What We Learned in 2018 (The Lefsetz Letter)

Discussion in 'A Small Circle of Friends: The Music Forum' started by Mike Blakesley, Dec 24, 2018.

  1. Mike Blakesley

    Mike Blakesley Well-Known Member Moderator Thread Starter

    I don't usually cut-n-paste articles unless they pertain to one of our artists, but this guy is a writer that I recently discovered via a show on Sirius XM radio... this is a great snap-shot of today's music industry from the inside.

    The video referenced in the very last paragraph is spot-on too, and like he says, it pretty much defines what "old time" listeners don't like about today's music. Read and enjoy.

    If you like Lefsetz's writing, there is a link at the very end where you can subscribe to his newsletter. It comes out a few times a month and is free.


    This is what the internet has wrought, people flock to the popular. In a sea of
    chaos, you migrate to what is anointed. Therefore, Drake rules and your rock band is

    For those not rich it's important to do an attitudinal reset. Try not to get rich,
    try not to be a household name, focus on your fanbase, extract cash from it and
    depend upon these fans to spread the word and grow your audience and career. Don't
    e-mail unsolicited songs to "tastemakers" and "gatekeepers," it's a complete waste
    of time. Don't hire a publicity person. Don't do anything but make music and post it
    online. And if you want to throw in some social media efforts to fan the flame of
    fandom, that's good too. Bond with your audience, know who your fans are, not only
    with an e-mail list, but saying hi at shows. Fans will be there and do anything for
    you, don't be afraid to ask. But don't be tempted into thinking you're just a step
    away from stardom, you're not. But there's plenty of money to be made. Instead of
    bitching about streaming payments, be thrilled that everybody can hear your music
    for free if they choose to. Chances are in the old, pre-internet era, you wouldn't
    have a career at all. Play live. This is where the money is made and the fan
    relationship is cemented. You can make a ton of money being a semi-known. And if
    trends turn, there's a chance it could be your turn for stardom, but don't count on


    You can make and distribute a record without Universal, but you can't tour without a
    promoter, most notably Live Nation and AEG. Michael Rapino and Jay Marciano are much
    more important than Lucian Grainge it's just that the media has not caught up with
    this fact. The story has been about the loss of recording revenue and the recent
    rebound as a result of streaming, meanwhile live has been burgeoning for decades.
    Furthermore, live is a one of a kind experience in a digitally replicated world,
    it's the difference between having sex with a significant other and masturbating to
    porn online. And, once you've made it, the promoter gives you all of the gate,
    whereas the label owns your recording, pays a low royalty and screws you on the
    payment thereof. Expect continued disruption in the recorded music space. The
    majors' power is in radio and TV and newspapers, all of which mean less than ever
    before and will continue to shrink in power. You do need a bank, you do need a team,
    but not necessarily the Big Three.


    If you hear anybody bitching about Spotify, stop listening to them.


    The only meaningful chart is the streaming one. The Nielsen chart in "Billboard" is
    a complete joke, factoring in sales, streams and album equivalents and... Future
    players will look at it like the incomprehensible Rosetta Stone. Then again, this
    ridiculous chart that counts ticket bundles serves the players, anybody can be
    number one for a week. But it's like winning a Grammy, people instantly forget, if
    they even know. We will go to a pure streaming chart, but not soon enough.


    What is it? A collection of songs? Up until the internet, the length of an album was
    determined by technology, it was limited. Now albums can be forever! Don't tell me
    about needing an LP for reviews, reviews are meaningless, across the board, in
    music, television and movies, even politics! It's about word of mouth. You want to
    satisfy two masters, yourself and your audience. You want to create enough to
    satisfy yourself and put out enough material to satisfy your audience. Fans want
    more material. Don't think about satiating potential fans, satiate the ones you've
    got. Keep in constant contact so they know when you've got a new release. Do live
    stuff on YouTube, Matt Nathanson put out an EP of Def Leppard covers. You may not
    know, you may not care, but his fans do. Take risks. But don't get locked into the
    old syndrome of ten tracks every other year.


    It dominates, but it won't forever, it's just a matter of when. Hip-hop embraced
    streaming when rock rejected it. Hip-hop gave it away for free when rock was
    bitching it could not get paid. Hip-hop is today, rock is yesterday, but what is
    tomorrow? Know that melody and changes and a good voice never go out of style,
    NEVER! That's your easiest route to success if you're not a rapper. Do what you want
    to, what you feel inside, don't follow trends, that's for amateurs.


    Watch this video, all ten plus minutes of it. This evidences how lowest common
    denominator sounds are killing popular music. Grady Smith calls it "snaps." I call
    it an electronic sound that debuted in the eighties and was quickly superseded,
    kinda like synth solos, which Elton John and Keith Emerson employed and then
    abandoned, or maybe synth drums! This is what makes experienced listeners lament the
    quality of today's music.

    This beat is killing country music

    Visit the archive: Lefsetz Letter
    LPJim likes this.
  2. LPJim

    LPJim Well-Known Member Moderator

    As Phil Ochs wisely put it: "Don't play the chords of fame ... "

  3. Rudy

    Rudy ᕦ(ò_óˇ)ᕤ Site Admin

    Lefsetz has written similar inflammatory articles in the past. This one is as ill-informed as others he's written.

    Wrong. Promoters will not touch you if you don't have a deal with a record label. It just does not happen, unless you want to be stuck playing three-chord guitar in dive bars in your local neighborhood for the rest of your life. I've worked with a well-known jazz group for 22+ years now, and when they were without a record label, no promoter, no jazz club, nobody would book them until they had a record label deal. It's not right, and I don't agree with it, but that's simply how the (outdated) industry has worked for decades, and this has not changed. (One might even think that there are some mutual "intere$t$" between labels and promoters...I wouldn't put it past them.)

    Wrong again. Yes, it's true that some of the acts out there still are slaves to the major record labels, but others have better legal teams and managers who only lease the recordings to the labels. It is not uncommon. The veterans learned the hard way. With the aforementioned jazz group, their recordings on MCA/GRP sit in the vaults untouched. The label won't even let them buy their masters back...and for what? So they can push out an ill-conceived compilation of tracks every five years or so, or cheapen their image via a "20th Century Masters" collection? At least some of the albums are available on streaming but still, fans (including many of us here at the Corner!) want physical product. We still have had people over the years asking this band on their Web site and in person when they can buy those old recordings again. As it was, the band got wind of the label taking the recordings out of print and dumping them as cut-outs, and bought up all the stock they could find. (Fortunately they still have hundreds of copies of a few of the titles, and dozens of others...but others are unobtainium and will remain that way.)

    After they self-funded their own double live CD, they got signed to the Heads Up! label (part of Telarc), releasing a new studio album and re-releasing their double live CD on that label eventually as well. The difference? They learned their lesson, and now lease the recordings to the label. They are now with Mack Avenue Records (whose offices are only three miles from my house), and do the same with them as well.

    Oh, and promoters never give an artist "all of the gate." Seriously, dude? The promoter does not work for free. The venue does not work for free either. There are expenses beyond the artist's sphere (meaning, his/their own road crew such as roadies, engineer, road manager, etc.) that need to be covered. Clubs and theaters aren't doing this out of the goodness of their own hearts. They need to turn a profit also, or artists would have nowhere to perform. And the venues have expenses themselves.

    Yeah, and Billboard has also invested millions into tracking the sales of music, no matter what the media. That's like saying in the 80s that we should only track cassette sales charts and ignore LPs and CDs. :rolleyes: Sorry, but people still are buying physical media, and not everyone is streaming. Even downloads still need to be counted if physical media goes away completely--I can't buy music on disc anymore since high-res media can't fit on anything but a DVD or BluRay disc, and those are few and far between. We will always need to track sales, and there will always be sales of product, even in a download-only world. Lefsetz seems to think everyone will be streaming. Uh, no dude. (He must be a Spotify shareholder--he certainly comes across as one. Or even worse, a fanboi. "Stream all the thingz." Whatever.)

    Sure, reviews are meaningless. So now, in Lefsetz's world, people wouldn't be allowed to read about new releases anymore. We have to...what, stream them and mess around on YouTube to find new music? Who has time for that? I certainly don't. I can scan quickly through a music review to see if I might like to try listening to an album. Certain reviewers I trust, not so much for their taste in music but largely for their ability to summarize a recording in such a way that I know what to expect. With many, if they like it, I end up liking it as well. They are a lot more valuable than anyone in the industry would acknowledge!

    Dude, seriously? For realz?? Look past your streaming blinders for a second and look at the music industry's most successful years for recording artists, when the business was booming. The 60s, 70s, 80s, maybe even part of the 90s. But especially the late 60s through the 80s, when artists put out music every year or two. People had no problem buying albums. Many looked forward to the newest Hall & Oates, Fleetwood Mac, Herb Alpert, Stanley Clarke, Funkadelic, Miles Davis, Santana, ELP, etc. to hit the shelves. There was more product for people to buy, and they enjoyed the brief collection of maybe 8-12 new tunes of about 30-40 minutes in length. It was like a news update--seeing what the band was up to over the course of the year or two between albums. In addition, we bought 45s. That 45 would (for me anyway) usually lead up to an album sale anyway, but for one-off tunes, it was perfect. It got us the song we wanted and a B-side, for a buck or less.

    Many artists today still prefer albums, as they like to present an entire concept to their listeners. If albums had no meaning, as Lefsetz alludes to, artists would have stopped producing them long ago. Artists also don't "tour" a hit single; they tour albums. It's been the same drill since the 70s. Release a new album, and tour to promote it.

    Yet with long gaps between albums, an artist's visibility drops, and not so surprisingly so do sales. Artists aren't putting out as much as they used to. Sales are lower. What am I missing here?

    I won't stop bitching, since Spotify still doesn't pay artists a fair portion. Other streaming companies do not either. I will never complain about the existence of streaming though, and yeah, I'm probably a hypocrite myself in that I use it myself despite what the royalty payments work out to be. (I probably differ in that I will buy the recordings of artists I support, either physically or through downloads.) My main complaint about Spotify is its abysmal sound quality; but, that is a completely separate argument I won't get into here.

    Oh, OK...so he's basically telling everyone it's OK to go to the illicit channels of the Internet and download these artists' music completely free, where nobody gets a penny. (Except the anti-malware companies who have to clean the crap off of the computers that these sites leave behind.) It's not free promotion dude...it's stealing. If people have access to an affordable and easy way to obtain the music they want to listen to, they will pay for it. Paying less than the cost of a new CD for a month's worth of streaming is a bargain.

    Wrong again. The aforementioned jazz band is typical of the touring situation of most bands today who are not in the spotlight. These are bands that typically will play at clubs and smaller theaters, and I'd say most of the artists out there today operate at this level. (The "chart toppers" are in that elite upper crust, maybe the top 5-10% of artists who fill larger theaters and arenas and sell $100+ tickets. Money-wise, sure, they represent the money makers, but they are a very small minority of all touring groups and artists grinding away in the music industry, trying to eek out a living doing something they love.) For this band in particular, at worst, they break even on tours and appearances. If they are lucky, at the end they will split up the money four ways equally, once they pay everyone else involved (engineer, road manager, hotel bills, transportation, etc.). They would not survive on touring. Not even close.

    Touring is promotion, plain and simple. They see their benefit in--wait for it--album sales. They sell CDs before and after each gig. Even if they don't sell them at the gigs, sales always lift across all of their in print titles when they make a series of appearances. Selling their own CDs direct is a lot more profitable for them than going through retail, since they make that wholesale-to-retail price difference as their profit. They do profit from royalties, but understand that royalties can take up to one to two years before they trickle down to the artists, after everyone else nibbles away their own pieces of it.

    The band I mention also does not depend on just the band for income. They do session work for others, including arranging and producing on recordings, as well as performing in live groups with other artists. Some of them teach at universities, or offer private tutoring. Music is their life, but one single band where they enjoy a common bond is not a way to make a living, especially in today's economy in the music industry.

    So TL:winkgrin:R--no, I think I'll pass on that email subscription. :laugh:
    Bobberman likes this.
  4. Mike Blakesley

    Mike Blakesley Well-Known Member Moderator Thread Starter

    I did raise an eyebrow at that one. However from experience (at our local fair) I can tell you that the act gets quite a bit of the gate, definitely a higher percentage of the $ than they do from CD sales or downloads.

    As for the rest of it.... I think the over-arching message is, don't ignore the changes in the industry. You can still follow the traditional album model, but be sure to be in the fans' world too. At least that's what I got from it. I have a friend who has an 11-year-old daughter. She has never played a CD in her life and in all likelihood will never buy a physical copy of any music ever. But she WILL eventually spend money on concert tickets.

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