Thursday, April 4, 2019

Bublé At Staples | Lefsetz Letter

It was billed as “An Evening With.”

And it most certainly was.

The media focuses on recordings, but all the action is on the road. You keep on reading about the comeback of the recording industry, but to a great degree the two have diverged. Recording is about hip-hop, evanescence. Live is about all genres, and careers. Live used to be the stepchild of recordings, now it’s the main economic driver, where all the focus is. Used to be gigs were populated by label people, now the company can’t afford to buy tickets, that happened nearly a decade ago. Yup, today everybody pays. If you know someone, you can get good seats, but you’ve got to pay. As the saying goes, the tour used to be the advertisement for the record, now it’s vice versa.

And the thing about label people is they change. Not as much as they used to, then again, it’s a game of musical chairs, and a lot of them have been removed. And the only person with any power at the label is the head exec. The A&R people don’t have signing power, unless you’re talking to the President/CEO, you won’t get an answer. Whereas there’s a greater democratization of responsibility in the touring world. A young promoter can be a booker. A young agent can get acts gigs. Your apprenticeship is short. Either you can carry water or you can’t. And if you can…you have a job for life, or as least as long as you want one.

Then again, tonight Sam and Jay said that no one ever retires in the live business.

And the two drivers of Michael Bublé’s career are over seventy, Bruce Allen and Don Fox. I’m sure they don’t like their age revealed, but in the management and live businesses, experience counts. You know where all the dollars are. What works and what doesn’t. And the elder statespeople of our business were around while it was still being built, before consolidation, they’ve learned lessons unteachable these days. How you keep promoters alive, and how loyalty is everything. Used to be you’d give back to the promoter if he had a loss, you had to keep him in business. And you stuck with the people who got you there. Not anymore. Play for Live Nation, a public company, and you’re never gonna give money back. And acts go with the highest bidder.

But there are still renegades, like Don Fox. Who started with acts like ZZ Top and is now promoting Bublé, who couldn’t be more different. But really, it’s the same, how do you build an act?

And no act ever made it big without a great manager. Used to be they were all independent. Now, they might work for Red Light or Live Nation’s conglomerate. Used to be you sunk or swam on your wits. You were responsible for staying alive. You had to keep your antenna up. If you haven’t ever faced financial ruin, struggled, you’re not battle tested, you’re not any good when the going gets tough.

And the going got tough for Michael Bublé. His kid got sick. Very. He didn’t tour for five years. He gets kudos for keeping his priorities straight, but absence of this length is usually death in the music business. It’s what have you done for me lately, especially now when album cycles are so much shorter.

But Bublé’s tickets have sold faster than ever. Why?

Because of his dedicated fan base, because of his show.

Bublé said he started in nightclubs at sixteen. It took him ten years to get traction. This is very different from a porn star deciding to make a record. This is about hard work, refining your craft. Bublé’s career is build on music and showmanship, not social media. If the music is the cherry on top of your personality, you’re not gonna last that long, your music isn’t gonna resonate with people.

And the music Bublé is singing is one hundred eighty degrees different from the hit parade. It’s made up of songs, without electronic beats, with melodies, that you can sing along to. They’re classics, or in the classic style. You can let your mind drift and remember staring out the window at the snow coming down. Or being on the beach. Or finding new love. The music sets your mind free, it’s just not grease for a party.

And that’s what too many people think a gig is today, a big party, where you shoot selfies, where the audience is the star. But that was not Bublé’s show. It was clear he was the star, everybody was locked on to him, not each other.

And there were thirty eight people on stage besides Michael. THIRTY EIGHT! Professionals are doing the math. That’s gonna hurt your bottom line. But Bublé is spending for the effect. A bank of horn players, a bank of string players, I can’t remember seeing this many people on stage since I’ve been to the symphony. Usually you get some long-haired guy in the background playing a synth. But this sound was real.

And the staging was jaw-dropping. Winky told me to watch out, and he was right.

I almost can’t describe it. The band was in a shell, a miniature Hollywood Bowl.

And behind Bublé was a record. Yup, a big vinyl record which occasionally spun, with a needle emitting sparks. But it also doubled as a video screen. And when it rose to the ceiling, there was a cyclorama of a hi-def screen behind the players. And sometimes video footage was shot from two different angles. Which truly allowed you to get the feeling.

And there were screens at the other end of the building, at the end of the runway in the middle.

And the highlight was when Bublé said he was going to recreate the nightclub. He had a combo on the far end of the walkway and lights descended from the ceiling and it truly felt intimate, in an arena.

But the highlight was the stories. It takes a lot to go on, most people get nervous and speed up and then sing. But Bublé told jokes, made fun of himself, was sincere, talked about his personal troubles… You felt like you knew him. He was carrying no airs. He was just being honest. Hard work got him to where he was, to the point where you wanted to pay to see him.

And the best joke of the night was when he talked about living in Westwood and not wanting to drive to Staples Center. It could take two hours. So he thanked those who did come. Who even filled up the upper deck, above the three rows of skyboxes.

And if you weren’t there, it doesn’t matter. If you don’t like this kind of music, it doesn’t matter. It’s 2019, and everybody’s living in their own silo. The goal is not to be the biggest band in the land, but the biggest you. You build it on music and showmanship and loyalty. You deliver for the fans so they come back. It becomes a rite. Because the man is the same, yet the show is always different.

And usually “An Evening With” just means there’s no opening act.

But tonight you truly felt you spent time with Michael Bublé. You truly felt it was a one of a kind experience. That in another city you didn’t hear the same raps, it wasn’t the same woman from the audience doing a duet, the show was fluid, to the point where you had a unique experience in a digitized world of 0’s and 1’s.

And I will tell you I think we’ve gotten too far from the garden. That songs with melody, that you can sing along to, proffered by those with good voices who can deliver them, never go out of style. As a matter of fact there’s a hunger for this sound.

And that’s what Michael Bublé delivers.

P.S. Another highlight of the night was Lee Zeidman’s war against the Birds. And Limes. And the rest of the scooter companies. He wants a plan, to keep them off the L.A. Live property that he’s responsible for. He doesn’t want them littered on the campus. Getting in the way of paying customers. He suggested continuing to charge customers who drop them in undesignated places, but the purveyors said this would be a “bad consumer experience.” So Lee has taken matters into his own hands. He’s confiscated a hundred and twenty five scooters that have been littered on his property. He wanted to throw them out, but the waste management company said he couldn’t, because of the batteries. He’s getting no relief from the city council and the owners have not asked for the scooters back. One person can make a difference, by standing up to the man. In this case, it’s Lee Zeidman.


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