One of the more insightful music blogs out there is written by Bob Lefsetz. In truth The Lefsetz Letter is more than a blog, it’s a conversation about the music industry that has been going on for over twenty years. Bob seems to be about as well-connected as an industry ‘outsider’ can be. He is close enough to the industry to see the inner machinations first-hand, but far enough away to maintain some perspective. Bob has a nose for what works in popular music, but his best asset is calling out the parts that don’t work.
Lefsetz recently gave the keynote address at the Music Matters conference in Singapore. You can watch the interview on YouTube. It’s well worth the 45-minute investment of your time if you want to hear some fascinating stories about the state of the music biz. I subscribe to most of the same theories as Bob – about the power of music as a social language, the death of terrestrial radio because algorithms do all the music programming, and especially his views on how concert promoters lie to the public about ticket pricing.
There are a couple of things that Bob touches on in this interview that differ from my perspective. Bob is all about the immediacy of a ‘hit’ song – he’s completely uninterested in listening to something five times to ‘get it’. Most of my favourite songs are songs that didn’t really grab me on first listen – they took time to set down roots and grow into my soul. Meanwhile, a number of hit songs like “Stacy’s Mom” by Fountains of Wayne were catchy on first listen, but now I’d rather push sharpened pencils into my ears than listen to that saccharine bullshit ever again. Maybe if Bob wasn’t bombarded by 500 new tracks a day, he’d have the time to absorb new sounds. He has to live in the moment. But for me, it’s about quality more than quantity.
The other spot where Bob and I differ is in the music consumption model. Bob foresees a future where everybody is content to rent music via paid streaming services like Spotify. In Bob’s world, why own music when you can download it from ‘the Cloud’ anytime, anywhere with an Internet connection? Meanwhile, I’m a neo-Luddite. I appreciate the portability of mp3s, but I still want to have a physical disc (CD or vinyl) on my shelf at home. I love looking through record shops and buying something that I can hold in my hands. I have an ongoing relationship with my record collection – I spend a lot of time organizing, cataloging, and researching. I don’t think I could ever develop that kind of relationship with ‘the Cloud’. But then again, I’m a neo-Luddite. Long term, in the broader sense of the overall music industry, Bob Lefsetz is probably right.
He almost always is.