Rage Against The Machine
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Bob Lefsetz is cranking the outrage to 11. Again.
This time, Lefsetz -- one of the music industry's most influential analysts, and certainly the loudest -- is seething about the state of the concert business. Tickets are too expensive, he howls. Service fees are out of line. Music fans are being "raped" by promoters.
"Where is the CONCERT-GOERS' bill of rights?" he shrieks, gesticulating wildly. "What the [expletive] IS GOING ON?!"`
Bloviating about the industry's shortcomings is Bob Lefsetz's shtick. It's made him famous, and infamous, as the sharply opinionated author of the widely read Lefsetz Letter, which has become a viral sensation.
Usually, Lefsetz delivers his stream-of-consciousness screeds, along with his raves and reminiscences, via e-mail and online at Lefsetz.com. But on this particular day, the Lefsetz Letter has gone live -- he's been invited to speak at the Concert Industry Consortium, an annual trade convention. And so, somewhat improbably, he's on a stage in a hotel conference room, doing what he calls "my act" in front of a standing-room-only crowd whose very business he's ripping apart.
Lefsetz tears into promoting giant Live Nation. Goes after greedy booking agents. Lambastes Ticketmaster, noting that even his octogenarian mother knows the company as "Ticketbastard." Refers to Warner Music Group chief Edgar Bronfman Jr. as "a [expletive] idiot" (his term for many executives), and, in a shocking aside, attacks "that [expletive] Sheryl Crow."
Lefsetz is something like Jim Cramer with a country-music obsession and a distaste for the synthetic drums of Top 40 pop. Basically, he comes off as kind of a nut.
Yet his acumen draws readers who include some of the most powerful figures in the music business. His fantastical dispatches tend to get high-profile industry insiders talking -- often to Lefsetz himself. Island Records Urban Music President Jermaine Dupri, venerated rock musician Al Kooper, Sire Records founder Seymour Stein, country singer Pat Green and former Verve Records chief Tommy LiPuma are among those who have written to the Lefsetz Letter recently.
A writer notorious for abusing his CAPS LOCK key, Lefsetz, 54, comments daily -- and sometimes, it seems, hourly -- on whatever topics pique his interest: diminishing album sales, Steve Jobs, the meltdown of the major-label system, skiing, the monetary value of music, favorite songs of 1971, overeating, Wal-Mart, the greatness of Regina Spektor, seventh-grade crushes, the overrated legacy of Patti Smith, the unremarkable wardrobe of Kenny Chesney.
Onstage, addressing the concert promoters, Lefsetz sounds like his work reads, his voice unmodulated, his mind wandering. He's blustery and entertaining and insightful and infuriating, and he doesn't pull any punches.
The crowd, though, isn't punching back. Lefsetz came to the conference bracing for a fight because he's accustomed to it, because there's never a shortage of blowback in his churlish culture of the Internet. Kid Rock even threatened him in a November e-mail after Lefsetz had written dismissively about the singer. "See you on the streets you punk [expletive] [expletive]!!!" Rock hissed in his e-mail.