With experience as an entertainment attorney and record label consultant, Bob Lefsetz knows the music industry from the inside out. He’s been writing the Lefsetz Letter, a music analysis newsletter with tens of thousands of subscribers, for over 25 years, and he’s witnessed firsthand how the advent of the internet and the transition into digital music are shaping the industry’s business-first attitude.
“We are in an evolutionary period in the music industry,” says Lefsetz, in an interview with Event Tickets Center. “We are in an era of clutter — there is so much media available to all types of listeners.”
A Lower Barrier to Entry, A High Bar to Success
Thanks to built-in computer software like GarageBand and the ever-growing web of social media sites, it’s easier than ever for an artist to produce and distribute music. Getting people to listen to it, however, is a different story.
Finding an audience often means teaming up with a record label that has enough marketing resources to get new music in front of the right people. When left to their own devices, many musicians simply can’t reach the audience they need to capitalize on their music. Independent artists who find their own niche in the market and reach fans directly through grassroots efforts and online communication have the best chance of success.
As Lefsetz puts it, the enemy of modern musicians is not piracy, but obscurity.
“If you are with a recording label, they can help break through that clutter. Today’s music is more about marketing and breaking through,” he said. “If you are recording music and you can get known and driven by a well-known label, then you can be successful. If you connect with an organization like America’s Got Talent, you break through the clutter. The model for becoming a successful musician is very different today.”
The major difference? Just being a good musician is not enough to make it anymore. The competition is stiffer than ever, and the market is constantly inundated with new music. Because streaming services and YouTube give us unlimited access to almost any song, new artists are competing for listening time not only with other bands in their area and genre, but with the whole history of recorded music.
“Good [musicians] used to have a place in the market place because of access, but now they’re pushed out,” Lefsetz explains. “A small venue in the middle of Montana couldn’t get access to major musicians 30–40 years ago, so the mid-level/regional artists were able to gradually build up a name and reputation. (Now), you have to contend not only with the other shows happening in a region, but with the entirety of musical history.”
This is breaking up the “medium class” of musicians. In the future, Lefsetz predicts there will be a few mega stars — the likes of Adele, Beyonce and Jay-Z — who sell out stadiums in minutes, and a lot of smaller, niche musicians who can build a small audience but won’t ever achieve total stardom.
What the Changing Landscape Means for the Audience
That same dynamic is also changing the nature of live music. “It used to be that you only had listening to music, movies and a few TV channels for entertainment outside of going to a live show,” says Lefsetz. “Today, there is so much high-quality entertainment accessible at home that it’s hard to break in at the bottom. People don’t go to bars for music like they used to. People want to see the big bands and musicians, or simply access other artists on their own time and in their own way.”
Most importantly, technology has impacted the way concertgoers connect with live music. With a smartphone in hand, anyone in the audience can capture photos or videos of an event, post them on social media and share the experience with everyone they know. While some argue that this trend doesn’t allow people to fully enjoy the magic of the moment, concerts today are much more personalized than those of years past.
Even with so much online entertainment available 24/7, the need for live music isn’t going anywhere. Although the musicians people choose to see live have changed, the rush of seeing a favorite band or singer in person is still in high demand.
“On a basic level, music is music. People want to experience what they can and get access to as much music as possible,” says Lefsetz. “There is a visceral experience that happens live that’s different than anything in the world. When the act is on the stage, it’s unlike any experience in your life.”
Bob Lefsetz is the author of “The Lefsetz Letter.” Famous for being beholden to no one and speaking the truth, Lefsetz addresses the issues that are at the core of the music business: downloading, copy protection, pricing and the music itself. Never boring, always entertaining, Bob’s insights are fueled by his stint as an entertainment business attorney, majordomo of Sanctuary Music’s American division and consultancies to major labels. “The Lefsetz Letter” has been publishing for over 25 years. First as hard copy, most recently as an email newsletter and now as a blog.