Monday, July 18, 2016

Economics 101

A couple of weeks ago - although to be honest, it might have been a couple months ago by now - my friend L. noted how few good shows there seems to be in Atlanta lately.

The remark gave me reason to think.  It does seem like I've been to far fewer shows so far this year than I had by the same time last year.  Sure, some of it may have been due to me just not getting out as much, but some of it is also that it seems like there have been far fewer good shows to go out to this year.

Now why is that?, I wonder.  It seems that there are no fewer shows at The Earl, The Masquerade, Smith's Olde Bar, and all the other stages in Atlanta, so it's not that there's fewer shows.  So some of it is probably due to my own musical taste, which is not always consistent with current musical fashions.  To be sure, the indie rock renaissance of the 2000s is now over, and more and more, the clubs are booking EDM and hip-hop acts, which are not my own personal preference.  Nothing against it, but it's just that it was the creativity and artistry of the indie rock renaissance that got this old man back into the clubs again.  But while some clubs are now booking more and more EDM and hip-hop, other clubs are going in another direction, and booking more hardcore punk, more metal, and more scruffy garage bands, and while the overlap of my tastes and the latter group is larger than the overlap with the first group, it's less compelling to me to go out to a club just to be sonically assaulted by a three-chord band.

So the music's changing, and I'm getting even older still.  That's the way of the world, I guess.  But it seems like there's more to it than just that - after all, there still are a lot of new records coming out that I enjoy, but those bands don't seem to be playing here in Atlanta.

Now what's the reason for that?, I wonder, and decide that it's the economics of the music industry. As everyone knows, these days, most bands make most of their money not by album sales as in the past, but by touring, one night at a time, one show at a time, one cover charge at a time.   The tour has become the most important source of income, and therefore, gets planned the most carefully.  

For a band coming out of one of either of the two poles of the new music axis, that is, Brooklyn or Portland/Seattle, there's a lot of logistics and economics that go into planning a tour.  You can knock off a lot of gigs within a few hours drive from each other in the Boston-New York-Philadelphia-Washington corridor if you're Brooklyn based, or in the Seattle-Portland-Sacramento-San Francisco corridor if you're on the West Coast.  But to play the American South means fewer clubs that are further apart with 8 to 10 hour drives in between, and smaller clubs with lower cover charges, so it winds up costing you more in terms of gas, food, and lodging to make less money.  

It's more economical to run a smaller circuit within 12 hours of home at large clubs where the patrons don't mind paying $40 to get in than it is to drive 12 hours from gig to gig to play for a handful of fans who've only paid $5 at the door.

I don't know if any of this is fact - I'm not in the music business, but it makes sense to me.  If I was a NY band, I wouldn't drive across the South to make a fraction of what I could make between Montreal and Baltimore.

So, the shows have been fewer, but I've really enjoyed what I have managed to see down here so far, ranging from Julien Baker at Aisle 5 to Animal Collective at Buckhead Theater to Quilt at The Earl. But there have been long stretches of time between and since those gigs that have felt like a musical desert to me.

And now an oasis is in sight.  This Friday night, four days from now (four!), Swans return to Terminal West touring behind their great new album The Glowing Man.

And then the next week, on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, we'll be graced with Fear of Men at The Masquerade, Marissa Nadler at The Earl, and Boogarins also at The Earl, in that order. Four great shows in six nights, and there hasn't been four good show in the previous six weeks, or even two months, so let's enjoy it while we've got it, my friends.  

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