Once upon a time there were no recordings. If you wanted a career in music, you not only had to know how to play, you also had to know how to perform!
That's what has been overlooked about the Beatles and Prince and so many legends whose music has endured. When you went to see them, you were blown away. Now you go to see an act and wait for the moment when they perform their hit single, often to hard drive, so you won't be disappointed, or you're dazzled by production. Sure, songs count, but can you deliver them?
Used to be live music was abundant. Now there's almost nowhere to play. And tickets are so expensive that the concept of going to a show has changed, it's no longer entertainment, no longer something you do on a regular basis, but an event. And that's different. As different as going on vacation to the Bahamas as opposed to your local beach. If you fly to an island and spend all that dough
you're on high alert, you want to get your money's worth, if the help is slow and the weather is bad, you're bummed out. Whereas when you're at the local beach and the teenager takes a bit too long to deliver your french fries, it doesn't ruin your day, if the clouds roll in and you have to leave early, it's not a disaster. You go to your local beach all the time. You enjoy the environment, and it's the little things that titillate you. That great wave you caught and body-surfed all the way into shore on. The woman/man/boy/girl who walked right by your blanket… The song you heard on the radio as you were being baked by the rays, thrilled just to be alive. This is how it used to be in live music. Used to be you went all the time. You wanted to have a great time, but if it was just good, that was o.k.
Everybody still thinks it's about records. About hits. And nothing will garner you an audience instantly like a hit. But it won't keep people coming to your show if you're not a great performer. In this modern age where it's hard to get people's attention, where there's so much clutter that if you've got a hit, many people still don't hear it, shouldn't you be focusing on your live show, shouldn't you be honing your performing skills?
Look at it this way. Psy is one and done. He's no different from those guys who did the Macarena. And it's not about the song, but the video. And video was the dominant art form in the eighties and nineties, but now it really doesn't matter what you look like. It matters if you can play, and if you can sell the song you're singing.
I know this is the opposite of everything you're hearing, but if you want a career in music today, you're better off focusing on your live skills than your recoding chops.
This is why so many of the white/Brooklyn/hipster bands don't penetrate beyond their core. If you don't buy into it from the get-go, you can't be convinced. Take anybody to see Prince and they're closed. Take just anybody to see most of today's bands and they'll be howling to leave.
But the problem is bigger than that. It's not only a lack of riveting performers, it's a lack of places to play. People would rather hear records, or stay home. Because oftentimes when there is live music, it sucks. If you can't sell it as the bar band at the Holiday Inn, you're never going to go anywhere.
The path we're on looks bleak. With winners and losers, a very small middle class, with over-massaged mainstream hits and overpriced tickets to see these one hit wonders and the has-beens. Forget that there's less money in music than banking, the whole art form is headed to extinction. Then again, that's what's exciting about electronic music. Sure, many deejays don't do much, but the show is an experience, the audience performs, you feel as one, which is vastly different from standing in the arena with people you neither know nor care about who are blocking your $200 view.
But as for those who sing and play guitars… First we've got to develop people worth seeing. Then there will be a demand for places to see them. And ticket prices will have to start off low. So people can go check things out on a regular basis.
Change is coming.
And I don't know exactly how it will play out.
But if you want to be a musician today, learn how to perform. Play live wherever you can. Learn to do it with no electronic aids/help. People are clamoring for authenticity. It's your job to deliver it.