Which Side Are You On? By, bob lefsetz

Posted on January 19, 2012 by


Metallica taught us the cost of being on the wrong side. The band’s still paying the price.

You’ve got to be in bed with your fans. They’re lifers, they’re your family. The record company employees come and go, as do the agents, promoters and even the managers.

Somehow, in the last thirty years, music has become equated with money.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t get paid, I’m just saying if you’re not doing it because you love it, if you wouldn’t do it even if you didn’t get paid, quit today. Music is not a conventional profession, it’s a calling. And a responsibility. To be honest and truthful as well as credible and talented.

And we’ve strayed so far from this concept.

But those who’ve lasted never did. Whether it be the Grateful Dead, Neil Young or Radiohead. You can go your own way, but if you’re beholden to anybody, it’s your listeners.

What kind of fucked up world do we live in where Google and Wikipedia take the lead on freedom of expression, on personal rights? That used to be the domain of the artist. Today, Internet companies changed the world. It used to be artists.

But people love Google more than Top Ten bands. They rely on Wikipedia more. Because they’re pure. They don’t compromise their vision or values for instant remuneration. They give back. Hey, you’re using an Android phone, do you know the operating system is free? And sure, Google will make money off of Android ads, but is this any different from selling concert tickets and merch after people hear your music for free?

And speaking of starting off for free…

That’s what Google did. They launched it first and then developed a business model. And it’s still got a freemium model. I’ve been using Google for years and have clicked on exactly one ad. But Google is rolling in dough. Just because you give away your main product for free does not mean you can’t make money. We live in an attention economy, your biggest chore is getting people to listen, not to pay for your music.

And the entire music industry is rotten to the core, riddled with egocentric businesspeople putting themselves first and responding not to music, but money. Don’t listen to a word they say, it’s like asking a child to deny he wants candy, it’s useless.

But somehow we live in a country where greed and self-interest have been legitimized. If everyone else is doing it, why shouldn’t I do it too? But people don’t need your music. They can live without it. It’s not equivalent to food and water, it’s certainly not air. Your job is to make people feel it’s just that necessary, and it’s not about marketing, but the music itself. And for thirty years, marketing has triumphed. And what we’re left with is a carcass of a music industry with no center.

The tide is turning, things are changing. For every wannabe desirous of getting a label deal or winning a TV show to get rich there’s a plethora of artists who say no way, they’re following their own path.

And it’s a slow build.

But it’s based on that bond, between artist and listener. It doesn’t begin and end with the purchase of a CD or track, that’s just the beginning. It’s an ongoing relationship, based on trust and connection.

I’ve got no idea where the artists have been on SOPA. This is their debate, their fight. But blinded by the blight, the money, the cash, they refuse to see that first and foremost music is about freedom. In both the expression and the listening. That’s what makes a record a classic, when a listener puts on the headphones and is taken away from his dreary life, to a better one where he’s happy and content. But it’s hard to set your mind free if the so-called artists are constantly dunning you to buy shit, imploring you to listen to the marketing messages of Fortune 500 companies. If the artist is a shill, just a lame connector on the highway of life, you might glance at the train-wreck, but then you’re gonna move on.

Yup, the highway is littered with dilapidated acts, that no one wants to see. That’s the story of the MTV era. You made it instantly and then you were done. Maybe you made a lot of cash, right away, but Warren Buffett will tell you it’s all about the long haul.

Hell, people respect Mr. Buffett more than any of the acts. Because he’s true to his principles and he loves the game. The money is secondary. Hell, he’s giving it all away! Most artist are barely charitable, fly them in on the corporate jet and pay their “expenses” and you might get them to appear at your gala, but write a big check? NO, THAT’S MY MONEY!

What did Woody Guthrie sing? “This land is your land, this land is our land?” Well, recently that hasn’t been the case. This land is Wall Street’s land, and the Super Pacs’. But that ain’t gonna be for long. Because we’ve got the Internet.

We used to have music.

But the artists are on the wrong side.

You give to get.

If you’re sitting on your couch silent, because some fat cat businessman told you SOPA would make you money, shame on you. You’d make boatloads more if you’d just get in bed with the people, the hoi polloi. Sure, an arms dealer might pay you a mil to perform one night, but what about the rest of the year?

You depend on your fans.

And you should not be raping them. Fans should get good tickets for reasonable prices. Because then you last.

But few of today’s hit paraders last, because they’re too dumb to know which way the wind blows.

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