Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Defiant Ones-Episode Four | Lefsetz Letter

It’s not about the money…

It’s about the money.

That’s a music business aphorism. For those who didn’t go to college, that means, according to the Oxford Dictionary, built into my Mac, “a pithy observation that contains a general truth, such as ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.'”

You don’t have to go to college to make it in the music business. You don’t even have to finish high school. You just have to have a burning desire to make it, and the ability to make and maintain relationships. It’s a hard business to stay in. People are lining up to work for free. People my age are either running the company or retired, it’s a young person’s game. And while the baby boomers were alive, the whole thing flipped. It went from being THE game, to an also-ran.

So what did all the execs do?

Fund startups, do things that had nothing to do with music. Scratch someone in Hollywood, not only in music, but the moribund movie business too, and you’ll find they’re invested in startups, they want to play the Silicon Valley game, because what attracted them to Hollywood wasn’t the music or the movies, but the money. And the longer they’re in it, the more important the money becomes.

You at home don’t understand this. You run into a famous exec and demonstrate more knowledge about their wares, about their scene, than they do. But you don’t get it, that’s not what makes them successful, it’s their drive, their ability to view the landscape and make the hard decisions. They don’t call it show “friends,” they call it show BUSINESS! And believe me, if Jimmy retired tomorrow, many of those people at his wedding to Liberty would not show up. That’s the music business, that’s ALL business, you’re the job, not the person.

Unless you’re an artist.

But rare is the artist who sticks with the same team throughout. They’ve got a new manager, not the one who brung ’em here, but someone who can be trusted, who knows the finances, who will book the live gigs and…

That’s about all you’ve got.

That’s right, make it on the hit parade and your fame lasts forever, if not your money.

Start off behind a desk… And you’ll probably have a longer career than most acts, but most of all you want the money.

Did you see Dre take the stage at Wembley? Where else can you get that roar of adulation? You can’t as a businessman. Hell, we’ve got a couple, the dearly-departed Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, maybe Bezos and Zuckerberg too, but that just proves the point, there’s not a single musician who has that kind of traction, that kind of purview, that kind of reach today. You may think Drake is ubiquitous, but not only is that untrue, he’s nowhere near as big as Eminem.

That’s palpable, watching Eminem. You’re reminded of the early aughts. When MTV still counted, when CDs could still sell, and we still lived in a monoculture.

That’s been blown apart.

Forget the hype machine. I was listening to the Bret Easton Ellis podcast, which is about movies, and he admitted…no one goes to the movies anymore. And as far as TV…everywhere he goes people are talking about shows that he’s never even heard of! Mothers and fathers were outraged by Eminem, they don’t even know who Kendrick Lamar is. And if they do, chances are they’ve never heard one of his songs. Hell, the news clip in this show says Suge Knight is in the ROCK business. If they can’t get that right, what are the odds the hoi polloi can?

So what we’ve got here, other than the bit about Marshall Mathers, is hagiography. And once again, for those who didn’t go to college, the Oxford Dictionary says that’s: “the writing of the lives of saints.”

But neither Dre nor Jimmy is.

Dre’s an uber-talented musician/producer/creator.

And Jimmy is an uber-talented marketer.

And together, they made billions.

They won if you’re playing that game.

And everybody in America now is. It’s solely about the cash, whether you’ve got it or not. You want to get ahead, you don’t want to pay for anybody else, and D.C. reflects this turmoil, it’s in our blood.

So Jimmy takes a lame headphone and puts it on the ears of musicians and athletes and starts a lame streaming service and lays it all off on Apple. Laying it off is the triumph here. Beats headphones were a fad, no different from a pet rock, well, at least they transmitted sound, but poorly. Sony and Sennheiser are forever. Beats headphones? Give me a break. And no one can forget that Beats Music failed as MOG and failed as Beats Music and if Apple hadn’t rescued them, it’d be Tidal time. Jay Z got an infusion from Sprint, even dumber than Apple, but that’s the Hollywood game, getting someone to pay, laying it off on somebody else, taking your money and going home.

We hear nothing about the death of Dre’s son. As for Jimmy’s initial marriage…there are enough holes in that story to fill the Albert Hall. You’re watching at home and you believe it was an endless march to the top.

Only it wasn’t.

You think you too can make it.

But you can’t. Because the skills it takes to get there not only weren’t in this series, in most cases you’re born with them.

And if you’re not willing to make the hard choices, you’ll never make it.

And, like they say about managers, anybody can get lucky once, but can you break TWO acts? I give Jimmy tons of credit for Beats, but I’d like to see him do it again. As for Dre, he did do it multiple times, on record, which is why the chances of him being remembered are much greater than those of Jimmy.

But you’ve got to get up and do something every day. Lifestyle only goes so far. Why is it all the rich inheritors O.D?

So this final episode resembled nothing so much as “Behind The Music,” only with less failure. This targeted the neophytes, the nobodies at home who’ve got no idea how the game is played. The rubes who believe they can get off the bus in Hollywood and make it. Kinda like Axl Rose in that video.

But he DID make it.

That’s the upside, the machine needs talent. You’ve got a chance, only it’s marginally better than playing the lottery, if the odds are even that good.

So we venerate those who win. We tell ourselves if we just try harder, we can too…

We don’t see the blowback from the U2 giveaway. We don’t see Bono singing thirty year old hits to aged fans. We don’t see Tim Cook introducing a boffo new product that blows us away. Like I said, this final episode is hagiography. Without Apple’s muscle, its brand mystique and credit card numbers, the streaming service is a nonstarter. As it is, the post-Jobs Apple has yet to show us breakthrough innovation. They’re like a record label repackaging catalog. Yes, we need to hear the Beatles, we need to use a mobile phone, but every time you see a Tesla on the street, you wonder, HOW DID THEY DO THAT? How did they create a car from scratch?


Our country runs on culture. Money is just currency. Despite this show, despite the media, despite “Billboard” telling you who made most, the truth is…you start with nothing, only your wits. Your degree won’t help you, but experience will. But even the most experienced people run dry.

You want to create a hit. And don’t lie and say no. You want the recognition, you want the accolades, you want to be KNOWN!

Jimmy and Dr. Dre are known.

Not because of Beats headphones. Not because of Apple Music. But because of what comes out of the earpieces. You don’t have to spend a lot of money, you’ve just got to create magic.

That’s one tough job.

But some people are up to it.

I know you’re gonna try.


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