Bob Lefsetz, in his always thought-provoking, always engaging, sometimes infuriatingly wrong newsletter, recently sent out six new rules for musicians.
These rules were titled “Getting Our Attention.” Lefsetz’s contention, which he has argued in a series of letters, is that in a world of digital abundance, where anyone can listen to 99% of recorded music at will, the hardest challenge is getting anyone’s attention.
It used to be enough, he says, to be “indie,” to do your own special thing in a corner and wait for a small group of fans to find you. But now, the public is so swamped with content that we don’t have the patience for small acts: those types of fans, in a sense, no longer exist. That’s why you always hear people talking about Kanye and Adele, because people want to have something to talk about, share, and only the biggest names rise above the din.
Lefsetz’s letters frequently offer advice to aspiring musicians about how to prosper in this new world, this world of absurd, overwhelming choice. These rules are the latest iteration of that project.
Here are the first four, cut and pasted by me. Readers of this blog: I’m curious how well you think these rules make sense for writers. Does it make sense to keep striving to produce the ten-year novel, or should we, as Bob claims, be trying to constantly “rain” new pieces?
And what might a “work track” mean for a prose writer? Would it be a short story? A “hot take” web article? Are reviews really dead?
Have a look. Tell me if you think these are beside the point, or absolutely on point.
1. Know who we are.
From day one, you should be collecting e-mail addresses and building up a social media following. This is the first line of aggression, the first way to make people aware of what you’re doing. To ignore this precept is like making phone calls without a directory. You can’t talk to anybody if you don’t know how to reach them.
2. Major media only works for major stars.
If you’re Bieber or Beyonce, or Kanye, the major media is interested in what you have to say, in your new release. But big outlets don’t care about the rest, or if they print a review, most people interested won’t see it, because they’re used to major outlets featuring mainstream stuff they don’t care about. If you think you’re winning by getting a review in print you’re living via old precepts.
3. You need a work track.
Radio may not play your record, but the game remains the same. You need a track that people react to, instantly, something that hooks them right away. You must decide what the track is and you must promote it. The album is for hard core fans at best, if you don’t have a track that permeates you’re preaching to the converted, and when you do this your audience shrinks, because some of your hard core fans no longer are, they die, they lose interest, they don’t get the memo. You must always be gaining new fans or your career is cratering. Once you begin to coast the death spiral begins.
4. Albums are for labels.
It’s a money grab. You can put it out, you can even get it on the chart, but that doesn’t mean anybody is going to care even a week out. If you’re spending a year or two polishing ten tracks you’re missing the point. The game has changed. You must be making music constantly. Uploading covers and work tracks to YouTube. Releasing a single when it’s ready. You’re a musician, not a businessman. There’s a tsunami of information and if you want to get noticed you must rain constantly, even if it’s just a mist…