Lefsetz Response. The Death of Passion.

This is my attempt to convince everyone that rock ‘n roll is NOT dead.  Music has not fallen to the masses or crumbled along with the success of the majors.  And passion has NOT been removed.  No one killed it, and it’s not been lost or stolen.  End of story.

For a few months now I’ve been subscribing to Bob Lefsetz “Lefsetz Letter” in an effort to expand my horizons and get an insiders opinion on the business I love so much.  For the most part I read what he has to say and agree or disagree quietly because he’s just one person with one opinion and everyone’s entitled to their own.  This afternoon, however when I finished reading his latest entry “Clive Davis” I felt I had to respond.  

Please understand this in NOT a personal attack on anyone.  I have complete respect for Bob and everything he writes because he’s been around and I haven’t.  That, however, doesn’t mean I have to agree with everything he says.  This is my opinion so take it as you will.

Please go to lefsetzletter.wordpress.com to read the full post.

First of all, to say that one man removed the passion from music is ridiculous.  Maybe his influence and ridiculous gobs of cash have made it harder to detect passion in his artists, but making a blanket statement like that seems spiteful and ignorant.  It just makes me want to know what Clive Davis has done to you.  I would argue that passion is even more present in music because of the strangling hold popular music has on the masses.  It only pushes artists who are having to exist without a label, to make better music, and I think that really breeds a desire to share their passion for music with fans.

I was happy to read the following statement about radio: 

“…Radio is a joke with declining listenership.  The old pros’ success was based on control.  And control has been evaporating since the turn of the decade.  And if it’s ever coming back, it’s not going to look the same, it’s not going to be the same game.”

Agreed.  Radio is a joke and when we figure out how to break an artist without radio it will be a different game.  I can’t tell you the last time I listened to the radio with the same excitement as when I was five.  I used to stay up at night waiting to hear Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” before I would even think of laying my head on my pillow and succumbing to sleep.  It was riveting to hear your favorite song because you didn’t know when you were going to hear it again.  Perhaps it is a lack of control that has “killed radio,” but maybe radio was supposed to die.  Since I fell out of love with the airwaves about six years ago I’ve discovered endless amounts of music that would have never made it on the radio, and that’s important.  Now it’s up to me to decide what I want to listen to.  Control has not evaporated it’s just been taken from suits and given to the masses.  If I don’t like what I hear on the radio, I turn it off and I play what I want to hear.  From an industry standpoint I can understand the panic associated with not being able to break an artist on radio without millions of dollars and majors behind you.  BUT you can’t deny the fact that radio is not the only avenue available to new artists.  It may not be that as easy to achieve success as it used to but that doesn’t mean the fight it over.  Can we please focus on the future and stop crying about the past.  

Getting back to this whole Clive Davis thing, Lefsetz wrote, “Clive Davis introduced his proteges at his Grammy party.  Featured them on the “Today Show”.  Spent millions to barely make any profits.  And the core, the essence?  Nougat at best.  That’s what Clive Davis was making, candy.  Something the Beatles never were, not from their very first hit.”  And yes.  The Beatles are a phenomenon that cannot be touched by any other artist, but I would hardly compare Davis’ repertoire hit-makers to fluff.  Both directly and indirectly Davis is responsible for the success of Barry Manalow, Whitney Houston, Alan Jackson, Brooks & Funn, Diamond Rio, TLC, Toni Braxton, Outkast, Pink, Notorius B.I.G., Faith Evans, Mase, 112, Aretha Franklin, Gavin DeGraw, and Pearl Jam to name a few.   Not to mention MARIAH! (via Tommy Matola) How could I forget?!  Maybe I’m the only one left that loves her no matter what, but she is the reason I love music the way I do, and we all know Clive’s influence on her career.  You absolutely cannot hold one man responsible for the demise of popular music, especially when he’s responsible for some of the most successful acts in popular music.  I’m sorry but making such a claim only makes me think you have a personal vendetta against him.  No one is perfect and I’ll be the first to admit that dinosaurs like Davis are no longer in touch with the direction of music today, but when you’re trying to compare THE BEATLES with anything on radio today, I don’t see how you’re in touch with it either.

Also, you said, “Everything new and different, everything creative, everything out there, that’s what Clive Davis stood against.  He wanted control, when he himself was not an artist.  He wanted to squeeze out inspiration.  And without inspiration, you’ve got no art.  And without art, all you’ve got is business.  And kids don’t care about business.  And people don’t care about you when you’re no longer atop the corporation, your phone stops ringing, the “Wall Street Journal” writes about someone else, it’s like a genie has rubbed his magic lamp and you’ve disappeared.”

         Maybe his goal was to squeeze out inspiration and creativity, but so we all remember how Kelly Clarkson’s junior effort failed miserably when she ignored Davis’ advice, and the advice of industry giants around her.  I give her props for trying to do it on her own but her record was crap, and she should’ve listened.  There’s a reason we employ songwriters to write for us, and producers to offer their visions.  Artists can’t do everything on their own all the time, especially if they’ve always been groomed by others.  You can argue that a true artist doesn’t need help from others but I invite you to imagine what “Thankful” and “Breakaway” would have sounded like without producers, songwriters, and major label influence.  My guess is exactly like “My December.”  But you’re right we should let artists run with their careers all the time.  (That’s sarcasm people.)

I’ll end on a positive note.  Lefsetz wrote, “The new executives, today’s entrepreneurs, realize without the acts you’ve got nothing.  They will respect the act. They will be in service of the act.  They will encourage the act to experiment, to go for greatness.  Because they know that what makes Google so valuable isn’t a marketing campaign, but its sheer usability and its uncanny ability to generate the right result.  That’s what makes a great act.  The music.  Not its looks.”

         Finally a statement I can agree with.  We should be shouting this one from the rooftops!  However, if you remove outside influence you take away our jobs.  Let us see how much longer you bring in a steady income when you let artists do everything themselves.  Everyone needs help at one point or another. It’s finding a balance between complete control and complete chaos that’s the issue. 

Ok so i’ve rambled a bit, but I have to say my inspiration from all this came from last night’s show.  The biggest thing I take issue with in this edition of The Lefsetz Letter is the absence of passion in popular music.  I would say you can’t have one without the other.  There are way more artists doing their thing everyday without a profit than there are making millions.  Bands shove themselves into conversion vans and travel across the country for a few dollars a day if they’re lucky.  Who in their right minds would do something like that if they’re not passionate about it?  Baby bands don’t play night after night to virtually empty venues so they can pay the bills.  To dedicate your life to something you’ll probably never dominate the airwaves with requires more than the desire to do so.  It requires a passion.  A passion that people like us (who aren’t packed into a van like sardines, or traveling cross country to pour our hearts out to five people) don’t understand.  





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