Perfect Porridge

Bob Lefsetz to give closing rant at MIMA Summit, October 15

Illustration by Boneface (photo stolen from Wired)

You probably don’t know the name Bob Lefsetz, but I guarantee you will remember him after his closing keynote at the 2013 Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association (MIMA) Summit Tuesday, October 15.

Don’t assume anyone’s seen anything in the media today, we’re all so drilled down into our own little holes that everybody misses much, and doesn’t care when they’re called out on it. The concept of feeling better about yourself because you know about something somebody else does not, or you know it sooner, is passé.

Depending on who you ask in the music industry, Lefsetz is either a well-respected thought leader and trend spotter who tells it like it is… or a bitter, unappeasable troll who gets off on bashing the mainstream.

Personally, I think he’s both, and I respect him on both fronts.

You can tell your own story online. If you’re concerned about the truth, do so. But the real story is you can’t inform everybody, no longer how much you protest, people will spread rumors and false information. Focus on your work, not the sales pitch.

Why a Music Expert for Marketers?
Although his expertise and passion focuses on the music industry, Lefsetz has his eyes open to the changing nature of human behavior — and how that evolution is impacting media, marketing and sales, why things go viral (and why they don’t), and why we marketers are so often messing up everything that’s good about the world.

Furthermore, what is a sale anymore? Does that metric even count? What we really want to know is whether anybody LISTENED to your music! Then again, the entertainment business hates statistics, at least those it can’t manipulate.

You see, Lefsetz has no tolerance for manufactured, disingenuous experiences — whether that’s a new pop album, buying a new cell phone, the state of journalism today, or the ways brands interact with customers online. Lefsetz calls it like it is.

I first discovered Lefsetz when prepping for my 2010 panel at South by Southwest, “The State of Music Blogs.” My personal story of creating a music blog eight years ago and suddenly finding myself an undeserving authority figure, VIP concert guest and beloved target for the major labels would never have been a surprise to Lefsetz. He predicted the pending traditional media collapse a decade ago, and thus, his name was coming up in many panels that year, including the one where a certain SPIN writer was screaming about “the bloggers” stealing the jobs of traditional critics. Damn bloggers.

Once upon a time, information was scarce, like music. You had to hunt for it, no one was pointing a fire hose at your face, which is what logging on to the Internet is like. It’s a tsunami of information. Time is limited. Where do you place your attention?

I knew I had to start following this Lefsetz guy. And by follow, I mean sign up for his emailed newsletter. Yep, email.

Here’s a great example of both Lefsetz’s writing style and how his critical music filter applies to much more than music itself.

I spent last night listening to the Spotify Top 100.

Well, most of it anyway.

You learn some amazing things, like most rap lyrics are so aspirational and so dumb that unless you buy in, cast all critical faculties aside, you listen and you laugh.

“I woke up in a new Bugatti.”

Do you even know what a Bugatti is?

I’ll tell you. It’s a high profile marque owned by VW that costs $2.5 million. Maybe Ace Hood is hoping they’ll send him one, after he raps about it. Or maybe they’re paying him to spread the word on their halo product, so his audience will end up buying Jettas and Golfs, who knows!

Then there are tracks about bitches and ho’s and making it from the bottom to the top and you have to ask yourself who listens to this stuff.

I’ll tell you. Kids who want to belong.

That’s what’s been left out of the discussion of the Internet revolution, the human element.

We have wankers like Chris Anderson spreading the fiction of the long tail.

We’ve got hucksters like Tim Westergren providing tuneouts all the while saying he’s helping indie artists make money as he lobbies to pay them less.

We’ve even got MOG/Daisy curating playlists.

But what I want is to feel a member of the group, to belong, to know I don’t live in a Tower of Babel where nobody speaks my language.

That’s why the ratings of live events, especially awards shows, have skyrocketed. It’s not that they’re any better than ever, it’s not like we like them, but we do enjoy watching them and commenting about them on social media. It makes us feel…connected.

That’s the ace in the hole of terrestrial radio. It’s got the most ears. And everybody challenging terrestrial radio has got it wrong, they believe it’s about niches, when truly it’s about mass.

In other words, kids listen to terrestrial radio because other kids do.

But terrestrial radio is not beholden to the kids, but its advertisers. Therefore, few risks are taken. It’s not about breaking new music, it’s about keeping people listening, and that’s not the same thing…

Bob’s updates can range from musical critiques to observations about skiing to covering why Facebook is for Old People, but there are a handful of go-to formats I’ve observed:

Bob can be inspired by a forgotten classic rock song and then weave a rich, sentimental tapestry of when he first heard the song, what he was feeling and doing in that era, how the song’s lyrics spoke to him and then a flash forward comparison to today when a new Top 40 artist is putting out manufactured bullshit to sell records that the masses mindless consume and forget.

Bob can be irked at a recent experience trying to buy a cell phone or boarding a plane or driving his car or any number of typical consumer experiences, and he’ll explain why that company will never succeed and share examples of what should happen and examples of companies who do it well.

Bob may have just gotten a blast email pitch from a clueless publicist, and he’ll anonymously exoriate their tactics and those of bands and startups and companies who are striving to stand out in a crowded space without being remarkable.

Or Bob may write something like: “Is Elon Musk the new Steve Jobs?” or this is why YouTube is more important than radio, or this is why kids today are so much better off than us, or this is why adults will never get it, or this is why big brands don’t know what they hell they’re doing, or this is why such and such band is going to break it big, or “If [Bob] Dylan didn’t have all those years ago hits, he wouldn’t even be playing clubs. He’d be playing Holiday Inns. And no newspaper would review his material. People would laugh.”

Beware the professional prognosticators… Who said the iPod was too expensive and no one would want the iPad. Now digital music rules and tablets are killing the desktop. Furthermore, reporters on this beat go to the same damn pundits every time, skewing the story. But the iPod and iPad show that the pundits are powerless. The people will do what they want to do.

“Huffington Post” has a better layout than the “New York Times,” but is purely link-bait. The “New York Times” site needs a makeover, but no one working there understands design or the web, they’re too busy pounding their chests and claiming they’re reporters. What did Steve Jobs teach us? Number one comes usability!

I was particularly struck with his series on Rebecca Black’s “Friday,” pointing out that her unintentional viral sensation had more plays and popularity than Lady Gaga, and was more memorable than all the songs on the Billboard charts for that period — despite no radio promotion, no tour and no paid campaigns: “Rebecca Black is the future.  A bolt from the sky that captures our attention. But someday soon the track won’t be tripe, but something closer to “I Want To Hold Your Hand”. Get ready.”

Relevant Readership
I may be a die-hard music snob reading another music snob’s rants, but you should know Lefsetz’s readership is hardly an echo chamber. The entire music industry reads Bob, according to this quote from this Wired feature, Who the Hell Is Bob Lefsetz?

“At every label,” says Scott Rodger, manager for Paul McCartney and Arcade Fire, “from the mail room to the A&R department to the chairman’s office, I guarantee they all read him.”

In the spirit of the listserv, Bob also often sends emails featuring replies to his letters — and the replies are from an amazing caliber of people.. When he writes a review of Steve Miller’s gig at The Greek, Steve Miller responds. When Bob wrote about Kid Rock’s new ticket pricing strategy, Kid Rock replies. When he writes about the Amanda Palmer controversy, Amanda replies. Quincy Jones, Steven Tyler and Irving Azoff read Lefsetz. So does Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church. See also: Gene SimmonsLady Gaga’s managerBryan Adams, etc. etc.

And more than a few MIMA members have come forward as die-hard, daily Bob-readers.

State of Change

The record industry went first. Now we’re living through disruption in publishing, manufacturing, retail and marketing. Bob Lefsetz has cogent insights to share across all of these industries. He truly understands and can persuasively articulate the state of change. Take his recent letter, Facebook Is For Old People.

Come see Bob IRL at the MIMA Summit
To achieve a level of notoriety due to talent, not through connections, strategic communication channel or paid promotions, is the epitome of what Bob Lefsetz has built for himself and for what he advocates for interactive marketers like us.

I’ll be facilitating the closing Q&A keynote with Bob at the Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association (MIMA) Summit on Tuesday, October 15.

I’m doing my best, but it stuns me you’re reading at all, that you’re giving me your time. But then there are the people who e-mail me and tell me I’m doing it wrong, to STFU. And maybe I am, but then why are you still reading?

I’m thrilled to close the Summit with Lefsetz telling us like it is. Whether we’re ready to hear it or not.

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