Network Audience Keeps Eroding

by Bob Lefsetz

That's the title of an article in today's "Wall Street Journal".

Network television viewership is down 6.6% from last year. And that INCLUDES DVR viewership. Even more fascinating is that DVR penetration has grown from 18.6% of TV households to 24.4% in the last twelve months. Although some network TV shows are traded via BitTorrent, piracy is not the issue. People just don't want the big time, mainstream, made for everybody fare.

We've been hit over the head by the major labels that if we could just eradicate piracy, their woes would be over. This is hogwash. And they're driving their businesses straight towards the cliff. Because their present business model is to sign fewer acts, work them with fewer people and have great success with each. But how large can that success be?

The WSJ refers to a fractionalized environment. It's not that people are sitting at home staring in silence at blank walls in the dark. Rather, they're choosing alternative kinds of entertainment. Many are migrating to the myriad of entertainment choices on cable.

But the networks own so many of these cable outlets. This has allowed them to still capture a large portion of the overall viewer pool. But the major labels don't own the indies.

Unless the majors start releasing a plethora of product, going for market share, seeing themselves as service companies facilitating the distribution of all the product, they're doomed to marginalization. Please don't try to deny this. Please know that the protestations of the majors are irrelevant. We've moved on to a new marketplace, where iPod penetration is gargantuan and the CD is antiquated, a worse fit for the times than network television shows. The goal is to get on someone's iPod, how do you do that?

"Their A&R man said 'I don't hear a single'
The future was wide open"

"Into The Great Wide Open"
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

You've got to start making these records for yourself. Forget satisfying the system. The system is decrepit and falling apart. IF you homogenized your sound to fit'd find out that the radio in your mind has already evaporated and what is left is highly formulaic, doesn't include many genres and is listened to fewer people than before. The story of the summer isn't that Kid Rock had a hit without iTunes, but that after a year in the marketplace, "Rock N Roll Jesus" has sold a mere two million copies. That's with the biggest hit of the summer! A multi-format smash!

You're better off buying Seth Godin's "Tribes" than reading "Billboard". The question is, not how can you get on the radio, but how can you build your own coterie, your dedicated tribe, that will keep you alive. And how they remunerate you might not resemble any of the twentieth century business models.

Make music that satisfies you. Forget the media outlets, go directly to the consumer. Can you get people excited? If you can, they will tell other people. It is very important that you abandon old wave marketing techniques. Street teams, carpet bombing, unsolicited e-mail and MP3s... You can try these, but they don't work, they just serve to alienate people.

Your community must drive your career. Not your label, not radio and not "Rolling Stone". Sure, the old outlets still have some power, but it is rapidly fading. And unless you want to have a one year career, NEXT YEAR, you're better off abandoning the old game and going your own way.

You don't want to hear this. You want it to be easier. You want to be rescued. But there's no government bailout for artists. You're lucky if people steal your music. Then maybe they'll become fans, and buy tickets to see you live.

A fan will send you e-mail, which you must answer. A fan will sign up for your tweets. A fan will befriend you on Facebook. A fan will buy your merch. T-shirts as a badge of honor. Special edition packages, books. Instead of lamenting your inability to sell CDs, construct other products that fans can buy. Even at the micro level, 100 copies of a $100 package is TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS!! In the old days, you sold a person a CD and then they were done. Your fan will buy the special package AND additional merchandise.

A fan will pick you up at the airport. A fan will let you stay at his house. A fan will bring all his friends to the show. A fan wants access. If you provide this, you'll be stunned at what you get in return.

But you've got to give something in return. You can't be aloof. You've got to get down into the pit with your fans. And not worry whatsoever what the mainstream media has to say about your success. Not worry if the A&R man comes to your show. Not worry about hiring a promo man to get your song on the radio.

Your goal is no longer to get paid by the label, but to get paid by your audience. Figure it out.

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