The Intro (The barman’s perspective)
Those of you who know me well will know that during my uni days at Lancaster Uni, I was heavily involved with the live music scene, both as a performer and as a promoter. A few weeks ago, I revisited Lancaster for the first time in years, after organising and hosting a reunion with some of the guys from LULUMS (Lancaster University Live & Unsigned Music Society).
While I was there, I got chatting to one of the bar staff in one of the local live music venues (who I’ve known for years – he used to work there when I was at uni and still works there now), who told me that the local live music scene has slumped considerably in the last couple of years. His reasoning? People have become lazy and social media – including Twitter and Facebook – is primarily to blame, as in his opinion, people would rather stay at home and mess around on social media than make the effort to come out and see some bands. I think his exact words at one point were: “social media is destroying live music.”
Before I continue, I’d like to say that I think it’s a bit of an extreme and outlandish statement (just a bit… hehe), but given my involvement with live/unsigned music as well as my background in online marketing and social media marketing (and the fact that I blog about both music and social media on here), I was curious to see what other people thought.
So I asked various musicians, merchandisers, marketers and journalists a question: “Is social media destroying live music?” Here are their answers…
Disclaimer – I originally asked for “tweet-sized comments,” but when I got John’s comment back (the first person I asked), I could see that asking people to limit writing on a subject that they were passionate about was a foolish thing to do! Therefore I’ve published their thoughts/comments in full, rather than cutting anything out or asking them to make their answers shorter.
The musicians’ perspectives
There are a lot of bands out there, and also a lot of venues and I think that live music has suffered a little due to a lack of quality control in certain places. The promoters and venues that consistently put on good bands, have a good PA system, don’t charge an unreasonable amount on the door, and treat bands well generally have thriving nights. Take A Carefully Planned Festival in Manchester – they’ve almost sold out of their first round of tickets two months before the event, and by putting on good bands in good venues and planning it carefully (as the name would suggest) they’re on for a very successful weekend.
Those that don’t do any promotion, will take any band that wants to make noise and don’t seem that bothered in actually making a good night tends to scare off people going to see live music, and I think you end up with a general opinion that local band nights are ‘rubbish’, which doesn’t encourage others to go. The nights that take advantage of bands with high ticket prices and the “you must sell 50 tickets” mantra also damage the live reputation in my opinion. If the band aren’t popular enough to sell 50 £8 tickets to people that aren’t their direct friends (which is what usually happens) they should be doing cheaper gigs that are based around established nights.
This leads to a point where all but the hardcore live music goers are less likely to take a chance on a live night (due to cost/time) unless they already know the calibre of the band, and they’re guaranteed a decent night. I think this is why bigger gigs (like arenas and mid to large venues) thrive, because for your £10-£20 ticket you are almost guaranteed a decent performance, some entertainment, and a night that doesn’t suck. Smaller gigs suffer because they can’t provide this with such certainty.
This is where social networking and technology is useful – getting live videos, recordings and information out to fans and potential fans is crucial so that they can almost ‘vet’ you before they come.
I think a lot of bands don’t use social media enough, or they don’t use it well. You have to think of it as a band entity, an extension of the collective personality. I don’t want to follow a band that just tweets “We have a show here” and “Buy our single on iTunes”, I want them to have a bit of personality. Give me a good reason to follow you and I will do so.
For me, social media has given the band a platform to get our music heard without the backing of management or a record label. It has also enabled us to share demos and live recordings instantly, allowing our fans to get more from us than would’ve been the case before the world of Twitter/Facebook/SoundCloud.
However whilst the above has allowed us to build a ‘fan base’ online, I would liken it to how many of your Facebook ‘friends’ are true friends – the people you would have a drink with tonight. There will always be a difference between the number of people who like a band and the number who are able to attend gigs, but I believe social media skews this further. It’s easy to listen to a band on your phone, but it takes commitment to pay £5 and take your chances on new music on a wet Thursday night.
We are truly grateful for the number of people who have seen our band play and continue to come to our gigs, but I believe that social media deters those that ten years ago would’ve taken a chance to hear some new music live, as they can now listen to and enjoy it for free, in the comfort of their own homes.
For the individual, this is perfect, but for bands like us, we want to see people enjoying our music, getting drunk, running on stage and hell, just having a good night out with friends. In addition, the music venues need people through the door to make a profit and the recent closures of long-standing music venues such as Barfly Cardiff massively reduces the opportunities bands have to play live and strangles the local music scene.
In summary, the rise of social media makes it vital that a band utilises all avenues to share music and promote gigs, as this is how the majority of their target audience interact. Yet the very system that allows a band to become well-known locally is the same system that deters people from attending gigs and supporting live music.
The answer? Take a chance. If you like a band you’ve heard via social media, go and see them live. It’s highly likely that those also playing on the bill will be of a similar genre and you’ll discover bands you may never have heard by staying at home.
The merchandiser’s perspective
Ever since the start of the music industry as we know it, people have been concerned that the next new development will signal the death of live music. When radio first appeared people were concerned that nobody would go to see live music. Then vinyl meant everyone would stay at home rather than go out.
Of course, live music has peaks and troughs, but our desire to listen to music while surrounded by like-minded people is as old as humanity itself and isn’t going anywhere soon. And while the big record labels cry foul about downloading killing sales revenues, bands are just being ever more inventive about the way they money from their music. The music industry as we know it has been around less than 0.25% of the history of music. And while the industry may change, music will always be around.
The marketer’s perspective
Personally, I don’t believe that social media, the music platforms, etc. are killing local live music, in fact just the opposite. Small venues, bands, musos, etc. should embrace the ability to connect with the wider audience in the environment that their fans are always in. If your target audience or potential fans are on FB then you have to advertise on FB, same goes for YouTube, Twitter, Spotify, etc. An added advantage, it doesn’t cost anything to invest time and effort on social platforms, whereas flyers, ads and so on are a literal cost.
The ability for a niche band or venue to create a wider fan base – not just in their local area but across the very linear Internet – is something that they need to get involved with and understand that it’s not going away.
More bands and artists have hit the headlines and have been successful over the last five years or so from singing into a camera in their bedroom, than pop up on the dire reality TV shows… so I think that says a lot in how the digital and social channel can elevate them into new audiences and hopefully success…
The journalist’s perspective
Social media can act as both an enabler and a barrier to whatever it engages with. The uses of Facebook and Twitter in respect to live local music seem multi-faceted: musicians, venues and promoters utilise it to promote their shows and themselves; an audience will often learn of local gigs through social media; and a buzz can most certainly be generated about a local band within these ‘virtual’ realms either in response to actual shows or to a band’s online promotion. So there are definite positives, especially if the underlying assumption in asking whether social media is destroying local live music is that audience members use it too often in order to attend shows. To me, that suggests it’s a viable tool to be utilised in promotion, alongside the age-old staples of word-of-mouth, postering and flyering.
That said, I do think an over-reliance on social media by local musicians, promoters and so on could be dangerous for the local scene. There is an inherent transience to the online realm; tweets come and go, as do Facebook statuses with many of them going unwatched or unnoticed. To rely on it purely without any further direct engagement with potential audiences assumes that, because people use social media, they will instantaneously turn up at your gig at the creation of a Facebook event. Though I can’t speak beyond anecdotes here, this doesn’t seem to be the case.
The Reprise (The commenters’ perspectives)
What do you think? Do you agree with the staff member of the live music venue in Lancaster who originally made the statement? Or do you agree with some of the comments above? Do you have a different perspective entirely? If so, please feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this post.