In the world of media, the outlet has the power. Musicians are increasingly able to be their own outlet, which means that the musicians have more and more power.
The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.
I haven’t run a venue in years. I don’t do the booking at the one I work for now. I’ll tell you this, though – back when I did run a venue, the people with the real power were the people who brought people.
Those people who brought people were the bands.
See, I used to think that the whole problem of “the venue doesn’t have a built-in crowd” was an issue that only affected all-ages rooms. You can’t serve liquor or beer, and so a major segment of the show-going crowd just isn’t interested. If your venue isn’t also a restaurant or coffee shop, you’ve filtered out a whole other demographic (the people who would just stop by to get something tasty). I figured that these issues went entirely by the wayside for bars and clubs.
And then, I started working in and for establishments that served food and alcohol.
Turns out, I was thinking about the issue in the wrong way.
“The Room” Doesn’t Draw Anymore – And Actually, It Never Did
So, I have this theory. (As usual. Seriously, ask my friends about me having theories. Ask my employers about me having theories.)
My theory is that the whole phenomenon of “Back in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, these places were packed!” was not actually driven by bars being better, or having more extensive promotion than they do today. I think that, actually, the whole thing was driven by these two factors – factors that made the bars and clubs into media outlets:
- If you wanted to do something, you had to physically go do something.
- Entertainment options were more limited, and often required that you physically travel to an actual place.
I also have some notions about how an effectively stagnant, or even receding economy for the middle class is involved, but that’s for another day.
The bottom line is that, “back when the clubs were big, men were real mean, women were real women, and Fender amps were better,” you had to go to a social and entertainment hub to, you know, socialize. Or be entertained. You didn’t just hook up a data-pipe with decent bandwidth to your house or apartment, and stream whatever you wanted whenever you wanted it. You didn’t just get on Xbox Live (or whatever) and get in a game with all your buddies, chatting in your headsets for hours on end. Your media streaming service didn’t recommend new things to you. You didn’t have a million-billion tiny little media outlets all striving for a tiny bit of attention.
You had to either deal with your limited choices, or get wider choices by going places.
If you wanted to hear the latest, new act playing Blues, you had to go to a Blues club.
The band couldn’t record a video of their new songs with their smartphones, and then share it on Youtube. They weren’t the media outlet. The club was. You had to go where the band was playing. This holds for all genres – and here’s the thing:
I’d be willing to bet that people didn’t go to a music club because of the club – they went because they knew they could hear great acts there, consistently. Sure, if the club had been a terrible place to be, fewer people would have gone. However, if the club had stopped having music, people would have found some other place to be. The club wouldn’t have been a media outlet anymore.
The club wasn’t the draw – what was in the club was the draw. The club was just an outlet for it.
I know this sounds like it’s just a play on semantics. Of course, the entertainment that the club brought in was part of the club’s allure – but notice that it was something that the club brought in. It was an external factor that was added to the room, that people couldn’t easily get in other places at the time.
The Real Outlet Has The Real Power
Okay, so – how is this encouraging for bands and solo artists?
The encouraging thing is that you (yes, you, sitting over there) are on a much more even footing with the bars, clubs, and theaters than you ever have been before. You’ve gained this power because YOU are a media outlet now.
It’s true that the Internet has “fractured” and factionalized media consumers like never before, but this also means that you’ve got a chance at finding the faction that loves YOU. Because you find them, that means that you capture their attention. You build the relationships with them, and you directly supply them with cool things to see and hear. You are the outlet. The advantages that artists in previous decades had to work for years to afford? You have them now, for almost nothing.
“Back in the day,” it was a huge coup for a band or artist to be big enough to start their own media company. When they had their own media company, they could be their own outlet, and that meant that they had much more power. They had leverage with their label. They might have even been able to tell their label “no thanks, we’ll take it from here.” They had leverage with their publishing company (or just became their own publishing company). They shared far less of their revenue with other people.
It took a lot of work to get to this point. It took a lot of commercial success, because of the costs involved. Everything was either physical, or broadcast. That means $$$. Now, the Internet is huge, it has global reach, and the costs are miniscule. (Not quite free, but still.)
Because you’re your own outlet, you are now the “thing that draws.” Sure, bars and clubs haven’t completely lost their media outlet status. Some folks still do visit certain rooms to check out what’s playing there, because that’s the specific kind of recreation that those folks like. The thing is, though, that other people can now laser-focus their show attendance to their specific tastes – and because they can, they do. I’m convinced that music-centric venues see less foot traffic these days due to people wanting to spend their time and money on exactly what they want (as opposed to something that’s just similar to what they want).
This may seem frightening, but it shouldn’t be. Because you’re your own outlet, you can now, by yourself, appeal directly to that pinpoint interest.
Pretty cool, huh?
Bar, club, and theater booking managers are still gatekeepers. However, they aren’t the gatekeepers to media outlets in the ways that they used to be. Rather, they control the access to a certain platform (the live-music venue) that your outlet can use for a very exciting thing. A thing called the live show. A special, ephemeral creature that simply can’t be replicated by any playback device in existence.
You are the draw, and the club is a location where you can effectively communicate with that draw in a unique way. This creates an interdependent ecosystem where venues and artists can become mutually beneficial partners. It’s a much more balanced situation.
There’s a ton more that I could write about this, but I’ll save it for another time. For now, just be aware – and be encouraged:
You have a lot more power than you may think.