I played in bar bands in the Midwest and Arizona in the 1970s and 80s. It was truly a golden age for live music. In any small town, let alone big city, you could find dozens of live bands, Rock and Country playing. The pay wasn’t bad either, $200.00 a night was rock bottom, which would amount to about $600.00 in 2016 dollars. And I remember the band making as much as $800.00 for playing a high school prom. Two and three night gigs were common and if you picked up a cheesy agent, you could play the full-time circuit, five to six nights a week in Holiday Inns and easy listening lounges.
MTV, Cable & Home Video
Most musicians blame the slick product of MTV that began broadcasting in 1981. Michael Jackson performing cartwheels while he sang in front of a Hollywood movie quality production, Duran Duran with their boy band good looks and half dressed supermodels cavorting. It was a big part of the downfall of live music. You could never match that. Suddenly we looked pretty lame by comparison. A bunch of guys standing on a plywood riser in the corner of a bar playing out of date tunes through beat up amplifiers. But it was more than that.
MTV coincided with Cable TV finally making it out of the big city and into every small town in America. Affordable Home Video via VHS arrived at about the same time creating a home entertainment Tsunami that literally swept under the small time live music business. I mean, who wanted to go out and spend the evening in a grungy bar when you could stay home with your best girl, invite some friends over and watch the tunes on TV, crank up the stereo, rent a movie, take your choice. I felt the same way. When I wasn’t playing, I didn’t hang out in bars.
But bars were where bands cut their teeth, from the Beatles in Hamburg to Lynyrd Skynyrd in the backwoods of Alabama. By the mid eighties, what had once been a thriving business was gone. I once counted ten bands playing on a Saturday night in a small town in north Iowa with a population of 8,000. By 1985, you were lucky to find one band and these days, it’s zero.
Internet, YouTube, Karaoke & MP3s
And then came the Internet. Well, that’s all she wrote. If you like live music, just surf YouTube, download it onto your mp3 player or phone. People gripe about the death of Rock and Roll, myself included. Besides the issues outlined in an earlier blog, the dearth of clubs for upcoming bands to play in has been a major factor in the demise of Rock and Roll. The rise of Karaoke is yet another ingredient in this tepid brew. It’s reality TV for the audience. Pretend you’re the entertainer. No talent necessary.
So what can you do about it? Nothing. Things change. Sure, you can support your local band, but it’s never going to be enough. The bottom line is always money and it’s not there anymore. I’m just glad I had a chance to play. Not a lot of guys can claim these days that they’re actual professional musicians, meaning someone paid them to play for the people.