Participation. By, Bob Lefsetz

Posted on September 4, 2012 by


It’s less about winning than participating.

This is difficult for baby boomers to understand, they grew up in an era where domination was key. But their progeny are all about being a member of the group. And one of the ways you demonstrate your membership is by making a parody video, a tribute video, a lip-synch video…that’s how you evidence ownership and inclusiveness.

This is remix culture. It’s what rights holders have fought against for over a decade, believing it would dilute their copyrights. But it turns out that the best way to have a valuable copyright today is to allow the public to make it their own. That’s when you know you’ve got something valuable, when the public embraces it, twists it, bounces it off its brethren.

This is a significant change from what came before. In the past, you were either a hero or a zero. Either the newscaster on TV or the nobody. But today, those newscasters are seen as bloviating helmet-haired automatons and if you’ve got an opinion you don’t keep it to yourself, you express it on Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr. And your friends know all about it. Want to triumph in today’s culture? Dig very deep.

There was a fascinating article in Sunday’s “New York Times” stating that the mainstream reporters can no longer follow political campaigns, they’re not sophisticated enough. The candidates do such deep data mining that they target micro-groups and ignore the mainstream. You may think what’s on TV counts, but really it’s what’s in the Hadassah newsletter. And it’s no different in entertainment. It’s what’s happening deep in the niche that defines not only today, but tomorrow.

Look at movies… Either they’re blockbusters or stiffs, there’s nothing in between. Either they’re cultural touchstones or irrelevant. The movie business hasn’t figure this out yet. That either they have to be in the blockbuster or niche business, there’s nothing in between. Same thing in music. But when it gets interesting is when the niche flips and becomes the mainstream.

That’s the story of “Gangnam Style.” Suddenly, the marginal, brought to life by parody and tribute videos and word of mouth, becomes mainstream.

But don’t equate mainstream with lasting. Hell, one can argue the day you become mainstream is the day you die, then no one will forward your work anymore, you live in a viral dead zone.

You’re in bed with your audience. Not only do you have to communicate with your minions, you have to give them the tools to spread the word. That’s why free music is so important. It allows your soldiers on the ground to build your career. If you think it’s all about being on the radio, you’re missing the point. No one takes seriously what’s on the radio, real truth is off the radio, just like real truth is never on TV news. You’ve got to come down off your high horse and realize the only way to make a buck is not by selling tracks, never mind albums. Fans will give you all their money, if you just let them believe they own you.

Instead, hit artists are doing their best to keep fans at a distance. Flying private, hobnobbing with the rich and famous. Want to make a commotion? Fly public and tweet what flight you’re on. Tweet where you’re having dinner. Say you’ll pay for the first hundred fans who show up at In-N-Out. This money is better spent than radio promotion. Because you own the fan whose dinner you purchased, you don’t own anything on radio, if anything, they own you.

Now it’s primarily about getting lucky. You’ve got no idea when you’re going to go viral, just like an act isn’t the best judge of what’s going to be a hit. You provide music and stems for years, just waiting for that lucky moment. Hell, Psy was on his sixth album already!

You’re waiting for someone to discover your fish. Meanwhile, they’re not even aware of your pond. But if someone is, and you hand out free maps and a coupon for a free soda when people show up, you’ve got something.

We’re all in it together. The sooner you realize this, the sooner you’re on the road to success.

P.S. Music is already free. The dominant way teenagers listen is on YouTube. So stop arguing about Spotify payments, stop arguing about maintaining the album, embrace the new. Hell, if the majors had embraced Spotify two years earlier, kids would have cared, it would have burgeoned. Instead, they’ve become inured to YouTube.

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