Kanye West is the message

Bob Lefsetz is a music industry observer, and publisher of the Lefsetz letter:


How does an artist go from being the most hated man in America to #1?

By ignoring conventional wisdom. By giving away music. By utilizing Twitter. By leaving his rough edges on, wearing them as a badge of honor.

You’ve got to read the story about Kanye in today’s “Los Angeles Times”. I’ve been flirting with canceling my subscription, but they were the first newspaper to chronicle the decline of the wii (http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-1130-ct-nintendo-20101130,0,2209702.story), and the first to get the Kanye story right.

Even the President called Kanye a jackass!

Last week the story was TSA pat-downs. Right before the Thanksgiving Day holiday. But when everybody went to fly, nothing, nobody really cared.

And it seems that nobody really cared that Kanye interrupted the VMAs. The mainstream media needs a story. If you do this and you’re under contract to a TV network, you go to rehab, which used to just be for substance abuse, but now covers stupidity.

Kanye was fucked up about his behavior. He said so. He canceled his tour and exiled himself until…

He emerged on Twitter with tweets so fascinating, you couldn’t help but pay attention. His July 31st tweet:

“No seriously … I said my teeth are real diamonds… these are not fronts… I replaced my bottom row of teeth with diamonds”

became as famous as any song lyric, part of the fabric of popular culture.

And throughout the entire episode, Kanye was never soft and fuzzy, was never lovable.

Sure, Kanye got some mainstream exposure. But, he’s considered to be really damn good and he did it his way. Isn’t this how the classic rock artists triumphed?

So, once again:

1. Be really damn good. Great art makes up for a ton of ills. One can argue strongly if Mel Gibson makes a movie on his own dime and it’s great, he can reemerge from the depths. We’re a forgiving populace.

2. Don’t fall on your sword. Your crime doesn’t mean as much to people as the mainstream press says it does. Kevin Smith sat at home, depressed as the man labeled “too fat to fly”, but eventually Tiger Woods crashed his car and Smith’s foibles on Southwest, which were inaccurately reported, faded away. A career in the public eye is first and foremost about persistence, and perseverance.

3. Play the mainstream media game, die by the mainstream media game. News outlets don’t care about you, they care about advertising, they care about ratings. Don’t let the tail wag the dog. Katy Perry is in the news every damn day, but she still can’t sell out an arena. Get your perspective right. Katy’s handlers have got it totally wrong. What does showing off your tits have to do with music? Kanye’s not the best-looking dude on the planet, but it doesn’t matter, because people believe he’s good.

4. If you’re not willing to give away something for free, you’re not willing to have a career. If Kanye can give away free tracks, why can’t you? It’s about your relationship with your fans. The song doesn’t have to be on the album. You’ve got to know where in the food chain to charge, and it’s not at every contact point.

5. Maintain contact. You’re doing your own act. Now, with the Internet, you don’t need permission to do it. You can perform on YouTube, you can tweet, less is more is history. Now you always give more, and the public decides how much it wants to graze in your neighborhood. Fans come and go, but you can’t let it impact your art. You’ve got to do what you want to do, not what you think the audience wants.

6. Have a personality. If no one hates you, you’re not doing it right.

7. Don’t focus on the album release. Your marketing’s got to go on for years. The Doobie Brothers released a new album. Straight to the dumper. There was no Twitter presence, no fan engagement, just a record most fans don’t know exists and don’t want anyway. And I only use the Doobies because they’re an ancient act, and all the ancient acts don’t know how to do it. You don’t need a label and you don’t need an album. You need fans, which you’ve got, and you need to know how to reach each and every one of them. Pat Simmons should have played acoustic in someone’s house. The band should have done live performances of classics on YouTube. They should have gotten their fans involved. If Paul McCartney wants to sell a new album, he’s gonna have to do it this way too. Unless you want to be a recluse, if you want to survive in the new world, you’ve got to get yourself out there. Don’t pooh-pooh it as marketing, it’s performing! And isn’t that what you do! And it can be as much
about music as you want it to be.

8. In a chaotic era you’ve got to go your own way, you’ve got to forge your own path. No one knows, certainly not the mainstream media guys or those at the label. They know how it used to be done. It’s incumbent upon you to do it your own way, for yourself. The Eagles can’t sell every ticket? How come Don Henley’s not on Twitter, he’s got opinions. Just putting tickets on sale is no longer enough. Hell, how do people even find out about the gig? Most people complain they didn’t know you were playing. And if you’re a new act? You’ve got to be good. And if your goal is to connect with the mainstream and have it do your bidding, you’ve got it wrong. It’s about a career. And you build it. And it works because you’ve got fans. Your label doesn’t own your fans, nor does the radio station, only you do. Start there.

Read this article, it’s really well done:


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