Musicares-Berry Gordy & Smokey Robinson

It’s the music business’s greatest night.

As for the music…

That’s right, you can do a year’s worth of business in one night. Because EVERYBODY is there. Well, not everybody, but a ton of movers and shakers, and a bunch of overdressed nobodies. That’s how you can tell they’re not in the business, by the clothes they wear. The men are in tuxes and the women in ball gowns, overdressed, as per the black tie invitation. Everybody else knows it’s just another night in Hollywood, and the acts may be fashionistas, but the people who actually control this world are anything but.

So we’re on the precipice of a dividing line, a changing of generations. It’s finally here folks, the classic rock generation is heading into the sunset. Their heroes are passing, dropping like flies, from Christine McVie to Jeff Beck, and their music no longer dominates, not even Motown.

Remember the Motown revival of “Ally McBeal”? Yes, a revival, OVER TWO DECADES AGO! How many times can Motown come back? One thing’s for sure, not with the original singers/players/writers.

As for Berry Gordy… He’s 93 and was one of the most youthful cats in the joint. Smiling, wearing a knit hat, he was having fun. Because that’s what the business used to be about. Talk to anybody who was around back then. The fun has been squeezed out by business. And the youngsters populating the stage are more familiar with economics than they are the arts.

So the Temptations took the stage and it was…AWFUL! Sad. Not even worthy of a Vegas lounge, if they even have those anymore. There was supposedly one original member there. And the outfits and dance moves were representative of the era, but the singing? It made me wince. It was a poor facsimile of the original sound, the one embedded in our brains. Magic was caught on wax, as for last night…if you were there then you didn’t want to be there now.

The lead singer of the Four Tops was a bit better, closer to Levi Stubbs, but come on… Believe me, as long as people will line up and pay, there will be Temptations and Four Tops in the 22nd century, but I hope not. Let the records remain. Then again, there are Civil War re-enactors…

As for fighting for Black liberation…

Can we finally honor a rapper, a hip-hop artist, someone young? This is the transition I’m talking about. The music changed years ago, even the Super Bowl woke up and acknowledged this. But the Grammys…are still living in the past, with the old white people.

Yes, Gordy and Robinson are Black, but the music was whitewashed long ago. Furthermore, this was the music of revolution. Of the rights of Blacks. Of the sixties. Motown aided integration more than Washington. That’s the power of art. A power that’s been abdicated in the music today, where it’s all entrepreneurship all the time, all money, and art has been kicked to the curb. There was a moment there, a couple of decades back, when the Grammys meant something. When MTV turned music into a monoculture and an outsider ran the organization. Yes, Mike Greene, unlike the other Grammy toppers, was a rock star. Tussling with the mayor of New York. Not worried about his cronies in the business. Outsiders make change, ever since Greene it’s been insiders, keeping the waters calm and missing the point.

Which is how the Grammys missed classic rock in the first place. It was outsider music, and the insiders wanted nothing to do with it.

As for hip-hop… Who wants to be honored by an organization that won’t include you. As for all the insiders saying it should be Beyoncé’s night… Does anybody acknowledge that “Renaissance” was a relative stiff? Not exactly a turntable hit, but compare the streams to other top LPs. And doesn’t she have enough awards? And it’s about success, not awards anyway. And no one remembers who wins. And if Beyoncé sweeps, that’s fine with me, but it’s also fine if she loses. I mean who cares what a group of aged wankers has to say anyway?

So the stars of last night…

Were the alta-kachers.

Valerie Simpson killed! But I doubt most of the people in the audience knew who she was, giving a standing O to the Temptations evidencing their brain dead artistic sensibilities.

And Dionne Warwick! It won’t be long before these two are gone, they seem not to have lost a step. Catch them while they’re still here.

And Ronnie Isley, who everybody talked during. He’s an absolute icon. The song the Isleys performed was not a known-by-all classic, but man, he could still do his thing. And knows how to perform, too!

Brandi Carlile? The new Bonnie Raitt of the Grammys. They found her, anointed her, and they’re never going to let her go. She always delivers, and she delivered last night.

As for the rest… I won’t even bother to mention their names.

Even Stevie Wonder disappointed. Oh, he was Stevie… Then again, he wrote most of his best material.

And Smokey… He’s still got his pipes too. I thought he’d do a medley of his greatest hits, instead we got a one tune tribute to Gordy that underwhelmed.

But there was a video clip, with the two of them driving around the streets of Detroit in the back of an aged Thunderbird, laughing like school kids, that was better than most of the performances. But when the clips come on, people talk.

And talk I did. To so many. Who knew Coran Capshaw loved to read? He just finished “Demon Copperhead,” and devoured “The Overstory.” And is helping rebuild his hometown of Charlottesville, with housing for the less than fortunate.

On the way in I ran into the manager of Phoebe Bridgers. He knew I wasn’t a fan, but all that b.s. is thrown overboard at Musicares. Good guy, got me interested.

And Lee Zeidman talked about the frustrations of dealing with the city government.

And it was one person after another. Not only catching up after Covid… You see the music business is centered in Los Angeles, the TOURING BUSINESS is centered in Los Angeles. So once a year everybody makes the pilgrimage and…

It’s like any other business, you’re either in or you’re out.

And the sword is laid down. After all, a lot of these people worked together at previous companies.

And Joe Berchtold told us about testifying in Congress and we all had a laugh as to the fact that they ganged up on him and didn’t get it.

You see it’s an insider business.

And last night we were all inside.

As for the music…

The Billboard Power 100

The paper of record is as out of touch as the Grammys!

Never have the labels and the people who run them had less power. But there they are at the top of the chart, as if it were still the 1990s and the internet was something old men were unaware of and Napster hadn’t yet made inroads.

The most fascinating statistic today?

The major labels’ market share is SHRINKING!

From today’s Music Ally Bulletin:

“Here’s one nugget from the filing: music licensed to Spotify by the three major labels and indie licensing agency Merlin accounted for around 75% of Spotify streams in 2022. We wondered how that has changed over time, so we went back to past filings to find out.

“What we found was that this percentage has been falling steadily. In 2017 the majors and Merlin accounted for 87% of Spotify’s total streams, but that proportion fell to 85% in 2018; 82% in 2019; 78% in 2020; 77% in 2021 and now 75% in 2022.

“This trend isn’t a surprise: we know that the sector of DIY artists working through distributors has been growing. It’s just useful to have it quantified from a big DSP.

“Last year, Midia Research estimated that self-releasing ‘artists direct’ saw their recorded music revenues grow by 25% to $1.5bn in 2021, with the increase in streaming share a key factor in that trend.”

No wonder Lucian Grainge is lobbying for a larger share of streaming revenue for Universal’s artists, the company’s control of the market is going in the wrong direction, as in DOWN!

This is a live business. Touring is where it’s at.

And new acts develop on TikTok.

Michael Rapino is the most powerful person in the music business today. BECAUSE HE PAYS THE ARTISTS!

All this hogwash about Ticketmaster obscures the fact that it is concert promoters who are keeping the artists alive, not record labels. Sign a record deal and you may get…nothing. All the money your contract delineates goes to recording and associated expenses. Good luck buying a Hyundai (although Hyundai is a damn good car today, almost all cars are good, and in truth most musicians are driving used cars, if they own an automobile at all).

And as you move up the economic scale… Haven’t you heard, it’s been in the news for twenty years, big acts make most of their money on the road. And it’s not only the classic ones, but the new ones too! Believe me, Beyoncé is going to make more on the road than she did from her last album “Renaissance.”

The pulse of new music development?


So there you have it, major labels mean less, but even worse, their number one focus, terrestrial radio, also means less. It’s like investing in buggy whips. Sure, most people are using the horse and wagon, but adoption of the car…there’s a tipping point, which seems almost instant. Like with digital photography, which erased film, and the iPod/iPhone, that killed the CD. (Oh, don’t quote CD, vinyl and cassette sales figures, they’re de minimis compared to streaming, if you do you’re as myopic as “Billboard” itself.)

In other words, oftentimes you can see change on the horizon, assuming you’re looking for it, and there comes a day when the landscape flips. But the old entities attached to the old ways refuse to adjust, they believe in holding back the future, staying rooted in the past, to their detriment, because the public is not controlled by them.

You don’t have to tune in radio to hear your favorite song, you can hear it for free on YouTube. And what has Lyor Cohen done there? NOTHING! A lame, late launch of YouTube Music, whose numbers are inflated by people subscribing to eliminate commercials in videos. There’s been absolutely no progress at YouTube, the site is moribund. And if a track is popular, Spotify numbers alone exceed those of YouTube, never mind the other streaming outlets.

And the same doofuses focusing on labels are doing cartwheels over Spotify’s recent numbers/troubles/losses in podcasting. Talk about ignorance… Spotify is your number one account, the company that pays you most (other than your promoter), you want Spotify to be healthy, rolling in dough. Spotify declares bankruptcy and you lose out, just like when retail chains went under. And I’m not saying that Spotify is headed that way, but you can’t squeeze blood from a stone, Spotify has to make a profit FOR THE GOOD OF ARTISTS!

That’ll make the uneducated’s heads spin.

And Merck belongs right behind touring royalty like Rapino and Marciano. Why? Because he revolutionized the business and he’s PAYING ARTISTS!

Come on, that’s a bigger story than Lucian Grainge, who got a big payout when Universal went public…but what has he done for us lately?

I mean what’s going to happen with Hipgnosis? Especially with high interest rates? Is Blackstone gonna end up owning it all? Think about that, Spotify is going DIY and publishing is going corporate! What happens when banks get ownership, does it squeeze the soul from the industry or does it cause new, outside the box thinking?

And now it’s not only alta kachers. Justin Bieber sold his rights. Who else is going to do this, probably leaving these same cash poor acts ultimately penniless in the future (unless the promoters keep them alive!)

Music has an exposure issue. The market share of new music keeps going down. Where is the innovation at the labels? IT’S NONEXISTENT! They’ve ceded music discovery to the public, which is ultimately uncontrollable. Is this any way to run a business? NO!

And let’s get to the root of all this. You can record cheaply for free at home, you can distribute online for almost free and you can promote yourself online for free!

Even worse, social media stars who neither sing nor play, never mind dance, are more popular than most of the musicians!

As the Grammys lionize acts like we’re still living in the 1950s.

We fought over free for fifteen years and now everybody thinks the problems are solved but distribution is only one of them. And the most important question today is what goes through that pipe!

And look at corporations from the car manufacturers to P&G. They make products for everyone, rich and poor, whatever their predilection. But the labels? It’s all hip-hop and pop. They aren’t developing acts outside those genres, not to any significant degree, which is why the DIY universe is growing. Nature abhors a vacuum.

The labels keep telling us how innovative they are. Well, they’ve slimmed the ranks so much that…there’s not enough manpower to come up with ideas and execute them. What we’ve got is high-paid CEOs and underpaid worker bees!

This is no different from Hollywood being asleep at the switch. As streaming ate its lunch. A completely outside company, Netflix, revolutionized the industry.

Follow the money. And in recordings, most of the money goes to the label honchos and the corporation itself.

Whereas in live, most of the money goes to the acts.

And on Spotify, if you own your recordings, you get sixty plus percent of the revenue, as opposed to the piddly amount you’ll get if you’re signed to the label.

And Spotify is not the only digital outlet that pays. Nor exposes. Come on, there’s a plethora of outlets.

“Billboard” has its head in the sand. But what do you expect from a rudderless outfit run by the second and third tier. Music writing is a piss-poor gig. The internet has killed the reviewer game and as far as trade publications…it’s all positive all the time, cheerleading for those who pay the bills, the corporations.

But most people don’t care about “Billboard,” they don’t care who distributes the recordings they listen to or the concerts they go to.

The public has never had this much power, was never this uncontrolled (except for during the Napster era, of course). Own the new reality, adjust to it. And if you’re a musical act, hone your live act and GO ON THE ROAD!

School Songs-SiriusXM This Week

Tune in tomorrow, Saturday February 4th, to Faction Talk, channel 103, at 4 PM East, 1 PM West.

Phone #: 844-686-5863

Twitter: @lefsetz

If you miss the episode, you can hear it on demand on the SiriusXM app. Search: Lefsetz

Howard Jones-This Week’s Podcast

“What Is Love?,” “Things Can Only Get Better,” “No One Is to Blame”…we explore Howard Jones’s career from yesterday to today!