The Trouble With Live Gigs: A Response

A few weeks ago, ANBAD posted two quasi-incendiary articles voicing concern with the music industry’s overwhelming focus on the Live Gig Experience, and the resultant negative effects on recorded music:

[The Trouble With Live Gigs, Part One]

[The Trouble With Live Gigs, Part Two]

The articles stirred up broad and vociferous responses. Peter Marinari, a musician who runs the excellent, long-running Philadelphia music blog Crushing Krisis, replied with a passionate defence of live gigs and their impact:

Peter Marinari: More handsome than YOU

I agree with the two articles, to a point. I’m with you on the false romanticism of concerts being invoked by big business just to manufacture excitement. That’s certainly tearing live shows away from their roots.

I think a lot of people’s favorite live experience amounts to “seeing [XXXX band] live at [XXXX venue],” which is unremarkable as favorite things go, and probably not much better than the record, anyhow. That sucks.

A good concert is like an epiphany. It’s different from the rest in one or more ways:

One is a band that is more fully-realized live than on record. When you posed your question one of the shows I thought of was Grace Potter at Bonnaroo. I have both her records, but they do not suck the breath out of my lungs like that set did. I still talk about it. That’s remarkable.

Two is the unexpected. The other show that came to mind was seeing Chantel Kreviazuk fill time for a late headlining, act, coming out again and again to sing cover tunes and chat with the audience. I don’t even like her, but only 500 people in a single venue ever got to witness that. It was unique and remarkable.

Three is an experience. The first time I saw Garbage I met the entire band, was first into the venue, and had Shirley Manson sing to me for an entire show. I’ll take that memory to my grave.

Concerts, along with merchendise, are the one major cash cow left in the music industry, and they’re being saddled down with unnecessary expectations, marketing, and sponsors to wring out more dollars.

It stops being an event of seeing a band you dig and starts being another product – priced at four or five times the cost of the CD to make up for all of the revenue labels are no longer making on records.

Every time you buy tickets for a concert, you are gambling for one of those outcomes (though the third is somewhat under your control). U2 and Green Day are probably not going to deliver them, but if you choose your shows wisely you might have an epiphany every time.

Digging a little deeper, I’m of the opinion that our bifurcated process of discovering and promoting new music has created a false dichotomy between great “live bands” and great “recorded bands.”

There are still bands building buzz by establishing a live following, like always. Organic, word of mouth. Those are bands more likely to be on indie labels and distribution out of necessity, as they have been releasing music all along.

But, they don’t break as big, and major labels aren’t scooping them up like they used to because the bands don’t need help putting together a profitable live machine.

On the flipside, lesser A&R budgets, the need for every record to be a commercial hit, and the YouTube-ification of music all favor bands with a strong concept or studio sound that don’t hold up live in a big room. The democratization of digital production tools means every band can sound professional in-studio or on video, and they are more able than ever to compensate for their deficiencies.

The resulting quality gap just makes it more tempting to ascribe the “great live bands” tag to anyone who can sing in tune and deliver a long or energetic set, even if it’s not particularly impressive. News flash: hundreds of thousands of musicians can do that. Being able to reproduce your music live is a requirement of the profession, not a bonus feature.

We’ve been raised to view the record as the document and the live show as the reproduction, not the other way around, but the record is really the soulless, herd-followed, instant-gratification marketing tool.

You don’t have to go out of your way to show your support, just buy this little plastic disc – or files that we’ll transmit to you over the air! Have your favorite band on-demand all the time! Hear the “definitive” version of a song.

It’s all fiction. You don’t know a band’s true intent just because they inflected a lyric a certain way one time. It’s just a one-time representation of reality. What it sounds like you’re lamenting is the death of an album as an event. The way all records could be in prior decades. The way albums by the biggest of the big bands still are.

The reality is that the future of music is probably not the record as we know it – and this is coming from a LOVER of records. People aren’t consuming albums like they used to, so it makes sense to alter strategy to accommodate the change.

So, I continue to exist on both sides of this debate. I neglect many concerts for the same reasons you do, but I’m also never satisfied to know a band I love only on the record. After all, it’s just a record.

Finally, an anecdote: The last two times I saw Amanda Palmer she sent her opening band around with a tip basket to make sure they could eat the next day on the road. I’m not going to romanticize DIY touring, because it’s hard and Palmer works her ass off, but THAT was a real concert, cabaret embellishments and all.

Now that’s an impassioned point of view. Thanks Peter. And while we’re speaking of supporting live artists, why not find out where he’s playing next and where you can get his songs from?

2 thoughts on “The Trouble With Live Gigs: A Response

  1. dear sir,

    just a few points to add to the discussion

    I would suggest that ‘the album’ is not the event. The album is a ‘talisman’ of the live event, used by the purchaser to recreate his own personal ‘memory’ of the event. Everyone knows the fan buys it, in order to ‘buy into’ their own experience which they can run and re-run, using the recording. Each person brings their own feelings on the day to that event and if it remains a good one in their mind, through time they attribute how they felt then and what they remember and imagination combine to create their own personal ‘story’.That memory becomes ‘the event’. Before youtube, the filming of live gigs was banned by agents,(fans being searched by security for cameras at the door)-as they quickly realised ‘dedicated’ fans were bootlegging and distributing the actual ‘nite’, which had a direct negative result in album sales. Subsequently, gig-goers, quickly realised they were not only the audience, but an important element of the show-spotting themselves at the gig. It is only recently that the industry, pinned down re new technology and mass access to it, has been forced to succumb. The visual experience and the desire to be a part of the whole thing, is a basic social need. It’s of no surprise that people still want to get directly involved (and maybe because of the recession) are increasingly keen to help to keep music live…more gigs-more memories.

  2. Crushing Krisis › A New Band a Day

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