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As it's almost summer, it's almost time for the summer tours, festivals and all the other great musical events that come about when the weather gets warm. It seems that with society and the music industry evolving though, things like touring, concert festivals and even tickets must find new ways to fit in with the times and so the same old summer concert series we're used to might go away and evolve into something new. Although I'm a huge fan of any sort of concert event, they certainly can use some improvement.
I don't know about the big names, but I've heard of more than a few bands switching to smaller setups and retreating from the massive arena shows, at least a little bit, in favor of more intimate settings. This could be just because that's how the industry is moving... big arena shows aren't selling the way they used to what with the economy slumping (at least here in the USA). Combine that with the fact that rising gas costs are making it more expensive to tour, which in turn drives ticket prices up, and of course you're going to see a decrease in big shows. There's also environmental concerns as concerts are hardly easy on the environment and so it seems like a general trend to move away from the bigger shows and towards smaller, but perhaps more often, events that might even be environmentally sustainable, or at least closer to it.
There's also been a retreat away from some of the big festival events as well. I'm not sure if this is due to poor turn out or just that they're in need of a new business model, but there have been a number of festivals that have been closed down, and a few others that are changing the way they operate to better serve their fan base (Ozzfest comes to mind).
I could just be seeing these changes taken place because of the bands I am following recently, or it's just the impression I've gotten from the sources I've read, but I think it's a bigger trend and all in all, I think these changes seem like a good thing.
Don't get me wrong, I love big arena shows as much as the next rock and roll enthusiast, but at the same time, most of my favorite shows have been at small, more intimate venues. There's just something different about seeing a show with 2-3 thousand people (or even 2-3 hundred) than seeing it with 20-30 thousand. Some bands really seem to come alive and really connect with their audience while others just morph into something new and equally exciting. Although there may be a moment or two where I'm really itching for a massively epic arena rock show ala Van Halen or whoever you prefer, I think that seeing an intimate show where the band really opens up might scratch that itch just as well. Plus, if bands simply cannot be cost effective with big tours, (with or without environmental concerns in the picture) than I'd much rather they tour more often at smaller venues so that they're out playing music and the fans get plenty of chances to see them.
I have a similar opinion about the big festival events, but I think I'd miss them even less. I'm definitely a fan of big all day long concerts... been to more than a few over the years and they're always great... but it's definitely a different kind of atmosphere than a show with only a few (or 1) names on the bill. The overall day is usually better when I've been out for 12 hours listening to umpteen bands perform non stop, but with variety comes a lack of focus. Sure you get to see tons of bands, probably more than a few of whom you haven't seen before, making for quite a bang for your buck, but at the same time you never really get to see the best of any of the bands. Even the headliners rarely play a full set and so it's more of an abbreviated concert experience in some respects. Again, although I might miss a good festival now and again, I don't think it'll be too often if I'm able to see the bands I want to do full fledged shows.
Where I think perhaps the biggest changes are needed though as the music industry continues to evolve, is with the tickets and ticket prices. Once again Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails continues to be on the cutting edge. For the band's North American tour I've heard they've decided to offer the fans the best seats though the NIN website (pretty reasonably too if I do say so) and have each person's name printed on the ticket. Assuming you have to present ID when you enter the show, this is designed to prevent scalping. Personally, I think it's an idea fraught with problems (like what if someone wants to sell their tickets for a legitimate reason?), but I don't know all the specs yet so only time will tell.
Scalping is a real problem with concerts and other things, like sporting events. I think part of the issue is because scalping is big business... especially for big name events. I once saw seats for a concert (I think it was Aerosmith?) sell for $6000 per seat on eBay.
That's pretty ridiculous if you ask me, but for whatever reason, rock and roll fans are often times more than willing to pay exorbitant prices with a ridiculous amount of fees, to see their favorite bands. I know I'm guilty of this too, but I'm almost certainly I'd go to more shows if they were a little more reasonable. Even before scalping ticket prices are pretty ridiculous and part of the problem, one that everyone complains about anytime they buy tickets, is the various fees, convenience charges etc that make a $40 seat into a $60 or even $70 one. Band's like Pearl Jam have fought this in the past, and a number of others do their best to keep prices down, but it still can be tough to go to more than a few bigger shows. Luckily, local and underground scenes can provide a unique alternative (some shows are even free), but then you don't get to see some of the artists you want to.
An interesting approach to the ticket problem was recently put into effect by Foxboro Hot Tubs (aka Green Day). I've heard that they've been playing a set of smaller shows on this tour where tickets are only available the day of, for $20 cash. Now, I don't know if there were any "convenience charges" but I doubt it. It's a concept I really like as it eliminates the middle man and gives the fans almost direct access to the concert. At the same time there's a lot of people who don't get to see the show and if a similar technique was used at large shows the crowds that would gather outside would surely cause a "ruckus" (read: riot, if you choose).
Still I like these ideas and I'm glad that bands are trying to find ways that people can see their shows without overpaying or getting ripped off by scalpers.
I don't think that concerts are going to disappear or anything like that. Performing is a major part of almost every band, at least in some way or another, and with good reason: Music is often at it's very best... live. As the music industry continues to evolve though, I'm really excited to see that new methods are coming about to not only help the band tour as effectively as possible (and perhaps be sustainable environmentally), but to allow the fans to easily come out and see the show.
Although concert events might be different this summer and future summers to come, and some of the typical types of shows we're used to might disappear, I think overall this kind of evolution is a good thing.
The real question will be if with all this talk about more environmentally friendly, and cost effective shows, if, with the help of the bands who are pushing for more reasonably priced shows, ticket prices will come down and we can finally kiss the days of $40 tickets with an additional $30 in convenience charges goodbye.
If anything about the way concerts take place changes, I hope it's that.