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How Coachella Became Just a Place to See and Be Seen

The music biz used to be the leader in pop culture; now, it’s just a follower

I’m sure everybody at Coachella had a good time last weekend, but I’m not sure it had much to do with the music. When did concerts devolve into a place to see and be seen? Probably when the festival paradigm took over. Now they’re events, not concerts.

My dad was a rule-breaker. Bottom line: Are you coloring inside the lines or outside them? All the winners color the exterior, while insisting you remain interior.

Now I’m not telling you to rob banks. But if you see a stupid rule, maybe you should break it. All innovation is about breaking the rules, which is why Coachella falls so flat. All the innovation there is non-musical; it’s about food and sculpture, whereas the acts paint by numbers (thank you James McMurtry!). Isn’t it funny that the past 10 years have been dominated by TV singing competitions where people tell you how to perform, where you’ve got to run the gauntlet to get noticed. Artists don’t do this.

New musical stars will emerge who will rivet the public. But they’ll be different. They won’t be focusing on sponsorship or fashion shows. They’ll cause us to look at the world just a little bit differently. That’s what rule-breakers do: They make us challenge our preconceptions. Coachella is a celebration; it’s not art.

There’s a very interesting interview with venture capitalist Fred Wilson on Business Insider. Fred is a thinker who has something to say. What fascinated me most were is comments on Instagram:

“There’s a lot of people who were in my Instagram feed a year ago who aren’t there today,” he said. “They’ve been replaced by brands. So now my Instagram feed is full of things like the New York Knicks and restaurants posting amazing photos of food. The young Facebook user-base who left Facebook to go to Instagram has now seemingly moved mostly to Snapchat, and my generation plus brands are what’s on Instagram now.”

Youngsters move on. For all their supposed love of brands, when ads appear, the young disappear. In other words, by time the mainstream starts touting something, it’s toast. Just ask Fred: His virtual deejay company Turntable.fm died right after an insane wave of publicity.

The point is, if you’re in the tech game — if you’re in the popular culture game — you’re concerned with where the people are going. The music business is primarily concerned with where people have been, believing they’re going to stay, buy CDs, listen to radio. Building something from nothing, seeing the future and changing the world, used to be music’s job. Now, it’s the VCs. Which means that Fred Wilson is a bigger rock star than everybody appearing onstage at Coachella. He’s reaching more people, and thrilling them.

It’s a completely different world these days. Baby boomers think they run it, but they just live in it. Time is passing them by — because they’re all about leisure and lifestyle, and it’s very hard to keep your finger on the pulse of pop culture that way.

There was an article in BusinessWeek that the convertible is dying. You see, kids don’t care about cars. But they do care about going to the festival to see and be seen, to take selfies and upload them.

Once upon a time music led change and adapted to the new world. Now, concert companies are doing an incredible job of extracting dough from customers. Give AEG credit for making Coachella a foodie paradise.

Just don’t tell me it’s about the music.

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