A Responding Thought Process to Bob Lefsetz’s Recent Piece “The Great Con”

Recently, Bob Lefsetz wrote an interesting piece called “The Great Con” in which he lamented the reality that “there aren’t going to be any jobs.” Typically I find Lefsetz’s pieces intriguing and some of them on point, especially regarding the changing music industry.

But in this one, his reasoning on art, music and progress fall flat for me.

I understand the righteous indignation of the changing world. Change is hard and uncertain, two adjectives that people never like. In many respects, the anger which Lefsetz references in his piece is definitely there, and should be addressed. But not the way he’s addressing it.

Grim and dour are great for grunge music and horror movies, not for examining change and identifying new opportunities. Particularly when that change is arguably the more positive than people give it credit for.

Napster

The flattened argument on art and music starts a third of the way down.

“We live in the least altruistic society ever, it’s all about me, all the damn time, no one wants to sacrifice. If you think people care about poor musicians, you probably didn’t live through Napster…”

I see where this argument is going, but it’s a scare tactic at best. The reality is that Napster is one of the best things to ever happen in music (though I guess not if you’re a major record label) because it blew the door open to begin the discussion on peer-to-peer and democratization of distribution. Was it done well or legally? No. Would I attempt to do it again today? Not like that. But before we buy totally into this scare statement, let’s remember that bands like Dispatch LOVED Napster because it blew them up without the need for major label backing. One day they’re nobody, and 3 months later, literally everyone is playing “The General” on an acoustic guitar in their school hallway.

Scarcity is obsolete; democratization wins. Napster was the first step in this direction.

Apple Music

Then of course we get to Apple Music. Yes this argument is fairly sound.

No, exclusive don’t work long term. At best, they’re a hold-over strategy in an industry that doesn’t seem to know what else to do presently. And yes, it’s really all a major label strategy that is designed to make general consumers want to pa for things they could likely get by following the artists’ social media feeds and engaging more often in their fanbase communities.

But the trip-up here is in how there’s no more positive direction presented. It’s all doom and gloom. Yeah, Apple Music sucks for new artists and independents who aren’t Beyonce and Katy Perry. But the real point is that is opens the door for new services to fill the voids that it so happily seems to exacerbate in the independent paradigm.

Winner-Take-All and Who Will See Your Art?

We’re not in a winner-take-all economy in art — at least not in music. Things have become more splintered than they’ve ever been. This splintering has enabled new and independent artists to breach the surface and begin to explore possibilities long restricted to major label darlings. Now, the punk band from Chicago and the singer-songwriter from London can also run marketing campaigns and grow their communities. It comes down to how badly they really want it. No amount of influence or growth is insignificant.

“The winner take all economy is leaving the rest of us out. It’s not only Facebook decimating MySpace, there’s room for less art, you can make it, but no one will see it.”

No. Now there’s room for more art. Now you can reach the fringes with your crazy video style, your musical instrumentation that only 100 people really understand or like, and your new sci-fi punk fantasy poetry that was always too radical for the uniform establishment. Perhaps not everyone will see it, but that was never true anyway, and now you have the freedom to explore and distribute, and see where it goes.

We’re Living in an Artistic Renaissance

We are living in an artistic Renaissance daily because of the sheer volume of material creation and ease of distribution at our fingertips. We’re seeing more art (music, visual, writing…) created and distributed now more than any other time in history.

The world is hard now because it’s not level playing field?

It never was, it just seemed that way because things were uniform and organized. The Occupy movement didn’t suffer from a message — it suffered from a lack of organization in thought and strategy. I was in Boston when it happened — I was there, downtown, in the Financial District — and what I saw was a message in search of a singular, focused voice and strategy.

No, we’re not left out — not anymore. The decentralization of the megalithic art giants has broadened the spectrum for what seems like the first time in forever. I matter because I create, you matter because you desire to consume, and we matter because we distribute and share.

Are we in the media industry envious of billionaires? I don’t know, it’s probably nice to have that kind of money, but what I’m more interested in is a voice and influence. Money comes and goes, but a reputation is powerful in so many more versatile ways. The fact that anyone can create such a reputation now regardless of where they work or how much money they have is a testament to how the democratization of thought and access have changed our universe. Have in fact made it more level.

Up and Forward?

So what does all this mean? It means we have a daily decision. Lament the way things were, or use the new dynamics to create something better. There are only two kinds of people in the world: 1) those who wake up in the morning and do something, and 2) those who do not.

So, up and forward. Yes?


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