thoughts on supporting live music…or why most jazz clubs are small
This email arrived the other morning:
Ticket sales for the May14 & 21 concerts are each in the single digits. Ticket sales for the May 9 concert aren’t much better — and are still far below the break-even point.
Unless the numbers improve dramatically VERY SOON, I’ll be forced to cancel those shows.
I’m REALLY tired — physically and mentally – of booking great acts virtually no one in this town will come see.
The music I tend to listen to these days is mostly of the acoustic variety; be it folk, indie bands, singer-songwriters, bluegrass or that alt-whatever genre. And it doesn’t escape me that the vast majority of this music I’m hearing is now being recorded in living rooms, dens, garages, bedrooms, basements, hotel rooms or wherever you can set up a laptop computer. A one man band today can add and layer as many tracks as they like, pull samples to create new sounds, find backing tracks from horn sections to percussion, email the file to some musician of past fame who will add their part and name for only $299 per song, and create a work of art that in the past could only have been be achieved by hiring a producer and expensive studio players, flying to some exotic locale with a first class recording studio, taking it to a mad scientist for mixing and only manage to spend a quarter million dollars of the record label’s advance while killing a half a year in the process.
And lets just go to the next step…the artist can also skip the process of finding a label and distributor. From the comfort of your home you can upload your music for sale at any number of digital download store fronts, send your file to a CD replication plant that will only charge you a couple of bucks per unit so you can sell it on your website, at gigs and maybe to your local record store if you’re lucky enough to still have one. You might even give away some or all of that music for free to bloggers and fans just to spread the word and get yourself heard. Some might hire a publicist or a marketing company to help rise above the herd, get a little attention and develop some level of a fan base.
In a nutshell, technology has shifted the paradigm.
Lets be clear: this isn’t about Lady Gaga, Beyonce and Jay-Z, the American Idol Summer Tour or U2. It’s not about Ozzy going out on the road again or huge three day festivals that sell a hundred thousand tickets. It’s not about the top 200 charted albums and artists that account for 88% of all music sold. That whole sector of the music business continues to chug along just fine…albeit limping from time to time…but nevertheless still raking in the big bucks for the huge corporations that control it all from labels to media to concert arenas to ticket sales to the concession stands to management.
So this post is about the types of artists that those in the roots music community tend to gravitate to, and their ability to sustain. Many of them are in jeopardy of not being able to make a living from their craft because the old model has changed so much. There’s only a handful of record labels left with the resources to promote and develop artists, so its the DYI thing come true from creation, production, distribution and performance. And what happens when you can’t find your audience, or at the very least motivate them, is that the scene will die. It’s bad enough the this darn magazine went away…what if the music does to?
I’ll speak for myself…it’s damn hard for me to get to a live show. I live an hour north of San Diego and two hours from Hollywood. I’ve got a job, a wife and two kids, and that means I’m not untethered or free to go wherever and whenever I please. It takes a lot planning, not to mention the cost and time involved. I’d love to go to McCabe’s in Santa Monica or the Grand Old Echo in LA to see shows but it’s pretty much a seven hour commitment and at my age, rolling in at two in the morning is not a good life strategy.
I’ve noticed lately that all of the concerts and clubs and coffee houses and festivals that I am able to get to are full of people like me…fifty-somethings. There are some older and a few in their thirties and forties (mostly single it seems…they hold hands) but hardly any in their teens or twenties. That’s not to say there isn’t a lot of younger folks into this music but they don’t necessarily buy tickets to places where mom, dad and the grandparents hang out. And then there is money and time…or the lack of it. Couple of tickets could be $40-60, there’s parking, gas, dinner, drinks and a tshirt or compact disc. So a night out with your honey or buddy could run a couple hundred dollars. And there’s this economy thing that’s kicking our butts. Kids burn up a lot of our time and while that’s a good thing, it explains why the concert demographics trend older, wealthier and while I hate to say it…a little more conservative in their musical styles. Its the reason why older folkies can sell a few hundred tickets and the new folkies are strumming in the libraries and coffee houses for a dozen people.
Which brings me to this: if collectively we don’t support all of the elements…recorded music in whatever form it evolves into, live performances and what I’ll call ancillary items…they will all go away. If we value music, we need to support it. We need to make an effort and a commitment to put aside the money and time and get our butts out there as well as being open to hearing new things. God only knows we (me) is behind the computer too much, in front of a screen too often or pursuing other mindless pursuits.
Why are jazz clubs small? Because the audience went away.
In today’s email:
As expected, the May 21st concert has been canceled.