Friday, November 2, 2018

Decentralization | Lefsetz Letter

The problem isn’t that people are consuming fake news, but that we can’t reach them with the real news!

And for sure, one entity that’s got no insight into what is going on is the newsgatherers themselves, who keep wanting to stop screen time, the internet, as if ever in history we’ve gone backward. Trump thinks he’s gonna return to a time where America was great? Well, the truth is it was flawed but pretty great before he took over, and ask all the people and corporations hurt by his inane trade war which even the right wing paper of record, the “Wall Street Journal,” is against, whether it’s better today or worse.

Now the music business is always first. Because art drives the culture and the culture drives the nation and the files are small and there is little barrier to entry and everybody wants to become rich and famous.

The low barrier to entry… We had a tumultuous time dealing with it in the music business, but we’re close to the end now. Distribution has been figured out, it’s on demand online with streaming services, and there is a place for entities who can sign and promote acts, i.e. labels, and those with assets, i.e. catalogs, control the future.

Not that anyone who acknowledges the above is willing to acknowledge the effects.

The music business is a hit-driven one. But what is a hit these days? Something with a lot of streams online or that which tours to prodigious numbers? That which is evanescent or that which lasts? Every week “Billboard” publishes a chart so twisted it’s got little to do with reality, but do the streaming statistics tell the whole story? Used to be if you were not played on the radio, if your product wasn’t selling in stores, you were nowhere. But that’s not the case these days. Just because you’re not on the Spotify Top 50, that does not mean you have no impact. Look at Phish, which innovated last evening by playing the complete works of a fictitious band. The act’s audience was thrilled, they sell out arenas, are they successful? And Phish is thirty years into it while flavors of just a few years ago can’t sell a ticket. We haven’t come up with a metric for the music business and the somnambulant press is still caught up in the past, thinking its printing of charts and reviews makes a difference when it almost certainly does not!

And nearly two decades ago Tom Freston told me MTV wasn’t gonna play videos, that they were an on demand item online. Took almost this long for the industry and artists to catch up with that. There is a place for video, everybody wants to see what their favorite act looks like, but we all are not watching the same videos on YouTube, despite those who triumph telling us they dominate…THEY DON’T!

The now irrelevant MTV was a monoculture, we were all watching the same stuff, we are not today.

So the “New York Times” can delineate the history of Trump’s taxes and it has no impact, because those whose minds it is supposed to change are not reading! The same way you are not paying attention to the Spotify Top 50. Meanwhile, the “New York Times,” the “Washington Post,” all the old media companies have missed the memo, that just reporting the news is no longer enough, you have to be an advocate to have impact. Which is why MSNBC has so much mindshare. Then again, the right wing doesn’t watch it and has neutralized all the press but its own so…

This is where we are folks. And this is one of the reasons Trump is winning. Because people hate the chaos, they want to know what their future is. Meanwhile, the tech titans on the left seem to have no moral compass. Used to be you got a liberal arts degree, you took English, math and history, as well as sociology, psychology and science, in order to become a well-rounded person. Mark Zuckerberg is so focused on the buck he cant’ see anything else. Even worse, he doesn’t know anything else!

Meanwhile, you expect those at the bottom to place their trust in him?

And the press tears apart Elon Musk to the point where he goes loco and we end up with no heroes. Who are our heroes today? One of mine is Elizabeth Warren, who seems to have no problem standing up to the b.s., whereas everybody else is calculating their future, the impact on their status, and no one is worse than a musical act, afraid to offend a theoretical constituency when the truth is these people have no interest and when you have a viewpoint, make a stand, the audience resonates and clings. Hell, that’s one of the reasons music is in the dumper, in most cases it’s pure hedonism, as if you’d rather marry the person you bumped asses with on the dance floor as opposed to the one you talked with till four in the morning.

But that’s America, the land of superficiality. And money. And if you contradict the ethos everybody points the finger at you… What have you accomplished? What do you know? Stay in your own lane!

But we do have chaos, we do live in a Tower of Babel society, it is overwhelming, but you don’t make sense of it all by excoriating reality.

The reality is people love their devices because they allow them to connect, they’re personalized to each owner. How hard is this to understand? We decry the old three network monopoly, we loved cable and now we truly love streaming services like Netflix but those losing in the now keep telling us to go back to the past. Imagine those three networks once again, with their bland programming.

And people love to share.

And people love to game the system. Hell, nobody’s worse than the music industry, built on smoke and mirrors, looking for an edge. Every week another scam for attention comes across my transom. Twitter followers? YouTube plays? Spotify spins?

So this is where it’s at and it’s not gonna change overnight, the only solution is to go forward.

The Republicans have played such a long game that you cannot turn it around instantly, people have been consuming this crap for decades. Which is how we ended up with Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court and George Soros being the enemy of the people. Come on, if you hear something every day you tend to believe it, right? Kinda like Richard Gere and that gerbil…

So maybe Frank Rich is right, the only way to defeat the orange enemy is to get out the Democratic vote, because you can’t change the minds of those not in the party. And so many people don’t vote that you can win.

However, this is not a long term solution.

A long term solution is values. And a welfare state. And higher taxes on the rich, not lower. Come on, the right made taxes a dirty word. How else are you gonna pay for crumbling infrastructure? Or do you want to eliminate the Postal Service and then complain when you can’t send a letter. Or get pissed when your car hits a pothole. We can’t go in the direction of every person for themselves, it must be all of us in it together. And we’ve been going towards the latter ever since Reagan, it’s as if people believe they’re entitled to be rich and sacrifice is a dirty word and if you’re not winning it’s your own damn fault.

Even though Donald Trump was born at home plate, having touched all the bases in the womb.


People are not gonna give up on social media.

The fans of bands without attention get pissed when they’re ignored. What do we know, change always comes from outside, it was Lou Pearlman who developed Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC, not a major label. Trump was certainly outside, meanwhile all the major labels sign is hip-hop, even though the truth is a number one song today means less than it ever has since the Beatles. Don’t keep telling me how many number ones Drake has, it’s as if we’re comparing a Corvair with a Tesla!

Change is slow. Until it’s very fast. Kinda like the Trump triumph.

But both Trump and the intelligentsia are planning on a return to what once as opposed to what will be. Those focused on the latter win in the end, isn’t that how tech triumphed, how hip-hop won, by giving it away for free online when everybody else was bitching?

You can complain about Trump all you want, it makes little difference. Your only hope is to motivate the left wingers who agree with you.

As for your band that’s not on the streaming chart… Keep growing your fan base, that’s the most important asset you’ve got. And know it takes longer than ever to gain attention. But if you stick at it and you’re good.

You’ll succeed.

The game is rigged, calling FOUL has no effect.

You’ve got to invent a new game, commensurate with the new era. Which is why the youth embrace eSports and tune out baseball, even though the diamond addicts can’t stop telling them they’re wrong. Everybody’s protecting their turf, they don’t want to admit it’s shrinking, talk to someone in terrestrial music radio and they’ll tell you it’s bigger than ever, it’s a juggernaut, then ask anyone under twenty whether they listen and reevaluate.

This flat cacophonous society won’t last forever. In truth, it’s going to consolidate. But who wins in the end is up for grabs. You’ve got to face reality, you’ve got to plan, you’ve got to stop complaining and do the hard work.

Then again, nobody wants to do that anymore either.

But they want the fruits of their non-labor.



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