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The State of Live Music, 2018

"Hey, can you play this event for the exposure?" — puleaze!

 

by Chris Loeffler

 

 

What’s New in Live Music for 2018?

 

In general, things tends to be more the same than different, and even something that feels like a dramatic technological leap rarely significantly upends the way people do things. Music isn’t exempt from this, and while the last forty years have seen the transition from vinyl to 8-track to cassette tape to CD to MP3 to streaming (and back to vinyl?) for general consumption of music the places where we listen to music haven’t changed all that much. So how has the scene supporting live music held up to this?

 

Again, more same than different.

 

Despite things like holograms of dead artists and multimillion dollar gyroscopic stages, a live performance, in any music genre, is a largely unchanged event from that which people experienced decades ago. That said, here are a few things that, while hardly comprehensive, are notable trends in live music in the US…

 

VIP experiences are the ultimate fan service.

 

Ticket prices for venue-filling bands used to be solely dictated by how close in proximity the seat was to the performers. First row, front and center, should be a more expensive proposition than the nose-bleeds. The last decade or so has seen the premium pricing of the most highly sought after seats reach a natural breaking point in their value proposition, and big bands have gotten savvy to it. Enterprising artists are incorporating an experience into premium seating to help rationalize the disparity in ticket prices. Meet and greets, limited edition merch, soundboard recordings, and even exclusive wine tastings are now bundled with the most sought after seats as a way to bolster event sales and create a more interactive and personal experience for die-hard fans with a wallet robust enough to play.

 

Backing tracks are the new normal

 

Pre-recorded tracks have existed since the technology to pipe them into a soundboard has, with Pop music bearing the brunt of derision for their proliferation; the assumption being that backing tracks dilute the purity of a live performance by “real artists”. Time and technology have changed, with live looping artists breaking down the perceived barriers by elitist music consumers to anything that isn’t produced in the moment during a live event. Even fans of Indie bands now expect (or at least accept) that there will be pre-recorded backing tracks of instruments, drum parts, and vocals. The shift from viewing these inclusions from a lack of talent to acknowledging the band’s vision of their music may extend beyond their touring crew  has (mostly) removed that stigma.

 

Drugs are out

 

Guess what… there are less drugs at concerts. If you’re under 35, you’re significantly less likely to have used (or at least use regularly) drugs or alcohol. This fact is even more astonishing when you consider that recreational drugs, commonly associated with artistic deviants, arelegal for medical purposes in more than half the US and recreationally in a growing number of states. There will always be loadies, bloodshot eyes, and annoyingly drunk people at live shows, but there are less of them than ever before.

 

Weapons are (hopefully) not in

 

Ah, 9-11. Remember when boarding a plane meant you needed to be there 15 minutes before the doors closed?  Would you believe metal detectors and pat downs weren’t a requirement of entry to public events?

 

If you’re under 30, probably not.

 

Concert and club shootings have become a real thing, and while not statistically significant (you’re still probably safe in assuming your Leftover Salmon concert experience will likely not end in life-altering violence) it's an undeniable fact that there has been an increase in the US of violence happening (or at least reported) at live events. While small clubs and local events may still be relatively low-key, most mid-sized concert events now require pat-downs and a weapons check worthy of entering a courthouse.

 

Audiences are smaller, but filled with more musicians

 

The audience that pays to experience live music has gotten smaller the last couple of decades, but is more populated by musicians than ever. While there will always (hopefully) be marquee bands that sell out mega-stadiums to fans, the bevy of working-class bands that travel the world are experiencing a more supportive and musical oriented crowd. It’d be too easy to lament the erosion of the casual listener, but it’d be ignorant to not celebrate the strength and persistence of the musician-supported attitude of concert-goers. There will always be idiots in the crowd, but performers are more likely than ever to have their audience understand and appreciate their craft, because they are players too!

 

How has live music changed for you? 

 

 

 

                                      

____________________________________________ 

 

Chris Loeffler is a multi-instrumentalist and the Content Strategist of Harmony Central. In addition to his ten years experience as an online guitar merchandiser, marketing strategist, and community director he has worked as an international exporter, website consultant and brand manager. When he’s not working he can be found playing music, geeking out on guitar pedals and amps, and brewing tasty beer. 

 

 

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pogo97  |  March 01, 2018 at 3:02 pm
"Hey, can you play this event for the exposure?"
Here in Canada, exposure is something you die of.
Reply
ex-mixer  |  February 26, 2018 at 2:01 pm
Agreed on the "musicians listening to musicians" premise. As a concert production crew member back in the 70s and 80s, I worked one of the more iconic shows back then, the Who concert in Riverfront Coliseum on Monday, December 3rd, 1979. Nine people died that evening when the gathering crowd - there to be first in line for "festival seating" - collided with a long, overnight drive that pushed the band's sound check past the posted "doors open" time. The gathering throng of 14,000 wrongly surmised the concert had started without them and rushed the huge panes of glass that bordered the venue, causing them to buckle and break. The subsequent surge knocked many off their feet... those who were unable to re-stand were trampled to death in the melee. The subsequent outrage ushered in a decade or more ban of "festival seating", although I heard it returned after I departed the concert production industry in the early 90s. As a gigging musician these days, I rarely attend large concerts... preferring instead to frequent more intimate venues that feature lesser known, albeit very talented performers. I still love to listen to live music... but I no longer enjoy being in large crowds.
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