Nate Silver: The Model for Tomorrow’s Musical Acts

Nate Silver

It pays to be ahead of the curve in an age when content travels easily

Nate Silver is a superstar. He’s the model for tomorrow’s musical acts, but you just don’t know it yet.

Unlike today’s adolescents dominating the YouTube, SoundScan story, Silver wasn’t born yesterday, as in he’s got a history. Not only is he educated, he did stuff before the “Times,” which signed him and where he ended up so successful he pissed everybody off.

Now if the New York Times had a television network, then it might have had a chance to keep Silver. But the paper couldn’t compete with the ABC/ESPN duality. As for print? Who needs it, when you’ve got the Web? Yes, Silver walked with his domain, he’s the star, not the paper.

And this goes against everything we’ve learned in mass media for eons. This is the oldster’s worst nightmare. Because suddenly, talent is doing it for itself.

This is the story of Arcade Fire. Personally, I don’t love their music, but enough people do. Same deal with Nate Silver. Not everybody knows his name, but enough do. That’s the goal. To amass your audience and triumph.

That’s what you could never do before. Build and own your audience. You were dependent upon middlemen. This is what is wrong with the major label model of today, they take all your money and give you very little in return, telling you that without radio and their relationships at retail, you just can’t succeed. If Silver can succeed without the Times, can’t you without a label?

Let’s start at the beginning. Not everybody is as talented as Nate Silver. Yes, I know you hate that, you were taught by your parents that you were great and if you just believed in yourself you would succeed, but this is categorically untrue.

And as stated earlier, success is dependent upon education and hard work, something that’s abhorred in Snookiville. Today’s wannabe musicians can make great YouTube videos, and social network and spam you to death, but they rarely make great music.

You always start off far from the radar screen. That’s what today’s wannabe musicians don’t get. Recognition comes LAST! Be happy to play the gig most people don’t go to, that’s where you hone your chops.

And ask for more. This is what people hate about the Eagles, their confidence and their demands, their desire to do it their way. People would rather drag you down into the hole they’re in, they want you to apologize and make like you’re just like them. But I’m certainly not a statistics whiz like Nate Silver and I doubt you are either.

Nate didn’t want to be pigeonholed, he did not want to be limited to the niche the Times gave him. This is no different from an act telling the label they don’t want to co-write, they don’t want advice; they just want to do it their way. But unlike today’s musicians, Nate Silver was willing to walk.

Now granted, Silver did not go totally independent, unlike the delusional Andrew Sullivan, who believed that by tapping his audience for cash, he’d grow instead of being marginalized. In other words, there’s no harm in selling your wares to the highest bidder … as long as it is done on your terms, not theirs.

So where does this leave us?

On the cusp of new superstars. Soon we’ll have more Arcade Fires, and some of them will have mass appeal.

Talent is finally king, because distribution is free.

But in order to truly be king you have to believe in yourself and play by your own rules.

And if you’re a label, and you wanna ensnare a superstar?

Offer him exposure in all venues.

Cut him a great deal.

And know that he’s boss.

If you’re not kissing the ass of talent, if you’re not giving it all it wants and deserves, you’re destined for the scrapheap.

Read more Bob Lefsetz columns at

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    1. Jose Gonzalez says:

      To me this is the same story of an act that gets built up buy a major label, and then is equipped to go out and do it on their own (but only after benefitting greatly from the major label ‘machine’). The NYT gave Nate a mass platform to make a name for himself AND credibility, and now he’s big enough to go demand whatever he wants, from whoever wants to pay him. Would love to have seen him try that without first going through the elite Fifth Estate.

    2. There already are more “Arcade Fires.” Look no further than Macklemore. Thrift Shop was the first single to hit 1 on Billboard without support of a major record label (he did it with Can’t Hold Us as well).

      • Frederick B. Flarben says:

        Strongly disagree. All of these trends are fires started and fanned by existing media conglomerates. As for the “talent” discussed in the article, sorry but Arcade Fire is no Rolling Stones, no Aretha Franklin, no Parliament. I walk through offices where people listen to internet radio and rebroadcasts from places like Cape Town where the listeners have no idea what’s playing AND DON’T CARE. It sounds good now, and it’s free. The future of music is exactly what we have now: Celebrity pop and phony indie acts being pushed by the media elite, and a disaffected audience that is either interested in classic pop in all its flavors or music streaming that just fills the time. Nate Silver is not a star of any kind and there are no kings, no queens, little talent and less interest. 20% of audience is celebrity pop, 20% doesn’t listen to much of anything, 20% is classic rock/pop/r&b, 20% rap/metal/video game music, 20% free internet streams from wherever. There’s your music business. Who cares.

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