The Lefsetz Letter: Reach – CelebrityAccess

Don’t confuse consumption with reach.

In other words, today’s metrics, which are really yesterday’s metrics, don’t give an accurate picture of what is happening in the landscape, they don’t indicate how big an act is, rather how many times one person listened to one song.

Think about that. In the pre-internet days of scarcity it was all about getting on a platform with reach. Radio was number one for music. How many people were actually listening to a radio station when your record was played? And if it was played in the middle of the night, the so-called “lunar rotation,” you might be able to use that number to manipulate the chart but it didn’t indicate you had any real listeners. In other words, how many people were listening to the number one station in the middle of the night?

And then there was television. Too expensive for record companies to advertise. But the Fortune 500 and more… This is how they reached the most people. Their commercials were blasted to many, how many truly cared, how many bought the product?

But commercials didn’t pay dividends, i.e. direct cash. Whereas radio did and still does. Spin it and there are performing royalties paid on the song. And outside the U.S., there’s a payment on the recording as well.

But today? The broad to many? That paradigm is out the window, now it’s all direct to one.

Think about that… Seen any banner ads recently? Like me you probably have an ad-blocker installed on your browser. The truth is banner ads have been proven to be ineffective. In a one to one world, the one to many is easily ignored, just like people started skipping commercials on broadcast TV, whether it be via flipping the channels or recording on a VCR or a digital device.

Broadcast and basic cable TV still have ads and still reach people, but their audiences have shrunk to the point where they reach very few of the target audience. In other words, if you want to reach the under twenty age group, spending on network TV ads is like burning money, because that demo doesn’t consume that way.

Ditto radio.

We live in a disinformation age. Everyone’s a winner, everyone has gigantic impact, nothing dies, everything lives on, like terrestrial radio.

When you find the person under twenty five still listening to terrestrial music radio let me know, because I haven’t found them yet. And I ask this demo whenever I encounter them.

Meanwhile, this is the number one way traditional record labels promote records. Think about that. I mean there is a radio business, but its reach is so insignificant as to not be a focus of the younger purveyors. They want to make it on TikTok, where the audience is.

In other words, big f*cking deal you’re number one at terrestrial radio. Especially if it’s in some niche format. Can you sell any tickets? Probably not, because very few people are listening to the music!

But let’s not punch a hole in the balloon, the industries, both record and broadcasting, don’t like it! They live in an ancient bubble, in denial, just like Biden. They cherry-pick their statistics, because the real ones are scary.

Like the Spotify Top 50. That’s about consumption. Pure and simple. Whether someone listened or not. If you’re a fan and are not listening, it doesn’t make any difference. And, of course, it’s not only Spotify, but Apple, Amazon and YouTube and…

In order to make money, people have to consume.

But that’s not the only way to make money today. Even though oldsters and wannabes can’t stop bitching how the game is rigged against them. I ask you, in what other world do you get paid if people don’t consume?

So, we’re told the Spotify Top 50 is the main metric. Yes, there’s a manipulated Luminate chart, factoring in vinyl and even downloads, but unless they’re boasting of some success, everybody at the record company looks to Spotify, because not only does it have the most market share, that’s where active listeners are. In other words, you might get paid more per stream on Apple, but that just means fewer people are listening.

But math was rarely a musician’s strong suit.

So in the old days you broadcasted widely in order to get people to buy the music. Broadcasting was the number one way most people consumed. But that’s no longer the case. Most people pick and choose what they want to listen to. Spotify tells us that. And active users barely employ playlists. Playlists are today’s equivalent of Muzak, background music, but since occasionally a playlisted track/act breaks out, we get all this focus on playlisting when it’s worth very little.

But assuming your music is listened to…

That could be the same cadre of people streaming 24/7.

Let me put it another way. Phish plays arenas, goes on tour and sells out consistently. How big is Phish? TINY! That’s not a put-down, just perspective. The band has no reach, it’s got a hard core supporting them, and that’s just fine, but don’t let the grosses misinform you.

Having said that, you can be in the Spotify Top 50 and not be able to sell out a club. You’re hot in a narrow world. That’s right, the Spotify Top 50 is niche. Think about that. The number one way people consume the most music is a gnat on the ass of the music world.

But don’t go too far in the other direction. With nearly a hundred categories, winning a Grammy means almost nothing either. Not even at the top of the heap, the big awards anymore. There used to a bump, sales, but that’s history. The audience is too sophisticated, they already know the hits. As for those in categories way down the list… They get a Grammy even though in many cases they’re lucky if a few thousand people even listened to their music. That’s right, Grammys today are the equivalent of giving every kid a sports trophy. They’re neither indicative of talent nor achievement.

But that’s the way our whole music world has gone.

We keep being told the acts in the Spotify Top 50 are superstars. But most people, MOST PEOPLE, have never even heard these tracks. Think about that, in the old days of terrestrial radio you winced when you heard the same song you hated over and over again, but there were no options, there were very few stations that played the kind of music you liked.

But today?

You have a cornucopia of options.

But the music industry has been fighting this ever since Napster.

You can’t break out the single from the album. Remember that fight? You don’t go against what the people want, they didn’t want the dreck that surrounded the hit.

The consumer is in control today.

And you need an audience, that consumes your music, but that does not mean you have any reach.

Another way performers used to gain reach was being the opening act for a headliner who sold a great number of tickets. This worked in the sixties, into the seventies when the opening acts were chosen to align with the music of the star, but those days are through. Now, oftentimes it’s just about getting an act to play cheaply. And people don’t even arrive for the opening act, they don’t want anything they don’t want, and they’ve been burned too many times.

In other words, it’s hard to break through these days.

Which puts a further focus on the music itself. But still, if no one hears it, it doesn’t matter how good it may be.

First and foremost there should be no restrictions on your music, absolutely none. Don’t complain about streaming sites… Your music must be absolutely everywhere, so if someone gets a hankering, they can find it with almost no friction. You want to make it easy.

But how do you gain reach?

First and foremost you motivate your fans. Everything is bottom up instead of top down these days. Stop swinging for the fences, gain a hard core fan base and if they can’t spread the word…you won’t spread. One thing about the aforementioned Phish fans, they inundate my inbox, Phishheads e-mail me constantly. The problem is when most people check out Phish’s music…they don’t become fans. Which is fine, Phish does very well, but don’t equate their success with REACH!

So how many people are really listening to Taylor Swift. Or Morgan Wallen. Or even The Weeknd.

Fewer than ever before in history. When it comes to hit acts. They might have big footprints, but their territory is defined, their reach is nowhere near as great as the consumption statistics imply, especially considering that avid Swift and Phish fans stream the music ad infinitum. One person could stream a band all day long. That’s very different from a thousand people streaming a song once, that’s reach.

Presently there is no chart that quantifies reach.

Advertising agencies specialize in this. Ratings companies. But we don’t have that for music, all we’ve got is radio ratings, which mean less than ever before.

But you need to get out of the bubble and gain perspective, see the context. If you can sell out your high school auditorium, kudos. But can you sell out any other high school auditorium? But unlike in the old days, you can record cheaply and put your music online. However, there’s so much online that yours won’t stand out unless people pull it.

In other words, casual listens only work on social media. That’s where the target audience discovers new music. How do you beat the system? No one has been able to figure this out. And even if you serve a video to many, that doesn’t mean they won’t skip over it.

That’s the truth, that’s reality, but they keep telling us the Spotify Top 50 is the be all and end all. But it’s not. It’s one metric, of consumption. And it is not known by the public if it’s avid fans, like those of K-pop, or casual fans, i.e. many listening fewer times.

Once again, you want to be everywhere. But also you must step up to bat constantly. Put out new music, have new campaigns. Don’t overthink it, just do. People don’t remember the failures anymore, there are too many, get back in the game.

This is the exact opposite of the old world where an album came out every three or four years, with singles dribbled out over that interim.

If you’re not a label/act, if you’re on the outside, there is no metric that tells us about music reach. We don’t know how big you are or not. The oldsters will cite the old metrics, but they’re outdated, they’re useless.

What we’ve got is the blind, the industry, leading those who don’t care. It’s a veritable circle jerk I tell you. The industry keeps trumpeting figures but we just don’t know how big these acts are anymore. And there’s mindshare and consumption. You may know about an act in the Spotify Top 50, but do you want to listen to it?

It was easy in the eighties. All you had to do was get your video on MTV.

But it’s never been harder in the modern recording era to reach people.

And rather than admit it, we’ve got a whole industry denying it.

The world is gonna flip I tell you, it can’t go on like this forever, a limited number of acts pushed down the throat of a public that doesn’t care. All that publicity works against you. It alienates even those who might have been casually interested.

In other words, mania means little, the music means more. And more music is consumed by more people than ever before.

But how many people really?

We have no idea.

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