In its typical stately and slightly behind fashion, The New Yorker magazine this week published a piece (subscription required) about big changes in the live music industry. The article used as its grounding point a recent dispute between Bruce Springsteen and Ticketmaster over scalping and ticket withholding by artists, but the larger point was that the concert industry may be following the recording industry down the tubes--a prediction I made more than a year ago. The article has reams of supporting statistics and quotes, but the simple point is that the big acts aren't selling as many tickets as they used to, and some industry insiders are worried that there are no young bands today who will be able to fill stadiums in 20 years.
But I was struck most by the optimism of Irving Azoff, who's currently the CEO of Ticketmaster Entertainment, but who's better known as a long-time big shot in music management--he handled The Eagles, among many other acts. As he put it: "The performer on stage receiving the adulation of the fans--there's nothing like it, and that's never going away."
He's absolutely right, but I still think the days of paying more than a hundred bucks for the right to be herded into a stadium where they charge $8 for a beer and the ushers don't allow dancing and the other "fans" yell if you stand up and the sound sucks and the performers can't play their instruments and they look like tiny ants--that is, the big stadium concert experience--is becoming a relic like corded telephones and huge microwave ovens. It's too expensive, it's not fun enough, and there are far more opportunities for collective entertainment today than when I was a teenager back in the dark (pre-online) ages. Where are kids going to spend their allowance--on Xbox Live for $50 a year, or the latest enormo-tour for $50 (or more) an hour?
That's bad news for Ticketmaster, but good news for smaller venues. The only trouble with these smaller shows is that you might not hear about them unless you've got a good local weekly paper and are willing to scan the club listings regularly. That's where a new crop of Web and mobile applications come into play. I'm still enjoying iConcertCal for iPhone, which I've only had for a week, but has already guided me to one amazing band (Garaj Mahal) I had no idea was in town until I opened the app.
Today, Seattle social-music company iLikeupped the ante with a update to iLike Local Concerts, a very attractive iPhone app that was originally released in May. It downloads and caches a bunch of local concert information on first connection to reduce wait times in the future, and features a slick user interface with images for each listed artist. The updated version, which should be in the iTunes store shortly, will match iConcertCal's ability to build a list of favorite artists based on your iTunes library, and will add notifications when one of your favorites announces a show in your town. Best of all, while iConcertCal costs $2.99, iLike Local Concerts is free.
Live music's far from dead. You just have to know where to look.