There are some demographic trends that are worth paying attention to, because they are likely to have an impact on the opportunities for musicians to play their music to live audiences.
The first trend is that young people are eschewing drugs and alcohol, in favour of healthy lifestyles, exercise and eating sensibly. In the past, live venues such as pubs and clubs were predicated on the sale of alcohol and in the case of some clubs, on there being a lively drug culture. Take those things away and suddenly pubs and clubs are not as viable as businesses, as they once were. What’s the knock on effect for musicians? Fewer places for live bands, singer songwriters and DJs to play live.
The second trend is that there is something of a summer festival bubble brewing. In the US, there are now so many outdoor music festivals, charging such high prices, that there is a fear that saturation point has been reached. There just aren’t the audience numbers to support so many festivals. For live musicians, this is potentially very worrying. The festival circuit, which is actually sustaining some musicians’ careers, at present, given the collapse in earnings from recorded music and streaming sales, may be on an inevitable shrinkage and consolidation collision course. If the festival circuit collapses, then so, too, does one of the key revenue sources for musicians.
How are musicians going to find live places to play, if pubs, clubs and festivals all begin to vanish or hire less live music? I think it’s time to get creative. www.stageit.com is one possible answer, where live acts can sell tickets to a live stream of their show. Mocktail clubs may be another, serving low or no alcohol drinks (although the younger generation is also more aware of the harm to health of sugar-based drinks). Perhaps musicians need to organise their own outdoor events. Shopping malls and precincts used to be a source for live bands to put on a public show, but with less disposable income and greater concentration of online shopping, there just isn’t the footfall there once was, even if you can get permission to play. In Australia, you could put on a show on the beach, with sponsorship, but it was hard to charge for admission or to sell merchandise. The shows were also staged in the blazing sun, so were physically harsh to play. YouTube channels are another possibility, if you can attract an audience and survive on your cut of the advertising revenue generated.
It’s time for musicians in live bands and with live acts to start thinking creatively about how to put on a show. Demographic trends are eliminating traditional live venues. Where are the people you want to play for? What do they do and where do they go? How can you present something to them that won’t be a sheer nuisance and where you can monetise the show from the audience you attract? What places would live music be relevant and welcomed within and how could you promote, market and earn from putting shows on there, in collaboration with the venue? These are important questions to ask.
I doubt garden centres and art galleries will welcome the shattered silence. There are few places to play that are not subject to noise pollution restrictions imposed by local councils. Putting on a travelling show (a traditional tour) is becoming increasingly cost prohibitive, once transport, sustenance and accommodation costs are factored in, even as musical equipment is becoming more portable, smaller and lighter. It’s hard to imagine where musicians will find a place to play, but find a place they must.
Of course, another side effect is that the type of music played will change. When there are no arena sized venues or even small theatres, willing to host loud rock bands, and no clubs to hold all night, non-stop dancing, then playing loud rock or being a DJ that can create a three hour continuous set are no longer such highly valued skills. Shows may have to scale down to make them viable for smaller audiences, with less gear and stage equipment. Lower cost, smaller sized, portable, low power instruments and PA systems will be the norm. Light shows will shrink. Shows may well become quieter. Live music’s actual musical styles may have to adapt to the audience numbers and venues available. Bands with lots of band members may become extinct, for purely economic reasons.
I can foresee a time when even live music will rely heavily on banks of general purpose computers to generate sounds, simulate amplifiers and effects, sequence tracks that live players used to play and to control all aspects of the light show and video sequences. Sounds reinforcement will either rely on the venue’s own PA system exclusively, or else bands will tour with compact, class D sound systems, no backline amplification at all and very lightweight, electric and electronic instruments, including the drums. The setup and sound check time needs to be minimal, so they may begin to lean on digital room acoustics analysis and correction and soundfield optimisation processing. No matter where they play, they can be sure that the sound will be approximately right, with no sound check time at all. They may film the whole show with drone cameras, that are part of their live rig and under computer control and stream the show live to the Internet, or else sell recordings, as MP3 files, perhaps, to audience members as show-time exclusives. I can’t see the days of bringing several large trucks worth of gear to a show being viable, in the future, except for the very upper tier acts.
Musicians live in interesting times. Their incomes from recorded music have collapsed. Their incomes from live performance could be next. Where will people enjoy live music, in future? It’s an interesting, unanswered question.