Posts Tagged ‘live music’

h1

Live music venues and demographics

January 7, 2010

Much has been made of the future of music being in live experiences, rather than in CD sales. But as someone who sees a lot of live shows, I can’t help but ask, ‘Where are the fans?’ It’s pretty clear that the slice of fans who regularly go to indie rock (for lack of a better term) shows is startlingly limited: largely in their 20s, more male than female and, even in a city as diverse as Cambridge, predominantly white.

Leaving aside this last point—although it certainly seems like there’s a pattern—it’s pretty clear that age (and, to a lesser extent, gender) is governed by the venues. I frequent fantastic local bars that support live music but they’re still, well, bars. They make their payroll by selling alcohol, and this has consequences. If you want to see live music in Boston, you pretty much need to be over 21. You need to be okay with staying up late on a work night, because it doesn’t make financial sense for bars to host early shows. You need to have enough flexibility with your home schedule that you can hang out for an evening (although one of the reasons I love my local bars is because they post and stringently adhere to set times). You need to be comfortable in an environment where most people are drinking. And you need to be able to get home late at night, especially in Boston, where the subway unfathomably stops running before bars close. (It’s easy to see how the latter two factors would seriously affect the gender balance, even without any additional cultural issue.) Coupled with the aversion that many people have to the risk inherent in live music, only a tiny demographic slice of fans goes to see shows in small venues.

This was a perfectly fine state of affairs when the purpose of small local shows was to attract the attention of an A&R person: the slender stratum of early adopters was all that was needed to establish the public appeal of a band before they were catapulted into the world of record sales and radio play.

But if none of that’s going to happen, then live shows are it, and fans need to be able to come out. And based on the evidence, I’m not sure that’s happening.

From the perspective of the insider-fan, there’s something to be said for a small, discrete culture of concertgoers: everyone knows the etiquette, for example (something that can’t be counted on at bigger or all-ages shows).  But in the larger sense, I’m not sure that this model is the best one for musicians. While there are certainly artists experimenting with alternatives, like Amanda Palmer’s tweet-ups, for example, I can’t see a straightforward solution to this demographic conundrum.

Thoughts?

Image: Whisky a Go-Go by Mike Dillon, reposted here under its Creative Commons license.

h1

Live music and risk

December 17, 2009

Live music, especially in small venues,  is about taking risks. And not everyone is comfortable with that.

A couple of months ago, I went with a friend to see The Killers play at the TD Garden in Boston. It was the first arena show I’d been to in many years, and what I was most struck by was how safe and controlled it was. The band transitioned smoothly from song to song, the lightshow was pretty, and all the songs sounded much like their recorded versions.

One of the things I love about seeing live music is the spontaneity and the interactivity. And, of course, that means that sometimes things go wrong. At arena shows, the larger scale means that everything needs to go right, and all of the rough edges need to be smoothed down. Something going wrong in a club show adds to the live experience; something going wrong in an arena show detracts from it.  Arena shows are low-risk events.

A few weeks ago at Music Hack Day Boston, Paul Lamere talked about the fanciful idea of a ‘risk knob’ for music recommendation. If you’re having a rough day at work, for example, you can turn down the risk knob and listen to familiar music. Or you can turn it up for wilder suggestions.

Most people, it seems, have their risk knob turned fairly low when it comes to live music. They want to hear something familiar. A tiny minority have their risk knobs turned high enough to go see bands in small venues, prepared to hear something they’ve never heard before. You can play a bit with risk homeostasis: unfamiliar bands can do covers, for example. Or someone might go see a favourite singer front a new band. But, ultimately, you can’t really change people’s tolerance for musical risk. And it seems that this would have implications for bands that are trying to make a living from live gigs.

Note, also, that if you expect people at your shows to take the risk to hear your music, they need to be comfortable in the environment and with the crowd—more on this soon.

Thanks to Michael Epstein for discussions around this topic.

Image credit: RISK AWR WC T7L LosAngeles Graffiti Art, by Flickr user anarchosyn, used here under its Creative Commons license.

h1

This weekend in live music: z=z picks

October 2, 2009

BurmaBikes

This is a killer weekend for live music in Cambridge, at least in the z=z worldview.

Friday: Montreal’s Besnard Lakes are headlining at TT the Bear’s, and a lineup of bands including Kingsley Flood are playing a free (as in beer) show at Sally O’Brien’s in Somerville.

Saturday: Double-plus-good bill tonight – first up is another show at TT the Bear’s with local luminaries The Motion Sick, Aloud, Sidewalk Driver (CD release) and John Powhida International Airport. A couple of blocks away, Electric Laser People is playing at the Cantab Lounge.

Sunday: The main event – it’s Mission of Burma Day! The legendary Boston band is playing a free outdoor show at MIT to celebrate the release of their new album, The Sound the Speed the Light. Head on over to the East Campus Courtyard at 2:30 pm.

[for a less idiosyncratic and more comprehensive view of what’s happening in Boston musically, I urge you to check out Boston Band Crush’s listings]

MP3: Mission of Burma – 1, 2 ,3, Partyy! [preorder]

h1

Archive of Crocodile live sets

September 21, 2009

Odegaard media center

Jim Anderson, the sound engineer at Seattle’s legendary (and recently re-opened) live music venue The Crocodile, has donated five years worth of live show recordings (2002-2007) to the University of Washington’s Ethnomusicology Archives – nearly 3000 hours of music. Artists include z=z faves the Dresden Dolls, the Mountain Goats, the National, and oodles more – you can take a look at the huge list and find your own favorites. The good news? They’re all available to the public. The catch: In order to obviate licensing issues and piracy concerns, you have to go in person, to the ‘listening stations’ at UW’s Odegaard Library. I think it’d be great if artists could agree to put their recordings in the public domain or otherwise agree to let them out on the Internet – I sincerely hope the University is looking into the possibility.

Since I spent most of the last year on the University of Washington campus, I’m kicking myself that I only found out about this collection after I returned to the East Coast. On the other hand, it’s probably just as well – I can’t imagine that spending all my time in the library, headphones on, would have really helped my productivity.

(thanks to Scott for the heads-up!)

Image: Media Center by Flickr user University of Washington Libraries, reposted here under its Creative Commons license.

h1

Music, tech and culture roundup, bis

September 2, 2009

The National

It’s the start of school! Here are your reading assignments for the week.

Music History 101: The transition from live music performance to recordings. In the 1950s, music used to be about songs – what we now think of as standards. Whether in Paris or Poughkeepsie, people wanted to hear someone sing Cole Porter’s  “Miss Otis Regrets,” and it didn’t really matter who. With the rise of radio in the 1960s, music began to be about recordings – “Hey Jude” is not only by the Beatles, but there is a single, canonical version of it in our collective memory. In this article by Elijah Wald, he discusses the history and context of this transition, including how it reinforced racial segregation.

Intro to Sociology: Indie rock from the perspective of our parents. While “The Grown-Ups Guide to Indie Rock,” is a less than appealing title, fifty-something music critic D.J. Palladino writes an appreciation of indie music that gets closer to its heart than a score of Pitchfork 9.4 reviews ever could.

[extra credit] Advanced Topics in Neurobiology: Why we respond emotionally to music. Scientific American had a great article last month on the neurological basis of the emotional response to music. You can read a summary here, but unfortunately the full article is behind a paywall (if you happen to actually be at a college, you should have online access).

MP3: Kirsty McColl and the Pogues – Miss Otis Regrets [buy]

h1

Songkick: social media site for concerts

June 10, 2009

songkick screenshot

Songkick brings together two bright spots in the world of music: fan communities, and live music. On the one hand, it’s an evolving database of live shows, complete with dates, opening bands, and fan-uploaded media like photos, posters and (of course) ticket stubs. On the other hand, you can be a Twitter-like follower of not just artists, but also venues and other users, whether they are your friends from down the block or a music editor on the other side of the world.

While there is lots of concert information on the web, it’s primarily sequestered on either artist sites or on music blogs. Songkick scrapes the web to find information related to live shows, but it seems like the predominant source of content is from users. Like all crowdsourced/social media sites, it’ll continue to get better as more people use it. At the moment the database is still a bit rocky. A search of ‘The Mountain Goats‘ returns two entries: one with an uploaded photo but no concerts, and the other with a 477-show ‘gigography’ but no photos. And the latter doesn’t include the Somerville, MA show on March 25th of this year, which Brad of the eponymous Almanac did a fantastic job of describing, recording, and sharing.

I’d love to see a local music scene make the most of Songkick by ensuring that local indie shows make it onto the site (hint,  Boston Band Crush, ahem): it seems that the ability to follow and connect with other users would be particularly compelling if you could meet them at concerts around town.

[via Underwire]

MP3: John Darnielle – Beach House [with thanks to Bradley’s Almanac; go read what Brad had to say about the show here]

h1

Live music apps for the iPhone

April 13, 2009

gigotron bandloop

I’m a big fan of live music, but I also understand that there is a bit of a barrier. Unlike going to your favourite bar, live music is an ever-changing landscape. Two new iPhone apps for live music are working to make it easier.

Gigotron, which won an award for best mobile app at SXSW Interactive, was originally only available for New York, LA, and San Francisco, but recently rolled out an update that includes Seattle. To be precise, it includes ‘Seattle-Tacoma,’ which I wouldn’t exactly consider one city. The listings are presented as a time-ordered list (based on doors, I presume). The information about the bands is pretty good, but not exhaustive, obviously; a quick check of Saturday night shows resulted in descriptions for The Gaslight Anthem, the Heartless Bastards, and local band The Whore Moans, but not for fellow locals Peter Parker. But the venue information is minimal, at best. Not only does it fail to specify city or neighborhood within Gigatron, but the ‘map this venue’ button seems to only send street address (not city) information to Google Maps, which means I ended up with locations in Skagit and Vancouver. Not good.

Bandloop takes the opposite tack. Rather than focusing on artists, it focuses on your location, using the GPS info in the 3G iPhone to find you. Event information is presented as a map, and you can drill down for venue and artist information. The info page for each event includes the address of the venue, together with its website and the website of the artist. At the moment, it doeen’t seem to include Myspace pages, which means its easier to get information on more established bands. But I’m not really thrilled with having to go to artist websites to get any idea about their music, especially not on my phone.

I much prefer Bandloop’s location-based interface, but would love it if it included in-line capsule descriptions like Gigotron. Both of these apps are solid betas, but I don’t think I’d want to rely on either of them to make my Saturday night plans.

MP3: The Gaslight Anthem – Old White Lincoln [buy]