Did you hear what I just heard?

There’s mosquitoes on the river

Fish are rising up like birds

It’s been hot for seven weeks now,

Too hot to even speak now,

Did you hear what I just heard?

The Music Never Stopped: The Grateful Dead

There’s a fascinating study out in the latest First Monday, the “peer-reviewed journal on the internet”. Marko Rodriguez, Vadas Gintautas and Alberto Pepe have analysed the relationship between “concert and listening behaviour analysis”, using the Grateful Dead as the basis for their research.

What the researchers have done is simple and elegant: they’ve sought to build a framework to look at what people listen to online in comparison to what people had the opportunity to hear “live”. And, as I hope you would expect, there is a direct correlation.

The Dead didn’t feature much on radio. So the listening patterns of their fan base related much more to live performances than anything else. And the Dead were a performing band. As far as I can make out, the study does not look at the correlation between online listening and online purchasing, but my assumption is that the correlation is direct and high. So what we have is a simple model along the lines of “live performances drive listening habits drive purchases”.

As against this, the model that has been imposed on us for some time now is closer to  “we choose the songs, purchase the airtime, advertise the songs and you buy them from us  when and how we tell you to”. Maybe I’m being unfair, but that’s the way it felt to me.

There’s a big Because Effect coming along in music. Artists are going to make more money because of music rather than with music, although they will continue to make money with music.

Bands and artists that play live will make more money than those who don’t; live performances will become more and more important, as people recognise that digital is abundant and physical is scarce. Bands and artists who allow people to reuse and mix and mash their music will make more money than those who don’t allow it, as they get their share of sheet music sales and lyrics books sales. As the number of physical performances grow, so will musical instrument sales, and artists will be able to make money through instrument endorsements. And of course we will continue to have the T-shirt/book/video/merchandising explosion.

When was the last time you went to a concert? Did you notice the queues for people buying merchandise? Think about it. People now go to concerts early so that they can get the merchandise without queueing quite as much.

Live performances. Sheet music. Endorsements. Merchandise. None of this is new. It’s just stuff that a dying segment of the industry prefers to gloss over. Gloss over in order to try and enforce the continuance of a dead model. Rather than the Dead model.

There was a time when the only way to listen to music was by going to see someone live. In fact that was the way people listened to music for hundreds of years. For a short time someone tried to change that, tried to convince us that the way to listen to music was to listen to it on mousetraps, giving them the chance to ask us to pay again and again and again for different formats that would play on different faster-better mousetraps. That day is over.

The return of live music is a rebirth, a renaissance. And it’s happening. The last throes of DRM will see an end to the mousetrap generation, and we will go back to a time when live performances become important again. The value chain is changing, and attempts to retain the lock-ins of the past in order to preserve older value chains and distribution models are bound to fail. Artists will make money. In fact they will make more money, but this money will come from a number of sources rather than just physical format music sales.

Even vinyl can and will make a comeback. For performing bands.

In the end it’s all about performance.

A coda: I’ve made no secret of the fact that I like the Grateful Dead. A lot. Which is why this photograph is one I cherish, the opportunity to meet a boyhood hero in the flesh:

Doc Searls, who introduced me to the Because Effect, was responsible for getting me to meet John Perry Barlow, who wrote the lyrics for The Music Never Stopped, quoted at the start of this post.

3 thoughts on “Did you hear what I just heard?”

  1. I like this. I’m going to use it in some work I’m doing on “content discovery”. (Please forgive the soulless description.) I like what Chuck D said, too: the music industry is not suffering, it’s the CD industry.

  2. There is one, hopefully temporary problem, in that unless you are a major act you quite often in the UK get paid in the order of £50 for doing a live show, and this is sometimes true even when supporting a major act. I’m led to believe that this rate has been the same for a good number of years (15, 20 or more perhaps), and it appears to be in essence a token payment with the assumption that live performance will support sales of recorded music.

    This rarely, if ever, covers the expenses associated with a live show. So whilst there is a live music renaissance, in many cases the beneficiaries are the promoters! I’m seeing committed bands working almost full-time on music, recording albums and touring extensively (at a loss even with well attended shows), who gain a reasonable following and yet for whom it will never become sustainable unless they make it big. The options remain of say working in a bar part time, managing to just get by and continuing to work on music, else giving up and moving on to do something else.

    Whilst I’m not suggesting that just about anyone who picks up an instrument deserves to be able to make a living from music, artist reward is still a major problem. Unless that is you’re a major act. There is a huge inequality, with those at the top doing very well from live performance, E.g. Madge, and more or less everyone else below them being told to be grateful for getting to perform and to think of the money from CD sales.

    The prospect of a world full of music that appeals to the lowest common denominator is a grim one indeed… It may never come to that, and my hope is that the same tools which render the hit makers redundant will also enable patrons to find new ways of supporting artists, and that the days of the promoter solely reaping the benefits of the live music renaissance are numbered.

    The vinyl comeback is well under way in the indie rock scene, and vinyl always remained a staple in dance music circles. But I’d suggest that in most cases money is lost in its production. This may change if there is a significant growth in interest, but to be honest it is mostly seen as either an objet d’art (E.g. indie circles) or a specialist tool (dance scene).

Let me know what you think