Thursday, July 15, 2010

Concerts and the Health of the Music Industry

Off to my annual B.B. King show tonight with Lil Bro and the Old Man tonight. It's always a good time with good music and usually the only concert I go to over the course of the summer. It's not always been that way. I've seen a lot of shows, and I mean A LOT of shows. But because TheWife isn't much for music and especially because of the price of tickets, live music in large venues is something that has ceased to be a part of my life.

There have been a couple articles in the last week (one in The Washington Post and one in The Wall Street Journal) about the significant drop in ticket sales leading to the canceling of dates by acts like The Eagles and Limp Bizkit and the cancellation of entire tours by U2 and Simon and Garfunkel for health reasons. Sure the aging of baby boomer performers makes for good irony (hope I die before I get my 401k spent) and yes, concert ticket prices are nothing short of absurd. It has gotten so bad that Ticketmaster/Live Nation (evil scum that they are) are selling discounted tickets to shows that are only half sold -- $10 tickets for acts like Santana that they tried to sell for $50.

But I'm wondering whether this is an unintended consequence of the changes in the music industry due to the internet. When record companies controlled who made albums and who got radio time, there was a limited number of acts. But with file sharing, and the ability to post on YouTube and My Space, there is a much greater ability for small acts to reach listeners they could not have reached a generation ago. This however, does not necessarily lead to a following in the traditional sense. From the Wall Street Journal piece:

As aging musicians gradually exit the stage, few younger acts can consistently fill larger venues the way their predecessors could.It's not that young listeners aren't going to shows. About 8% of people aged 18 to 29 said they go to a concert once a month, more than any other age group, according to a Rasmussen survey from earlier this year. But considering how many young fans acquire and listen to music, the music seems to have less sticking power. For instance, 70% of the music obtained by 13-to-24-year-olds isn't paid for; instead, it's pulled from peer-to-peer networks, or ripped and copied from friends, according to the NPD Group. "They get so much free content, a lot of it they don't really value," says NPD entertainment analyst Russ Crupnick.

When 18-year-old Gordy Murphy of Fairfield, Conn., wants to sample new music, he typically grabs it for free at a free-music site ("It may be illegal. I don't know," he says). He intimately knows the 5,000 songs on his computer, but he rarely visits the sites of current artists in his collection, and thus rarely knows when they're releasing new music or embarking on a tour. "There's no way to keep on top of all that," he says.
Is the relationship that fans have with music the same as it was? When there were only three networks, those shows captured huge audiences. But now with hundreds of cable channels, each niche becomes smaller and more focused. Is the same happening with the music industry? Is the democratization of access to listeners also meaning the end of the big venue shows?