Bob Lefsetz, author of The Lefsetz Letter, is a former music industry consultant who's on first name basis with the biggest names at labels for some 30 odd years. What a long, strange trip it must have been.
Like Sam Baker sings, "...things change, they change alot..."
Bob Lefsetz on Wikipedia
Beyond the resume, Bob Lefsetz is all about music. He knows what makes him happy. He's not so much into anyone else telling him what they think is good as in that gesture there's a sense of being used I suppose. No, Bob wants to discover what he considers good music on his own. When he does, he's only to happy to share it with his audience. But mostly, Bob exponds on how things used to be when major labels ruled artist output.
How it's all changed. How labels are slow to adapt to the paradigm shift in the way artists make a living today. Doing it their own way. Independent. Connecting with fans on a more personal level. Letting fans be the stream from which the good words flow from fan to fan to fan. How you will trust your friends telling you what they like much faster than any media hyped major label darling flavor of the month.
For me, The Lefsetz Letter is like preaching to the choir:
People connect with artists, not executives. We're drawn to those who speak their truth, from deep down inside. There is nothing more powerful than listening to a song and feeling that the artist is expressing your inner emotion. You bond. If the artist does this more than once, you become a fan. You want to go see the artist live to feel the utmost communion with them and their material.
A pop artist is something completely different. A pop artist creates a confection that titillates the listener. Oftentimes working in predetermined genres, a pop artist is not about testing limits so much as building a bank account. A real artist is on his own exploratory adventure. He may worry whether others will join him on his journey, but he does not sway, he does not turn back, he does not do what's expedient, he soldiers on.
Historically, in between the artist and the audience has been a businessman. As legendary as Ahmet and Mo might be to music business insiders, most people outside this sphere are unaware of them. And that's the way it should be. Artists come first. If the businessman could create the art, he would, that's what we've got in the movie business, but in music, there's no substitute for practicing, for paying your dues, you learn your skill and jump off from there. Furthermore, beyond skills there is conception. Anyone can tell you what to do, you can work for the man, but can you plot your own path and follow it? That's what was so amazing about the Beatles. They were not following a prescribed path. They truly went their own way.
In the nineties, the executive became bigger than the act. Tommy Mottola. Clive Davis. These are interesting people to speak to, hearing their back room stories, but they don't touch your soul. That's what artists do. But the executives needed to feel their power.
And the executives made boatloads of cash. And after Reagan made greed acceptable, the masses followed the rich. They too wanted to become wealthy. Why be an artist when you can become a banker and make tons of money?
And our entire culture changed. Dollars became first. "Artists" all talked about getting paid. They'd play music for a while, but if they weren't successful, they'd go to graduate school. The concept of needing to create music, needing to express yourself, was overshadowed by pop stars willing to light themselves on fire for momentary attention and bucks. The executives made the big money.
But now the executives make much less. And not having let anybody new in the ranks, the truly creative went into tech. Artists lost their champions. If nothing else, the label told you how and what to record, and said your album wasn't coming out until there was a hit.
What's a hit? Something with beats that gets airplay on a Top Forty station or something that touches hearts that will never be forgotten?
Careers are based on the latter. But suddenly very few performers had careers. They'd played the money game, did what they were told, and now not only does no one want their new music and nobody wants to see them live, no one even wants to listen to their hits. They were expendable items. Like dishrags or underwear. That served a purpose, were necessary for a time and then thrown away and forgotten.
But the public still hungers for honesty, people still want connection. Artists are more desirable than ever. And since mainstream pop pays fewer dividends, more people are practicing, following their own path and becoming artists. There are scores of players with burgeoning followings that you've never heard of. They've got fans. Fans do it for the love, not the money.
Will there ever be tons of money in being an artist once again?
I'm not sure. Presently, recorded music is free and it's hard to get everybody to listen to you. Then again, Apple makes tons of cash with less than ten percent PC market share. And being in business for so long, they came up with an accidental hit, the iPod, which was decried as being too expensive and undesirable upon launch, but ultimately grew into a phenomenon.
But as much as you might love your iPod, you love what's on it even more.
Now that we're in a recession, money-grubbing is no longer the focus. Now it's about experiences. Laughs, love, sex and music. Provide this experience. People are clamoring for it.
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