The Lefsetz Letter: The Music Reflects The Culture


If you look at the Spotify Top 50 and wince…

Chances are you're over thirty, probably forty, fifty or sixty, and are wondering where all the good times have gone. Because now, the music is only about good times. Whereas it used to be about deeper meanings, plumbing one's soul and revealing your warts and all.

But that was back when there was a strong middle class and no billionaires and you felt that your life would be better than that of your parents.

Not anymore.

Life is coarse. As is society. Hell, Donald Trump might be President when a hallmark of the hated Lyndon Johnson's regime was the "Great Society." Johnson wanted to eradicate poverty. Now if you're poor it's your own damn fault.


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.

The English cats were just thrilled to escape the factory. That was their destiny. Music was a lark, not a career. And if you tested limits and failed, who cared. It was all gonna end anyway.

But then it didn't.

And in the U.S. the scene burgeoned in San Francisco, the land of the hippies. Where people dropped out, dropped acid, and lived off the fat of the land, even though there wasn't much. You loaned out your car, your house, your significant other… Now people live behind gates. One of the big sellers is the Ring Doorbell, god forbid someone you don't know comes to your door.

Music is escapism, because life is so damn hard.

Many mothers didn't even work in the sixties. Musical instruments were affordable and you learned music in school whether you liked it or not. Sure, you might have been bitten by the bug and taken lessons, but every week you had to go to the band room to learn how to read music and appreciate classical scores. Seemingly no one knows how to read music anymore, and this was all taught in the public schools!

Before government became the enemy, school budgets were cut and everybody was struggling under the weight of taxes. We made a conscious decision folks, to lower the tax burden on everybody to stimulate the economy, so the rich could create jobs. The end result? Teachers have to bring their own paper to class and roads and bridges are falling apart. But at least you got a tax cut.

And you can complain about the above, but we've got a gridlocked Congress run by Republicans who don't agree. Health care for everybody is bad, the IRS is bad, everything the government does is bad. Do you really expect the best and the brightest to drop out of college, move to the coast and strum a guitar for a living, singing ditties about love, peace and happiness?

No, you've got rappers boasting how good they've got it. Both white and black. They don't know how to say no, only yes. If the corporation is willing to write a check, they're willing to cash it. And the goal is to become a brand, to broaden your base, sell jeans, perfume and what not, because the main goal is to become rich, screw the music.

And the companies purveying said tunes… They're public or owned by conglomerates and as a result are risk averse. This is not the indie heyday of way back when, when A&M and Island were indie and even Warner Brothers utilized independent distribution. When your stock price is key, you take little risk. And acts sell out to the man and then complain about being hamstrung, like Kesha. So don't take the money. But then you might be poor and unrecognized, that's unfathomable.

And there's an endless line ready to take the bait, to work with the forty and fiftysomething men who make the hits.

And for those doing it by themselves… Their sensibility is…

Mariah Carey supposedly wrote her own hits, but her trademark was her voice, any wonder there's a TV show with that name, with people imitating her?

But take the focus off the acts, they're just giving people what they want.

Does someone want to sit at home and hear about politics, when they feel they've got no voice and D.C. is unchangeable?

Do they want to hear about distant crushes, the girl who got away, when they know without money and the latest fashions they can't even get a date?

Do you know what it's like to be under twenty five today?

Drop out of college and you've got no future. You work for minimum wage and live in your parents' basement.

Graduate from college and your career starts now, no taking time to find yourself, you've got to pay off those loans and if you're not busy getting ahead someone's gonna take your job.

All those people experimenting back in the sixties, Stevie Winwood with Traffic, Jimi Hendrix… They had record companies who would stand behind them, who wouldn't drop them after one stiff, the labels were obligated to release what they recorded, but no more.

And society was all about testing limits, questioning authority, doing drugs, finding your best self, who you were was more important than your job or your bank account. But now everybody's playing it safe, they don't want to be without a chair when the music stops.

So you listen to the Top 50 and think it's mindless boasting. Easily discardable music with no meaning.

You're mostly right! But that's what people want!


The acts don't know any better, they never lived through the golden era. And they're mostly lower class denizens who'll do whatever the company tells them to.

As for electronic music… We live in a digital age, one of 0's and 1's, is it any wonder we're embracing a cold sound built on laptops? Easily sendable, easily deleted?

As for listening to one album over and over…

Who's got the time?

No one has any time anymore. Even babies are scheduled. Sitting home and being bored? That doesn't happen, stimulation is at your fingertips.

So when will change come?

It won't be from the outsiders doing it the old way, there's a limited market for that. First, society must change. People must believe they've got a future and that music can fulfill them, give them direction as opposed to being stuff you bump your ass to in a club. And who would blame the listener? Do you really want to listen to the opinions of the nitwits who make this stuff? Most uneducated and young? No way!

So when you decry the state of the sound, know that what's being sold is exactly what young people want. If they wanted different, the labels would make it and radio would air it. They don't care what they sell, as long as it makes money. And it's this vapid stuff that's making money now.

But don't blame them, blame yourself. Blame society. Blame government. We got ourselves into this mess, one wherein we stopped getting together and smiling on our brother and stepped right over one another to get ahead and completely ignored the disadvantaged. If you think this sounds like today's music, YOU'RE RIGHT!