The Death of the Superstar

Music industry gadfly Bob Lefsetz reads an article in the New York Times about declining television ratings and extrapolates the death of the superstar:

Back when the music business was fat and happy, in 1998-9, “E.R.” had a 17.8 rating. So, in ten years, a popular network show lost almost HALF of its viewers. So, if you think that the Boss or U2 or any superstar of yore is selling so poorly because of piracy, you just haven’t thought enough about the equation. There are only 24 hours in a day, music is fighting against not only television, but video games and the Internet too. Furthermore, every record is fighting against every other record in history. You can only play one record at one time. Do you want to spin the newly-hyped crap or an old classic? If you do create a new classic, how hard is it to get the word out?

In other words, we’re seeing the death of the superstar. Maybe one or two could emerge, kind of like “American Idol”, but the ubiquitous star, known by everybody, is history.

We’ve been talking about the phenomenon of fragmentation on the message boards. It’s difficult to discuss this topic without veering into fogeyism, but keep in mind that the lack of a single dominant cultural authority has been a great boon for independent music and other niche scenes.

The only people who need superstars are the assholes at Live Nation (formerly Clear Channel)/Ticketmaster who require acts capable of selling out their soulless enormodomes.

5 thoughts on “The Death of the Superstar”

  1. Riffing on that….

    It’s interesting that while Madonna was nonexistent on the music charts last year, she was the number one grossing musician/act in the world ($200,000,000 i think was her take….don’t have the link handy).

    It’s no wonder that Ticket Bastards is trying to consolidate their hold on live music. It’s the one thing that you can’t “share.”

  2. Sure, the Stones are consistently in the top five grossing touring acts and haven’t had a “hit” album in decades.

    One outcome is that we’re getting to the Minute Men way of doing business: everything is about the show. The fliers, the records…everything is to get people to the show. So does that mean only decent live acts have any longevity?

  3. The bigger issue I see is that when this generation of superstar (U2, Madonna, Bruce) starts dying off, who’s going to replace them? Coldplay, Radiohead, Green Day? Those bands were all still built up by the major label/MTV/radio old world system. Who’s next?

    Of course, if Radiohead et al tour into their 70s like the Stones, this may be a moot point since who knows if there will even be concerts and/or stadiums in another 40 years? Maybe there will just be Facebook Live Events…

  4. scotty: “Ticket Bastards“. Awesome.

    Jake: “…who knows if there will even be concerts and/or stadiums in another 40 years? Maybe there will just be Facebook Live Events…

    I asked a musician/producer/engineer friend of mine why he thinks so many people these days aren’t willing to cough up $10 for an album they’ve determined they already like, but will spend $100 bucks or more on tickets, drinks, merch, parking, baby sitter etc. to see the artist live, when there are so many variables (band having an off night, crappy sound, bad sight lines, etc.) that can go against them in one night.

    Those people you’re referring to have become accustomed to not paying for music anymore but still want to take part in the communal aspect of a show. But as soon as somebody comes up with a download/virtual version of a ‘real’ concert experience, that’ll be the end of the live show as we’ve known it.

    But before we get to that, will there be Kate Bushes, Robert Wyatts, or Alan Parsons in the future, ie established, non-touring artists? (We might even miss out on the next Nick Drake…)

    And what about songwriters? How will those who are not performers make a living when their main revenue source is depleted? Will they turn to jingle work? Granted, there will always be non-writing singers/pop stars in need of material. But still…

    To quote John Lennon, “Strange days, indeed. Most peculiar, Momma.

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