MUSIC: Is Live Music Dying?

A few days ago Ed Groste of Grizzly Bear put up an instagram post explaining why they don’t tour places like Singapore or Perth with this ”… I’m trying to explain there is no value put on live music anymore. We feel it’s important to bring with us the fullest show we can with all the live instruments and a good light show. But now, when you cut out record sales and we haven’t had a car commercial in ages, we literally lose money.” (In reference to touring places away from the states)

With the death of record sales as we know it and streaming solely being corporate record label welfare live music was supposed to be the savior of the musician. Since the beginning of musical arts there was always the idea that an artist could go bring his or her works directly to the people to make their living. Even in a corporate commoditized world it’s not hard to find examples of this even today (It’s why seeing an actual physical Phish record in the flesh is a rare but finding a ticket for a Phish show even rarer).

Even though it feels like that era is coming to a close for a variety of reasons. If you’re been blessed to be on the pop star career track there’s a good chance that you’re probably also on a 360 deal. It’s a contact that not only entitles the record label to get profits from the music being sold and streamed but for them to get a cut of any side revenue coming in from the music project; touring, the selling of merchandise, appearances in movies, etc. The label effectively owns the image as a brand and it’s theirs to do with and sell with as they please while keeping a large amount of the profits.

If you’ve chosen the Do It Yourself route odds are it’s not any easier. Conglomerates like Live Nation have stepped down from their arena and amphitheater buying sprees to scoop up as many mid-sized performance spaces as they possibly can; forcing you as the consumer to deal with Ticketmaster (who Live Nation also owns) and their exorbitant. And across major cities the smaller sized performance venues, the incubator of future talent, have gotten hit hard by the waves of gentrification that sees those cultural spaces as less valuable than high end retail spaces.

The irony is that these changes are taking place in a time where live music has never been as popular. Large music festivals are so numerous that it feels like we are starting to see the cracks with failed festivals like the infamous Fyre Festival and how thinly stretched popular touring acts are to fill them all (pay attention to how similar many of the modern festival lineups have been). Live Nation whose whole business plan revolves around live music entertainment posted a 25% increase in revenue from previous year going into 2018.

This brings us into the issue issue is as Ed Droste elaborated in a subsequent post:
“I just want to quickly follow up with my comments about the profitability of touring by saying this is not a reflection on any concert goer or fan. The ticket prices are already absurd if you ask me…this is imho about the middle men, of which there are more than ever that cut into the pie…I could go on forever but I won’t. Enjoy it while it lasts. I think we are about to enter a live music drought…TBD.”

We are looking at a future where the technological and financial changes to the music industry has made music from one corner of the world accessible to someone on the opposite side of the globe it has also made it financially unfeasible to experience those same sounds live. There will always be live music; it’s the natural nature of the medium. But experiencing new and unique sounds from different outside cultural perspectives will become more difficult, and music will become lamer as a result.