Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Haves and the Have-Nots | Lefsetz Letter

The haves make singles and the have-nots make albums.

I know, I know, that sounds counterintuitive, but it’s the reality.

Ask yourself if you’re in the hit business, if so, you’re a have.

If you’re not, you’re a have-not.

And at this point hits are hip-hop influenced, pop is dying, but we’ll include it too. Rock is now niche. Imagine Dragons are the only act populating the top of the chart, if you even consider them rock.

So, if you’re in the hit business, where most of the focus and the money goes, you live and die by the hit. Albums are irrelevant. Just ask Katy Perry. Hers sank like a stone. Don’t even bother to make them. Just jump from hit to hit, or stiff to hit, no one cares anymore if you have a stiff, Bieber was on a run of stiffs before he came back a blazin’. It’s about a steady stream of product, always trying to succeed. And the hip-hop ethos fosters this. There’s a culture, a community, people are always paying attention, finding out what you’re doing next. As for pop, one of its problems is it lives in a vacuum, there’s no crosstalk between tracks. And it skews young. So you’ve got to work it hard just to keep people’s attention. That’s what we’ve learned in the modern era, you need a support system, without it, you’re done.

And the support system of the have-nots is their fans.

Admit who you are instead of railing against the haves. Have-nots are all about their fan base. Hip-hop fans are on the prowl for something new, rock fans, not so much. They’re dedicated to their favorites. So you want to satiate them, they need a body of work. And since it’s so hard to gain people’s attention in the have-not world an album garners you more attention, reviews, press, which alerts your fans and has the potential of reaching new ones, whereas single to single only works if you’re building up to something phenomenal, in size, not necessarily quality.

Have-nots are probably not gonna have their magic moment. You never know, trends could change and sounds could change and it could be your time. But not soon.

The music business has completely changed. The majors are not interested in art, only sales, more than ever, because it’s so hard to make a sale. It’s like the movie business, one film makes it every weekend and the others fail, even though the studio spent nine figures. And there are fewer zeros in music, but it’s very expensive to launch a project, so the companies are risk-averse. Change always comes from the independents. And then the majors go into business with them. So if you’re a change agent, more power to you, you’re the life blood of the industry. But it could be a very long slog to recognition, if it happens at all. Hell, the Ramones spearheaded punk but we didn’t have platinum punk until fifteen years later, with Nirvana, and it took even longer for those Ramones LPs to go gold. So you can be talented and unrecognized, accept this.

And the real money is with the haves. Who get radio airplay, hundreds of millions of streams and sell out arenas. Whereas have-nots play to much smaller audiences, who don’t go for the flavor of the month so much as the career. Furthermore, if the have-nots try to stunt, try to play with the haves, hiring ringers to get to the top of the chart, they end up with egg on their face, their hard core abandon them, so you don’t want this.

A have-not is in it for a decade or more. Building a legacy.

A have is in it for right now, they may not have another hit.

So the more attention and money you make, the less important the album is. Sure, you want to have more material for newbies and fans to play when they’re converted, but you can make more on one hit single than nine album tracks combined.

As for the have-nots… You’re a dying breed. Based on the old saws of the seventies. To bridge the gap you must create a new sound, break the hip-hop hegemony, instead most rock acts are retreads.

As for country, as the dear, departed Tom Petty said, it’s the rock of the seventies, so seventies rock rules apply. But the funny thing is country fans are adopting streaming faster than rock fans, who are calcified.

It’s a changing landscape. If you’re an innovator, the rules don’t apply. But if you’re a journeyman, they do. Don’t try to jump out of your own lane.


No comments: