Since 1986, Lefsetz has held the industry accountable via the Lefsetz Letter. Initially a six-to-eight-page physical newsletter he produced fortnightly and mailed to subscribers, it evolved into a free email he publishes about once a day. A mix of analysis, opinion, diatribe and personal reflection, in addition to covering the musical landscape it also delves into politics, technology, TV and film. He won’t disclose the size of his subscriber base – “I never recite numbers because everyone in this business lies” – but boasts a readership that contains industry heavyweights such as the Eagles manager Irving Azoff and legendary producer Quincy Jones.
“Everybody in the music business reads me,” says the 66-year-old. “If I write about anyone in the world, they read it.”
Lefsetz has been involved in a number of high-profile public spats – and many more private ones – with artists who’ve taken exception to his work, including Gene Simmons and Kid Rock. Taylor Swift allegedly wrote the song Mean about him after he lambasted her performance with Stevie Nicks at the 2010 Grammys.
“They call this show business, not show friends,” he says.
He believes his cut-through is the result of several key tenets.
“I say what I believe. With me, what you see is what you get. People think if I say things in print I must be a real motherf**ker offline. But that’s not the case.
“[And] most writing sucks,” he adds. “First and foremost, my stuff is very readable. And I have a certain insight that appeals to people. So it’s sold purely on that level.”
Raised in “a melting pot suburb in Connecticut”, Lefsetz coveted a career as a music journalist but abandoned that plan after his work was criticised by one of his college teachers. He shifted base to Los Angeles and became a music business attorney before moving through the movie industry and, briefly, heading Sanctuary Music’s American division, home to artists such as Iron Maiden and WASP.
After losing that job he learned how to use a computer, and the Lefsetz Letter was born. Originally it had a practical purpose.
“I thought, if I lay out what’s really going on [in the industry], someone will hire me for another job. That was the initial idea. But what happened was, all the most successful people in the music business subscribed. Because they could hear a contrary opinion. Now I’m the guy who writes the newsletter.”
He also hosts The Bob Lefsetz Podcast and is invited to speak at conferences around the globe. This week he deliver the keynote address for Australian Music Week in Cronulla, while recording several live episodes of his podcast with guests such as Mushroom Group CEO Michael Gudinski, artist manager John Watson and Big Day Out co-founder Ken West.
Among discussions about the landscape of today’s music business – which, he believes, is better than pre-internet due to its “egalitarian” nature – he promises not to sugarcoat any of his messages.
“First and foremost,” he says, “you’re gonna hear the truth.”
Australian Music Week takes place in Cronulla from November 6 to 10.