Live music is alive and kicking. Artists, bands and DJ’s around the world are experiencing one of the healthiest booms in ticket sales and audience attendance that they’ve seen in a while. And this trend isn’t only reserved for the mainstream players — your Ed Sheeran’s, Calvin Harris’s and Lady Gaga’s — it’s also happening for the smaller ones — your indie artists and basement beatmakers.
Because streaming giants like Apple Music and Spotify have virtually pulled the rug out from under the sales of recorded music, artists of varying levels of stardom have to take the show on the road. If they can’t make money from albums anymore, they (and their labels) have to recoup their losses by slugging it out in arenas, bars and festivals. The days of touring to promote record sales are long gone. Now, records are promotional tools for upping streaming numbers, catching synch deals, and putting bodies in the seats of concert halls.
But this isn’t really a bad thing. Rather, it’s just an indication of an old business model being challenged by technology and the changing expectations of consumers. While streaming, for example, doesn’t put much money into the pockets of music creators, it does allow for a more level playing field with regards to who can “make it big”. Widespread popularity in music used to be achieved only by artists backed by major labels, fueled by behemoth marketing budgets. Nowadays, any artist has the chance to reach the masses as long as they’ve got decent talent and some DIY marketing savvy.
It’s this new playing field, where more and more artists are realizing that they can achieve musical success without relying on big labels and teams, that spurs a rise in song-making and music consumption. The general music-loving public is now used to hearing more songs across varying genres by a growing number of artists than ever before. Playlists, whether curated by leading or independent streaming platforms, have changed the way people listen to music. We used to look to radio to inform us about new artists, but today we discover our music based on our mood: “I feel like chilling out” searches for Chill Out playlist. And this action leads to musical consumption that is experience driven. People want a soundtrack to their lives. While songs have always acted as benchmarks for personal experience, we now have easy access to creating our own Life Playlists.
The steady growth of the live music industry is due in part to this lust for experiences — special moments that we can hold onto in an increasingly isolating world. Social media has a tight grip on our daily lives, and although it gives us the illusion of connectedness, it is a poor substitute for the real thing. There are only so many videos, memes and augmented pics that we can post before realizing that we are discontent with all the content — it’s not enough.
Live performances cannot be replaced by streaming or social media. Technology is certainly being put in place to enhance the audience experience, whether through holographic imagery or VR tools, but when it comes down to it, there is nothing like being at a show, surrounded by equally enthusiastic attendees, everyone feeling the vibes in real-time. We will most likely see a rise in live concerts being streamed on Netflix or other media services, but still, it won’t be a replacement for being at an actual venue. For most music consumers, buying tickets to a show is akin to escapism. Perhaps we’re escaping from daily life to get lost in a wave of nostalgia, or perhaps we want to stake a claim in discovering a new talent (to ultimately make a cool post about it on Instagram). Either way, these moments, cherished or just captured, need a place to happen.
In recent years, we’ve seen music venues in major centers around the world struggling to stay afloat in a sea of unsteady industry change. However, this seems to be improving as live shows gain more support. With artists touring more often to fill their coffers in the wake of plummeting record sales, and with consumers demanding more “real” entertainment, venues are once again set to gain or regain their status as key components of our cultural and musical framework. This is great news for both the arenas and the underground clubs, the managers of which will see a growth in their revenue and an adopting of advancements in security and ticket-purchasing technology.
All in all, if you’re in the business of live music, creating and performing it, managing, hosting or promoting it, the horizon looks bright. As artists learn more about how to market themselves, and as they’re given the tools to meet consumer demands (with or without label middlemen), there are no limits to the development of the live music industry. Where streaming technology washes away some revenue-generating opportunities, the live portion gets stronger. This means artists who can actually perform, and who do it exceptionally, will have the upper hand. And in an age when quantity seems to reign over quality, quality is bound to prevail.