Vicarious Music & Media

Bob Lefsetz Power Top Ten-Midyear Edition

1. Irving Azoff

In recorded music sales content is not king, distribution is king.  Irving controls superstar sales at Wal-Mart, the number one physical distributor.  And, as he’s been quoted ad infinitum, the digital sales at the iTunes Store for the Eagles suck, don’t equal those from one live performance, so what difference does online recorded music distribution really make?

As for live distribution…  Let’s see, Irving built the AEG powerhouse and Live Nation needs his talent stable to make its numbers.  Furthermore, the power shifted from promoter to act thirty five years ago, when Led Zeppelin ruled the Earth and the 90/10 deal became standard.  And why not, a lot of the venues are open, anyone can book them, and unless you control all of them, an act can always find someone else to pony up the bucks, assuming AEG and Live Nation won’t.  And they will.

Content is truly king in the music business.  And Irving controls content.  Sure, Universal has got a phenomenal catalog, all the major labels do.  But although the records live on, in many cases, the acts do not.  The majors only get revenue from recording.  Whereas Front Line commissions EVERYTHING!

Front Line is the behemoth, more powerful than any other entity in the music business.  It can dictate terms.  It can trade favors with Fortune 500 companies.  As for radio…  Is radio where it’s at, or is it really just about gate receipts?

Check the billing for the Eagles and Jimmy Buffett.  Never mind Aerosmith and the plethora of other acts Irving controls.

Sure, Irving‘s not developing new acts.  But that’s because it’s called the music BUSINESS, not music CHARITY!  He’ll let YOU develop the act, and then he’ll steal it or bring you inside to manage it.

Furthermore, Irving has neutralized so many of the players, put them on his team, made them cohorts instead of adversaries.  Both Barry Diller and Edgar Bronfman, Jr. have kicked their money in.  As well as Jim Dolan.

Watch Irving.  Like Steve Jobs, he’s learned from his mistakes.  He’s entered a new era of power.  Study his actions.  Unlike Doug Morris and the other major label heads, he’s two steps AHEAD of the game.

2. Michael Rapino

The lion’s share of revenue is in touring,  Rapino’s Live Nation is the big kahuna of touring.  It’s just that simple.

Rapino’s trying to expand his base.  Bringing ticketing in-house, making his facilities broadcast ready, producing merch…

Shit, Rapino’s secret weapon isn’t the 360 deals with Madonna and Jay-Z, but Nathan Hubbard.  Who runs Music Today.  That’s where the action is, in the direct link between artist and fan.  Music Today not only sells merch during the off season, it manages fan clubs.  Not just fan clubs selling the right to buy bad tickets, but fan clubs that allow you to get a good seat, that actually deliver ongoing information and product.  Every band needs a fan club.  If you can take a meeting with Nathan, he’ll describe how it’s done.  It’s not a matter of ripping fans off, but a symbiotic relationship.  Nathan and his team can manage fan clubs and merch better than you can yourself, which is why all those superstars made deals with Music Today.

As for Live Nation’s financials…  The “Wall Street Journal” called it “a river of nickels”.  Not a good business model.  But, for now, Rapino’s got the cash, he’s the one who can pay you.  He with the money wields the most power.

3. Doug Morris

If you want to sell music via the Internet, you’ve got to go through Doug Morris.  He’ll extract more than a pound of flesh, there’s a good chance when he’s done with you, you won’t be able to make any money, but without his catalog, you’ve got a no go.

Doug’s trying to bring Universal into the future, but not so successfully.  Whereas Irving is making deals with proven talent, Doug is garnering 360 degrees of rights from acts that are hemorrhaging money.   Doug’s got no critical mass other than in publishing and maybe catalog.  And that’s not enough.

4. Mel Karmazin

You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.  When the Sirius/XM merger finally happens, it ain’t going to be your old satellite radio.  With both infrastructure and talent fees controlled, Mel’s going to do his best to get EVERYBODY to subscribe to satellite radio.

Don’t discount it.

Almost every new car is satellite radio-ready.  Has been this way for almost half a decade.  The infrastructure is there, it’s about getting the public to pony up for the service.  Mel’s going to drop the price, create all kinds of incentives for you to sign up.

This is a Hail Mary pass.  Might not work, but it just may.  After the merger, there will already be approximately 20 million satellite radio subscribers, all who love it, all who are evangelists.  Satellite radio will be cool again.  AND, Mel has guaranteed no commercials EVER on music stations.  One station won’t dominate, but people will be flocking to music radio on satellite.  This will be good for the music industry at large.

5. Ian Rogers

He’s moved on from Yahoo.  He may not end up being a winner.  But someone doing what Ian does will.

Topspin Media, Ian’s new home, builds infrastructure for acts.  You no longer need a label to monetize.  You know that overpriced NIN special edition?  Ian can create one for you too.

There’s even more up Topspin’s sleeve, having to do with recommendations among other things, but what you’ve got to know here is Ian is everything Doug Morris said he couldn’t find.  Ian is a diehard music fan who can also CODE!  Ian knows computers better than you do.  And he who knows computers well, who can program, who is in touch with how the public UTILIZES digital equipment, will rule in the future.  If not Ian and Topspin, then someone else.  If you’re part of the old guard, be very afraid.  Or quit your job and surf the Net for three months, at least it’ll give you a better idea of what’s going on!

6. Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs doesn’t care about the music industry the same way GE doesn’t care about movies and TV.  GE owns NBC and Universal Pictures, but they’re just part of the juggernaut.  Furthermore, there’s very little synergy between GE’s entertainment division and its jet engine enterprise.  Whereas music is part of the overall synergy with Jobs.

Don’t excoriate the messiah.  Yes, Steve wants to deliver us from the dark ages, create tools that make our lives richer.  Sure, HE wants to get rich doing it, but that’s not his sole motivation.

Steve built Pixar.

And he also built Mac OS X and the iPhone.

If you think surfing wirelessly on your phone is bullshit, then you just haven’t tried it.  And if you think surfing at 3G on a BlackBerry is good enough, you haven’t surfed on an iPhone.

You put your music on your iPhone.  At some point in the future, there will probably be wireless delivery.  Content will flow through Apple, but that’s not where the company makes most of its money, it’s just exacting a small toll.  But, Jobs will make it ever easier to hear music, EVERYWHERE!  Through interface ease of use, if nothing else.

As for issues of price…  Anybody complaining that iTunes needs variable pricing is a lying sack of shit pissed that he can’t charge more for singles now that albums are passe.  The enemy here is not Steve Jobs, but Doug Morris and the major label cabal.  If you believe otherwise, you’re just fucking ignorant.

7. Mutt Lange/Rick Rubin/Dr. Dre/Timbaland

Somebody has to make the records.  These producers have the best track records.  You can market all you want, if it’s not in the grooves, you’ve got nothing.

Columbia shouldn’t have hired Rick Rubin as an executive, they should have negotiated for his exclusive producing rights, or at least gotten a put for a certain number of albums per year.

If you’re lucky, you can do one thing well.  Great artists are almost always shitty businessmen.  Ditto, great producers.  Peter Gabriel has never created a hit business venture, even though he’s a great artist and keeps trying.  Ditto Jay-Z.  Brilliant artist, shitty businessman.

Yes, producers are getting squeezed.  But there’s always room at the top.

8. Radiohead/Eagles/Trent Reznor

None of them gives a fuck about the establishment.  They’re all free of major label entanglements, willing to do it a new way, their way.

Trent is the beacon here.  He might have been beaten to the game by Radiohead, but he was still under contract to Interscope.  Trent involves the fan, via online games and innovative marketing.  If only Don Henley put on a happy face, dug down deep and employed some viral marketing online in order to get the masses to hear his great tracks on “Long Road Out Of Eden”.  Wal-Mart got the Eagles the bucks, but almost no one’s heard the music, that’s the challenge.  Radiohead took a risk and has been backpedaling ever since, still, they’re a guiding light for the industry because THEY LEAVE MONEY ON THE TABLE!  They don’t take every last dollar, they underplay markets, they’re not busy whoring the music out to cosmetics or telecommunications companies…

This is the new paradigm.  The seventies are back with a vengeance.  The artist rules.  Once again, don’t listen to the major label disinformation campaign, those dinosaurs are just angry their power has evaporated.  Unlike the talent of these three acts.

9. Jim Dolan

Because he’s got a fuck of a lot of money.

Cablevision throws off $30 mil a month from its cable services.  Cablevision owns not only the Rangers and the Knicks, but the building they play in, Madison Square Garden and Radio City and…a venue in Chicago and…

And now Jim bought “Newsday”.  Showing that unlike so many, he’s willing to SPEND!

He almost merged his Fuse channel with Front Line and AEG, but fearful of getting screwed, he backed out.  But he still has that asset, however diminished the power of music television might be.

But really, it’s about the bucks.

If Live Nation keeps tanking, runs out of cash, does Dolan make an offer?

He loves music.

Once again, Irving’s the smartest guy in the room.  For sidling up to Dolan.  J.D. and his Straight Shot might never hit, but he’s getting a better shot than any other middle-aged executive.  And for this, Irving gets access to power.  And money.  And, this is a power list, right?  People with ready cash are ALWAYS powerful.

10. Marc Geiger

Could sell ice to Inuits.  Our Steve Jobs.  Owner of the prime reality distortion field in the music industry.

Yes, Marc lost everybody’s money over at Artist Direct, but the concept was sound.  Can he come back like Mr. Jobs?

Don’t count him out.

Geiger’s got newfound power at William Morris and he’s the only agent truly thinking outside the box, not just concerned with booking gigs.

Listen to what Geiger has to say, pay attention to him, but I’m not sure you should give him any money or sign with WMA just yet!

Marc’s definitely got something up his sleeve.  Keep an eye on him.




Creating a MySpace Music is like trying to sell driving via Yugos.  MySpace’s software/interface is so bad, whored out to so many advertisers, that it works poorly.  MySpace isn’t cool.  It’s just a place to hook up and get laid.  Where you can hear a few tracks from every act extant.  We need a place like that, which hosts music from both stars and wannabes so all of us can hear it for free.  But don’t equate that with power.


Who are the CD reviews in the newspaper for?
Prior to the Net, newspaper and magazine scribes had power, they were the filter, what they said counted.  Now the fans have usurped this power online.  Who even reads the newspaper?  Better to give an exclusive to Pitchfork than even have your show reviewed in the paper…  Unless you’re appealing to an old demo that’s not computer-savvy.


This is the enemy.  All publicity is no longer good publicity.  You appear on gossip sites at your peril.  It’s about TMZ, et al, garnering advertising revenue, not building your career.


Has bungled its online play.  As for what’s on the box…  It’s not MUSIC!  As far as the digital music channels…why watch when you can pull up what you want instantly online!


If being constantly on television ensured a career, the Backstreet Boys would be selling out arenas, not Pearl Jam.  Overexposure kills.  Even if it’s on an HD channel.  People should have to see you live to get it.  So they’ll bring other people, SO YOU CAN MAKE MONEY!

Shortcuts have a price.

Terrestrial Radio

Is about commercials, not listeners.  And that’s a bad fit in our modern society.  Talk might continue to live on the terrestrial radio bands, it can be local and vital in a way that satellite can never be, but there are so many better options for listening.  Yes, terrestrial radio sells records.  But fewer people are listening than ever before and the trend is more tuneouts.

Guy Hands

Putting Billy Mann in charge of A&R at EMI is like putting Jamie Kitman in charge of development at GM.

Too much debt and not enough profits.

Edgar Bronfman, Jr.

Will take risks, just hasn’t proven himself as a visionary.  And is forever tainted for his vision of a global entertainment behemoth known as Vivendi.

Rob Stringer

I guess we have to blame the Sony fiasco on him, even though he’s faceless.  Record labels need to have pizzazz.  Sony is almost moribund.

Coran Capshaw/Red Light

Does everything right with Dave Matthews.  But Music Today is now owned by Live Nation and Coran has never been able to break another act.  Will his new compatriot Will Botwin change this?  They put out Radiohead’s CD but I don’t see Alanis Morissette coming back.  Red Light hangs in the balance.

Terry McBride/Nettwerk

A visionary without portfolio.

Terry’s right about so much, but Irving’s got the acts.

Verizon Wireless

Verizon passing on the iPhone is akin to XM passing on Howard Stern.  Verizon could have buried the competition, alas, it kept AT&T alive another day, and the GSM mainstay is now more powerful than ever.

Verizon must give up on the me-too devices and the overpriced music.  A cheap, over the air music service is something they need NOW!


If you think Microsoft is a player in the music sphere, then you must LOVE Windows Vista.

If Microsoft is so damn powerful, why isn’t WMA the standard?

Plays For Sure?  Doesn’t, and now irrelevant.

Zune?  Do you need to know anything more than it originally came in brown?  Guess there are no Zappa fans in Redmond, no hipsters, don’t they know that Frank Zappa said BROWN SHOES DON’T MAKE IT!

Nerds trying to please everybody and ultimately pleasing nobody.

Now it’s about singularity. Providing the best integrated hardware and service, not creating product by committee, trying to avoid obsolescence by refusing to enter the future, or doing so with one hand tied behind your back.


The enemy is the acts, and their agents and managers.  TicketMaster is paid to take the heat.  You want change?  Bitch to the act.

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