Live Show, Digital Song
The way we encounter new music has changed drastically in the last ten years. Where an artist once relied on record sales for income, now they rely on live performances and concert merchandise. Where a listener once sifted through shelves and milk crates of physical media, now they click arrows and scroll through album covers on streaming sites like Spotify and Pandora. Artists can’t rely on record sales for revenue anymore, not when streaming services have taken over. Live performance and digital media seem like divergent paths, but the music industry appears to be traveling both.
Electronic. Electronic. EDM. Dubstep. DJ. DJ Duo. Pop Stars. Icons. ELECTRONIC. ELECTRONIC. ELECTRONIC.
Last week I asked a few New York record executives which they thought was more affordable: starting a band with real instruments or buying a computer, sampler, and virtual instruments. The response was a resounding COMPUTER. Even though virtual equipment can be much more expensive up front than a handful of instruments — it’s not the gear that’s expensive, it’s the lifestyle. Band members need payment and supplements. Equipment needs transportation. When the alternative can be zipping all your gear away in a backpack and riding the subway, it is unsurprising that more and more musicians are going digital.
Look at these “Discover New Music” choices on Spotify! 4 of the 5 are sampled electronic artists.
Digital Music Succeeds Beautifully Online
1. Audiences expect the concert to sound like the album.
I’ve noticed a growing trend of audiences wanting a live show to sound exactly the way it did on the record. Rather than seeking out a distinct experience, they’re thrown off when the performance doesn’t sound like the track they’ve been listening to, even when the mediums are two completely different atmospheres and experiences altogether.
2. There’s little risk in booking a band that is successful online.
If producers know that the way an artist sounds on the internet is exactly the way they’ll sound live, and if at the same time, audiences are growing more accustomed to hearing a show just like the record, everybody has security of knowing exactly what they’re paying for.
3. Audience members aren’t even watching the show.
Many of these electronic acts booked in giant venues don’t do much on stage. They sample and sing along like one big karaoke game, while audiences have full conversations, glancing every now and then at the musicians in front of them. Going to festivals like Lollapalooza or Coachella can be like going to the mall. People hang out, drink, take pictures with their friends. Many audiences get bored seeing a band simply play.
St. Vincent, in her fantastic Digital Witness tour, made a distinct effort to give a visual performance — robotic dance moves and a sparse pink and white visual landscape designed to make sure audiences were watching. When did such conscious crafting become necessary for capturing an audience’s attention?
We’ve Been Here Before
Remember Disco? In the early 1960s each new season brought a new dance craze and new dance bands. Discotheques lived and died by it. Then came the Beatles.
We are merely at the top (or bottom) of a cycle that’s begging for something new to come along. Like cities, music culture rises and falls. From Disco to The Beatles, From Boy Bands to Mumford and Sons, From DJs to Dirty Projectors — we get tired of one way and thirst for another. As digital music is becomes excessive, audiences become reminiscent of the singer/songwriter days and look beyond Dubstep and EDM for something to top the charts. It’s an endless and somewhat ruthless cycle for what’s new, what’s cool, what’s good, and even what’s nostalgic.
“You Just Have To Be There”
We’ve all spoken these words. Something happens when playing live that no studio can capture. How can those bands that truly flourish live, those “you just have to be there” bands succeed in streaming culture? Do they exist solely in live performances, and can that be accurately re-created in live albums? The live albums are adequate, but there has to be a way to recreate that “you just have to be there” moment or feeling. There is always a problem with audio and video in recording, one is better than the other or they aren’y synced up, so there must be a remedy to fix that.
We need to find a way to properly showcase them online. If the hundreds of thousands of listeners that frequent streaming sites can hear these bands the way they are meant to be heard, if they can feel like they’re there, maybe these bands too will get the exposure they need, maybe producers and venues would be more open to them, maybe audiences will start paying attention. From one ear to another.
From One Ear To Another,