Live music is booming. Gig-going was to the Noughties what clubbing was to the 90′s – everyone’s doing it, all the time, and telling you all about how great it is. Even aunts and uncles go to the trouble to book the babysitter and scoot off to the local mega-drome to peer at Green Day or Keane every month or so.
Live gigs have always been engrained in pop and rock culture – but recently, the level of attendance has rocketed, by anyone’s estimations. Manchester, for example, has historically had a vibrant live scene, and yet now, there are more bands playing than ever before.
I could visit any part of the city on any night of the week and find any number of gigs, from the Arctic Monkeys incongruously playing in front of 20,000 punters, to Wild Palms playing for a small clutter of the curious, the rabid or the drunken.
So how did this come about? Why now? Is it just fashion? Will the bulk of today’s gig-goers move on to spending their cash playing croquet or crazy golf as soon as that becomes de rigeur?
Possibly – people, you and I included, are fickle. In two years, who knows? Bands that are charging high ticket prices now are simply making hay while the sun is shining.
I think there’s another explanation too: anyone who works in ‘the industry’ will tell you that live gigs are what ‘drives cashflow’ now. Bands make a pittance from record sales and grab the bulk from selling gig tickets and those £20 t-shirts on sale in the foyer.
Live gigs are the one thing in the music industry that can’t be replicated for free: a bootleg mp3 or shaky mobile phone footage just doesn’t compare.
I listened to a talking-heads meeting of important record industry types – all men, all under 40, all masking the fact that they weren’t entirely sure where the industry was going – at Manchester’s In The City Music Conference a while ago.
This was where I heard this eye-opening/watering statistic: bands – even, say, U2 – make only 10% of their earnings from record sales, and the remainder from touring and merchandise.
Compare this with the scenario only ten years ago when any given band would make a bare minimum of 50% from CD sale, and allow your mind to quietly boggle.
Could careful manipulation of our tastes by record companies and other industries be behind the gig-going boom, then?
Probably: look at all the excruciating mobile phone adverts that push the joys of (astonishingly anodyne) live music, and then next time you’re getting sweaty in your local fleapit venue, look at the number of idiots filming a gig on their phones.
Then think about the money that is being drained from consumer who pays for the T-shirt in the foyer, the gig, the phone to film it on, the data allowance to upload the video to a website, and the money the website makes from advertising bands that are soon playing live… repeat to fade.
So it’s our fault, wanting music for free, illegally grabbing it en masse, and then allowing ourselves to be led by the noses to live shows. Still, if this has meant that we’re now attending lots of gigs, that’s a good thing, right?
Well, yes, obviously. But then no, not so obviously. And I’ll reveal why in Part Two, next week…
Photo 1 by Mags