All you starving musicians out there, take heart! I bring you good tidings that will inspire you to get your live performing chops in tip-top shape. A new golden age for live music is just over the horizon.
You won't get this intelligence from your government. The United States Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics only projects a 10% growth in employment of musicians and singers between 2010 and 2020. Most of the increase will come from more people attending concert performances. They also report "many musicians and singers experience periods of unemployment." How much did that insight cost American taxpayers?
But I am convinced that live music, performed in a variety of venues, is poised for a big comeback. The virtual concert experience, be it on your smart phone or your giant home television, has just about reached the limits of its technological development. What is the next logical step? Being in a room with real musicians, playing their instruments in real time; sharing a moment with other human beings that is absolutely unique and will never happen again in just that same way.
Of course, this is the only way music was experienced from the drum-pounding Neanderthals to the powdered-wig set. The 19th century saw the introduction of machines that could make music, beginning with music boxes and leading to the invention of the phonograph by Thomas Edison later in the century. Recorded music has allowed musicians and the general public to be inspired by and learn from the likes of Caruso, Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Crosby, Sinatra, Elvis, the Beatles, etc. And were it not for recordings, the music of obscure artists like Robert Johnson would have been lost forever.
But even the most technologically advanced audio and video recording is not the same as being there. "Being there" is the ultimate analog experience, where technology finally meets its match.
Don't just take my work for it. J. Walter Thompson's research arm recently published "Embracing Analogue: Why Physical is Hot" which makes the point that "as we spend ever more time in the digital world, what's becoming increasingly valued is the time we do not spend in front of a screen--the time we spend with real people and real things." The report continues: "The ease with which we can access anything at any time and the intangible format tend to make digital things feel less valuable and special than their physical counterparts."
This is where you come in, my aspiring musician friend. You are the physical counterpart to the digital music revolution. All those ones and zeros of digital media exist only to try to capture what you do every time you set up and perform.
The insight I can add based on our own experience is that it will become increasingly important to offer live musical performances to people where they already work and gather, rather than relying on your reputation to drive ticket sales and bring people to a club or concert location. As baby boomers age and move into group or assisted living facilities, they may no longer be able to get out to concerts or afford the steep ticket prices that are typical for reunion tours. But their desire to hear music will not diminish.
So the next few years will offer many new opportunities for musicians who are able to put on a great show and are creative enough to seek out new places to match their abilities with people eager to reconnect to the excitement of a live performance experience. Given the demise of the recorded music industry and the pittance that streaming services pay to music creators, live performance may soon be the only lucrative gig left!
The "5,178 Gigs" that Suzanne and I have done over the years have included a number of unconventional venues. Here are some of the more interesting ones:
• Various departments of Bloomingdale's, including swmimwear and Gourmet Main Course
• The deck of the Block Island Ferry (until the motors were started)
• A pile of rubble where a gazebo had just been
• The lobby of an NYC Public Housing Project on Christmas Day
• Various NYS Psychiatric Inpatient Hospitals, including Forensic Units
• A maximum-security Federal women's prison (a captive audience)
• The roof of Terrence Cardinal Cooke Nursing Home
• The atrium of the Citicorp Center
• The concourse of the World Trade Center
• The lobby of the Pan Am Building
• The balcony of Grand Central Terminal
• Various playgrounds in Central Park
• An NYC harbor Kiddie-Cruise
• La Guardia and JFK Airport terminals
• Thule Air Force Base in Greenland
• A tar-covered rooftop in a small Connecticut downtown (100 degrees no shade)
• A plank of wood in the sand of Lido Beach
• Nearly 50 branches of Republic National Bank and Provident Bank
• Upscale toy stores, including F. A. O. Schwartz