I went to the Hollywood Bowl last night to see Brett Dennen.
Not really, the headliner was Jason Mraz. But Jason's manager, Bill Silva, said I should check out the opening act, he said "I think Brett’s amazing if you haven’t seen him?"
I didn't see him. Planned on it, but the 101 was a quagmire. First we thought it was that police car with the pulled over car that caused traffic to be backed up onto the 405. There appeared to be no signs of damage, but you don't need a wreck to stop traffic on the freeway in L.A., hell, a police car on the OPPOSITE side of the freeway can gum up cars on your side.
But after accelerating for a quarter mile past the black and white, we ended up gridlocked again. Took us over an hour and a half to cover what usually takes twenty minutes. To the point where when we got to the Bowl, Mr. Dennen's set was history. Oh, Brett reappeared at the end of the show, towering over Mr. Mraz as they performed a number from the middle of the audience. But the guy on the flat screen by the bathroom when we arrived was G. Love.
I'd like to tell you I can pick these guys out of a lineup, but with a hundred thousand albums released last year, it's hard to even know who's ruling the hit parade. I didn't know this was G. Love until he said so, after we'd taken our seats, a few numbers in.
The vocals weren't right. I'm not saying the engineer didn't twiddle the knobs correctly, I'm saying that G. Love would never win "American Idol". But the band was in a groove. And then G. Love sat down and wailed on the guitar.
I got it.
Only fifteen years too late.
Harvey Leeds worked me on G. Love & Special Sauce for years. And it being Harvey, I actually played the records. But I didn't get it.
You see G. Love is not a recording artist. He's a musician. With an act that you understand if you see him live.
But according to Michael Rapino, the average concertgoer attends a show between one and two times a year. What are the odds they've seen Mr. Love?
Let me restate this. For my entire life it's been about the record.
You tune in the radio to hear what's good to know what records to buy.
Now you avoid the radio and no one buys anything.
So how do we break bands?
The average person talks on the cell in his car and music is
positively inconsequential, it's the bumpers they hear on television.
Beyonce may have made one of the best music videos of all time according to Kanye West, but most people haven't seen it, and don't care if they ever see it. They're playing video games, they're downloading apps to their iPhones. Music's a sideshow. Except for the dinosaurs, they'll go to see the classic rock legends. Or they used to, before tickets cost as much as a mortgage payment.
Radio may never be vital again.
So where do you get exposed to new acts?
But the gigs are too expensive!
Make no mistake, the touring business was built by the record companies. The disappearance of the club scene? The not so secret reason is the labels supported the clubs. They put the new bands on the road and bought all the tickets. A much slower way to break a band than to get them featured on television. So, labels spent money trying to hit grand slams. And the club business died.
And then the labels could barely hit home runs. And not only did they stop buying club tickets, they eliminated expensive videos and made new acts sign 360 deals. But even though the labels share in ticket revenue and merch, they don't promote the show. That's the land of the agent and Live Nation, or AEG, or Seth or Arny & Jerry. And despite the protestations of all those involved, agents and promoters, they've been riding on the coattails of the labels forever, the record companies built the acts, not the agents and promoters.
But now the agents and promoters have the steering wheel. Building acts via recorded music may be history.
Oh, not completely. Jason Mraz sold out the Hollywood Bowl because he had a monster hit. And, unlike many of his Top Forty brethren, he's got multiple albums and multiple years in. But most of the one hit wonders, if they can tour at all, it's only when they're on the hit parade, and now, more than ever, not that many people want to see them. People want to see acts that are real. Acts that have something to say. Acts with staying power.
You can't make it on record sales anymore. There's not enough money involved. Just check SoundScan, you're lucky to sell a tenth of what you used to. So, to survive, you've got to work on the road. But people have to want to see you. They've got to pay to see you.
So, not only do ticket prices need to come down, we need people to see live music the same way they go to the movies. On a whim. Frequently.
The pendulum has swung back. Recorded music is the zit, live music is the ass. Everyone knows those Top Forty records are fake, except
maybe the prepubescent kids who can't afford a concert ticket anyway.
You employ the usual suspects to create a beat-driven concoction that works well in a club. Top Forty music is a Malibu, a Chevy that will get you to your destination. Whereas live music is a BMW, the ultimate driving machine. The ride, although evanescent, is an end unto itself. It's not only about getting to the destination, but enjoying the process.
That's the live gig. It's how you feel at the moment.
Then it's gone.
We've killed recorded music. By overpricing it. By releasing nothing new and innovative. By putting it out on the ill-sounding CD. What difference does it make if you hear it as an MP3? It's just a facsimile of real sound anyway.
You want to go to the gig. It's about live.
This is an incredible sea change. It's not about propping up the major labels, but propping up musicians. Giving them a chance to display their wares, to make it, to survive.
We're not talking about going to Lou Pearlman's dance camp, singing the songs of others, we're talking about honing your chops, not your looks, so that people will ultimately revel in the sound.
We've got a screwed up live business model. It's few gigs at too high a price. We need more gigs at a low price.
But the festival model is a good step. It does allow people to experience new acts. But we've got to get more than camping music lovers to attend festivals. So they can hear how good these acts are live. So they become fans.
I have no interest in hearing a G. Love record.
But I would be interested in seeing G. Love live again.
In other words, I'm a fan of the band, not the music.
And isn't that great, a complete reversal of the nineties paradigm, wherein the record was bigger than the act!