“People today are still living off the table scraps of the sixties.” – Bob Dylan
Ah, once again, a toast to the good old days of Baby Boomer music – back in the previous millennium when artists only had to churn out two great and ten good rock or pop songs and then their record company would handily foist those songs, 12 at a time, onto the waiting general public sponge through an all-too-willing radio station arrangement and a voluminous 9am-midnight record store.
That was the machinery that then allowed the artist to tour, virtually at will, to play all sorts of dumps and dives (and later the lawn seating general admission heat fests) at any time of the year that they so chose. Everyone had to put up with the long lines, the late sets, the uncomfortable (if available) seating, the bad food, watered down drinks, dark and scary distant parking – because we loved the music and we were all in it together. We needed to see and hear our favorite artists, live and in person, and we would go to any lengths to get there. It was a red badge of courage to detail to friends, family and co-workers the ordeal one had to go through to get tickets, fight the crowds, and stand for hours on end to catch the show. After all, the artist wouldn’t be back in town for at least another year or so, depending on how long it took to write and record the next album, which we were already craving.
Well, thank God that’s over.
The digital intervention has certainly changed the artist/album/record company/radio station/record store flight path so that we Boomers (and everyone else) can pick and choose tracks and download or stream them for a fraction of the cost of a vinyl album or CD, and all without leaving the comfort and privacy of our own device screen. But what about the live experience in the new century? Any change for the better? Not really. And that’s where the live industry needs to wake up.
We Boomers have more disposable income than any other segment of the population. And we have that rock and pop music fan live experience in our blueprint, even for today’s music, because, as the Dylan quote above intimates, has rock and pop music really changed all that much since the ‘60s? I mean really. (I’m not going to go into how much better the music used to be. Save that for another discussion.)
So now it’s time for us Boomers to put everyone involved on notice. We are not going to put up with that same exasperating experience from the days of yore. We’re older, wiser and more particular about how we spend our leisure time and we’re willing to pay for a more comfortable performance experience. Here’s a list of rules that need to be met if the artist/agent/promoter troika wants to tap into the Boomer gold mine again. (NOTE: These suggestions are aimed at theaters and arenas, but a lot of them spill over into clubs and sheds.) (FURTHER NOTE: Virtually none of this applies to festivals. They can’t be saved.)
Rule 1: All (and I mean ALL) tickets must be available online, with all-in, dynamic pricing (including a parking option) and confirmed, reserved seating. Tickets can be printed at home or office, along with an identical mobile option for scanning at venue if paper gets lost. You guys figure out how that’s going to work; just make sure that it’s easy for us to use (think intuitive). We’re pretty good at ordering stuff online – Amazon relies on us for their bottom line.
Rule 2: All shows must start at a decent hour, like 7pm. It’s OK that it’s not dark when the show starts. That way we can allow enough time to leave work, drop off the babysitter, pick up the spouse and head for the venue. We may even show up in the soccer mom minivan. Sorry – you are what you drive and we’re pretty comfortable with that these days, thanks.
Rule 3: All venues must have convenient, well-lit, secured, maintained and fully staffed parking structures or lots, with good signage and competent people directing traffic. And spaces big enough to accommodate the aforementioned minivan. No stacked parking – we may need to leave early if the babysitter calls. Valets are not necessary; we can still walk!
Rule 4: Figure out a way so that we do not have to wait in any kind of line for anything. No metal detectors or searches at entry. What do we look like? Punks? Gang bangers? Come on. And no stage security is required either. We’re not going to try to sneak backstage or let our friends in through the fire exit. We stopped doing that after Woodstock.
Rule 5: Decent, clean food must be served at several fully staffed stations inside the venue. Back off the meat and the carbs (doctor’s orders), but there’s no need to go strictly vegan. You know, like chicken salad, flavored waters, protein bars or shakes. We don’t need any coffee at this late hour – too close to bedtime and we need all the sleep we can get. A lot of us still drink though (against doctor’s orders), which I’m sure is still an attractive revenue source.
Rule 6: Two support acts perform 20-minute sets between 7pm and 8pm. That’s all we can put up with – our attention span for unfamiliar things has sadly shortened, but we do like to be entertained. The headliner goes on promptly at 8pm, plays the hits and is off by 9pm (9:30 at the latest) so we can get home, pay the babysitter and still be in bed by 11. Some of us have jobs, you know, and we really can’t keep those late hours anymore and still function the next day. That’s for kids.
Rule 7: Venue must have some sort of separate fairly quiet area with seating to check our phones for messages (like from the babysitter) and get away from the show if we want to. And please place these areas close to the large, clean, well-lit restrooms. Two ladies rooms for every one men’s. No attendants needed. We can wash our own hands.
Rule 8: Staggered and/or auditorium seating preferred. Individual seats with cup holders if there’s no table. No bench seating – we don’t like each other that much – proper chairs to support our bad backs. No standing – our trick knees can’t do that anymore. Fans who want to stand or dance (or take photos or video) during the show should be escorted to the sides of the room, keeping our sight lines open. Did I mention good ventilation and air-conditioning? I meant to.
Rule 9: Venue PA speakers must be spread around the room and positioned well above our heads, up and away from all seating. No need for major high-end tweeters or bowel-moving sub-woofers – we can hear just fine, thank you. And there’s certainly no need to play loud recorded music between sets; maybe just enough to allow us to talk to one another WITHOUT SCREAMING. No DJ required – just pipe in some Sirius XM channel befitting the headliner. And please let the lighting guy know that there’s no reason for us to be better lit than the artist. Keep those Vari-lights pointed at the stage, not at us. We came to see the show, not each other. It’s not exciting; it’s blinding.
Rule 10: Have uniformed staff members thank everyone as we’re leaving. These helpful staff members should also be available and knowledgable to attend to any of our problems, concerns, questions, etc. Send follow-up thank you’s to those who provided emails when ordering tickets. That’s the way we were brought up.
That’s it – just ten. To address half of them would be a start. And we aren’t looking for idle promises – just results. Once the word gets out that the concert experience has changed for the better, we’ll hear about it (think Yelp) and we’ll be back. We love live shows – we grew up with them. We want to get back to our youth – but without all the hassle. We’ll be waiting! Thx.
“You have to respect your audience. Without them, you’re essentially standing alone, singing to yourself.” – k.d. lang
Larry Butler is a music business consultant specializing in touring and publishing. He’s the GM of The Artist Cooperative, an independent music marketing and field radio promotion company based in Los Angeles. More at http://www.diditmusic.com or sign up for daily music quotes from rock stars on Twitter @larryfromohio