Wednesday, August 26, 2020

NBA Protests | Lefsetz Letter


My inbox is filling up with writers wondering where the music industry is, why did this happen in sports and not in music?

Because music still has a plantation mentality.

NBA players no longer work on Maggie’s Farm. They get a percentage of revenue and if an owner crosses the line, he gets whacked, like Donald Sterling. Notice that the owners lined up with the players today, unlike in the NFL. You see there’s no game without the players. The NFL thought by making an example of Kaepernick they could cower the rest of the players into submission, put them in fear for their jobs, make them believe they’re replaceable. But then came George Floyd. This is what happens when you’re on the wrong side of history.

And speaking of sides, I’m halfway through the new book “Hoax,” Brian Stelter’s delineation of the alignment of Fox and Trump and their reality distortion field. It’s really inside baseball, if you’re not interested in TV ratings and all of the players, your eyes might glaze over, but the book makes very clear that Fox and Trump are joined at the hip, and they’re all about superserving an audience they’ve riled-up and angered to the point a Trump supporter went and shot people last night in Kenosha, well, at least he was arrested…innocent until proven guilty, right? Well, that only happens if you’re white. If you’re black…you did it, it’s your fault and let’s throw you in prison after giving you inadequate legal representation and let you rot.

So, the main complaint, other than the lack of touring, in today’s music business is streaming payments. The focus is on Spotify, the big kahuna, but the truth is the big four outlets, Spotify, Apple, Amazon and Deezer, pay just about the same, economics dictate it. And many people complaining can’t understand the difference between an online radio play and on demand one, they don’t know how much of the publishing they own, they just feel ripped-off. But then there are those who are legitimately complaining BECAUSE THE LABEL IS TAKING ALMOST ALL OF THE REVENUE!

There’s no manufacturing anymore. No shipping or returns. But the labels ask for more rights, 360 deals, even now when their revenues are going up.

Not that the public has sympathy. The PR people and the acts themselves keep telling everybody how wealthy they are, when the average consumer is struggling, especially now.

The game is to control distribution. And on one hand the major labels have sacrificed this in the streaming era, on the other they control the big playlists, and how you break acts.

And they also have relationships with TikTok.

You should read this article from “Rolling Stone”:

“Inside TikTok’s Hidden Hit Machine – The viral-video app’s music team has given crucial assists to artists like Roddy Ricch Doja Cat, and Saweetie. But can it keep powering the music industry – especially amid uncertainty about TikTok’s fate in the U.S?

You’ll read the above article and realize success is to a great degree dependent upon relationships, and the labels and the big artists have them with the TikTok gatekeepers. You’ll also sit and wonder…if I don’t make dance music, if I don’t make action music, is there any place for me on TikTok? PROBABLY NOT!

So, on one hand we’ve got evolution, the young ‘uns are hooked on this new platform that can blow up acts. But only a certain kind of act…what if you don’t make that kind of music?

Not that dance/beat music can’t have a message. But it was the TikTokkers themselves who overloaded the system with false demands for tickets to see Trump in Tulsa. That was spontaneously generated. As for the acts…it’s too dangerous, it’s going to mess with their privates and their sponsorships. But wasn’t the essence of music the message? If it’s just about products…hell, the Kardashians are doing that so much better, no musical act has come close.

And African-American acts rule the recording business. Shouldn’t they be aligning with these athletes, shouldn’t they be there first? How come the athletes have more of a conscience than the musicians? Then again, the athletes play on teams, in music it’s every person for themselves, now, more than ever.

The athletes are speaking truth to power. The owners are richer than they are (but if you’re a superstar and you play long enough you can own a team, but not a label), the networks depend upon them. How dare they throw a spanner in the works?

Meanwhile, the NBA is playing in a bubble, keeping its athletes safe from the virus, whereas in baseball it’s believed minor concessions can keep the players safe and in the NFL it’s believed God is on the league’s side, and therefore the players are inherently immune.

This is not the sixties, far from it. Yesterday Squaw Valley announced it was removing “Squaw” from its name. There’s a whole change of consciousness, and if you liked the way it used to be, if you want it the way it was, if you want to make the past great again, it’s got to be very scary.

Everything is up for grabs…and I mean literally EVERYTHING! From names to our country itself. What we’ve learned this year is be prepared for the unexpected, that no one can predict the turns of life and society. Once you think it’s one way, it’s another.

Now baseball has postponed games. Talk about a racist sport. But the old white men are its number one fans. How are they squaring this?

And our nation is so troubled that we know just when the hoopla begins to fade, another incident will transpire, Kenosha is just part of a continuum, unfortunately.

And in theory a record can reach everybody. But we have disinformation in the music business too. All the ink, all the press is about a certain white woman who came back to save the business. But despite being #1 on the inane “Billboard” chart, that superstar only has two tracks in the Spotify Top 50, at #39 and #49, and the album’s only been out a month. As for the Global Spotify Top 50…that person doesn’t have a single track in it!

And in an unmanipulated marketplace, i.e. Spotify’s stream counts, last year’s Grammy sweeper’s new track is at #49 and going down, after only a month in release.

In other words, in music it’s what have you done for me NOW! You can be over almost instantly and everybody but the PR spinners, no different from Fox News, knows. But you could come back, it’s always possible.

And then the acts who sustain on the road frequently don’t appear in the Spotify Top 50 ever! Meanwhile, “Hamilton,” which has substance, still dominates five years out, demonstrating what happens when you put sustained effort into a production that has some meat on the bone.

Meanwhile, we’ve got a bipolar African-American who has lauded Trump inanely running for president and sucking all the air out of the room. The sideshow has become the main show.

Artists are born, not marketed. It’s a sensibility. It’s a talent. One that the music business has been giving up on for decades, since the heyday of Tommy Mottola…the executives want control, they view the talent as fungible, they only want malleable entertainers. Or, they’ll work with you for a bit, drain all the money and then kick you to the curb. Then again, they keep forming panels, organizations… Action, not meetings. Meetings look good but usually accomplish nothing.

Life is about the individual. One person can make a difference.

But in music, everybody is looking for someone else to take the step before they get on board, they don’t want to be caught in the crossfire.

Then again, do we really want to hear from most of these people?


Music is a business. But when done right, it can be so much more. But in the race for dollars its essence is being sacrificed. Music stars used to be outsiders, now they’re part of the fabric, to their detriment!

Of course there are exceptions to all of the above, but so far there’s no musical movement. Acts are willing to raise money for someone else…but they’re too afraid of alienating any potential consumer to do otherwise. How many Americans are hard core Trumpers? 30-40%. Nothing is changing their opinion. Side with the protesters at your peril. But now the basketball players, who make more money than almost every musician, have put it all at risk. But they know their power. Basketball is America’s game, not football. Basketball is fast, made for today. It’s less of a coach’s contest. You can watch it and understand what is going on. The players live on Twitter, they’re accessible.

So what do you? Do you embrace the talent or quash it?

That’s the choice of the owners.

But first the talent has to take a stand.


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