Saturday, 14 November 2009

Live is not THAT alive?! A few gut reactions and general observations ...RE: The graph the record industry doesn’t want you to see.






RE: Do music artists fare better in a world with illegal file-sharing?

I think this is a great graph but a very flawed piece of evidence. A few gut reactions and general observations... 

1. Festivals Are Bad... I'm pretty sure the rise of festivals means a hugely disproportionate rise of "revenue" (this is not profit) to the industry. The problem with this is that rather than significantly more funds going to more artists - because by my reckoning approx 30% of acts on festival bills get about £50 to play (at the smaller 'urban' festivals, this is more like 70-80%) - there's simply more money going to a few headliners, who ironically are often cannibalizing their own headline arena show earnings for that year, in the hope more people will want to relive the experience next time they tour.

If anything, I think festivals are having a negative impact on the average gig attendance across the year too. Dunno about you but I'd rather see 10 gigs of bands I like for £100 than see four or five 30min un-soundchecked sets and a headliner at a festival for £150+. Yet, who within the festival industries core demographic (those under the age of 23) has that kinda money after saving or splashing out on festival tickets? And for that matter, how many bands who are about this kind age have this kinda of money to invest in themselves? I do not wanna live in a world of trust fund kids and cynical, market-savvy bands like Vampire Weekend and The Drums. I double-dare any band to reveal how much they've spent on their 'hobby' with hopes of it being a career, and if they can share how £50 covers four guys food for a day, let alone a youth hostel and petrol or godforbid van hire, then I'll eat my iMac.

2. What about the Kate Bush-like artists who don't play live? Or genres which are so niche they only make sense to put on shows in a few major cities? It seems you need to be a global niche band like No Age or Yacht and gig 300 nights of the year, just to make ends meet - how many niche bands "go global"?

3. What about the £500-700 per day it costs to have a semi-professional band on the road until they get to Scala/Shepherd's Bush Empire level in London or 400ish+ people in other cities, when they might break-even. Who's factoring for that £10-20k+ investment of 'tour support', not to mention the unquantifiable 'investment' for rehearsal rooms and bands having to live for 2-3 years until they can fill 1000 capacity venues at £12-15 ticket prices in about 10 major cities? Certainly not labels like mine, not any more. And not a lot of the majors, from what I'm hearing - least of all when it comes to investing in being a support band on a European tour, where the band are being paid £50-100 per night to 'cut their teeth' playing to a disinterested room, with poor sound and little-to-no lights. This essentially means that the live industry has no-one (apart from maybe a few large management companies) investing in its future, yet no-one seems particularly scared by the fact that the live acts who do get catapulted onto the mainstream, haven't come through any tributaries and by and large are rubbish live and therefore a reason for the average punter to question seeing the act again or taking repeated risks on new music.

If the live music industries product is bad but its revenues are meant to be a salvation to the rest of the business, why isn't there big news story after big news story about a boom in the live music industry? Does this short-term blip have a future? Why is no-one publicly worrying about this? Why, as someone who doesn't work in the live industry does this SCARE THE SHIT OUTTA ME?

4. Is live music, below a certain level, really very healthy? Where's the cut off point when you're alright and can stop using up your holiday days at a job you hate to hit the road? I wonder, if they're really honest, what percent of bands in DiS' albums of the year list work full-time jobs but also I wonder how many bands think they can't 'work' and be in a band if they're 'taking it seriously'?

Put it another way, never before have I had more emails, a few days before gigs, from worried promoters that gigs are not gonna sell half the venue, let alone sell it out and can we run a competition to give away tickets. The size of some of these acts is worryingly bigger than you'd think. I'm getting about 3-5 emails like this per day direct from promoters, every day - plus another 5 emails like it from PR companies. To put that into context, it's often the only time I get personal emails from PR companies (of which there about 300+, with about 3 staff at each, working 10+ records each per quarter = inbox hell!), most of whom think 'PR' is spamming as many people as possible with press releases about bands even the savviest music fan are only vaguely aware of.  These are PR companies paid by record labels to promote records for anything between £500-2000 per month, who have record companies worried the gig is going to be so empty that it'll reflect badly on them and in reviews upon the artist. These people don't send me flustered emails like this about the 'records'. When the record labels are worried that a revenue stream - one which most of them have no involvement in - is suffering, surely this is symptomatic of something being incredibly wrong in the live industry?

5. The above graph is a good but possibly as misleading as including sales of iPods in the recorded music revenue pot because all signs I've seen recently is that live music is in freefall (the article itself does state its flaws, to be fair). For every Bon Jovi, Beyonce and Muse tour, there isn't a day goes by when there's isn't talk of venues closing or being bought up by conglomerations.

Caveat: These are just reactions, would be curious what people who work in the live industry or bands have to say about some of my broad brushstroke statements as this isn't really my field of expertise and would love to read further research or hear evidence of how right or wrong I am on any of the above topics.

9 comments:

Lee said...

From what I saw whilst working the tech side of gigs in Sheffield you're completely right about the smaller level gigs.

Since the Academy moved in the Students Union, where I worked, completely struggled - first to get any decent sized gigs through (SJM used to use the Octagon, but with a part share in Academys that no longer happens) and then for the gigs they did get, couldn't seem to get anyone through the doors.

I think the saddest one I saw was Blitzen Trapper and Absentee, which drew about six people. It was disheartening for us having put it on, so I can't imagine how they felt.

Obviously I don't know how things are on the band side of things, but if it's as difficult for them to make a living as it is for independent venues then I feel really sorry for them.

SeanDiS said...

Further comments from others over on DiS Music Forum http://drownedinsound.com/community/boards/music/4206336

Suzanne Lainson said...

I had the same thought when I saw that report. I've worked with musicians for eight years. These are, by most standards, very successful artists. They are the middle class of musicians people who have been able to make enough to do music full time.

But it's getting harder for them to make the same money from gigs that they used to make. In the past a club would have just one band or maybe one with an opener. But now clubs put three or four bands on the bill and expect them to share the money. So instead of getting between $1000 to $2000 for the show, these experienced working bands might be lucky to get $500.

And touring continues to be an expensive proposition for bands who can't headline a 500-1000 person venue. A "good" night for many is getting paid $300 and being able to sell $200 in CDs, vinyl, or t-shirts.

Anyone who talks about how wonderful it is these days, thinking that bands will give away their music but make it up on shows, hasn't talked to a lot of working bands.

bullionsInvestor said...
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Clive said...

I spent thousands as an unsigned artist - I've lost count - but I'm still high in debt. I never got paid for a festival and made minimal amounts back on merch which just covered petrol to and from the location. Still, we had a good time; and in the short term, that's what it was all for. Long-term, and somewhat ironically, it gets harder and harder for small bands to succeed as the availibility of opportunity increases.

tbkband said...

Live music has just become a bit of a saturation point for the moment - i think a lot of gig going punters are beleaguered with the sheer AMOUNT of LIVE BANDS! that pop up...

It's no longer the bastion of credible dedicated venues, (they still exist thankfully) where promotion, handling of the night and band lineups are spot on...it's the shitty bars that buy a crap PA, 5+ bands nearly every night of the week without foresight or thought.
Then they scratch their heads when it becomes a ghost town...people vote with their feet and as you say the more bad band nights people go to, the more the idea crystallizes that all band nights are bad...

I saw something at ITC2009 this year that summed it up: 500+ people crammed into a club, attention rapt on the DJ who was just pressing play, or focusing on a rotating sign on the decks, whilst a fairly big sized band played to a much smaller crowd just down the road. Incredible.

If you want to win the punters back, fuck you've got to get a bit elitist pig and start exercising some quality control and make live music a real draw again...having 8 out of 10 venues in a ten mile radius putting on any old 5+ bands a night does not make a vibrant scene, it sounds the death knell.

Malcolm said...

I agree with much of what has been said here. I think the live music industry may be setting itself up for a major fall having not learned from the mistakes the record labels made a few years back. Earlier in the year I wrote the following on the subject:

don't be a stain on the carpet

Having said all of the above, there is an awful lot of mediocre tosh being peddled to the public at the moment. I have lost count of the number of times I have walked out of gigs because the band simply could not play. Gigs have value because they offer a unique magical experience to see artists performing their music live, but I have to say most of the gloss gets taken off the experience if the singer can't sing in tune or the drummer can't keep time.

katrina said...

Sean, as per point 4, I think you'll find that in these days of 360 deals, some record labels DO have a vested interest in their bands live revenues. I've heard of OTR merch sales being claimed by labels as a means to prop up tour support, or the rights owned outright as a way to offset advances. For most artists touring the UK is one of THE most expensive places in Europe and more often than not - even for so-called big bands - touring leads to a further loss on the account statement...

tbkband said...

Bang on the money Malcolm...the perceived value of live music has nosedived, and it's massively to do with the amount of mediocrity or just plain rubbishness that is being peddled en masse...
I didn't touch on that in my original point but: If the mass saturation consisted of brilliant live acts bands people would have the nice problem of deciding what to catch and would the live experience even better...because the mass saturation is largely fuckers who haven't bothered to learn their craft, the problem isn't one of what to choose, it's one of enforced blanket ignorance because the perception amongst punters is 'oh, it's one of THOSE band nights' rather than 'fuck me, it's a quality band night!'

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