Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Aspen Live 3: Tie Your ___ Shoes!

Just Tie Your Shoes.

Day 3 of Aspen Live unfolded a bit differently than the previous 2 days. We assembled in the fireside lounge of the St. Regis, and Jim Lewi began the proceedings. Someone had missed the intros of a previous day, so we did that again. (Don Strasburg embraced his bestowed title of "scariest guy in the room.) When the intros were out of the way, Lewi began . . . . 

We heard these past two days that '
talent is overpaid.' We've heard that before.
We heard that tickets are overpriced. We've heard that before.

At this point, Bob Lefsetz stepped in. Taking control of the meeting, he seemed determined, as moderator, to get more specifics from people in the group. He began interviewing group attendees, one at a time. This was great in a couple respects. It got people talking who might not have been willing to speak out, and Bob didn't always settle for the "soft" response. He pressed people to provide real answers to the questions. 
  • You just signed with Average Joe Entertainment; did you get an advance?
  • If you didn't get an advance, why did you sign with them?
  • Response: because they really understood the artist, and they had real assets that we could use. 
Of course that sort of prodding has always been a part of Aspen Live. A promoter will say one thing, and an agent will jump in with a vocal objection. An agent will say another thing, and a promoter will chime in with "WAIT, WAIT, WAIT, come on here, you're missing the whole point!!!!" while the agent pleads, "Let me finish!" That's part of what makes these things interesting. 

And that's part of what made the systematic approach a bit problematic. The culture of the group may be the most important thing here. And I'm not looking for a more sanitized, well organized experience. That just isn't who we are. The trick for future Aspen conferences is going to come down to growing the base (slowly, carefully) and managing the process without choking off the character (and characters) of the proceedings.   

This time, I'm not going to share the details of the conversations, but I will mention a proposal we discussed. The idea put forward was that we try, as a group, to select an artist or two or three that we would agree to support. (Dan Steinberg of Square Peg Concerts pointed out that we can't even agree as a group on where to go to dinner [at least not without Jamie Loeb's help].) We'll see. I'm not persuaded that this is how we function as a group. I think it's more about relationships and learning from each other.  

The afternoon session ended with these words of simple, common sense: "Just tie your shoes." Before you start to run, before you get all excited and get carried away, just tie your shoes. Of course, since this is Aspen Live, it isn't quite that simple. Because we are who we are in the music business, it's not so much "Just Tie Your Shoes," as "Just Tie Your F*cking Shoes."

Since the conference ended, I've been thinking a lot about one thing. This business of music - built during a particular time, based on particular sets of circumstances and conditions - is operated at the top by experienced people who learned how to make things work. And they're still learning, still paying attention to things that are affecting the environment - disruptive changes that range from technology to legal to demographic / cultural. Still, it seems to me that the only thing that keeps this part of the business from going the way of the recorded music industry is the "live" and "in-person" nature of the experience. And this is fortunate for the folks who built this business from the ground up, the promoters, agents, managers and artists that played to the baby-boomers and reaped the rewards of larger rooms with much higher ticket prices.    

As a rule, those who run significant businesses are wary of change. And that makes a certain kind of sense. You don't want to be the person responsible for destroying or losing a business that took decades to build. But sometimes change whacks you upside the head. It is almost impossible for players in an established industry to adapt to disruptive change. Read Clayton Christensen's "Innovator's Dilemma." 

Just when you've finally learned to tie your f*ing shoes, someone invents the damn loafer. 


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