On touring and the download era

Richard Florida suggests that we’re moving away from the album towards an era of singles and touring thanks to new internet technologies, that are moving music back to the single, and lowering sales thanks to piracy. I think the download era has lowered sales to the point that the music industry cannot live off of mega-albums as it once did, yet nor has it meant there are more acts out garnering profitable sales numbers to make up the balance. As I suggested in my last post, there are broader audiences out there for more niche genres and tastes, listened to by a demographic that shuffles playlists with no regard for the original track numbering. Touring as a primary source of sales for the industry makes sense in this environment for two reasons.

First, with the broader audiences, small to mid-level bands can travel across continents, to every viable city, and have a full show at the right venue. Piracy, from my experience, is done more often out of economic constraints where one would rather spend their disposable income on things that they cannot get for free, as well as desire to ensure any money spent is spent on music they know is worthwhile (high costs of records is a big issue, especially when one has a lot of records they wish to own). Seeing a band live is something that cannot be pirated, and tickets are only bought for bands that one knows are worthwhile.

Second, the live experience replaces something that downloads took away from the record era: the communal aspect of music. With randomly ordered songs bouncing around iPod playlists, its difficult to have communally shared experiences with peers for longer than 4 minutes at a time. The live show forces our hyper-active attention spans to focus on a single thing for hours. At a concert, you turn off your individual ipods, stand with your friends , intentionality fixed on the stage and the music you are all listening to.  New friends can be made in the reverent communitas. Perhaps this has always been the case with live shows, but the download and ipod era has made previous communal experiences, like full albums, a lot more fractured, to an individual or small group level. Live shows are one of the few phenomenons that my generation can be physically present for, in contrast to a multplicity of media inputs providing a fractured cultural backdrop.

Live shows and music festivals are becoming a desirable product for younger generations’ disposable incomes and lifestyles. For the music industry, it means a source of revenue to replace the lost sales. Of course, I don’t have any stats, but I suspect most bands do better from touring than album/single sales, given they directly receive revenue from venues and merchandise sales.

Here are two videos I took at the last concert I went to, TV on the Radio, at the Malkin Bowl in Vancouver. Couple thousand people at the show, which is a fairly large showing for a band that’s had pretty much no radio/mtv/etc exposure.

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~ by thenationalhum on June 2, 2009.

2 Responses to “On touring and the download era”

  1. The remaining question is, where does the vinyl comeback fit in the new music-making model?

  2. Vinyl sales are still small enough to not factor into sales beyond a marginal level. However, they do help indie stores since they’re the only ones who will keep a current stock of vinyl, Ditch Records on Johnston for example.

    Vinyl’s resurgence probably comes from a collector’s urge, as well as a desire to physically own music. With the digital age upon us, CDs are like physical ghosts of mp3s to us, while vinyl still has a real physical presence that cannot be reduced (well, unless you bother with a vinyl>digital converter) to data.

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