Music Industry’s Obi Wan Kenobi


It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I love music. Today’s commute consisted of Gordon Lightfoot and mid 80’s LA rockers Broken Homes, how’s that for a blend? For me, music has provided me with more than a soundtrack to my life, it’s given me almost as much joy as a kiss from a puppy (good God, did I really just write that?). It is one of the more powerful mediums of artistic expression because of its’ capacity to reach and impact so many…when done well.

Excluding my personal feelings on the state of music today, the business that surrounds it has been in a tailspin down a rabbit hole for about 14 years now. More alarming to me is the bevy of young and developing artists who still feel that being on a major label is the crown jewel. It’s a level playing field for the majority of artists these days, especially musicians. If you fancy yourself a musician, an insider, a music “biz” professional(?) or just a fan and you are not reading Bob Lefsetz, you are doing your self a grave disservice. Come to think of it, if you are in any sort of creative pursuit, you should be reading Lefsetz because you can extrapolate some serious jedi advice (and opinions) from The Lefsetz Letter.

Here are some recent highlights from my personal creative Obi Wan Kenobi:

Network news was killed by cable news which was killed by the Net. People want the latest on demand. And you’re dropping an album every year or so? And the radio is eking out the music track by track, if you’re lucky? In today’s world you want to be in the public eye constantly. I’m not saying you should make less music, just that you shouldn’t see it as an album.

From radio to newspapers to movies it’s old world thinking, a circle jerk trying to perpetuate something that’s dead. The sooner old media dies, the clearer the landscape will be. Radio is not coming back. Newspapers will not survive in print, and most won’t survive at all. And while we’re at it, CDs are history and physical books are goners. The fact that something still exists does not mean it isn’t over. If you’re discussing piracy, the death of the CD, singles and streaming, you’re wasting your breath. The modern music world is not like Congress, there’s no consensus amongst an elite. Instead modernity is an endless rushing river controlled by nobody. If you’re doubling down on old media, you’re probably investing in the PC business and feature phones.

So if you think lining up trophies, diplomas from the best schools and your parents’ network of friends, is the key to success, you’re sorely mistaken.
It all comes down to you.

And know that if you’re down the food chain you’ve got to earn entrance. Knocking on the door is not enough, it’s closed to you. How can you open it? If you think persistence is the key, you’re reading too many self-help books. What do you have that the person above you needs? A record exec is only interested in your music if it can make him money. Instantly. If it can’t, if you just want kudos and encouragement, stay away. Money is always a good entrance point. But few have it. You’ve got to find your entrance point.

There’s great music today, there is in every period, but why were the sixties and seventies such a fertile era, why did we get not only the Beatles and the Stones, but the entire British Invasion, the San Francisco Sound and the great acts of FM radio?

Lay it out there. Then not only is it behind you, you garner respect from those who care, for being forthcoming, for being honest.
Dishonesty is for politicians. But dishonesty has crept into not only the musicians, but the music itself. The biggest records of all time have been honest, whether it be “Jagged Little Pill” or any random Eminem album.

Everybody can play the lottery, but almost no one wins.
Almost no one wins making music. The odds are incredibly long. And if you think luck is key, you’re never going to win. You make your own luck. Through hard work!
So good luck.
Know that no one wants to hear your music other than you and your relatives. It’s ultimately got to be so good that people find you, as opposed to the opposite. Are you really that good?

There is some tough love in there, but make no mistake, it is love. Bob Lefsetz paid his dues working in the industry, so he’s not some flunky banging out an opinion in his parents basement. And he’s not always right. And you won’t always like it. It’s just his opinion. Depending on your age, you may agree more often than not. And if you don’t like what he has to say, let him know. I can assure you he reads every email, he won’t necessarily reply, but he will read it. He reads all his emails and the emails he posts is like a who’s who of music industry professionals (Seymour Stein, Irving Azoff, Jimmy Iovine, etc).

All of this may seem like a Lefsetz love letter, I can assure you its not. OK, maybe a little cuz I made the Obi Wan Kenobi reference (and I don’t even give a shit about “Star Wars”) but I don’t know the guy and gain nothing by helping get his message out. I’m just spreading the word because I continue to be amazed by people that I meet, both in the business and musicians, who have no idea who he is and that, to me, is unacceptable. I have yet to find someone writing as honestly about this stuff as he does. And honesty means something these days.

And for the love of God, don’t send him your stuff.