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Is interest in live music declining?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by theinfamous, Oct 30, 2018.

  1. theinfamous


    Dec 22, 2014
    I need some insight on this subject. This is probably going to be a long post, so bear with me.

    To start, I'll give you some background:
    I moved to my current town about ten years ago. It's a touristy kind of town of about 11,000. Very popular with retirees, so there is money in the town, and real estate prices have stayed stable and actually risen quite a bit. There's a small college in the town as well. The surrounding area is very rural, but there's a moderately sized city about an hour away, about 75,000 in population.

    When I first started playing in bands here ten years ago, we would do two-nighters at a local bar, which was very much a dirty dive. We would rotate in every month or two, and on a good night there would easily be 100+ people in there, and on an off night there would be 40-60. I'm just guessing on numbers, but the point is, we had decent crowds for pretty much any live music, at least to the point where it was worth it for the bar to hire us.

    Sadly, I have watched the crowds slowly declining over the years, and the last five have been absolutely dismal. The last few times I've played the aforementioned bar, an outstanding night was 40 people and a bad night we would play for the bartenders and the five drunks wandering through after getting kicked out of the other bars. Since then, that bar has all but given up on having bands, and the other bar in town doing live music only has bands once a month. So I went from playing in town one or two weekends a month to playing once or twice a SEASON.

    It is almost pointless to try to book gigs in the bigger town an hour away, because nobody has ever cared about live bands in that town, to the point where I've often felt kind of bad that the venue even had to pay us.

    So.... even though the college is growing and the town is growing, our crowds for all bands across the board, regardless of genre, have been shrinking. The only bands having some degree of success are the ones playing street dances either with country or top 40 rock radio stuff.

    Has anyone else noticed this, or is this a unique thing to the area? Also, what can be done to lure people out to see live music again??
  2. fhm555

    fhm555 So FOS my eyes are brown Supporting Member

    Feb 16, 2011
    Play country or top 40 radio stuff?
    Sixgunn and saabfender like this.
  3. theinfamous


    Dec 22, 2014
    I guess... but it is next to impossible to build a following when bars won't book you and people don't go out for live music at all...

    Also, I dont like that music, and I'm not sure I could bring myself to do all that rehearsal and leg work for a new band to play stuff I'm not into.

    In fact, general attendance at bars has been declining for some time too. Not really sure the reason.
  4. fhm555

    fhm555 So FOS my eyes are brown Supporting Member

    Feb 16, 2011
    If you want to work you either play what’s selling in your area or move to a place where what you want to play is selling.
    If you want to work around here it’s pretty much country or blues. There used to a couple places that booked metal but AFAIK they are gone. We’ve still got the place where any music that appeals to the college crowd can get booked in to but it only gets really full thursday nights and weekends when football season is not in. They open seven nights a week and if you can play well you can get a weeknight slot but you make the door. Last time i was in there to see some friends working out their live routine it was a week night and they were opening for a band from North Carolina. At the end of the night both bands split thirty five bucks. The local guys just gave it all to the band from NC who pulled out at two AM headed to New Orleans.
    If OTOH you play country, we’ve got plenty of clubs that hire those bands. It’s mostly thursday through saturday but it’s every weekend in multiple joints. If you are good you can work every weekend pretty easy and it’s rare the joints aren’t packed so the money can be really good if you play for the door or can work a deal with the owner/manager. The last local country band i was in worked pretty much every weekend we wanted to work and would make a hundred a night per band member paid by the bar or as much as twice as that working for the door. We could have added a couple thursdays but most of the band had day jobs and didn’t want to be dragging ass at work on friday and playing the next two nights.
  5. theinfamous


    Dec 22, 2014
    I totally see what you mean, and it makes sense to me. I could potentially get more gigs playing country (especially Garth Brooks and similar stuff) but it's going to be a gamble regardless. Having to rehearse 3 hours of new tunes that I dont particularly care for doesn't seem that fun to me. Plus it's near impossible to find a drummer around here. My current bands will not be down for doing country or modern top 40.

    Also, there is a huge aversion in the general public to paying a door charge for anything. Even five bucks chases people away.
  6. hrodbert696

    hrodbert696 Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    This kind of thread comes up quite a bit. I'll repeat what I said in the last one - when it usually comes up, people ask about "live music," but what they really mean is "rock bands in bars." As far as I can tell, touring bands still sell concert tickets, Broadway musicals are popular both in New York and touring, summer concert series from your local Parks and Rec or library performances are still pretty well attended.

    So I don't think live music itself is declining - but the cover band scene certainly is. There are a bunch of reasons.

    Part of it is a change in the music market. The internet has fragmented it, and genres have shifted. The Top40 of today is not the same as the Top 40 of yesterday; it has less market share. Which means any given new tune is going to have less familiarity and enthusiasm than an old one, even if it's top ten. Meanwhile the top 40 of yesteryear is the "heart music" of a generation that's getting older and older. Young people do know and often love older music, the same as lots of 80s kids like me loved the Beatles, but it's not the same thing - that doesn't mean they're eager to go hear a bar band cover the Beatles.

    One thing I was just reflecting on today was the issue of volume. Part of it is that overeager, or presumptuous, bar bands have driven lots of customers away by being too loud. I think there's another dimension of it, too, which is that for those people who DO enjoy getting blasted by an overwhelming wall of sound, there are now alternatives to live bands to get it. It's not the band that creates that, it's the PA system, and a DJ at a rave can generate the same effect and do the "Drop the bass" thing. That phenomenon puzzled me - why would anyone want to listen to a synth just generating a static, low-frequency tone, rather than a bassist actually playing a greasy low-end groove? - until I realized that for some people, all they really want is that rumble-their-bones feeling and it was never about musicality.

    I think there's been a big cultural shift in terms of attitudes to nightlife in general. You don't need a singles bar when you have Tinder. Staying home is a lot less boring than it used to be, with all the manifold forms of digital entertainment. As a marketing theme, "Netflix and Chill" has been an extraordinary success. I see people on social media all the time - not just older people, either - who will post stuff asserting that some unnamed other people might be out swinging from the ceilings at clubs, but they're just going to curl up with a movie and a glass of wine at home Saturday night. You never seem to find out who those "other people" actually are or how you can get them to see your band. There's a kind of cost/benefit, risk/reward calculation over what to do on a Saturday night - is it worth the effort to get dressed, to go out in the cold and travel twenty minutes, to get to a bar where the band might really suck and be too loud and the drunks be really annoying, and you've got to work out a designated driver who's willing to go party with you without drinking themselves, or risk getting pulled over for DUI on your way home? Or would it be better not to bother and stay in and watch a movie?

    And then, there's the life cycle of popular music genres. Blues and jazz are still a thing, and people still go to see them. But there aren't nearly as many jazz clubs around most areas as there would have been fifty or sixty years ago. The same thing is true of rock. There will always be rock bands, or at least for a long time to come, and people going to see them. But not as many people, and not as many venues. We're in a post-rock world.
  7. seilerbird


    Apr 12, 2012
    Concerts are getting all time high ticket prices. You can't see anyone for under $100. Live music is doing real well as far as I can tell.
  8. lz4005


    Oct 22, 2013
    That's where successful artists are making all their money these days. Sales of recorded music don't pay the bills anymore, even for the most popular acts.
    Dabndug likes this.
  9. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    This has probably already been reported ad nauseum, but...

    In the USA it's happening everywhere as far as I can tell except for large cities like New York. The market for local live music peaked with the Baby Boomers and has been in serious decline for the last 25 years. Gigs like playing high school dances and at colleges have vaporized, DJs are in bars and at weddings in place of bands. The pendulum might swing back some time in the future if the 20-40 crowd gets interested.

    It's not like there is no live music at all (hey, I'm still gigging at least once a week) just not as much as there used to be and the pay has stagnated or even dropped. Tip jars are increasingly commonplace and everyone is hustling. Bands no longer tour as widely as they used to, we don't see West Coast or southeastern bands in New England bars any more. I haven't played in NH, Maine or NY much for most of the last decade, staying in MA, RI and sometimes CT.

    You can't lure people out. They either want to go or they don't. You have to be playing the kind of music that people who do go out want to hear and/or dance to. It's not rocket science.
  10. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Supporting Member

    i think hrodbert696 has nailed it --- again!

    if it's the "same old, same old" menu being served up by your band = you're probably not competing. too many bands are doing "the same old, same old" stuff.

    you may need to get creative! good luck! :thumbsup:
  11. I will agree that on the surface it may look like live music for bar bands is slowing down but I think in actuality you need to tailor your band to what people want to hear if you want regular gigs. My current band gets over 60 gigs a year at a minimum of $100 a guy. How do we do it - play music people want to hear. Classic Rock, Country , 50's & 60's all the cliche songs like Brown Eyed Girl and Wagon Wheel. We cover a big variety of popular songs and that keeps us getting booked.

    For you I think the issue is do you want to go down that road as a musician - playing what people want? or do you want to play the music that YOU want regardless of the size of the audience? It's rare that both match up.
    There are enough places to play - but you may need to change your band's direction or members to make it work.

    my two cents
  12. el murdoque

    el murdoque

    Mar 10, 2013

    I have two projects at the present moment.
    1. A Post-Punk Band that plays originals
    2. A Reggea Band that plays covers.

    Band Number 1 has the stage volume you'd suspect. It's not the drummer that sets the minimal volume but the guitarists tube head with 412 cab. I tried, I failed, I tag along for the ride. This band is, was and will be too loud.
    One gig per year is what one can expect from the whole thing. I enjoy blasting at full volume (ears plugged) from time to time.

    Band Number 2 has a drummer that needs to play eDrums for health reasons. Everything runs on IEM and I bring a small cab because the singers have cheap earbuds that don't really do bass. Guitar does 112 with a 5W amp.
    We're as loud as you set FOH. We could play a dining room.
    All this is far from professional, just a bunch of solid hobbyists doing their things.
    We played one (1) gig at the end of the gigging season in 2016.
    2017 we were booked for eleven (11) gigs without lifting a finger.
    2018 we had to pass up opportunities to play because we could not fit them in our schedule.

    I see rock in bars become less and less.
    Acoustic duos are big in my neck of the woods.
    saabfender and hrodbert696 like this.
  13. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    These are both true.

    Much like @hrodbert696 beats his drum in these threads, I'll beat mine.

    The problem is us. We (by "we" I mean most local cover bands) show up with no lights, dressed like we just got done cutting our grass, and put on no SHOW whatsoever.

    We are NOT ..... I repeat NOT..... in the "music business". We are in the ENTERTAINMENT business. They can get music from a computer. They don't need you for that.

    Dress the part. Set up lights. Move around. Engage your audience. You'll get more gigs than you want.

    Wear a tucked in Fender T-shirt and white New Balance sneakers on stage, set up no lights, put in no show, play the same old crap everyone else has butchered in bars for forty years and continue to start threads like these.

    Short version. Yes, the number of people who want to go to a bar and see boring old guys play old guy music and act/look like old guys has dwindled.
  14. MrLenny1


    Jan 17, 2009
    Yes, it is in decline since the mid 90's IME.
    The old format does not do well.
    You have to play what's in demand, New Country and Pop etc...
    The money is still in functions but there is very little of them. Use to score $500 for 2 functions.
    The younger crowd does not even dance together. They hang
    in front of the band like a concert with an I-phone in one hand and
    a beer in the other and yet people will pay $100-150 for a big concert
    but won't drop $20 at the local bar.
  15. lfmn16

    lfmn16 Supporting Member

    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    Maybe it's just where I've lived, but I've never had trouble booking a good band that played music people want to hear. Most of the bands I've been in with a declining audience was because we played the same songs for years, or songs people didn't know.

    I would put less time into thinking about all of the reasons why you aren't being booked and more time into figuring out how you can get booked. First stop is to look at bands that are playing regularly. What are they doing differently?

    It aint rocket science, play tunes people want to hear and play them competently and you'll be fine. My Rockabilly/Outlaw Country/Rock and Roll band picked up some Motown. We don't sound like the original, but we do it as closely as a three piece band can, do a good job and people love it.
    Koog, MegaSwing and Crazy_Jake like this.
  16. Medicine Man

    Medicine Man

    Apr 10, 2015
    Step one: come to accept the fact that vanity songs are over. You know, the obscure b sides that musicians love to play because the enjoy to listen or they can show off their awesome chops. Instead play the stuff your average drunk chick at a bar knows all the words to.

    Step 2: just because Wagon Wheel sucks doesn't mean it's ok to play it deadpan standing in one place while watching the basketball game on the tv above the bar. Enjoy playing music, whatever it is, and people will enjoy watching you do it.
    zoonose and Crazy_Jake like this.
  17. higain617


    Sep 12, 2013
    It's been a long time since I hung out at suburban bars, but most were replacing bands with karaoke machines and DJ's. Also, a lot of cover band sets were getting stale in the 80's, and haven't changed much.
    theinfamous likes this.
  18. Ekulati

    Ekulati Supporting Member

    Jan 2, 2016
    Richmond, VA
    This is kinda the elephant in the room topic. Been going on for decades in most locales. I guess your mileage varied! You were lucky to enjoy those kind of crowds in a bar as recently as you mention. Dozens of threads here on the general decline in live music. A multitude of reasons, but IMO, a perfect storm of a few main ones.
  19. Yes from my perspective, interest in live (real) music is declining. However music that is dumbed down, over produced, aggressively marketed and with visual components has remained in demand by those that consume these products. Modern reality.
    fclefgeoff likes this.
  20. matante


    Nov 3, 2003
    Los Angeles
    You didn't mention it in your post but it seems obvious youre talking about cover bands. You're also talking about building a following. I have to wonder who follows cover bands. And that's also a tiny town for you to expect a following that would show up to see you twice a month.

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