What is too much of a good thing?
I’ve been thinking a lot about the difficult state of affairs for live music in Toronto.
Sure, there are places to play, and plenty of talented people out there, but the opportunities to make a decent living at live performance are thin, to say the least. Part-timers like me with a decent day job can manage, if we accept that we are paying/playing for the pleasure, or “exposure bucks” as Pat Kelly has shared. Doesn’t help much with food and shelter though, or even the price of replacement guitar strings.
Many clubs I have approached for shows have given up on the idea that they have some responsibility for attracting and retaining clientele by offering a great ambience, food and service. These clubs (not all) rely too much on the entertainment to fill the vacuum of their non-marketing. Of course, the reverse is almost unthinkable (see image). I know people in service industry work long and hard, but they need to get better at promoting their venues and curating the supporting entertainment as an added value, not a sine qua non.
But it’s not all their fault, and the more interesting question is, how did it get this way?
Music used to be something rare and special, and marked an event in people’s lives. The only way to hear it came through live performers: drummers in African villages, minstrels travelling from village to castle in the middle ages, buskers, troubadours, singing in the fields, and live bands of every description playing in parks, parades and dance halls through the 20th century. Live was the ONLY way to hear music.
The advent of recorded music made it more available, but still, the equipment required still limited the listening to radio (the only place where it was free — albeit sponsored), jukeboxes and gatherings at people houses around the turntable. Yes, there was a time we would invite friends over to hear the brand new album we just bought! Music was still something special.
Since the arrival of portable music players (Walkman/Diskman, iPod), cheap or illegal downloads, access to music is considerably easier. Ubiquitous and free elevator/mall music, tipped things over the edge. Music has become a commodity (just Google that one!) that is much too often taken entirely for granted, much like air-conditioning (I’m of an age where I remember signs like this one).
I believe that when something is taken for granted, it loses perceived value. As a performer, I have to accept that some of my audience may have lost sight of the specialness of music because it’s hyper-ambient. It seems like an imposition to ask for payment as many listeners may feel it should be free, whether it comes from a piped-in music service, or a band on a stage. I sometimes almost feel guilty about that, but I do have a band to pay.
I hope that my songs being original make them special enough.
Now, don’t get started on illegal downloads.