Sunday, May 12, 2019

Canadian Music Week-2 | Lefsetz Letter

Is cannabis the new music?

The week before CMW, Neill Dixon had a cannabis conference. With 3000 attendees! It’s the wild west, nothing is settled, it’s like music in the days of Napster.

Then again, Robbie Robertson spoke about the sixties. How you had to listen to a record to learn which way the wind blew.

Robbie told a good story. About being on tour with Bob Dylan. How Bob was a folkie and they were rockers and Dylan wanted some of what they had. So they went on tour, and people HATED IT! Normally when you get a bad reaction, you change up the set list. But Bob refused to do this. But it was Bob’s show, so Robbie wasn’t that worried about the response, other than dodging thrown objects. Night after night, he wondered whether it was them or the audience. After the tour the audience caught up with the music. Dylan was pushing the envelope when fans want you to stay in your own lane. That’s death. And Dylan survives when the folkies…many of them are literally dead, or retired or playing to tiny audiences.

But we’ve got no one testing those limits today.

Scott Cohen gave a futurist presentation. Hire him to speak at your conference. After Sony started telling him and Richard how to run the Orchard, Cohen ankled the business. And was hired by Max Lousada at Warner, even though he wasn’t looking for a gig. I don’t want to give away the secrets of our conversation after, but he remarked how the streaming services have all the data and the labels do not. And the money is in the data.

Yes, we have not reached the end of the line in music, there is still runway. Scott talked about AI helping amateurs to make music, so they don’t have to practice for a decade to do this. Like amateurs with Instagram. They’re not professional photographers, they don’t know what an f-stop is, but they employ filters and have a good time.

As for Dave Grohl… I sat there wondering if he gained this personality from all those years on the road, being with a bunch of guys in the van, on the bus… To survive in that atmosphere you have to know how to poke fun, to duck for cover, to deflect. And even though he’s overexposed, Grohl was the master of the quip. He was interviewing his mother, about her book about the mothers of musicians. He told her stuff she never knew and was consistently entertaining, you could not hate him.

Then at the urging of Larry LeBlanc, I went to the Palestinian panel. He’s been bugging me to go to this conference on the West Bank, I’ve been anxious. And it was all copacetic until someone asked about Roger Waters and cultural boycotts and this woman on the panel said cultural boycotts don’t work, that the Israelis stole their land and committed genocide and if you think there’s gonna be peace in the Middle East, you’re dreaming.

And then I went to the pitch panel, a mini Shark Tank.

Cracked me up. This woman pitching an app called Side Door about hooking up musicians for house concerts. Did she ever hear of SCALE?? It’s not like Bon Jovi is gonna play in your backyard, certainly not for less than seven figures. The company takes 10% of revenue, how you make any money…

And then there were the guys pitching music for health purposes. They’ve got some AI, artificial intelligence for those out of the loop, that will help soothe people and they projected some insane eight figure revenue total in five years and after reading the Theranos book, I couldn’t stop laughing. Did they pull that number out of their ass? Does anybody believe these business plans anymore?

But there was this one company called Squiggle or something similar. Their concept is to make electronic music… Let’s just say instead of playing one tone at a time, you can have the tone go up or down and…

You’d have to see it.

And they put up the numbers for music software and it was very convincing, but when they said they were gonna do $35 million in five years, I wondered.

This came up at dinner. Someone wanted to create an app. THAT WAS TEN YEARS AGO! I told this person to hang with people who’d already had tech victories, to learn the lessons. But the curse of the amateur is they don’t want to know much, they think they’re the first person to ever tread these waters, they don’t know that investors are only interested in grand slams as opposed to bunts or singles.

Maybe we should have had Linda Perry there to set them straight.

But Neill is now doing four cannabis conferences a year. He’s the smartest guy in the room, he pivoted.

If you want to succeed, to paraphrase Sam Kinison, YOU’VE GOT TO GO WHERE THE MONEY IS! If there’s not big money to be made, most people are not interested.

Then again, Scott Cohen said that the labels are now populated by thirtysomethings who worked in tech like drones and didn’t get stock options and now want to have fun and make a difference.

The truth is music’s in a lull, it’s the last throes of the baby boomers.

The world is gonna change, it’s just a matter of figuring out where it’s going.

Like Neill Dixon.


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