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THE SUNNYSIDE UPS / Blog

The demise of Live Music

It is increasingly difficult to have a conversation with other musicians without the topic of deejays coming up. Usually this takes the form of a “Us vs. Them” diatribe where the most common reason for the popularity of deejays as a form of entertainment in nightclubs is attributed to their relatively low cost to club owners. However, this reason alone is not enough to explain the phenomenon. Deejays offer several other advantages that must be considered. For instance, deejays play music that is proven to be popular. This increases the odds of an audience staying longer and spending more money. Deejays also play requested songs, giving the audience exactly what they ask for. Very few bands are capable of this and most absolutely refuse. Most cover bands play a specific genre or attempt a “Top 40” approach to broaden their appeal. Meanwhile, bands who create original music are increasingly obscure in the nightlife scene. A simple search of “decline of live music” on the internet confirms this. I was surprised to find that this is a world-wide phenomenon. An article in Rolling Stone reported a 7% drop in revenue from live music last year in Germany alone. When you remove the category of “Musicals,” the decline jumps to 9%. Similar findings are documented in news articles from Austin, Tx to Australia. And club owners who offer live music have increasingly adopted a “pay to play,” or at least a “play for free” business model, whereby they collect a door charge and drink revenues while avoiding paying any fee whatsoever for the entertainment provided. Some do offer the bands the “door charge” based on the number of customers who enter during the bands performance. This is usually a pittance when there are four or five bands playing on a given night. Their reasoning is that there are too many bands to know for sure if a band is worth hiring, so why hire any at all. And musicians are largely to blame for this as well, having fed into it wholesale. So many of us have fought and begged for gigs we are truly unprepared for, rather than focusing on earning our right to play, “paying our dues,” and improving our performance. The end result is that many truly good bands are easily overlooked in the glut of average “bar bands.” Add to this the penchant of the major record labels to emphasize “developing” talent over the “old school” practice of “discovering” it. The truth is, almost any child can be taught to sing or play an instrument. Therefore, all you need is lots of money to pay for “development” and promotion and , viola, you “create” the next Britney Spears. Then all you have to do is provide the right controls to protect your investment. Relatively few mature musicians can compete with this machine. Many of us keep plugging away with the dim hope that we’ll be noticed, or simply because we are driven to do so by our love of performance. Some of us spend more on equipment and self-promotion than we will ever recoup by actually playing. Some of us get discouraged and quit playing altogether, choosing instead a life of regret and unfulfilled passions. How do we change the course of live music appreciation? What happens if we don’t? How do we restore live music to it’s proper role in local entertainment? What role should deejays play in the scene? These are questions we should all be asking ourselves. I hope this will open a discussion that we can all use to share our ideas and work together to save what we love so much. Thanks. DiG