Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The State Of The Scene

It's no surprise that the digital-age, coupled with a down economy, has drastically altered almost every facet of the music business. From touring to recording, to purchasing and listening to music, it seems that the only constant in the industry over the past decade has been change.

But what exactly does this mean for both musicians and fans? How can we combat this constant change? And perhaps more importantly, what steps can we take to keep the integrity of the scene alive?

Buying & Selling Music
Music is more accessible today than ever. With the popularity of iTunes, as well as free file sharing sites, picking up a song or album you're interested in is as easy as clicking the download button. But does this convenience come at a price to the musicians who create the music you're after? Absolutely.

Whether purchasing your music online or from a chain like Best Buy, you can be assured that the retailer is most likely keeping half of what you're paying. The remainder will probably go straight to the record label to cover recording costs, producer fees, distribution and any other financial offsets the label took care of. Realistically, the band you think you're supporting is making only a sliver off the royalties they're legally obligated to make.

So what can be done? The answer is simple - buy direct. That doesn't mean ordering a CD off the band's website. Instead, pick up an album directly from the band at one of their shows. Chances are they bought those CDs in bulk from their label, and are selling them to you without any added taxes, shipping or fees that go straight back to label executives.

Think of it as saving the scene by putting your hard earned money directly into the hands of the artists, instead of the pockets of corporate bigwigs.

Going on tour is the best way for bands to make quick cash and gain invaluable exposure. But, as we mentioned earlier, with the sluggish economy slowing everyone's spending down, it's getting harder for bands to bring the big crowds to their shows.

But, as touring is a form of marketing, many bands have opted for new and exciting ways to bring the fans out. It might not always warrant the greatest cash flow initially, but these innovative ideas are helping hook fans for the long haul.

Just before Motion City Soundtrack's latest album My Dinosaur Life was released in early 2010, lead singer Justin Pierre hit the road with only an acoustic guitar, some stickers and a few close friends. His goal was to play free impromptu performances nationwide, in the oddest assortment of places, to anyone willing to listen.

And it worked. By the end of the tour, which generated insane amounts of coverage online, hoards of people were showing up in parks, on sidewalks and on college campuses to see Pierre perform. Those crowds eventually followed MCS on tour after the release - including Warped Tour and a slew of club dates.

Other bands such as Hawthorne Heights have also decided to shed the amps and pedalboards for strictly acoustic tours. The "Stripped To The Bone Tour" that HH are currently on, stands as a great way for the band to get exposure and make some money, all while keeping costs down.

Think about it, no giant trailer filled with cables, amps and mics to lug around. That saves on everything from gas to tolls, and in turn provides fans with a real intimate setting to see one of their favorite bands. Just another way bands are finding ways to fight the changing face of the music industry.

Record Labels
Let's face it, making music is expensive and musicians seem to never have any cash. And this is where record labels come into play. Labels are there to take care of all the expensive stuff up front - studio time, producer fees, CD distribution and promotion. And in return, most of what the band make off of sales goes back to the label.

It can be a vicious cycle. As seen in the past, when disagreements between labels and their artists arise, it can lead to lawsuits and, in some cases, bands breaking up. So, in the label-heavy music world of today, is there anywhere a band can turn to still cover their costs without having to go 100 percent do-it-yourself?

You bet your skinny jeans there is. The newest wave of record labels to hit the digital-age bridges the gap between band, label and even the fan-base. Take for instance the new company called, Crowdbands. They're a label that let fans donate money to help cover recording costs, and in turn give fans a say in what songs make the album.

What could be better? Bands make the music they want, fans choose what they want to hear, your money doesn't get pumped to the top of the corporate ladder and artists can finally have a career in music rather than retail. It's about time.

Believe it or not, age discrimination is part of the music business today. Let's face it, who's going to sell more records to a hungry, neon obsessed, teen fan-base -- a group of beard sporting, PBR drinking dudes in their late 20s to early 30s, or some fresh faced hipsters with wild hair and hand tattoos?

The latter, obviously. Labels know this, and it's exactly why you've got Never Shout Never gracing the cover of Alternative Press almost every other month, while veteran bands like Bayside have yet to nab a cover shoot.

So where's the scene you fell in love with? Well, like you, it's getting older... fast. But that doesn't mean it's dead. Terrible Things lead singer Fred Mascherino sat down with Backstage Press last year to discuss this very topic.

"You know, our fans that were 17 when we were in our big bands - now they're 23, 22. But I really believe in what we're doing, and we think it's worth it."

Mascherino, who recently turned 36, is well aware of the "dying" scene. But that's not stopping him, or other older and established bands like MXPX, New Found Glory and blink-182 from making new music. If anything, it's these dedicated lifers that are helping keep the integrity of the music industry alive.

Lessons Learned
The fact of the matter is that today's music industry is as broken as Capitol Hill. And the only thing that's going to save it are grassroots movements such as the ones listed above. The industry needs more innovative ideas like these - ideas that challenge the boundary between artist and fan, label and band, and consumer and retailer.

What the past decade has lost sight of is the music itself, the artist and the connection with the fans. Music isn't just meant to be about convenience and money. Get that notion across the radio waves and consider the industry saved.

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