State of the [Live] Nation

Recession, downturn, hard times, collapse; many adjectives are thrown around at many facets of today’s world, spanning politics / social justice, finance, and certainly the arts.  While all of these issues are pressing, as average-everyday people, all we can hope to do is examine them in hopes of someday seeing a viable solution and sharing it. Many would say these aspects of our fevered times are the result of “this person” or “that company”, or even that they all tie into one-another. I hope to examine some of the changing aspects of the modern music industry, specifically in regards to the world of underground live music.

It’s no mystery to any lucid individual that we are living in a time of widespread decline and hardship, and every lucid individual observes this in from their own daily perspective. For me, this purge is evident growing up going to DIY shows from the tender age of 14, and currently playing in an active independent band. Across all “rock genre” lines of the circuit, throughout much of the US and indeed the world, show attendance, CD / vinyl sales, and other factors including stylistic originality, have seen a steady decrease over the last few decades.  To many, including myself, it does seem to be peaking now in the present day. Now, in regards to quality and originality, there are literally thousands of significant exemptions, crafting some of the most interesting, intellectual, and sonically pleasing music yet in recording history. These acts, however, are faced with the challenges of a scattered, tumultuous, ravenous, and unpredictable nature of today’s music business; and the factors that endanger its tenants as well.

It’s hard to put a finger on what is causing music, notably modern rock, in all of its unique and sometimes glorious manifestations, to slowly lose steam. I believe it is the bottom line product of many factors, ones which affect the corporate and independent music industries alike. By the numbers, it’s plain to see that people just are not willing to spend as much on their music. In fact, just from 1999 to 2008, the overall revenue for all forms of music media, including digital, dropped 25%, according to IFPI, and continues to plummet today. This trend puzzles me when talking about something that almost everyone I have ever met claimed music as one of the most crucial things in their life. While I am as guilty as any of not paying for albums nearly as often as I should, when I feel passionate about backing a band, I will purchase their release. It goes without saying that downloading is quick, convenient, and a fantastic way to get exposed to music that is not being marketed to you by the rapidly shrinking and content compromising mainstream record industry. An industry which has perhaps suffered the worst casualties as the times have changed, coming all the way from the mighty “Big 6” during the 80’s to a meager “Kinda-Big 3” today.

These trends have lead bands to approach the live music industry in a new and opportunistic fashion. Today, it is more common for a band to promote a release timed to support a tour, as opposed to the antithesis being common previously.  This market seems to be a victim as well, with prices for popular tours soaring in light of a near monopoly situation headed companies like Ticketmaster and Live Nation. DIY promoters seem to see more people using the “I don’t have a ride/enough money” excuse for passing up a great show, even as it seems everyone can afford the latest Apple Smartphone. In the wake of dozens of new social networking mediums replacing the ‘ol indie booking staple, “MySpace”, it is dramatically harder for unsigned bands to book tours without the help of an experienced booking agent. When I question myself about turning down nearby shows, I find so often that the restricting issue is in the bands and their output. It is ever more rare to see truly well rounded, inspired, gifted and most importantly striving-for-some-originality musicians coming together to write and perform quality music. They exist, but are too often drowned out in a sea of shoddy markets and skeptical listeners. As much as it troubles me to watch every facet of what I have always been passionate about go through such a lull, I cannot let it deter my will as a musician in a very niche punk act. Those who value truly great music must remain vigilant. The cliché sentiment of “It’s what I do and who I am” is undeniable, and I will never give up on being a part of the recovery.

 

-Chris Parmelee

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