Fixing the Music Business Starts With Identifying Its Problems...

Bob Lefsetz |

Next time you’re trying to figure out what went wrong with the music industry, here’s a handy list of problems... 

 MONEY. There’s not enough of it for investment.
We keep reading about venture capitalists putting their money behind tech startups, but it’s hard to get people to invest in your band. There’s tons of money for the elite at Live Nation and AEG, but they don’t back new acts. And the labels have been decimated by the Internet, and don’t have much to spend on hunches.

Furthermore, no one with deep pockets wants to speculate in music, because the labels have catalogs, making their ongoing business more sustainable.

As for VC money, it goes only to techies, who’ve raped and pillaged music for a decade and a half. Despite all the lip-service paid to their being music fans, the truth is techies love money more, and will strip-mine music for a fast buck.

Sales are meaningless, despite the industry still making most of its profits from CDs. Continuing to lean on outdated models would be like Apple de-emphasizing the iPhone because there’s still big business in iPods. If the industry as a whole can’t agree to move into the future, what hope is there?

There’s not one site that lists all live gigs in your area — not one that’s trustworthy, comprehensive and has critical mass. Eventful is a failed enterprise. Song-kick is a financial play based on the delusion that they’ll be able to sell tickets to desirable shows. Ticketmaster is slow, inefficient and can’t list everything, because competitors don’t want them to. In other words, the music business is failing the information age.

Anybody who says there’s no cost to endorsements is clueless. It’s hard to be credible if you keep complaining that you can’t make money and are playing to corporations as opposed to fans. If we can’t believe in you, there’s no bond. Get a hip sponsor, like Patagonia. Or leave the money on the table in service to a longer career.

I get it; the rich can buy up everything I want — but even concert tickets? Paperless, as well as all-in pricing, should be embraced by all acts that want to go clean. Just because Ticketmaster gets the blame instead of the act doesn’t make it right. (But StubHub went to all-in pricing, and is taking a hit in sales. What kind of bizarre world do we live in where a resale service is more honest than the primary service?)

The L.A. Times printed a booklet of the top 100 restaurants in the city. Its author, Jonathan Gold, writes so well I almost put down the newspaper to drive for the fries at Republique while reading his column.

But we’ve got no trusted tastemakers in music. We’ve got tons of algorithms and narrow-play radio stations beholden to advertisers, but no one with established credibility telling the public what to hear. Once upon a time WABC-AM/Cousin Brucie, et al., imparted that kind of wisdom to their listeners. But today …

Songza gives us too much untrustworthy information, never mind all the bad music. Beats has the same problem, and reaches no one. Pandora is a cornucopia of what you do not want to hear. No one’s got time to explore endless playlists.

The labels still believe we’re living in the pre-Internet era. Google coughs up truth instantaneously, for free, yet labels and most publishers still can’t provide accurate data of what was sold/played, and certainly don’t pay accordingly. So music is made on computers, but accounted for via the equivalent of paper books. Ultimately, anybody with a brain refuses to participate. And we get the music we deserve.


Post a Comment