Part of playing live music is sweating over how many people will come, and it might be harder than ever to get them to. I say “might” because the data I’ve looked at is conflicting.
Something called the Music Think Tank has a web site that claims “75% of your fan base won’t attend your show,” but when asked where they got their data, their answer isn’t very solid:
[…]we arrived at this “average”[sic] based on manual research of reported attendance for various concert tours over the past couple years & compared that against the band/artist Facebook fan page ‘likes.’
Nothing against Jeremy, but that sounds to me like they just made that figure up.
I trust Forbes a little bit more. Back in January of 2012, they reported that although attendance was down, revenues were actually up. Two days later, they reported that the music business in general was on the upswing.
Live Nation and Ticketmaster have reported that 2012 was even better than 2011, via this report (link goes to a PDF). Of course, they have an interest in reporting that people are still going to live shows, since that’s how both companies make money, so make your own judgement here too.
Digital Music News reports that more people know about concerts, but less people are attending. They claim to be basing that on Live Nation numbers as well. Bonus gem on that page: the top comment where someone breaks down why less people are attending concerts.
1. Acts scalping their own tickets.
2. Bots and scalpers scooping up in-demand shows in seconds.
3. Convenience fee
4. Parking fee
5. $10 beers
6. $45 t-shirts
7. Lip-synching, reading lyrics from a teleprompter, Auto-Tune
8. Lousy economy
9. Young people saddled with student loans, can’t find a job, no money
10. Watch it on YouTube after the show.
My gut feeling is it’s harder now than ever to get people to turn up, but far from impossible. I am the crustiest, most jaded washed-up-music-business never-was, but I still have in my possession two tickets to see my favorite Atlanta band, Quiet Hounds. I bought one for myself and one for my girlfriend. I am skipping a press trip I would very much like to go on to see their show. They even very kindly offered to put me on their guest list — I know some of the members personally from doing volunteer charity work around town — and I declined.
- I love their music.
- They don’t play often.
- When they do, it’s a spectacle.
It makes me mad when I feel like I’m getting ripped off. It makes me mad when I feel like I have paid for something that is just recycled or phoned in. But the Quiet Hounds do none of those things.
I called up one of the Hounds — Smith Hound, as he is called — and asked him about the conscious choice to do things differently. The show in question is taking place at the Atlanta History Center’s Swan House, not a typical concert venue. The band actually wanted to put the show on a different Atlanta landmark, but were denied by the city after a drawn out series of meetings.
“It is hard work, and I get anxious about it. But if you aren’t reinventing yourself and keeping it fresh, everybody’s gonna get bored,” said Smith Hound. “I’m hoping the anxiety pays off.”
Smith also said they regularly turn down more traditional shows. They turn down opening slots, even for bands they love. For their Swans & Embers show they’ve had to rent the space, bring in beverage vendors, rent portable toilets, everything. Their methods even cause friction with some established industry people because they are circumventing the usual routes. As Smith Hound puts it, when people get irritated with the band there are “avenues that close, but others that open up.”
Why? Why go against the grain like this? No one dreams about one day having a successful band and having to figure out how to rent portable toilets. So why go through it?
Because it’s their art. This is their- our one life. We should be doing things right, doing things the hard way if necessary, or not at all.
Because the Quiet Hounds have that attitude, I am happy to pay for a ticket and delighted to show up, and I think if you have that attitude about your music your fans will always do the same.