THE LEFSETZ LETTER: The Changing Face Of The Business

I'm sick of newbies, ignorant of the music business, prognosticating what is happening in it. Taking facts and drawing conclusions that are inane.

The long tail says that there's demand for everything, that people want a much wider swath of material than previously thought, and that via Internet distribution, it's now available and will sell. I AGREE with that. But to say concomitantly that there's less demand, less NEED for blockbusters, is just patently untrue.

The labels stopped making mainstream music.

If you think Top Forty is mainstream, then you're just not listening. Top Forty has an urban slant, is dominated by hip-hop and beats. SPEAK to the average American and you'll be STUNNED how many not only have no interest in this music, but HATE IT!


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.

How the hell do you plan to sell millions of albums when a great percentage of the public doesn't like what you're purveying? It would be like a great swath of Americans refusing to buy computers, because they don't like the models being sold. You can't stay in business that way.

How did it all go so wrong?'

Blame Clive Davis. His hit strategy. Imitated by Donnie Ienner at Columbia and Charles Koppelman at SBK/EMI. They threw up instant sales numbers of crap while Mo Ostin was still throwing the long ball and their flash ended up winning. After all, Mo got blown out.

But Mo started over. With a philosophy that no longer fit the marketplace. Because there wasn't a RADIO CLIMATE to support it.

Warner was built by FM radio. AOR died. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 rendered radio unlistenable, unless you wanted to hear twenty plus minutes of commercials an hour peppered with the same damn tracks again and again. The public tuned out. THIS is what killed the record business, not file-trading. People got OFF music. And it didn't help that MTV stopped airing it.

We've got a huge EXHIBITION problem. Where do you HEAR the new music? Sure, you can surf the Web, but you've got to have a TON of time, EONS! Radio used to be the trusted filter, that trusted filter is now gone, and people are spending their dough on other things. Music is either incomprehensible or perceived to be crap!

There is a need for mainstream music. It brings people together. Everybody doesn't want to listen to something different. People want to be a member of the club, be in it together. The human nature that brought everybody to rock festivals in the sixties and seventies still holds, it's just that there's no music at the CENTER!

In order for music to sell in vast quantities for a long time, people have to BELIEVE in the act. What they have to say, how they live their lives. You say endorsements make no difference, everybody does it…BULLSHIT! You're a whore if you take the money, and no one believes in the whore, the whore is to be used and thrown away. It's all about career management, and to a great degree that's gone, the labels have used their muscle to call the short term sales shots.

And don't tell me about the indie acts you love. Most are deservedly marginal. It's great that the Net allows them to stay alive and do business, but they ARE NOT the future of this business. The future is credible acts that speak to people. NOT MAKING ALBUMS!

It's about MUSIC, not ALBUMS! The album is an artificial construction that was zoomed to a zenith by the Beatles, who made full length CONCEPTS! To sell albums today is akin to selling typewriters. They're outmoded! If you want to sell a collection, make a statement, I'm all for it. But most acts don't do this and most fans don't want this. They want HITS, not filler. And I don't mean hits by today's standards. Not catchy evanescent crap. Rather the FM hits of yore, that embed in your skull and change your life. Three great tracks eclipse three albums of dreck. It's not about a WEALTH of material so much as GOOD material, ultimately enough to fill a live set.

If you focus on the audience, and not TOP FORTY RADIO, you see that sales are so small as to be laughable. In a country of three hundred million fewer than 1% BUY? That's because Top Forty radio reaches SO FEW, with such CRAP! Everybody can go to one Website and listen, without commercials, but labels won't market this way, won't go where the people are, sans the bullshit.

Deliver something good, without the DRM and the other crippling crap, and the AUDIENCE will tell everybody. You'll sell FAR MORE than a million. Just check the BigChampagne numbers. MANY people want music, we're just not delivering it in a way they want it. And, if the music were BETTER!

Check the blogosphere. Only a handful of sites get most of the hits. Sure, Sally in Houston's mother reads hers, that's your long tail for you. But, most people want to go WHERE EVERYBODY ELSE IS, WHERE THE QUALITY IS! Put out a new "Satisfaction" and TWENTY MILLION people want it, maybe MORE! Same with "Smells Like Teen Spirit". It's untapped demand. The public is ready, it's just that the old powers are caught up in their bullshit systems, building junk
for an antiquated game.

Invest in something believable. If the songs have good changes, and the people have good voices, you'll sell a ton more than you do of the crap on this year-end sales chart. That's what happened with the boy bands. Hell, what would you rather listen to, 'N Sync or "Sexy Back"? Sure, SOME might like to dance to "Sexy Back" in a club, but ultimately it slides right off you! Whereas 'N Sync had harmonies, and changes. Actually, I preferred the Backstreet Boys. If the
group had written those songs and they had a shard of meaning the act would still be playing arenas, because that's the BEATLE formula!

The long tail is not killing this business. It's labels that are bunting and punting. Not delivering what people want in the way they choose to consume it.

Make an impact, maintain the product flow track by new track, keeping the people hooked. Get them so into music that they expand their horizons, wanting not only sweet stuff, but edgier Pink Floydian fare. People haven't changed, human nature is the same, it's just the systems that are different. EMBRACE the new systems and watch sales go THROUGH THE ROOF!

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