Every working class musician owes a debt of gratitude to Adam Gold and D. Patrick Rodgers for writing Club Land (Nashville Scene Sept. 18-24). They are among a small percentage of journalists who are telling the story just as it is without a lick of candy coating. Gold and Rodgers have drawn a map of the road ahead, and it looks like a bumpy ride for local indie artists, promoters, booking agents – anyone who makes a living by promoting music as art.
It’s important to understand the scenario Gold and Rodgers illustrate isn’t isolated to the here and now; nor is it exclusive to Nashville. It’s happened before in different markets and regions around the country, albeit not on this particular scale. But this is here. And this is now.
The good news and the bad news Gold and Rodgers painstakingly address is Nashville is suddenly a huge market for live performance – if you happen to be a big name artist, and especially in country music. Meticulously they address the politics of the music landscape and how it affects those on the admin side of the whitewash, which in turn affects the efforts of indie musicians in this market.
Of explicit concern for many deeply entrenched in the local scene is whether or not the monolith, Live Nation, the world’s largest concert promoter, will return to Music City after they hastily dumped the Starwood Amphitheatre when it no longer suited their purpose. Rumors Live Nation is bringing House of Blues to town with an elitist cookie cutter model is the chagrin of many local promoters.
It appears the fear stems from an absentee promoter (Live Nation is based in Los Angeles) who will have immeasurable influence over what happens in a city brimming with potential touring talent due to the sheer size of their checkbook and global influence.
Risks are taken and reputations are put on the line every day by independent promoters, agents, and freelancers for the sake of art. They work hard for unsigned artists every day of the week. For them, this story is personal. It’s their livelihood. It’s their reputation.
For companies like Live Nation, it’s just business. If they lose money, it’s not coming out of their personal pocket. Hence, the too big to fail politico mentality is as biblical as David and Goliath. (As an aside, Live Nation CEO, Michael Rapino, hosted a fundraiser at his home earlier this year for Barack Obama.)
So what can you do if you’re a touring musician when your fate seems to be in the hands of so many others?
Devise a long-term strategy and pour every spare nickel you have into marketing. Build value in your name. If you don’t know how, hire someone who can, and don’t balk at the price. If you knew what the competition was spending on marketing you’d see why they get the lion’s share of media space, air time, and sales numbers, even when the quality of the music isn’t stellar.
If you don’t know exactly who your competition is, then consider the numbers. In a meeting with a Music Row exec not long ago, he flashed this stunning factoid: In 1999 approximately 10,000 new titles were commercially released. In 2012, 110,000 titles hit the market. Eleven times more music is being produced commercially, which in turn means at least 100,000 more musicians are looking for touring opportunities. If you can’t play where you live, something is terribly wrong with the equation.
Clearly the big boys are there to make mega bucks. Their one size fits all model creates a predictable situation for the concert going public. Every show they put on is standardized. Indies on the other hand have the distinct opportunity to create a unique experience for their audiences. A happening if you will.
If this business was so damned easy, more people could make a decent living. It wasn’t designed like the corporate ladders we’ve been taught to climb. In fact, as Gold and Rodgers brilliantly illustrate, as soon as you get your ladder solidly against a wall ready to take the next step, someone will move the ladder or take down the wall.
Over the three decades I’ve worked in this business when the big boys see an opportunity they take it, regardless of the consequences to anyone. And when they do, they change the rules in their favor to keep all the minions at bay. About every 10 years — anything from changing formats to developments in technology — the modifications almost always come from the top and the grassroots movements must adapt or fade into obscurity.
Now it’s your turn to take the info Gold and Rodgers mapped out and find a way to get up the canyon wall and across the great divide. When you come to a fork in the road, put your name on it.