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Local Live Music Is Dead

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by Altitude, Jan 23, 2012.

  1. Altitude

    Altitude An ounce of perception, a pound of obscure. Supporting Member

    Mar 9, 2005
    Denver, nee Austin
    There's a pretty good thread out here started by luarpollen featuring this article about the state of band and venue business arrangements in LA. I'd like to move the discussion in a different direction, and rather than hijack his thread, I decided to acknowledge it and start another one.

    I read the LA Clubs article, and then I read the response written by an LA club owner. And I considered my own experience playing in clubs around Austin and Denver for the last 20 years or so.

    I have a reluctant conclusion and thesis:

    As a popular form of entertainment, the time of local live music has passed. Society is no longer interested on any sustainable level.

    My supporting thoughts:

    The two opposing LA club articles demonstrate an enduring and unwinnable argument. Each side (the bands being one and the venues the other) recognizes that live music attendance usually fails to meet expectations and blames the other for inaction. Over the long term, this trend suggests that neither is at fault more than the other, but rather that local live music is a product without a customer.

    The quality of live music is unpredictable and relatively uncontrollable by the venue management and therefore a risk compared to recorded music. I'm sure that most bar owners see fewer train wrecks and generally happier customers using DJs.

    Entertainment options abound today versus 30 years ago - particularly at-home options. When I was 10, HBO had just launched and most of us had three TV channels. Now everyone has digital cable with movies on demand, four Redbox units within three miles of home, and 70 inch home theater screens. Oh, and an XBox that lets them, not you, be the guitar hero.

    Music has become more ubiquitous these days, which is ironically reducing its appeal. Gone are the days where, in order to hear the new Rush song, we would have to wait for the release date, go to the record store, buy the album, bring it home, and put it on the record player in order to hear it. Now, artists are publishing songs virtually as they write them, and most of us can go from the inkling of desire to hear a song to listening to it in seconds, without getting up out of our chairs. Personally I wouldn't go back to the way it used to be; however, I observe that this evolution may be devaluing music in the hearts and minds of consumers. Live local music, by comparison, seems like way too much trouble to bother with.

    With a few exceptions, long-tenured local bands no longer become famous national bands. I conclude that playing locally provides little exposure to the industry, who never go to the clubs either.

    I've been in bands that have promoted shows with a regimen that would kill an ordinary man, only to see twenty or thirty people show up in a venue that could hold two hundred. People simply don't want to come out and see you play at 10 PM.

    I've played in mountain towns far enough from home that the band couldn't reasonably be expected to draw. Once last summer, we did this in Telluride during the film festival - when 5000 arts lovers had flooded this tiny mountain town, and we played two nights for the bar staff while the DJ bar below us had a line out the door. And we don't suck.

    I've recently attended shows by highly musical regional touring bands - Garaj Mahal and the Pimps of Joytime for example - with fewer than 20 people in the room.

    I set aside a few categories of live local music from this analysis. First, solo piano players in wine bars and upscale restaurants seem not to be affected, probably because their presence is almost unnoticeable if you are more than 20 feet away from them. They demand no audience nor attention and therefore function essentially as a proxy for recorded music.

    Second, there are a few cities where live music is an integral part of the culture - Austin and Nashville for instance. Live music may still have more than average support in places like these as well as in college towns where the 18-24 demographic is highly overrepresented.

    Marquee touring acts and festivals - destination entertainment events that people plan to attend and buy tickets months ahead of time - seem to be doing well; the evolution I describe seems to apply only to local music.

    Your thoughts?
  2. echoSE7EN


    Jul 1, 2010
    Balto., MD
    I don't know about this...I'm close enough to college towns, or have "college bars" in the area that would cater to this demographic. I would say the majority of people this age care more for "pop" music than live music.

    My company's holiday party was just a few weeks ago, and I found it quite interesting that the younger GUYS in my company knew, and seemed to enjoy, all of the Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, etc etc...songs that the younger ladies requested from the DJ.
  3. cableguy


    Jun 4, 2009
    North Bend, WA
    Great post. The DJ/you sing badly to music tracks takes a lot of people away. I think most younger guys just want to get drunk and laid so the DJ works without the cover charge. It's sad because I really like seeing good live music. I like playing out when I can but there is a cost/benefit that must happen. If I can't make a little money I would just as soon write/record music in the studio, or jam with buds. I think live music is still alive, just harder to find.
  4. I don't know if I agree. Can you really say that the Fox theater doesn't bring in 20 people for a show like The Benevento Russo Duo? Denver is a very saturated market with music, and music lovers, I just find it hard to believe.

    Garaj Mahal and the Pimps of Joytime are not really well know outside of the jam scene. PoJ being a third tier jamband at that.
  5. jmattbassplaya

    jmattbassplaya Looking for a gig around East Islip, NY!

    Jan 13, 2008
    I can't say I agree either. I do live in a college town so perhaps my view/opinion isn't valid in your eyes, but my band is making a decent part time living off of playing live. Perhaps live music isn't valued in every town, but I'm definitely never short on gigs or a steady source of income right now. I could get a paying gig every night around here if I wanted to.
  6. Altitude

    Altitude An ounce of perception, a pound of obscure. Supporting Member

    Mar 9, 2005
    Denver, nee Austin
    The Fox is in Boulder, which is a college town. I agree that there seem to be more people out to see live music in college towns.

    Denver is 35 miles away and there are about six venues just like the Fox - the Gothic, the Oriental, the Bluebird as examples - that sit empty a lot of nights. Even in Boulder, nobody has been able to keep the live music venues formerly known as Redfish, B-Side Lounge, and Foundary open for any length of time.
  7. Altitude

    Altitude An ounce of perception, a pound of obscure. Supporting Member

    Mar 9, 2005
    Denver, nee Austin
    Your opinion is completely valid in my eyes, although your experience doesn't really go against my point. I read your post over in the other thread, actually, and I was thinking of it to some extent when I wrote the caveat about college towns. That, and the differences in my own experience between Austin and Denver.
  8. Syco_bass

    Syco_bass Supporting Member

    Aug 13, 2008
    Tucson, Arizona
    Custom builder - Arizona Bass Company/Curcio Custom Basses
    Live music is alive an well in AZ. 3 college towns, plenty of venues to play covers or original music. You are not going to make a living playing live music here, but you can make an average of $100/night to suppliment your income and if you play in a few bands you'll be busy enough to play every Friday/Saturday and even a few Thursdays and Sundays. If you are a bass player, and can hold down a decent groove and play a variety of genres (Country, Classic Rock, Soul, Blues, R&B, 80's Dance Rock) you'll have more work than you can handle if you apply yourself and look for it.

    There are a lot of bands that say AZ sucks for live music. These are the guys that never got out of their garage in the 80's and complain about how the pay sucks. The two bands I play in just got raises for 2012 and are able to keep a relatively full calendar at least 2 months in advance.

    I'm not trying to brag, just adding to the point that "live music is alive and well". At least where I live.

  9. bassbully

    bassbully Endorsed by The PHALEX CORN BASS..mmm...corn!

    Sep 7, 2006
    Blimp City USA
    Here Here! There are allot of factors leading to the fall of live music, demographics,smoking /drinking laws,income woes..on and on. I agree that music is just to easy to get today by media etc. Want to see a band? go to youtube to their site and there are live videos. If you like the band you might go to a show if not you save your money. In the past you might of went to see a band that you were interested in by word of mouth etc but now you can get a preview of them live and decide.

    There is also much of automated, dance type music than in the past and its easy to mass produce and play by Djs. The equipment (laptops) make it easy and portable for anyone to get started. To start a band is a huge investment money and time wise.

    The best live music in my area is the small clubs that cater to live music and local musicians. There are few but if you do a good job they are there for you and support. You wont make much money and the crowds are from a few to full but again the clubs are small. It's all about your market and scene.
  10. the yeti

    the yeti

    Nov 6, 2007
    raleigh, nc
    if the music most bands play isn't "pop"ular that could be the problem/solution.

    there's a decent music scene here i think, but there's a large college audience.
  11. otherclef


    Aug 10, 2011
  12. theretheyare


    Sep 4, 2010
    Brooklyn, NY
    Endorsing: Arkham Vacuum Tube Amplification
    Thank you WJGreer for opening up this discussion with an excellent post.

    In 30 years of playing off and on in Europe and the US having touched upon all kinds of paid and unpaid circumstances (from 'high art' to weddings and restaurants, theatre, teaching, composition and so on), I have reached some conclusions as they apply to me.

    At the root of this are things here noone of us can change. Most importantly, we live in a capitalist/free-market society where the value of everything including music is measured in money, and monetary value is based upon ownership, exacerbated by the existence of recorded music.

    I am just saying this because this is does not speak for itself - Mozart and Bach, for example made relatively modest livings by being employed by assorted dignitaries and religious institutions; the concept of ownership for music (for example that you could ask for money for someone playing your composition, or having people pay and entrance fee at the door for a perfomance, or the ability of selling recorded materials) are all relatively recent developments in the history of music and professional musicianship as a whole. Mozart and Bach (and Charlie Parker etc) made music anyway, and we enjoy it to this day.

    That we even have the option to make money with music is a gift, imo, not a human right

    So for me the trade-down of living in the society we live in is this: do I want to get paid? If yes, all I need to do is figure out as the market requires and people will be willing to pay me, maybe with some government help here and there. In this sense music is exactly like any other occupation.

    However, this implies I also have another choice here: the free market society allows me to make any music I want-all I need to do is find money. In that sense, it is a good thing that capitalism is essentially amoral: if I for example want to make an anti-capitalist record, all I need to do is find a capitalist who sees money in that idea and I'm rolling. Try that in an authoritarian society that to this day lots of musicians are trying to function in.

    And with everything that is genuinely bad or frustrating about the current gigging situation, I will take this any day over, say, a authoritarian society regulated by religion or quasi-religion (many examples past and present), where a musican can be thrown into jail or worse just for playing the 'wrong' notes.

    I can express myself musically anyway I want, as long as I find money somewhere to do so, which doesn't have to come from music. It's not ideal, but a pretty good deal, IMO. If I want to make money through music, I'll have to make the music that will let me do so. That's not why I went into music in the 1st place. Guess I can't have it both ways, but hey, that's a luxury problem in the grand scheme of things.
  13. Chef FourString

    Chef FourString

    Feb 4, 2011
    Trying to get paid playing music in Austin was the hardest job I've ever had.
  14. Plucky The Bassist

    Plucky The Bassist ZOMG! I'm back from the dead! Supporting Member

    Jul 30, 2010
    Houston, TX
    I hear a lot from older guys that I speak to concerning this same topic. What the older gents typically tell me is "We went through the same thing in the 70's, jukeboxes took us out of the clubs and even if they DID want live music, basses were getting bumped out by synthesizers half the time."

    The advice I get is "give it time" and "it's just a cycle that music goes through, live music will be back soon enough." Idk how much of that is true, but when they first invented solid state amps, did you think that tube amps would become extinct? Even with micro amps, all-tube is still not going anywhere. People have also bolstered vinyl sales substantially in the past few years, myself being a vinyl enthusiast as well. I think it depends on your town, genre, and the reputation of the club. Rock in general has always championed the live performance and made it a worthwhile experience....whereas pop music like Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, or w/e Disney has vomited out as their cash cow is often lip-synched anyways so they can dance or do other crap on stage. I would expect that kind of music to go that way, but true bands are going to take things a step further at live shows and make a connection with their audience in a way that pop artists cannot. Just my $0.02 :)
  15. hrodbert696

    hrodbert696 Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Just a few thoughts, not that I have any particular insight. Times are hard, and when the money dries up people start pointing fingers. The way the economy has been for the last five years, people go out less and spend less when they do go out, and that hits clubs and bands alike. I've waited tables in a restaurant that was struggling to stay afloat and I can well imagine that the owner wasn't about to drop $500 on a band plus hundreds more in promotion that wasn't going to draw.

    Having said that, the bands never will start to draw if they don't get the chance to play and get their name known. They have no guaranteed audience, other than a handful of friends and family, until they get in front of some people and play. A band that sucks can scare paying customers away just as much as a good band can win a devoted following. Seems to me, if I were a venue owner, and wanted to make sure I was booking bands that didn't suck, I'd run an open mic night and use it as an informal audition. But I'm not sure places really do use it that way, it seems more like it's just a chance to get the musicians to come and buy drinks on slow weeknights. I've heard of clubs around here that used to always hire crappy bands for cheap, and wound up having to close because eventually nobody would come any more.

    Anyway (I'm rambling here), back to my original point; I think that this is all because of hard times all around. I wouldn't generalize from it that live music is dead. You might have thought the same thing about live theater once movies came along, not to mention TV and VCRs and DVD and the internet... and yet, live theater is still out there. Maybe not making big bucks except on Broadway and the touring companies, but it's out there anyway. The pendulum swings back and forth.
  16. theretheyare


    Sep 4, 2010
    Brooklyn, NY
    Endorsing: Arkham Vacuum Tube Amplification
    I hear you-try NYC. Clubs come and go at a beathtaking speed. ALmost always door gigs, occasionally pay to play. Some places pay, and are almost empty, meaning they are probably funded through something shady. Only people who show up are fellow musicians, supporting you, while pushing their own agenda's. It's a drag-but it is also a fantastic challenge.
  17. Altitude

    Altitude An ounce of perception, a pound of obscure. Supporting Member

    Mar 9, 2005
    Denver, nee Austin
    I agree, and I find this to be a symptom of the problem. Live music isn't generating incremental revenue for most venues, so their natural response is to shift the revenue risk onto the bands. Which doesn't work, because, again, there's no revenue, so the bands blame the venues for not being fair. And on we go.
  18. travep

    travep Supporting Member

    Apr 16, 2010
    Austin, TX
    I'm in Austin and IMO the issue if there is one is that there are too many venues...a "problem" that I enjoy b/c there are lots of options to see and play. For me, though, there are only a handful of venues that I actually visit on a regular basis. Let's face it, once you have enough money to regularly pay for cover & drinks, you start looking for nicer venues. When your toilets are nastier and less convenient to use than port-a-lets at a festival, I start rethinking the venue. I am getting old, however, in case you haven't guessed. At any rate, I don't mind paying for $5 beer...just make my experience comfortable. In Austin, it also makes it tough that there are so many talented musicians. I mean, there are so many that I can see super talent at an early set any night of the week. For those looking to make their living at this, though, it "kills" the local music business. For fans, it makes it great (in Austin, anyway). I think that musicians here just adjust their expectations...probably not pleasant for those making their livings at it...which is one reason I hit the tip jar pretty heavy when I see live music...
  19. Altitude

    Altitude An ounce of perception, a pound of obscure. Supporting Member

    Mar 9, 2005
    Denver, nee Austin
    I agree that's a factor, although I think it discounts the competition live music - and movies - face from home-based entertainment.

    Movies have survived the trend better, no doubt - here's an analysis of the revenue trend there, which is pretty close to flat since 1995. But think of the difference in the promotional effort on movies versus the live local band playing downtown this Friday.
  20. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    One thing I've gleaned from this forum over the years is that it's hard to make sweeping statements about local live music. in the US at least, the music scene varies by region. In the Seattle/Portland area the local live muisc (especially for original music) - I'd describe as thriving -musically. Money-wise, less so for most.

    When it comes to playing locally, I think that it's important to acknowledeg a difference between being "in the scene" and being outside of it. It's one thing to dedicate your energey wholey to musicianship and mastering your craft, but another thing to wade freshly into a local scene and expect instant recognition and support form the core group of local music fans. It still needs to be earned. It makes a huge difference to be involved with and get to know the local venues, promoters, bands, music writers, local/college radio DJs etc. A local music scene is comprised of people who want to see local bands thrive, and as group they expend energey, time and money to try to help it happen. The more you can be a part of that, the better you network becomes for helping your music. I'm sometimes dubious about hipster/clique-iness of situation, but it is what it is, and I try to view it form the cheerier 'people helping people' angle.

    But your point about sustainability is very apt. It's not a money mill for most of the people involved. Almost no one is making a living at this. The brutal truth is that if you're in a local band, you have a day job to support it.

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