Madison Area Music Awards

Over the past year or so I've been a party to a number of conversations about the music scene here in Madison. From musicians and promoters to retailers and club owners, every single person or entity has expressed some form of disappointment and fear. Most of these conversations begin with how the music industry has changed with the advent of file sharing, cheap home studios and the internet. They then proceed to other issues such as increased energy costs, the economy and other such big picture issues. In many ways I agree with much of what people have had to say, however I'm surprised that the conversation rarely, if ever, addresses the changes in our culture and more specifically, the changes in our values as a society.

I've spoken with many people that were of age during the so-called "Golden Age" of pop music. Namely, the 60's and 70's. A time when music "meant something". The point I try to bring up in all such conversations is, what has changed exactly? My theory is that music and the economy haven't really changed all that much. It's the perceived value of live performance that has changed. When I ask what was so great about seeing a performance during this Golden Age, people have many different answers. I then bring up the communal experience of attending a performance. Without exception, every person has agreed that being in the same place as five or fifty thousand of your closest friends was a tremendous benefit of seeing live performances. Can you imagine being eighteen, hanging out with your friends and having every other stranger be willing to share their beer, weed or board tape of the band's last show in Omaha? Or better yet, having a great chance of hooking up with someone of the opposite sex for the night? What other benefits were there to be had?

I won't labor over why these things apparently don't happen (or at least with the frequency they used to according to most) anymore. The point is that either a) we as a society don't desire (value) these types of experience anymore, or b) the conditions that enable these experiences don't occur, or don't occur in the right proportions. If a majority of those consuming the live performance experience were of the eighteen to twenty-five age bracket, what are people of that age doing now? Is it that video game consoles, DVDs and social networking have really moved in to fill the role that the communal experience once did? If so, why? Are these avenues really safer or more fulfilling? Do they just fit more conveniently into our busy schedules?

I don't know that I can answer these questions. At the MAMAs Registration Kickoff tonight, I spoke with some people about this. I asked, "If the communal experience is so undervalued now, then why the advent of the so-called 'super-church'"? The best response I received was, "cult thinking". So then, how do we as performers implement this "cult thinking"? How can we make people feel that seeing a band, or heaven forbid, following a band provides them with some form of identity? Is it possible for anyone to do so? It seems that multi-national corporations have been working at this for some time. Is there something that the independant artist can learn from the taste makers at Nike, Apple and Coca-Cola?

In related thoughts, this post on the Daily Page forum caught my eye. Unfortunately, I think the discussion has missed the point. I don't think that it's possible for Madison to have a healthy music scene in the traditional Seattle, Haight-Ashbury, East Village sort of way. Firstly, it's too small. Second, contrary to popular belief, Madison is just as blue collar conservative as most every where else in Wisconsin. (Yes, there are pockets of old fashioned hippiedom, but this faction really seems to be dying out and slowly replaced by the Westside liberal fashionistas) My challenge to the bands in Madison for 2007 is that if you're not good (i.e. you suck), then stop trying to impress your friends by booking shows that you're not going to promote and no one aside from said friends is going to attend. Or, on the other hand, find a place where you and your friends can all hang out and play and have a good time. That's how scenes start, bar none.

And my challenge to club owners, suck it up and change your format. I personally don't like playing shows with two or god forbid THREE other bands. But I sure as hell am not going to go watch three or four bands play for thirty minutes each and spend thirty minutes each setting up and tearing down equipment. I hate to break it to everyone, but nobody wants to pay to see that. So, here's the plan. One band (maybe one opener, ONE I said), three one hour sets, no cover, charge an extra quarter a drink, band either gets a guarantee or gets the extra cash. Everyone wins in this situation. Bands that draw people who patronize the venue get paid. The venue isn't out any extra cash. More people would be willing to just walk in and check things out. Hmmm.... doesn't seem like rocket science to me. Other things that could be done, let's beef up the "safe ride home" service that the tavern league provides, or maybe have an all-night shuttle service downtown and in the surrounding area.

I could really go on about this, but it is 4:30 AM. I'm going to start researching how to implement this "branding" thing. I'm also making a resolution to go see at least two local shows every month starting now. I have no excuse, I need to be checking out the competition. What about you?

P. S. Blogger's spell checking function doesn't seem to be working in Safari since they've upgraded the service. I apologize for any creative spelling that may have occurred in this post.


Janvangogh said...

The 60's & 70's are overrated. Been there, done that.
Love Mom.

Matt Nelson said...

While I completely agree with you, it seems that the music industry, and to some extent American society in general, tends to place the music of the 60's and 70's on a pedestal. I think the fact that the Beatles continue to have albums that top sales charts thirty years after their dissolution would support that view.

I suspect that albums recorded and released in that era account for a large share of the music sold today. And that's not taking into account licensing music for movies or other advertisments.

Janvangogh said...

Might be that "society" puts that music on a pedestal because there is enough of us from that era in socitety to do so.

Janvangogh said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Matt Nelson said...

You're right. The fact is, because there are so many "boomers", music from that era is venerated. And I don't think that attitude is going to change any time soon. There are plenty of "Gen-X'ers" and "Gen-Y'ers" that subscribe to that point of view. Either because they've been indoctrinated or because a lack of any valuable alternative.

The record business was built upon the successes of that era. A model of how the business of music should work was created then. So musicians today are affected and have to learn to work within that model or create a new one somehow. In order to create a new model we have to know what the customer wants and in what manner. This, I think, requires that we look at what was and how things are different. What do we value in art? It really doesn't seem like the communal experience is part of what we value.