The Superstar Effect

The Long Tail was a myth.

In a world where everything is available, people will gravitate to the top, the superstar, the one and only.

It can be Google or Tiger Woods or U2.  Most people only have time for that which is universal, anointed by the media and their circle of friends.

This is not to deny that there’s a market for niches.  But when it comes to concert tours, expect the rich to get richer.  And the poor to remain poor.

A concert is an expensive proposition.  Even almost down to the developing acts.  Assuming you buy your ticket in advance, as opposed to paying ten or fifteen or even twenty bucks at the door of a club, you’re going to pay associated ticketing fees (i.e. Ticketmaster), you’re going to pay to park, you’re going to pay for merch and refreshments.  Is it worth it?

Sure, there are some new acts who generate heat and explode.  But Lady GaGa had numerous hits and a whole persona.  Which translated into big business this year.  But without more hits, her business will fall off.  In order to get most people to pay, you’ve got to have a catalog, and you have to be willing to play it.

That’s what works for U2, the Eagles, the Rolling Stones and Bon Jovi.  They play for a long time and they play the hits.  We can debate the exact pricing of their tickets, but generally speaking, demand remains strong.  There’s a sweet spot at which people will pay to go in great numbers. Whereas for the new and developing act you can give the tickets away and most people still won’t show.

We live in an era of winners and losers.

And it’s harder than ever to become a winner.

Used to be that radio spread the word and anointed stars.  But radio’s power paled in comparison to MTV.  If you snuck under the wire, if you made it before MTV stopped playing music, chances are you’re doing strong business today.  If not?  You’re facing an uphill battle.  In other words, Dave Matthews Band got all that MTV/VH1 airplay, cementing them as stars.  One can argue that Coldplay was the last band to sneak in under the wire. After that?  If you’re playing rock music, if you’re playing anything but beat-infused tunes, you’re in trouble.  And if you’re playing beat-infused tunes and can get on the radio, chances are you can’t sell many concert tickets, because radio means less than ever before.

And the struggle is so hard, and the rewards so few, that the best and the brightest don’t play music.  They just don’t get it.  I’m supposed to give away my music for free, beg people to come to see me and chances are I’ll still starve?


I’d like to tell you it’s different, but it’s not.

First, how do you get people to pay attention?  Time is at a premium for all.  Getting someone to listen to your track is nigh near impossible.  Getting them to come to the show if they’re not related or your best friend usually is impossible.  And isn’t it fascinating that the most burgeoning element of the concert business is deejays/electronic music, where the focus is less on what comes out of the speakers than being there.  It’s about the social experience.  Hanging with your friends.  Meeting more people.  Doing via flesh and blood what you cannot do online.

Going to a traditional concert is about sitting or standing and watching the performer.  It’s more of a singular than a group activity.  And it’s harder than ever to get people to leave their home if they don’t feel the activity is anointed by a group.

That doesn’t mean a new band can’t have fans.  But what it does mean is the odds that said band will grow into superstars are very low.  Because it’s harder than ever to be anointed by the masses.

You go to a Bon Jovi show and they don’t make you listen to new material, not much of it anyway, you pay your money, Jon will sing all the big hits from "Slippery When Wet" and you can go home and tell your buds that you went and had a good time and they’ll know what you’re talking about. Tell them you went to see a new and developing act and they’ll say HUH?

Maroon 5 can be the biggest act in the land one year and have to deeply discount tickets shortly thereafter.  Because they’re about the songs.  The superstars are about a musical culture.  A tribe.  You don’t automatically graduate up the ladder like you used to.  You can stall out, you can fall back down.

If it sounds like America, you’re right.  We’ve got winners and losers.  Bankers and wannabes.  It’s just that our opinion of the music landscape is clouded by the fact that there’s no entry fee to play music.  Want to work on Wall Street?  Go to a prestigious university, get an MBA…how many people can do that?

So look yourself in the mirror.  If you want to get rich, pay your academic dues and go into finance, that’s what one-third of 2009 Princeton graduates did.

Or start a Website.

Then again, the odds are longer in that sphere than ever before.  For every Facebook, there’s a zillion sites you’ve never heard of.

In other words, what your parents said was true.  If you want to live comfortably, go to graduate school, become a professional.  If you want to make it in music, there’s a good chance that you’ll work your whole life and still be broke.

Unless you’re the most talented person in the world.  We’ve always got room for another Tiger Woods or Elton John or…

But chances are, you’re not.

And Tiger Woods started playing golf not long after he was born.

And Elton John tried to make it as a songwriter, he cut demos for other artists, his solo breakthrough was almost a quirk of fate.

There will be new superstars.

But there’s going to be a huge gap between them and everybody else.

I’ll make it simple.  Talk to any concert promoter.  They just can’t sell the tickets in the middle.  They can sell the expensive seats to the diehard fans and the rich, and the cheap seats to the poor, but the middle?

One Response to The Superstar Effect


    comment_type != "trackback" && $comment->comment_type != "pingback" && !ereg("", $comment->comment_content) && !ereg("", $comment->comment_content)) { ?>
  1. […] I like Bob Lefsetz, but this completely misses the point of the long tail. Undermines own argument b… – view page – cached […]

comment_type == "trackback" || $comment->comment_type == "pingback" || ereg("", $comment->comment_content) || ereg("", $comment->comment_content)) { ?>

Trackbacks & Pingbacks »»

  1. […] I like Bob Lefsetz, but this completely misses the point of the long tail. Undermines own argument b… – view page – cached […]

Comments are closed