Can we live ‘live’ underground?

Originally publish June 12th 2014:

When the physical sales industry started to collapse under the weight of free access to music made possible by the internet, the masses heralded live events as the new saviour. However, as much as this would be a pleasant outcome for some – live is the best in my opinion – the reality is a lot more complicated.

The vast majority of increase in revenue generated in the live music sector is claimed by those at the top of the game. Secondary ticketing (basically on-line scalping, a lot of which is actually owned by big ticketing companies who sell the original tickets!!!), for example, takes money from the pockets of gig-goers who may otherwise follow the traditional route of on-the-night spending. Also, the band, the venue, the promoter, and anyone else who contributes to the event sees none of this new cash. It goes straight into the pocket of someone who has done nothing more than stand in the way, like an dark-side Gandalf, saying ‘You shall not pass! …until you pay me more’. Yet this type of financial movement is included in the calculations of the health of the live scene.

What’s the result? Bands have to put up their fees to be able to afford to put on a professional gig and cover the loss on merch sales. That makes their tour a harder sell, especially if they’re down the rungs of the ladder. On top of that, if a venue or promoter does take them on at the necessary higher rate, they’re essentially losing money to secondary ticketing, too. Much like the physical music industry, live music is being prevented from reaching its potential by immoral or illegal third party action.

Naturally, this isn’t the case for all bands. Secondary ticketing is unlikely to affect a lot of smaller gigs, and yet, the audience will still have less disposable income to spend on entry, merch and CDs. Above is just one example of how convoluted the source of all those figures can be, regardless of how many aficionados tell you that live music has never been better. Sure, it recently overtook physical sales in terms of overall revenue, but that seems to mean practically nothing to the path of the underground musician.

There are some out there in the big wide world who are starting to address this issue, however. BBC 1’s Jen Long, for example, passes comment on how underground bands could navigate these tricky waters. Meanwhile, the Music Industry Blog, dissects some of the bigger details, showing that artists are slowly doing worse in terms of live revenue, due to the increasing cut taken by venues, booking agents, and other costs. Maybe cutting out some middle men is the way forward for independent bands.

Obviously, these are still not cure-all solutions for everyone. This week’s intended big article is likewise NOT the definitive answer to all the questions which may arise, but it will hopefully deliver some personal insight into the polar sides of one particular related interaction; that between the underground band and the effective live events professional.

Posted in Underground In Prydain and tagged .