Features November 5, 2019

‘Control of the music landscape has never been smaller’: Bob Lefsetz

‘Control of the music landscape has never been smaller’: Bob Lefsetz

“Who the fuck are you? What have you done? What’s your qualification for even farting through your oral passage?”

“Your (sic) a failed musician with a big mouth. You do NOTHING but talk. See you on the streets you punkass motherfucker!!”

It would be fair to say US music industry analyst – perceptive, occasionally wrong but always entertaining and never boring – does get under some people’s skin in his 25-year-old much read ‘The Lefsetz Letter‘ or at conferences.

The first quote is from Kiss lizard Gene Simmons after Lefsetz had a mischievous go at him during a Canadian music conference. The second is from Kid Rock who has since softened his stance and apparently now an email buddy.

The story is that Taylor Swift wrote her 2010 song ‘Mean’ about Lefsetz after he gave her a rap on her knuckles for her off-key Grammy performance that year.

“Taylor Swift can’t sing,” adding the popstar “shortened her career last night.”

TMN asks Lefsetz which music industry person has slammed on him in the last six months.

“There are too many to mention!” replies the former music attorney who works out of his Santa Monica, California, apartment.

A profile in Wired quotes Paul McCartney and Arcade Fire manager Scott Rodger, “At every label, from the mailroom to the A&R department to the chairman’s office, I guarantee they all read him.”

Artist manager and long-time friend Jake Gold explains, “Bob’s not beholden to anybody so he can afford to say whatever’s on his mind.”

There’ll probably be more insults – just as there will be high praise from newfound fans – when Lefsetz holds forth at  in a keynote speech, in panels and live podcasts.

AMW runs November 6—10 at Cronulla Beach in Sydney. TMN got a glimpse of what to expect from Lefsetz.


In a recent newsletter, you said the next big thing in music would come in five years. Would you elaborate, will it be in the EDM style, not necessarily human, and come from the East?

Come within five years. It will have melody and could come from anywhere.

Billie Eilish seems to tick the right boxes as New Big Thing but she doesn’t cut the mustard with you. Where does she feel short?

The music doesn’t have appeal to a larger audience. It’s niche, however big that niche might be.

Have you worked out what your AMW keynote will be, or do you prefer to just wing it as the moment calls?

I’m studying all day long, reading…

In the last four or five years, US record companies have started to make mega-bucks again. Do you notice they’ve gone back to the bad old arrogant days of telling ‘the kids’ what they should be listening to?

They’re making more, but not as much as they did at the turn of the century.

Since the nineties, they’ve always been telling the acts what to do, but as far as the audience…listeners are more in control than ever.

They don’t need the majors as gatekeepers. The majors’ control of the music landscape has never been smaller.

At your keynote at Music Matters in Singapore in 2012, you were wondering why Asian executives were taking their acts to America when the Americans didn’t understand them and didn’t really give a shit. Seven years later, have you softened your stance?

That’s not an accurate replication of what I said. I said it’s hard to break an act that doesn’t sing in English.

But now BTS has done it. It’s part of the integrated world of music, if only governments could acknowledge that globalization is where it is all going.

An Australian musician asks for career advice. What would you say?

Australians are known as great live performers. I’d come to the US and play live and try to generate a buzz.

Do you have it in your contract that when you’re asked to do a keynote you have to be introduced to the sound of The Sopranos theme song?

Only if I woke up that morning!

For your podcast, you specifically asked to interview people like John Watson and Peter Garrett. What is it about them which interests you?

Everybody’s got a story, I want to hear it. And in the case of these two, many people are interested in what they have to say…

In Lefsetz’s case, those stories come from anywhere.


In his latest newsletter, he tells his thousand and thousands of readers – who, incidentally include Quincy Jones, Steve Tyler of Aerosmith, Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick and Bryan Adams – that he’s been getting the “rock star treatment” after arriving in Sydney doing publicity for AMW.

Print and radio interviews, photoshoots, visits to music clubs, preparing for AMW duties… “Like Donna Summer, I’m working hard for the money.”

Two photographers from major newspapers have also covered wars, one in Iraq and the other Syria and the Congo.

Both have had guns trained on them, or shot at. He wrote about one of them, Kate.

“She’s not an adrenaline junkie, she just needs to tell these stories, people need to know them. And I’m standing there talking to her knowing she can’t get rich, but her life is richer than most of the people who are.

“I can’t stop talking to Kate. You see most people are uninformed or unable to tolerate contrary opinions.”

Which should give you an insight to what he looks for in his podcasts and emphasises in his newsletter.

Related articles