Going To The Show

My favorite promoter is Don Strasburg.  He doesn’t care about the label, none of the traditional metrics L.A. insiders triangulate, he’s into artist development, the desire of people to see a band and the increase that results.  If you want to know who’s up and coming, or who is not truly dead, get ahold of Strasburg, like a great music exec he doesn’t have to think about the answers to these questions, his instincts, based on years of promoting shows, from his days at Colorado College forward, allow him to give an instant answer.  It’s a classic example of Malcolm Gladwell’s "Blink".  A true expert knows the answer right away, his training delivers the goods.

Which is one of the problems at major labels.  The training the executives have gotten there no longer squares with a changed music landscape, where record sales are a diminished part of the equation, and oftentimes don’t generate significant touring and merch revenues.  I’m speaking of the thirty and fortysomething execs, not the baby boomers who lived through the days of the Beatles, Zeppelin and Boston, the killing of rock by disco.  Rather those who believe U2’s "Joshua Tree" is the best album ever.  Who were addicted to MTV, but had favorite acts before the channel ever launched.

I can hang with the promoters of yore.  Too many are into the business deal, what is the gross.  Same deal with the agents.  Kind of like this article about the declining revenues at residency shows in Vegas:

It’s an interesting debate, a discussion, supply and demand, ticket prices, economics…but it’s got very little to do with music.

One can go back to the early heyday of the Fillmores and say people went for the scene, but even though one wanted to be there, at the happening, the focus in the late sixties, especially the seventies, was on the music. That’s what I remember about going to a show.  I wanted to hear the SONGS!  I did not go to meet girls, I didn’t need a friend to accompany me to attend.  The concept of sitting in the dark listening to those songs I played in my living room positively thrilled me.  That’s what I believe the concert experience is.  But speaking with Strasburg, I wonder if the younger generation feels the same way.

Don says the youngsters are all about the good time.  Sure, the music is part of the attraction, but it’s about the hang.  Let me go to the show and connect, with the known and unknown.

You can expand this concept.  Top Forty music is not about the music, it’s not about sitting on the floor with the album cover and digesting the tracks.  Rather it’s about spinning the cuts at the club, they’re the grease that helps you get laid.  So are young ‘uns even looking for the same experience baby boomers cherished?

The younger generation’s got Facebook, they’re IM’ing and texting all the time.  Each kid in town knows every other kid, even if he or she goes to a completely different school.  It’s about a gang, a tribe of people all going to a location to hang.  Have things changed so much that whatever we had before was lost?

Think about the absence of chairs in venues.  You never stood at the show in the sixties, nor during most of the seventies either.  The Whisky had a pit right in front of the stage, but the rest of the club was filled with seats.  You sat down, maybe had a drink, and paid attention.  It was about the music, not rubbing shoulders with wannabe partners.

People might stand for the encore at the arena, at other hard seat venues, but mostly there was a respect for the sound.  A show wasn’t an extravaganza, unless that’s what the act was truly purveying.  Alice Cooper was all about theatre, but the other acts didn’t compete on this level.  If you went to see Clapton, the music was enough, no one expected anything more.  Now, big acts are afraid to tour without all the production, they believe the audience EXPECTS IT!

Two weeks ago, I saw the band O.A.R.  My friend Steve laughed when the singer said the next track was from their "new album".  Does anybody give a shit about the album anymore?  Does anybody give a shit about any of the tunes the band is playing, or is it more about being there, the vibe?

I don’t think O.A.R. could write a hit track, not even if Diane Warren and Desmond Child were locked up in the same room with them.  But it doesn’t make any difference, that’s not what they’re selling.

O.A.R. is selling tickets.

And Don Strasburg says tickets sales for younger acts are based on the experience on the other side of the stage, the good times not of the players, but the attendees.  This seems backwards to me.  I’ve gone to shows that have been one tenth full, but some were the best gigs I ever attended.  Could a youngster have the same experience today?  Is that experience even on his radar?

I write all this to illustrate the generation gap.  The classic acts are selling the tunes, but unfortunately, they haven’t written a good one in decades.  It’s all nostalgia, which is creepy.  Did you go see your parents’ acts in the sixties? Absolutely not.  So the electricity of a show, the feeling of a happening, is completely absent.

The younger acts are either chasing the elusive, little dividend paying Top Forty hit, or are selling the experience. So when you listen to the favorites of the jam bands and the alternative rockers and don’t hear anything resembling a hit song, you’re usually right.  It’s about the vibe, the attitude, the culture more than the song, the verse, chorus and riff.  We’ve got scenes, but few superstars.  Not only do we have no Cat Stevens, we’ve got no one resembling Peter Frampton.  Who could not only rock, and play, but sing songs that were catchy, that stuck to your bones AND your brain.

The industry can either lead or follow.  We can deliver what the audience expects, or reeducate people.  But you’re not going to get a lot of sympathy from the usual suspects.  The labels want something they can sell, instantly.  And the promoters want something that will sell tickets, instantly.  Used to be the label bought out clubs, provided tour support to get acts started, but that’s when FM radio play was key and you could break rather quickly on the combined effects of touring and airplay.  Now, developing an act takes incredible time.

So, O.A.R. is on the road for a decade, and no one over forty cares.

And major labels hype Top Forty wonders and no one over twenty five cares, and almost no one wants to see these "performers" live.

Oh, what a sad sad state we’re in.

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