AN INTERVIEW WITH THE MAN HIMSELF, BOB LEFSETZ. EVERY BAND/MUSICIAN MUST READ THIS NOW!
Ok. Where do I begin…
Chances are there’s quite a few of you out there in the metal world that don’t know the name Bob Lefsetz. For those that do however-actually for anyone that does-you’re fully aware of what a goldmine this guy is in terms of the knowledge and insight into the music business he posses.
Some people don’t like to hear what he has to say, some people claim he’s mean and/or cruel. Well you know what? 99.99% of those people are the ones in bands that fucking suck, the ones that complain the industry isn’t fair, the ones that think it’s supposed to be easy to be a rockstar, and really just any band that’s still in disbelief that Warner Brothers hasn’t come and scoop them up out of their mommies basements and put them on tour with Metallica opening for them.
PAY ATTENTION-there’s not one damn thing I’m going to say today that’s of more importance than this: IF YOU DON’T SUBSCRIBE TO HIS MAILING LIST DROP EVERYTHING YOU’RE DOING AND SIGN UP NOW BY CLICK HERE! I promise you, if you’re a musician that’s trying to navigate the treacherous waters that are the current music industry this guy will seriously help you. There’s a reason why Bob is so widely respected by so many of the top people in the industry both on the business side of things as well as the musicians themselves.
Since I’ve been focusing today on trying to help out up-and-coming musicians I was going to write a post basically stating exactly what I said above-and that was it. On a whim however, I decided fuck it, I’m gonna ask Bob if I can interview him. So, I shoot off an email. Now, I’ve emailed him before about marketing and whatnot and tried to share a few ideas and believe me I pray every night that he’ll maybe one day notice my own band or those marketing ideas I’ve tried to develop (of which I’m opting not to link here out of sheer respect). Why? Not because I think he’s some magic genie that’s going to write about my band or “make it happen”-far from it. It’s because-and I don’t know if this is even how to describe it-once you have followed him for awhile and understand his mind you just want approval from him. He’s like that dad you have that is always stern, like a military dad, and you kind of go through life always just thinking “FUCK, if he’d just pat me on the back once or just say good job!!”. In a nutshell, that’s my relationship with Bob. lol
So with that said, when I was sitting on my laptop and I saw an email pop up from him that wasn’t one of his newsletters I almost sharted-no fucking joke. I’ll admit something too (and if Bob is reading this he’s going to be like “that asshole-I knew he was a fucking unprepared noob!”). I didn’t have a single question written. I seriously never in a million years expected for him to accept my request. I would have expected to get an email from Zeus before ever getting one from Bob. Maybe it’s because of what his email said too – “Ok, can you do it right now?”. So, I did what any self respecting man would do and I lied and told him I needed 15 minutes because I was stuck in traffic (sorry Bob!). Then, of course I faced writers block. After all these years I’ve spent reading his shit and all the millions of things I’ve wanted to ask him how the fuck could I not think of one fucking question to ask him once he finally says that he’s ready to answer them?!
Well, as it turns out Bob is a pretty cool guy. Yeah-he has a strong opinion and he’s not afraid to let you know it and certainly not afraid to fight for his causes. To be totally honest I was nervous as fuck. I’ve been very lucky to meet almost all of my heros in music. I won’t name drop, but really, pretty much all of them. However, never have I ever been more nervous than I was when I was interviewing Bob. And I’m sure it showed as I stumbled through questions. Then my phone got disconnected not once, but twice. The first time I thought I was sucking so bad at interviewing him that he just hung up. He is a very busy guy so I wouldn’t have had any hard feelings. But, he actually let me try 3 fucking times to get it right-and it ended up working out-and well, that’s that.
Thanks for listening to my long ass story….now it’s time to open your ears and listen to what Mr. Lefsetz has to say…
Before we get started I’d like to first ask a little bit about your history. How did you get to where you are today and become this sort of, beacon of knowledge if you will, that’s so widely respected and revered amongst SO many of the biggest players in the music industry?
Bob: I listened to a lot of records and I went to a lot of shows. Other than that I worked in the movie business, I worked running Sanctuary Management in the U.S., but that was a long time ago in the 80’s and I’ve been doing the newsletter for 25 years.
Oh wow, ok. So you basically took the exact same approach yourself that you tell these bands in your newsletter to take, you’ve built it slowly over a very long period of time.
Bob: Yeah, exactly! As a result of the internet it was totally different because it used to be in print but then, in the year 2000, I went on the internet and it’s amazing what your reach is, so therefore if you do something good people can find you. Even though I ended up not charging for the newsletter, which I used to do, I found that I could reach many more people and I could end up making more money from opportunities that would come. As I say I lived it myself so when I’m telling the bands-hey-this is what I’m doing.
That’s awesome, and you made the choice to give it all away for free…
Bob: Right! If you’re a real artist your main goal is to have as many people as you can actually be exposed to your art and this is a huge change from the way it was prior to the internet. Now we’re in the crazy era with the internet where there’s so much stuff. People say that kids have a short attention span but kids don’t have a short attention span, you should see them play the same video game for like 20 hours! They just have an incredible bullshit detector so if something is not great they don’t want to play it. In the old days when things were limited and you maybe had one radio station in your market if you heard something you didn’t love you’d let it play. Nobody does that anymore. So, if you’re really great people will find you on the internet but there’s a very thin layer of people who are really great. A lot of people think they’re great but in reality their girlfriend and their mother are lying to them.
Yeah, that’s for sure. What do you think is the single biggest mistake a band starting out today makes?
Bob: Well, there’s no mistakes in picking up an instrument and forming a band and playing but I’d say it’s that they think they’re much better than they really are and they deserve an audience.
In your opinion, what you think a band starting out today should do right now in order to get the best possible footing right from the get go?
Bob: Focus on music as opposed to marketing. One great songs will pay dividends that no amount of Facebooking, Tweeting, hand-billing, or giving away CD’s could ever do.
I know you say that getting in a van and just playing your ass off is an invaluable tool for honing your technical chops, putting in your 10,000 hours, and perfecting your live show. However, do you think that bands today have a great chance of reaching potential open minded music fans by doing going venue to venue in smaller clubs/bars and doing this?
Bob: It’s easier to get started and get some traction but it’s much harder to reach a mass audience. Even if you’re the best act-let’s say Metallica. When Metallica really broke through with the “Black Album” that was still when we all watched MTV so everyone could exposed to “Enter Sandman”. Today, if a similar band was doing an album as good as “The Black Album” and they did something like “Enter Sandman” it’s very hard to reach the people who don’t care-either the people who literally don’t like that kind of music or don’t really know they like that kind of music. If you go back 40 odd years ago we were all listening to AM radio but now because of all these channels-and by channels I mean opportunities-you can find the like-minded people. You can get started. As far as reaching everybody, that’s much more difficult than ever before.
Very true. I ask because I’ve been playing out and touring in bands for well over a decade and I’ve come to believe that more and more fans of music are becoming increasingly jaded in regards to checking out new bands. I’ve worked with countless clubs-even some pretty big ones-that book shows entirely off of a “sell this amount of tickets and the slot is yours” mentality and they end up with these show lineups that make no sense-they’ll have a death metal band, then rap, then solo acoustic-it’s bizarre. I can understand the clubs needing to pay their bills for sure but it seems that almost no time at all is spent focusing on what’s just going to end up being a killer show front to back and I find that even for bands that are drawing fairly well the fans themselves consistently ask beforehand when the EXACT time they play is, then they show up 5 minutes before just that bands set then leave right after without even hearing a single second of another bands set. I’d like to know your take on this and if you think there is a happy medium these clubs can find?
Bob: If a club can’t pay it’s bills it can’t stay open. My experience is most of the bands complaining that they won’t get booked and that they’ve got to bring their audience really no one cares about. There’s a very thin layer of people that are actually good and that can play clubs and bring an audience. What I have found and what I hear is that the best thing is to build an audience in your own community then trade out with acts that are in a different community. They can draw some people and say “we’ll let you open for us here and vice versa in your own market”. As far as the clubs, it’s such a hard business; even the major promoters can’t make money in the clubs. Hey, it’s not the duty of the club owner to break you. If you really think you’re that good find somebody’s backyard to play, find some other place to play, because at this point there’s so much stuff available there has to be great word of mouth and it has to be really good for someone to come. Listen, I don’t want to defend club owners. Are there some unscrupulous club owners out there? Absolutely. But, people have to realize just because they’ve practiced and they’ve played that doesn’t mean that they’re entitled to an audience and that people are going to come see them.
While I’m a huge fan of the internet and all of the wonderful tools it can provide for bands I also feel like it’s done a lot of damage due to how easy it is for anyone at all to create a music page, put up shitty quality music-in the production sense that is-then just spam the hell out of people with it. How much do you think this “smothering” if you will has hurt the good bands out there today?
Bob: The audience is overwhelmed so the person who’s gonna make all the money is gonna be the filter telling people what to listen to. That does not yet exist. We have sites like Pandora where it’s run on algorithms but a computer can’t tell you what to listen to, an individual has to tell you. But, there are too many individuals, whether it’s sites where they have too many reviewers and you don’t get a consistent viewpoint, or whether people are just friends of the band, it’s about trusted sources. So it is a huge problem in that the barrier to entry is so low but I prefer that to the old system where stuff was pushed down our throats. We’re still in an evolutionary phase and there are different sides to this. The audience is overwhelmed and has no tolerance for bullshit. Then you have the people who used to be able to make it in the old world saying “well this is really tougher for me” and then you have the band that basically sucks and is overusing the system and as a result people have tuned out. It’s not only bands, when somebody’s spamming you on anything you tune it out so it’s about separating the wheat from the chaff and we’re gonna get to a better space but we’re not there yet.
You mention having a filter and I know that some of the top internet radio stations have approval processes to go through where someone’s actually listening to each submission first and deciding whether it’s quality enough to be added to their catalog-not even based off of the writing really-just the production quality. Some radio sites function via a sort of voting system where if a band has a track that’s skipped or thumbs downed too much it’s removed. They do this in an effort to maintain the programming quality. Do you think sites bands use such as MySpace, Bandcamp, Facebook, etc. could benefit from having something like?
Bob: You have all these bands on Spotify that complain payment is so low and no one is listening to their music! I cannot listen to someone complain that they can’t get on Pandora. Personally, I think Pandora sucks. I don’t care if you listen to it, I just find whenever I build a station I don’t enjoy their suggestions. When someone sits there and says “oh man I’m being excluded, I can’t get noticed, everybody’s against me”, YouTube is FREE! Many of these sites are FREE! If you’re that fucking good put your stuff up and people will find you. The problem is you’re not that fucking good!
Many say the decline in MySpace came in part from their complete lack of effort in controlling the insane amounts of spamming going on with porn sites and fake profiles and such running rampant. I never really see it brought up but I personally feel like bands were a HUGE portion of the ones doing that. Spamming via software, friend adders, bots, whatever-it’s annoying as shit. Facebook definitely tries harder to control this but I’d like to ask-what do you think about bands doing this?
Bob: There’s a lot of issues there. First with MySpace; I think MySpace basically failed because its infrastructure sucked. Every page was different, it took so long to load, it might crash your browser, then the privacy controls were not that good; either you were totally private or totally available. So, MySpace was gonna fail regardless of spamming being an issue. Personally, it makes me INSANE when someone spams me with their music, it just makes me crazy! My inbox is inviolate as is anybody else’s and no one has time. You think I’m gonna listen to your stuff because you force it upon me?! People want to hear about it from a trusted source so it is a HUGE problem and it’s basically done by unsuccessful bands and I can’t tell you the solution but usually what happens is infrastructure is built so that no one can reach people. People will delete EVERYTHING so the good stuff can’t get through. It’s really problematic but it really indicates we have tuned out. You have no permission to get to me and it’s not me, it’s anybody. Everybody say’s “I’m not interested, I have my own trusted sources, my friends, that’s it.”
It seems like a lot of it is done out of laziness. Instead of getting out there and busting your ass a lot bands seem to think that just sending a clip via email or spamming people will do the trick.
Bob: It’s because it makes you feel good. If somebody says “can I send you my CD” and I say “no, you can send me a link and I’ll listen” and they say “no, I’ve gotta send you the CD, the artwork is awesome”. Sending the CD in the mail, it makes them feel good like they’ve done something. Even though the odds of me listening to a CD are essentially zero. I gotta pick it up, I gotta break the shrink-wrap, I gotta put it in the drive. Well, you know, I’ve got a life too! If it’s a link it’s much easier for everybody. Bands that can’t get any traction believe that spamming will get them ahead. IT DOESN’T! It makes them feel good but it doesn’t! You know, all the time spent on marketing, if you wrote one great song people would find it.
You frequently write about how you think it’s going to work going into the future; how that bands have to work harder and how it takes longer to build that following of fans that will hopefully continue to support you. Since this is predominantly a website that covers metal I’d like to ask what you think about how that’s going to apply to bands playing a more underground style of metal that even at the industries peak before it all fell apart capped out playing 1,500-2,000 capacity venues. Do you think they can possibly make a decent living/career in this current situation and going into the future?
Bob: Metal fans are very supportive of their favorites. Once you get a fan people tend to stay a fan, so it’s about servicing that fan. A fan won’t only buy a concert ticket, he’ll buy your music to support you, he’ll buy the vinyl album so he can show his friends, he’s got a t-shirt, etc. If you’re selling 2,000 tickets a night you can make a lot of money. You could employ TopSpin to have all these special packages, etc. So yes, historically with niches it’s hard to go from 2,000 to 20,000. Some metal bands do that but in ANY genre that’s not top 40 friendly it’s hard to jump from the niche to people who normally don’t like that kind of music or don’t think they like that kind of music-it’s no different for metal. The difference for metal is there’s a hardcore fanbase that will support it. I don’t care what kind of music anybody makes if you’re jumping into music to get rich STAY IN SCHOOL, get an MBA, go to work for a bank or go to silicon valley if you wanna be rich. If you really want to make music fine, then you’ll find a way to make a living. It’s going to be very hard but don’t say “oh man I’m gonna buy a Rolls Royce and a house on the beach”-that’s harder to do than ever.
Before we wrap up here is there anything else you’d like to say?
Bob: Everybody wants to hear great music. There’s nothing more thrilling than hearing something you love, so if somebody creates something people love an audience will find it. It can be a very slow process to spread the word, but by the same token there are things on the internet we can all find out about overnight. Now, more than ever, where there’s so much stuff out there. The focus is on the music. Listen, if you have a live stage show and you have outfits and you have a street team, there’s nothing inherently wrong with it, but they’re trumped by the music.
I know band members giving lessons is nothing remotely new but lately there are a few bands in the metal scene taking it to the next level and reaping some major benefits in doing so. Periphery is a band that comes to mind right off the bat. A HUGE amount of their fanbase are musicians and they’ve made some decent income giving lessons on tour for many years but on their new tour they are selling these VIP packages that sell like hotcakes where fans not only get a meet and greet but they actually get to play through any of the band members rigs they so choose. It’s not limited either. You can pick up any guitar out of a case, crank their amps, tweak their pedals, kick it on their drumkit…just COMPLETE access right on the same stage they are going to play on later that night. Furthermore, you have sites cropping up like Bandhappy.com where kids can pay a really reasonable fee to take a lesson from some HUGE names in music. Not some prerecorded ones either-LIVE interactive lessons. The thing is, it’s pretty much all still really only catching fire in the metal world. With all of that said, do you think this could be the future for bands of all genres, that even decent sized bands all the way to the bigger ones should break down that barrier between their fans and provide them with complete access-could this be the answer to the question of how bands can ALL make more money on the road seeing as how so many tours for mid-level bands and such don’t even break even lots of times?
Bob: It’s a free market, I’ve got no problem with bands selling access. But be wary of looking too mercenary and sacrificing the mystery!
Absolutely. I really can’t thank you enough and I’m honored you took the time to do this interview with me.
Bob: Your’e welcome.