The Future of the Music Industry

Tuesday, August 23, 2005 | 10:05 AM

Music industry insider Bob Lefsetz gives us brief history of the Music Business, and a fascinating vision of what the future of the industry might look like:

"What if it's over.  What if everything this business was built upon, everything we know, is disappearing.

Well, this business WAS built upon music.  But that was a long time ago. 

That was before everybody got greedy.  Before it was demonstrated how much MONEY there was in the music business.

Oh, there's always been a music business.  Back to the days when cavemen were banging on rocks and people sat around and listened.  But the sixties were different.  We had recorded music, and a large ready audience, i.e. baby boomers, with the money and wherewithal to buy it.

Before the sixties the single was the dominant format.  First 78s, then 45s.  You can't make much money selling singles.  Just ask the labels how profitable iTunes is.  And, there wasn't much money.  There was a depression.  And then a war.  But when rock and roll hit, when the baby boomers came of age, when the Beatles turned it into an album format, purveyors started COINING DOUGH!

You HAD to have the Beatle album.

And the Beatles and the San Francisco sound begat concert venues.  And press to cover the scene.  And suddenly, music was the driver, the hippest art form extant.

And the MONEY!

First there were the records.  Then, Led Zeppelin changed the live deal.  To 90/10.  And everybody wanted to SEE Led Zeppelin.  There was no venue too big, they could sell every seat of a stadium.


And there was radio to grease the way.  To turn people on to new bands.

But then FM radio became formatted.  The acts became corporate.  The whole thing tanked.  But MTV revived it.

Suddenly, there was a new way to expose product.  And this new exposure sold TONS of albums.  Killed acts as quickly as it made them, but the public was hooked, they had to watch, MTV was the antithesis of corporate television.

Then came the baby boomlet.  The CHILDREN of the baby boomers.  Whose parents  didn't believe in denying them.  Lou Pearlman developed a whole new breed of act to appeal to this group, and the Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync sold DIAMOND! Over ten million albums per record.

Then it died.

Yup, died.

The labels will tell you it's file-trading.  That's why we have no more diamond albums.

Concert promoters blame the acts, they're too greedy.

And if you listen to the public, everybody's too greedy and the acts suck.

But, is any of this TRUE???

Well, all of it's true to a degree, but are these the factors that are ailing the music business or are their OTHER, unforeseen, unexplored reasons?

There's no center anymore.  No town square.  No marketplace that everybody passes through.  We're no longer one cohesive culture.  And therefore, you can't find ten million people to buy one album.  It's not like the sixties, when you heard everything.  Mariah Carey had the biggest track of the summer?  I bet half of America never heard it.  Hell, most Americans are not familiar with the Top Forty chart.  It's meaningless to them.  They don't listen to the radio stations and they don't like the urban-oriented sound.

The acts that sell today, to the degree they DO sell, are overexposed.  That's what the major label's business is.  That's why you sign with a major rather than an indie.  They'll get you on the radio, MTV/VH1/Fuse, "The Today Show", maybe even "20/20", in "Us", "People", singing the national anthem at sporting events, in movies, at least your songs.  Because if you don't do ALL of the  above, not enough people are aware of your product, the major label can't sell enough copies to recoup its investment.

But it gets worse.  In order to get everybody to buy in, in order to get all the exposing media involved, the music has to be palatable.  Must be bland and inoffensive.  Otherwise, it's a tune-out, and ratings will decline.  UNLESS, OF COURSE, it's the edge, the danger that you're truly selling.  It's not like the days of the Rolling Stones, words are not enough, how many times was 50 Cent shot?

But it's not only the labels that are in trouble.  The live business is never going to be the same.  It's got nothing to do with sheds or arenas.  Nothing to do with the quality of food.  It's just that not enough people know about the touring acts that you can SELL 20,000 tickets a night.

Classic rock acts.  They're already ingrained in the public consciousness.

The Dave Matthews Band?  Truly, the last one to squeak in.  When MTV still played music, broke bands.  THEY can make the numbers.  And then there's Coldplay...  One has to ask, is Coldplay selling out because it's such fantastic music or because people need a rallying point?  To feel SOME connection to the mainstream?

But Coldplay is irrelevant.  Let's just say there will be a COUPLE of new bands that will break through and sell tickets for a year or two (if you think Coldplay's gonna be doing 20,000 a night three years from now, you're dreaming, or else they're going to make a quantum leap in recorded material, since "X&Y" is so bland, so repetitive, so WEAK as to be laughable to anybody truly listening).

This business was built upon a NUMBER of acts selling out arenas.  Where are those acts coming from?

There's no mainstream outlet exposing these acts, IRRELEVANT of how good the  material is.

MTV plays almost no music.  Remember when you HAD to get a ticket to the VMAs?  Could there be LESS buzz about next week's show?

Radio is run by advertising men, not music lovers.

But music lovers still exist.  They haunt the Web.

But the Web is narrowcasting.

Music ain't gonna die.  It's just that each album is going to sell fewer copies and each concert is going to have fewer attendees.  You'll go to a club to see a band that almost no one has ever heard of.  Just you and some other people on MySpace.  It will be enough to sell a couple of hundred tickets in Cleveland, but it won't ever sell 20,000 a night.  Unless, of course, the act signs to the major label, which will dumb down the music, sell it everywhere and kill it.

It's a funny era.  More people are making music than ever before.  More music is AVAILABLE than ever before.  There are so many genres that even an expert can't keep them all straight.  But it's bad for the old guard.  The old guard is based on tonnage of individual acts.  Those days are through.


To subscribe to the Lefsetz Letter, please visit

Tuesday, August 23, 2005 | 10:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0) add to | digg digg this! | technorati add to technorati | email email this post



TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The Future of the Music Industry:


the problem with musick can be spoken in three parts:

a) lack of musickal development
b) lack of long-term vision
c) lack of patience

when anyone take a view of the musical careers of the beatles and led zeppelin, these two bands share a common bond to one another: they were allowed control their creative directions, and therefore their musick continues to challenge and inspires both the listeners and the musicians whom have studied their musick.

as a black cherokee male, i am very offended by what i perceive personally as an amos and otis black-facing of current 'rap stars'. the 'urban sound' has become nothing more than a bland, repetitive, uninterested format designed to keep the masses dumb about the 'urban experience'. hucksters such as sean now-call-me-diddy-my-loyal-fans combs was never about cultivating the experience of creating enduring musick.

the beatles were; led zeppelin were; jimi hendrix was; jim morrison and the doors were; and even the rolling stones (good and bad) remains committed to create what they believe in. i don't hear this conviction in any of coldplay's musick, other than i hear the obvious takes and attempts to be like u2 (another band that has remained true to their vision...).

obviously, what the musick 'biz' has created has been a lot of marketers attempting to artifically create a 'buzz on' about a fifty-cent, about a mariah carey, about a destiny child, about a gwen stefani, about any plastic member of the platinum hits unit factory that creates useless, throwaway musick for anyone not willing to invest any personal time in understanding what musick means to them.

i was born in 1965, and i have continually exposed myself to musick that has nothing to do with what the mainstream 'should be raving about' according to such publications as rolling stone magazine, people, us, entertainment weekly, billboard, mtv/vh-1, itunes, and any other portal that commits space and time to hawking the latest bland 'product and commodity'...

and perhaps there lies the problem in a very easy-to-see-easy-to-taste nut-holder: the minds behind the musick 'biz' has reduced the visceral experience of listening to musick into being a commodity and product to create unique market strategies around.

' ladies and gentlemen, please listen to me: how do we create and market the next mega-bad boy star from the urban setting..?'

when rap musick burst on the scene during the reagan/thatcher era, the musick scared those in positions of comfort and security as assured to them by 'da man'. reagan wanted everyone to close their eyes and remain asleep, after the broken dreams of the sixties and seventies epitomised by the iran hostage crisis, and jimmy carter's inability to control the tripe threat of double digit inflation, unemployment, and interest rates.

but rappers of the reagan era was seeing the situation clearly, if not uniquely. and from this era, musick was stirred by the punk scene of such bands as the ramones, and black flag led by the muscle-mind of henry rollins. rappers and punkers gave birth then to the grunge scene set forth by the creative burst of seattle washington by such seminal bands as mudhoney and monster magnet, which influenced the rise of nirvana, pearl jam, soundgarden, experimental art band sonic youth, the dave matthew band, the more intriguing early works of tori amos, the red hot chilli peppers, jane's addiction, and enduring icon of my personal favorite pj harvey.

the scene by the end of the eighties was alive and kicking, as the nineties saw the emergence of nine inch nails, the dj/rave scene, and the truly successful first lollapoloza, headed by mad-genius perry farrell lead singer of jane's addiction. the musickal scene was raw and aching, creating unique moments and creating truly diverse musick for many to rallying around. and then, the musick 'biz' stepped in, wanting to create the continued 'success' found by nirvana - the band whose legacy can simply be considered as the band that reminded everyone that the musick did and should matter.

but the musick 'biz', an entity birthed in the days of reagan, didn't want musick but wanted profit and more profit. hence, the musick 'biz' set its sight upon the 'urban sound' by backing such lightweights as vanilla ice, mc hammer, and the material girl herself madonna. these were acts that were light, useless, and gave people reason to forget about their problems (it was inevitable then, that mtv would become consumed by the musick 'biz' because the very concept of musick and television was a concept that had to turn corporate, and the musick 'biz' waited most patiently and carefully for the moment to consumed and digest mtv into a corporate logos that becomes mtv/vh-1 programming and using the musick as a well designed bait and catch gimmick: mtv/vh-1 has become the incestrous step-children to formatted fm radio..) as started by the sexual revolution status of disco and the late seventies.

why kill the buzz joy that disco started? why not continue the buzz joy using musick in a way that would become, some twenty-years later, the new esoteric of marketing and research?

people want to use musick as a form of escapism - disco evolved from the coccaine fueled fuck danse floors into the ecstasy fueled glow sticks of 'safe sex' trance culture of the dj/rave culture. and the musick 'biz', truly the gnostic archon of business, studied and watched and sought and consumed and consumed and consumed and digested and transformed the musickal period of the 1950's through the 1980's into the current cluster fuck littering the virtual scene of highly glossed tunesmiths entertaining the masses with tales of urban creed and urban 'living large and phat'....

and meanwhile, reggae godfather bob marley continues to sale more albums a year than the top ten 'albums of the year':

and meanwhile, the internet buzz-on of downloading the musick and the 'hits' continues to grow as many disenfranchised individuals are not willing to play the game of purchasing overpriced cd's and overpriced tickets to shitty bands that no longer invoke the mojo like the beatles and like led zeppelin and like bob marley once did.

sure, led zepplin's 'rock and roll' plays in the background of general motors' attempt to use their musick to sell their redesigned cadillacs, and just the other day with my lover, we both listened to bob marley while she shopped and purchased items from tristan and america. and we did both notice the 'urban sound' being played in fashion stores geared towards saling what i call 'urban hand-me ups' to the surburbia white woman wanting to get her freak on a al lil' kim and the other carefully packaged divas of the 'urban sound' scene but for those playing musick for keeps, they know the score.

the great musick producer and musician steve albini, in a very important manifesto, outlined the con and blow job of being signed to a 'major record deal', using the numbers of the standard record contract to clearly illustrate that playing with the 'big boys' means you will lose your mojo from the start. that the musick 'biz' seeks to exploit and manipulate to meet their old school old world standards of profits by appealing to the largest number of individuals through marketing a 'product and commodity' to hit those key 'demographics'.

in other words, the musick 'biz' wants to create the soft sale, investing the monies in the stacked red of the long-tail economic chart, while bob marley, led zeppelin, the beatles have consistently maintained a strong hold in the outstretching narrow consistent yellow of the long-tail economic chart. like george lucas' jabba the hut, the musickal 'biz' archon has become a bloated, disgusting, entity drowning each moment and drowning each day in its addiction to power and control.

the 'next big thing' won't be televised, at any time, on any season of american idol.... but that's an entirely different take all told.

for we are living in times of very high interest.

Posted by: lord moranosa | Aug 23, 2005 12:37:05 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.

Recent Posts

December 2008
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31      


Complete Archives List



Category Cloud

On the Nightstand

On the Nightstand

 Subscribe in a reader

Get The Big Picture!
Enter your email address:

Read our privacy policy

Essays & Effluvia

The Apprenticed Investor

Apprenticed Investor

About Me

About Me
email me

Favorite Posts

Tools and Feeds

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Add to Google Reader or Homepage

Subscribe to The Big Picture

Powered by FeedBurner

Add to Technorati Favorites


My Wishlist

Worth Perusing

Worth Perusing

mp3s Spinning

MP3s Spinning

My Photo



Odds & Ends

Site by Moxie Design Studios™