What’s the future of the music business?

Some of you know that for the last 40+ years I’ve been a professional musician. I’ve played festivals, state fairs, Irish pubs, concert halls, theaters, and just about every type of venue you might imagine.

Covid-19 has just about ended that way of life for folks like me—non superstars, who play 150-200 dates a year, stay plenty busy but no one has heard of. A fellow musician, Deren Nay, has put some thoughts together and I think they’re worth a read.

In the words of Deren Ney about Live Nations plan for the future of Live Shows

This is what people don’t get about trying to force concerts to start before Covid-19 is contained:

Rushing in before there’s a market is going to end a lot of your favorite bands, and be maddening for the ones who survive.

I can’t speak to how other industries will function in this new reality, but when the music industry shifted all profits from the sale of albums away from artists and toward streaming companies (eliminating one of the biggest sources of revenue for a band in the process), the response was, “Now you have got to make your money with your live show.” All eggs were placed in that basket.

Now that basket has been violently kicked and is sailing headlong into a grease fire in a fireworks plant.

Making it work for most bands was already nearly impossible. The time, the energy, and trying to budget it was an incredible strain that put most mid-level bands on the edge of financial ruin. And there’s no alternative to it — the road was the only option, so we just had to make it work. And now to have shows, many venues will be having people forcibly social distsnced, meaning far fewer people holding tickets or buying alcohol (alcohol sales are largely how clubs make their money). The only possible outcome of that is less money.

So now that the pie is even smaller, who’s going to absorb the cost?

Hotels aren’t going to take that hit for us. Gas stations aren’t gonna take the hit for us. Liquor companies aren’t gonna take the hit for us. Ticket prices will increase, so the consumer will take some hit, which is equally unfair.

But as wealthier people realize they can buy a more exclusive concert experience (a la all those VIP sections full of people not dancing in the front of giant festivals), paying more for a show where there’s less people in attendance will become a feature, not a bug.

So who is left to balance the impossible budget for this return to music?

Artists. Because they’re the only ones in the equation who’d do it for free.

Like prostitutes who are also sexaholics, they know artists would do it whether they make money or not, and they exploit that. Live Nation, a company which does quite literally nothing except take a giant cut of the money for tickets to see other people’s art, like a Colonel Tom Parker with the entire music industry as a client, is going to force that into existence with an early opening.

And a cooped-up general public will be eager to see shows again and probably even think the sooner they buy tickets, the better it is for the artists. It’s not. Buy their merch, support their live streams.

Until there’s a therapeutic or vaccine for Covid-19 that can slow the spread without social distancing limiting the ticket sales, or until Live Nation decides to stop being greedy motherless fuckfaces, there won’t be enough tickets sold consistently enough to sustain it in a way that doesn’t kill artists.

Rather than storing up their massive take of the money for difficult times to create some sort of protective system for the art they leech off of, Live Nation is a pimp coming to our house when we’re sick and telling us to get back on the street to make more money for them.

Their greed — and a public being unwittingly complicit by calling early for concerts — will result in performers and clubs being forced to make this new economic situation work by making already unimaginable financial strain unimaginably worse.

Or, far more likely, force those artists to cease to exist.

What’s next? Bands branding their clothes like NASCAR racers?

I wish I was joking.

Covid’s existence won’t end the music industry, but rushing back into things too early will end a lot of bands. Trying to have shows too early is not only going to — and I think this is somewhat important — KILL A LOT OF HUMAN BEINGS, it is also going to force yet another drastic shakeup of the economic relationship between clubs, promoters, and artists which the artists have to figure out a way to pay for, with either their blood or treasure.

There are no easy answers in any of this. But I hope people stop thinking getting back to how things used to be is just a matter of will or resolve. Until we figure out some way to address the halving of live music crowds, and the correlating budgets of bands, rushing to start shows again is just another way to screw over artists, whether they realize it yet or not.

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