A lot has changed in the music industry since the days of Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly. Way back when rock ‘n roll was still young, musicians were made or broken by their live shows. Put on a good show and you could draw fans even with mediocre musical skills. Fail at the live show and it didn’t matter how skilled you were. Well, things are turning that way again.
The same changes that diminished the importance of the live show between the mid-1990s and mid-2010s have now put live performances back in the spotlight. Any up-and-coming musician who hopes to be more than just a flash in the pan had better figure out how to be a good live performer.
Recording Was Supplemental
The very first recorded music was quite an accomplishment for its day. Still, the quality was less than spectacular. People looked at recorded music as supplemental. Given the chance to listen to a record or go to a live show, the live show won hands down. The trend continued through the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s.
Back then, musical acts competed on showmanship as much as they did musical talent. The most bizarre shows got the most attention. Acts like KISS, Alice Cooper, and the Sex Pistols garnered huge fan bases by combining high-energy rock with stage shows that offered plenty by way of shock value.
They were also those acts that knew how to entertain without shocking. At the top of the list were the Rolling Stones. The Beatles did very well until their breakup, as did illustrious groups like Electric Light Orchestra (ELO), Styx, and Boston. Some bands stayed the course for decades. The Grateful Dead might be the most prolific of that group.
Then Came Digital Music
So, what happened? For starters, bands and solo acts still had to have some modicum of musical talent to make it. In a live environment, you could hear vocalists singing off-key and musicians screwing up the timing. That is until digital music came along. That is what changed everything.
With the advent of digital music came the ability to fix anything in the studio. Singers unable to carry a note in a bucket could be made to sound like the world’s best vocalists simply by deploying a few software tweaks. Timing issues could be fixed, as could miss notes and a poor mix at the board.
The result of so much technology was the ability to produce near-perfect music with very little effort. Record labels learned that they could take any pretty face and make her a superstar overnight. And when the fans got bored, they could simply move on to the next pretty face.
Now We Have Digital Downloads
That brings us to where we are today. Online recording studios like New York-based Supreme Tracks give any budding musician the ability to make music online. On the other hand, the same technology allows everyone else to download that music and share it with others. Digital downloads have all but eliminated the need to purchase records, CDs, etc. Thus, record labels cannot earn enough money on recording alone.
Without enough recording revenues, they are back to pushing live shows. That is where the money is. Put on a good show and you will sell lots of tickets. Generate enough ticket revenue and you can overlook lackluster digital download sales.
Some say that digital music has killed the industry. Perhaps it has. On the other hand, it may have actually saved the industry by forcing musicians to get back to the art of showmanship.