied up forever, who you gonna call, GHOSTBUSTERS?

The one person you might want to hook up with at SXSW is an agent. But an agent is first and foremost impressed with your numbers. An agent wants to see your track record. Where you can draw people. Actually, an agent doesn’t give a shit WHAT you play as long as people want to come hear it. The agent won’t tell you what to record and what to wear, they’re just interested in selling tickets. They don’t even give a shit if you’ve got a record deal, just whether you’ve got an AUDIENCE!

And it’s harder than ever to gain an audience if you’re playing with the usual suspects. All they know is radio. How come you’re going to sign with these guys when YOU have contempt for radio? All you bands playing SXSW, you abhor Top Forty radio, but that’s all the majors are interested in. And chances are if you’re a good-looking automaton, ready to go the Jessica/Paris/Lindsay route, you’ve already got handlers in New York or L.A. with a pipeline to the old guard, you don’t have to go to SXSW to get noticed.

Or you could go to the panels at SXSW. To learn that fewer people have jobs at less money. I’ve debated Net monetization at these conventions for NINE YEARS and nothing has happened. Everybody’s just reacted to what some college student, not in attendance, ultimately has done.

Everyone’s looking for a shortcut. Everyone’s looking for answers. Everybody wants to get PAID!

Music isn’t about money, but passion. If you’ve got the passion and are willing to work 24/7, you might ultimately get money. Probably long after your friends who went to law school do, if ever.

The whole scene is warped. With MTV’s "Cribs" and rappers extolling their high-rolling lifestyles. Don’t you watch VH1? The lifestyles of the one time rich and famous EVAPORATE! And then, if you’re lucky, you can be television fodder, for the public to laugh at.

All that MTV-era bullshit is done. It’s not about your look. It’s not even about following trends. It’s not about signing on the bottom line for a zillion bucks. It’s about making music. Constantly. Not on a one album every three year cycle. The Net audience wants new tunes all the time. A steady stream. Your hard core fans anyway. If you’re playing to the casual listener, you’re abusing your hard core. Let the casual user find you VIA the hard core. A single on the radio for nine months may generate cash once, but it turns a hell of a lot of people off. Like Taylor Swift. If I hear about her fucking teardrops on her guitar one more time, I’m going to VOMIT! Just shut up and make another record. I was a fan, now I just see a young girl being raped by the system. A system that doesn’t care about the fans, but only about the short term money.

Don’t worry about the short term money. If your music is good, if you play well live, the money will come. But sending me a CD or schlepping your equipment to SXSW isn’t going to make your music any better. If it’s good, put it on the Web, energize your fans, they’ll spread the word. But you probably suck and are looking for the easy way out. And crying that you just can’t make any money. Boofuckinghoo.

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