What It Takes To Make It – Bob Lefsetz

Posted on May 8, 2011


Changes within the music industry over the past few years have slowly caught up with the dreamers who aspire to be successful in the industry, and I find Bob’s articles to be a grave reality check for those who think becoming an over-night sensation to be glamorous and fame-worthy. I felt compelled to offer Bob’s insight here for my own readers.

Bob Lefsetz

“What It Takes To Make It”
Bob Lefsetz
Sunday, May 8, 2011

I’m reading an article on the Navy SEALS. It recounts Hell Week, wherein you either pass or fail, make it or don’t. Only 21 of the author’s class of 220 survived the test. What does it take to succeed?

“What kind of man makes it through Hell Week? That’s hard to say. But I do know – generally – who won’t make it. There are a dozen types that fail: the weight-lifting meatheads who think that the size of their biceps is an indication of their strength, the kids covered in tattoos announcing to the world how tough they are, the preening leaders who don’t want to get dirty, and the look-at-me former athletes who have always been told they are stars but have never have been pushed beyond the envelope of their talent to the core of their character. In short, those who fail are the ones who focus on show. The vicious beauty of Hell Week is that you either survive or fail, you endure or you quit, you do – or you do not.”

Sounds like an audition for “American Idol”. Did you see that article wherein the stars of “The Voice” were shown to have appeared on previous TV shows? That’s taking the easy way out, that’s a desire to strap yourself onto a rocket to the moon, real stardom demands more. It’s not a lucky break, it’s all that preparation when no one is looking. Making it comes when you least expect it, when you’ve almost given up but are still slogging along on sheer adrenaline.

It is about character. Much more than talent.

“Some men who seemed impossibly weak at the beginning of SEAL training – men who puked on runs and had trouble with pull-ups – made it. Some men who were
skinny and short and whose teeth chattered just looking at the ocean also made it. Some men who were visibly afraid, sometimes to the point of shaking, made it too.”

You can’t predict who is going to be a star. That beautiful girl with the fantastic pipes in high school, where is she today? Your buddy who could wail on the guitar?

Making it is like becoming a Navy SEAL. You’ve got to endure all kinds of horrific abuse, when no one is watching. Are you gonna flake out for the doughnut or hang in there? Used to be getting a record deal was like becoming a SEAL, the beginning. Now even that doesn’t count. People wanting record deals are pussies, they want someone else to do all the work. Today, if you want to survive, you’ve got to do the work.

It’s a battle.

Very few can make it in music. Even fewer than can make it in movies. You can fake it in acting (Arnold Schwarzenegger?), but you can’t fake it in music.

Oh, don’t complain about the pretty faces with Top Ten hits written by the usual suspects. Everyone knows they’re not real. Which is why they can’t sell a ticket and are forgotten almost instantly.

And the old labels don’t want to do the hard work and neither do the concert promoters.

The old labels just want to plug you into the system. Get you TV and radio exposure, play online games to make you famous. If the labels wanted to do the hard work, they’d sign people who sounded nothing like what’s on the radio and break them. That’s what they used to do, but now it’s too hard. Just try getting a deal at a major label if you don’t make Top Forty music.

And once upon a time, promoters broke acts. Before consolidation, when agents and managers were loyal. Now promoters are conglomerates focused on the bottom line, it’s about anything but music. Live Nation trumpeting the success of the Charlie Sheen tour? Would Bill Graham have promoted that? Money doesn’t trump everything. Let’s see you try to book ANOTHER Charlie Sheen tour. In the old days, the acts started small and ended up big. Charlie Sheen started out big and ended up small.

The reason we haven’t had many new breakthroughs, in both music and business, is it’s so damn hard to do. Techies want instant returns and so do the acts. No one wants to put in the hard work.

What struck me about all the e-mail regarding the Outsiders was that this was not everybody’s first band. Jimmy Fox was in many before forming the James Gang. Greatness takes a while to pan out. You don’t make it immediately. You keep slogging on, rejiggering, practicing, refining, getting it right. To the point when people discover you you look like an overnight success, yet you’re anything but.

On some level, that’s what’s wrong with America. No one wants to do the hard work.

But some do. And they’re the ones who succeed.


READ: “The Seal Sensibility”

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