The Naughts seem to be offering more choice. I have to say that as a consumer I have enjoyed following my nose; using links on Itunes, finding new bands by downloading songs on Salon; I’m sure everyone has a favorite site for free downloads. My Space has provided incredible opportunities for bands to be heard. I doubt however that I will partake in the My Space explosion. My mom used to plead with me; “Call your friends- you really should get out of your room every once in a while.” I treasure my friendships, but I feel no need to “get out of my room” now either online.
Because of Itunes I have listened to more music this past year than I have since the mid- Eighties. When e.d.d. was going strong I had little desire to listen to other bands; I mainly listened to music only when I was bartending at the Rainbo. I’m truly excited about music again. The only thing; I’m not buying that many full albums anymore. I know the other argument; mp3s sound like crap. I agree. I never was much for hi-fidelity though (Prairie School Freakout might be a tip-off); I’m more into the mobility of the music. If I was trying to make a living from music, I might be a little worried. I could have a great song that sells a bundle, but 99 cents a pop ain’t $14.99 last time I checked. (I read today that Cheap Trick was only getting 4.5 cents per download.) The good news is that there are more places to sell a song. Advertisements might pick it up. A movie might throw my song on the soundtrack. I can make a video that can sell for $1.99 per download. Of course the major label machine is calling five times a day, lobbying for their bands and willing to grease some palms. If I’m a musician trying to make a living I have to hit the road, Jack.
It’s one thing to play in New York City or Chicago on a Friday night, but for a band on the road, you have to play on Monday too; in Toledo. As Mike Watt says, “If you ain’t playin’, you’re payin.” It can be rough though; especially now that to fill a van with gas costs about the same as dinner for four at a decent Italian joint (plus the wine). After paying everybody out (how much are tour managers making these days-$1000/week?), a band should be able to make some money as long as they are selling lots of t-shirts. It seems to me that to make any money you have to tour five to six months out of the year. The landscape has changed for concert-goers too. I guess you have to adjust for inflation, but it’s costing more than ever to see a band. Buy them in advance and get gouged by ticket fees. The venues are changing. This summer there are at least four festivals in Chicago alone that would attract the average fan of indie music. Yes, it’s impressive to tell your friends about all the cool bands you saw, but there is something about the festival experience that falls short of what a concert experience should be. It takes an enthusiastic audience to push a band to dial up the performance, but a few hundred will suffice. I hate being in crowds; and standing shoulder to shoulder with thousands doesn’t thrill me. If the festival is outdoors, as most are, most people are lolling around on blankets baking in the too hot sun. (My first festival show was at Soldier Field in the Seventies. It was 105 degrees and I was there for at least 12 hours. The bands: Emerson, Lake, and Palmer; Foreigner, and Foghat- It was not fun.) Festivals now have so many distractions that it’s not really the music that is the focal point, it’s the communal experience itself. For me, the greatest shows were the ones where the crowd was pressed against the stage, whether I was performer or concert-goer. I’ll never forget Patti Smith instructing the crowd to climb over the barriers that separated the audience from the stage by twenty feet at Memorial Hall in Louisville on the Easter tour. For a band, the sound on stage is more important than anything in giving a good performance. While some festivals have figured out the soundcheck issue, many have not, and the band usually only gets a line check. The first couple of songs are spent getting used to what you are hearing on stage. For the band, a festival is worth the hassles for the extra-large payday and good hospitality backstage.
So, expect the Naughts to be business as usual. Major labels, like other businesses are getting huge and bloated; don’t be fooled by the boutique off-shoots. The entertainment dollar will continue to be elusive to the artist. I fear that the day of the small record store is dying, and that creates challenges for the indie labels. Labels like Thrill Jockey, Drag City, and Touch and Go have succeeded by being innovative and doing right by their bands; I expect that they will find a way to adapt to the changes. For the masses; get ready to pay. If you told me ten years ago that I’d be paying close to $150 a month for tv and internet I would have said you were crazy. When it comes down to it, there aren’t many options; if you want to watch cable and have decent download speeds you have to pay dearly. Look for the music industry to create the same squeeze. There is a semblance of freedom now, but the corporations will find a way into your wallet.