03rd Nov2011

Why? *updated!* *Are Many Musicians Wired to Not Do It Themselves?*

by Mrs. Gunn

There is a man, Bob Lefsetz, that writes a letter every day about the music industry. Actually, he writes two or three sometimes. He is an entertainment lawyer by trade and an industry insider, and EVERYONE reads his letters. I mean everyone, from Quincy Jones to the 70s british rocker indie band drummer. If you don’t read the letter, and you’re mentioned in it, someone will tell you about it. The thing I like about what he’s doing is that he is documenting and quantifying the change in the music industry. His letters of late have been reminiscent, nostalgic almost, but also harsh and truthful to current state of affairs. I really like what he wrote when he said that musicians do what they do because they have to. They just don’t have a choice.

Another thing he does is to sometimes, instead of sending his letter, to send out an email with responses (mailbag). This is the most fun part of all, is to see what other people said. Sometimes his readers are supportive, sometimes they correct him, sometimes they are just plain mad and angry and tell him off. They always add a new angle, though, to the discussion.

You can take all of this with a grain of salt. But as an educator, it is my responsibility to let you know what’s going on. And so, here is an excerpt from a Lefsetz letter, and then one person’s response.

****update – And below that, is another response from Michael Brandvold, msic marketeer ******


Occupy EMI/Sony/Universal/Warner Brothers

The inefficiency is you.


Let’s start at the beginning. You want to get signed by a label. You think the employees love music, that they want to help you succeed.

The employees love money. Don’t blame them. Our whole country has undergone a philosophical change. It’s a race to the top. If underlings are sacrificed in the process, so be it. The label employees want to buy a house by the Park and vacation in a warm climate after traveling there by private jet. The bankers do it, why shouldn’t they?

So they only want to sign you if they see the potential for a huge return. A HUGE return. If you can make them a couple of bucks, they don’t care. It’s a matter of opportunity cost, their cash is better deployed elsewhere.

And since they’ve got so much money on the line, the executives running these labels want insurance. That insurance comes in the form of favored cowriters and producers. They don’t want you doing your own thing, it’s too risky. And they don’t want what isn’t easy to sell. If you don’t make Top Forty music, they just don’t care.

Used to be […] CDs sold for an inflated price and they were the only way the public could own the music. And people had to buy an album to hear the hit. Furthermore, the acts paid for recording costs and the labels owned the result, adding to their underlying value. A label is worth nothing without its copyrights.

But then came Napster.

Someone had to sacrifice.

And it certainly wasn’t going to be the executives.

They trimmed underlings, then they went for you, the acts. They wanted more. They didn’t want to share in the decline, they wanted a piece of all your income, because they built you. And people have been lining up to take this deal, out of ignorance, out of a desire to become rich, even though so few ultimately do.

The problem is you. The act. You want someone to do it for you. And the only people who can do so will [ruin] you. This is like a desperate person borrowing from the Mafia, the organization owns you for life, even if you repay the debt.

Why would you do this?

What is happening in the music business is no different from what is happening in the rest of the country.  [Heck,] Warner is owned by private equity. And EMI may be soon. As for Universal and Sony, their parents would unload the operations in an instant if they could. There’s just no one to buy.

[…]You’re like the worker who gets his union decertified, works ten hours a day at a feverish pace and then sees his job shipped overseas. At some point, you’ve got to say NO MAS. You’ve got to see that the odds are stacked against you.

hen [sic] you’ve got poor old Pete Townshend, railing that Apple has a responsibility to develop new talent. He’s lost in the sixties. That’s like saying Goldman Sachs has a responsibility to rebuild America, after raping and pillaging. The game has changed.

But technology does not only benefit private equity. It benefits you too. You can do it on your own. The public was intelligent enough to realize the labels were ripping them off, how come the artists can’t see the same thing? The fight against free music is the label’s, not the act’s. Recorded music revenue was always just a piece of the pie, but the game has changed. Now the biggest issue is getting people to hear your music, not pay for it. Why can’t acts understand this?


It’s just that simple.

And the company believes if you can ever make it, you’re gonna need them, their deep pockets and expertise.

The game is stacked against you. Please realize this.

It’s the responsibility of the acts to do it for themselves, with new people. It’s the only way out.

If you don’t save yourself, nobody will.


And one person’s reply—


Subject: Re: Occupy EMI/Sony/Universal/Warner Brothers

Bob, unfortunately, I get called everyday by yet another artist who wants me to shop his or her demo to a label. After asking so many of them the same question you did today – why?  – I have come to realize two things: one, most artists DO NOT want to do it themselves, maybe they just aren’t wired that way, maybe they’re lazy, maybe they think they need big money to make it really happen, maybe they are getting bad advice. Two, they don’t care about making a bad deal, they want to be FAMOUS.  They want fame so […] badly they will sign anything. I mean anything. They don’t believe guys like you and me when we tell them it’s stupid. They want to be FAMOUS!  Gaga did it an so can they. Katy Perry did it too. So can they.

When you show them Pomplamouse and The Weekend, and others, they just yawn.  How about Julia Nines on Kickstarter? Nah, They want to be in Spin and Rolling Stone and all of the other old media pubs whose time has come and gone. They want to be on NPR and in the NY Tines. They want to say “hey look at me, I made it Mom!”

If they have to be poor to get that, so be it. Maybe some day they can even be on Letterman or SNL. And as far as being poor, they don’t believe us, Gaga looks rich!

Bob, I just don’t know how to get through to these artists. As you have said before, they want to be famous but they want me to do all of the work. Just like they got the soccer trophy without ever scoring a goal. They want me to call in a favor or two and get them a record deal then get the label to do all of the work to make them famous. They aren’t willing to put in the time to build a fanbase, they want the label to do all of that work. Oh, yeah, and they want me to do it on a contingent basis, you know, my typical 5 or 10 percent. I say percent of what?  There won’t be an advance and you’ll never make any money. Let me show you how to do it yourself and we can both make some money and have long careers.

Any takers?

Todd Murphy
Entertainment Lawyer


Are Many Musicians Wired to Not Do It Themselves?

From Michael Brandvold Marketing Blog,



The letter below from Todd Murphy a music lawyer is taken from the November 2, 2011Bob Lefsetz email newsletter. The same day Bob emailed this out I met with Bob Bakerand Jack Conte from Pomplamoose. Interestingly enough, we made almost the exact same comments.

  • So many artists do not want to do it themselves.
  • That it must be wired into their DNA that they want a record deal.
  • And, they really just want to be famous more than anything else.
  • While chatting with Jack Conte from Pomplamoose he mentioned how even now he will go to a party or event and someone from outside the industry will often say, “well I hope someday that you make it.”

I think the ReverbNation survey that revealed 75% of artists still want to be signed speaks to how many artists still see the label deal as the goal.

Nobody is going to do it for you. Nobody is going to give you a big advance. You have to do the work. You have to manage your career. You have to be the boss.

Great letter Todd, I hope all musicians read this.

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