Bob Lefsetz, a notoriously brutal critic and lover of the music industry, has been one of my favorite daily internet reads, thanks to my friend Gail who turned me on to his Lefsetz Letter three or four years ago. His (fairly regular) daily e-mails are always a source of good industry information, humor, and insight. He’s a former music biz guy – he worked as an attorney and consultant in the music industry for many years, so he provides an interesting perspective on the business aspect that most fans don’t normally see or think about. He’s 90% of the time on point in what he’s saying.
But sometimes, the guy just pisses me off.
You can’t say Bob is unbiased in his rants, but it IS obvious that he loves music. However, what irritates me is that he makes sweeping generalizations about artists and about fans – i.e., that artists don’t know how to build fanbases, that fans don’t pay for music, that fans are flighty and have no loyalty, that neither artists nor fans have the capability of generating “word of mouth” buzz, and that every artist in the world is complicit in helping LiveNation jack up prices and make live music truly out of reach for the average, every-day joe.
Is Bob oblivious?
I know dozens of artists that are make ends meet – not millions of dollars – traveling and playing music to their fans and are happy to be doing so. And they’re GOOD, TALENTED artists, not auto-tuned record-company products. These artists have built RABID fanbases by connecting personally with fans. Just two weeks ago, I had the lead singer of an up and coming little band that I’ve been to see three times this year thank me for coming to see them, handing me a t-shirt of the band and refusing to take money for it. Another artist I know just gave away a free house concert at a fan’s home in a contest, not because he has a CD to hawk, but because he wanted to thank his fans for giving him a great year. I could list dozens of examples of this kind of thing. And I tell you what, Bob-o, this kind of reaching out to your fans inspires the kind of loyalty that makes for life-long fans. It’s the kind of intimate connection that spreads word-of-mouth word about a band. Want a good example? Zac Brown. Zac has been building his fanbase in the Southeast for over six years. Friends in MY music circle were playing Chicken Fried in 2003. They were dragging new fans to his shows when he was playing little bars in Atlanta, talking about the musicianship of his rag-tag little band. And they were the fans that cheered wildly and tweeted and Facebook statused congratulations and “woo-hoos” when Zac and the band took home their CMA for Best New Artist last week.
And another note on Zac, Bob. You’ve talked about him in your newsletter, but I don’t recall you mentioning how Zac started his own label to help record and promote other young, talented artists. THAT is another reason why his die-hard fans love him – because he’s in the music for the music.
I know hundreds of fans who spend LOTS of money, going to MULTIPLE live music events a week in intimate, hole in the wall venues to see up-and-coming artists. Me, and many of my friends, have personally purchased dozens of copies of the same album from an artist to give out to our friends, rather than burning a copy, to ensure that the artist is compensated for their talent (and most of the time, we buy the copies at a show, so that the money goes straight into the artist’s pocket, rather than them having to give some ridiculous percentage to an online retailer). We travel to see musicians, sometimes driving 5 – 6 hour round trips on weeknights, when we have to work the next morning at 8 AM, to see artists that we love. We sell merch at shows, we drag “non-music” friends to see these artists live shows, we shell out big bucks for “music experiences” like Rock by the Sea and Sixthman’s Rock Boat because we know that we will see once-in-a-lifetime musical performances and collaborations.
Sure, sure, there are more music choices today than there ever have been. Yes, there’s a lot of crap out there. But there’s also a lot of really great music that is selling and bringing people out to live shows. You gripe about TV placements, but TV placements are getting these artists heard and driving people to shows. Two weeks ago, a little band from Texas called Sleeperstar had a song called “I Was Wrong” play during a scene of “The Vampire Diaries.” The song went to something like #30 on the iTunes charts. And while certainly not all of those buyers went on to buy the full album, I would bet good money that more than a handful did. And I would bet even more money that it will translate into more people at their live shows.
So here’s my challenge to you Bob: instead of griping about the state of the industry, once a week, solicit your readership and ask them to send you the names of little-known bands. Take some of your time out and listen to them. Find one you like and promote them. People who read your newsletter LISTEN to what you say (seriously, who else could crash a LiveNation server within minutes – oh, wait, the New Kids on the Block/Back Street Boys tour did that this weekend!). Use your powers to promote good music in the world!
Music is alive and well, Bob. The revolution in the industry you rail about needing to happen is already happening.