No matter what time of year it is, musicians are always jockeying for position, trying to get the best slots at festivals, preparing themselves with new songs, and finalizing their promotional materials for the seasonal launches. Musicians know this is a year long process, so no matter what month you’re in, the time is always right for gigging. All the hard work that goes into promoting, all the back room dealings, and sometimes just good luck has led to these days. And yet, all across the United States, music scenes everywhere are always crossing their fingers that people will come out and enjoy the shows.
Being a musician comes natural, as any artist can attest to. But musicians are not naturally business minded. And the music business is crawling with “business minded” people always making money on the sweat and hard work of musicians. That much is never going to change. What has changed over the years has been people’s interest in seeing live music. Ask musicians across this nation and you will likely hear the same complaints and stories about not enough support for the scene. Live music will always have a market because there will always be rebels and folks that like seeing live bands play, but for many artists it is often a struggle just to “get the word out there” because everyone has busy lives and with so many things going on, getting EVERYONE to come to a show is damn near impossible -even for the most popular bands.
But this may be a social problem. People, unfortunately, are influenced by pop culture. Pop culture is promoted by the media, by Hollywood, and the large promotional machines that profit from people’s insatiable appetite for glamor and razzle dazzle. That’s why people like Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj have such strong following: they are packaged and logistically marketed toward the widest range of influenced people: kids. Kids grow up listening to and watching non-musicians singing and spitting to a CD, so why would they care about real or live musicians? Not every kid, of course, but then the rocker kids grow up listening to bands like Nickelback and a slew of cookie-cutter bands. Musicians may not think so, but clearly there is something to appealing to large masses that has a lasting effect, which ultimately kills the liking of original, thought-provoking music. In the 1960’s and 70’s, mainstream music was littered with rebellious lyrics, bands pushing the envelope and getting people riled up about social issues and politics. But they also shared experiences that became legendary because they were so real and everyone felt it. Those elements still exist, but they are not thrusted onto the mainstream like they used to be. The days of Bob Dylan, the Band, and Jimi Hendrix are but a memory. These days, the most popular bands are groups like Maroon 5 and Coldplay and what do they stand for? What is the message in their music? What envelopes do they push? What great epiphany do they share with their audience?
This is perhaps why local music scenes still work. This is why fans of live music will head to their local tavern to see a band. They want to have a good time. And if the band is really good, they will share an evening of raw vibe. The sort of thing people used to get from just listening to a record. Popular music has changed and maybe that’s because people have changed. The stakes are high when a band promotes a show because bands want audiences. They need people to hear them. Whether its just to have a good time or to share something special, the reasons musicians play vary. What is common among all musicians is the need to play in front of people. For so many, it isn’t the norm. It’s not the sort of thing they grew up loving. But those that did, the kids of hippie parents, those influenced by their friends fortunate enough to have experienced great live music, those are the ones that will come out to the shows. They are the ones standing outdoors to hear a band. They are the ones musicians seek.
It is perhaps an understatement that once people get to see a great live band, they will want more. It’s as natural as a musician’s inclination to play an instrument. It will happen. However, this is the perpetual dilemma. How do bands get more people to come to the shows? Its the million dollar question. The answer may be there needs to a social shift. Just as the bands in the 60’s pushed the envelope, so should the bands of today. If bands want people to respond to them, give them something special to respond to. Give them something original. Looking and sounding like other bands doesn’t make anyone stand out. On the flip side, being too weird or crazy may turn people off. Find a formula that works, experiment, and take notes on what people responded positively to. Change things up from time to time, cover songs that are not the same old beat up tunes everyone else does. Musicians that challenge themselves by opting to not play the “easy” songs in favor of the more complex tunes will impress better. If music scenes are suffering, the medicine may need to be administered to the music itself.