The Evolution of Listening to Music ~ Where Have All The Live Bands Gone

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 A bunch of guys standing on a plywood riser in the corner of a bar playing out of date tunes through beat up amplifiers.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.

Here’s a great article worth reading about the evolution of music delivery systems from the gramophone to the mp3 player.

The Beatles in Hamburg, Germany 1960 - hundreds more Beatle pictures
The Beatles in Hamburg, Germany 1960

Who Killed Rock And Roll? Lady Gaga & The Divas

Gene Simmons Hairless

Gene Simmons, that bastion of juvenile 70s Rock aimed at horny 14 year olds has declared that Rock is dead. Wow, so Gene just figured out what the rest of us have known for about a decade now. It’s interesting that his declaration stirred up the discussion and got people talking about the state of music. Well, that is the glory of Rock and Roll, that a low brow, low intellect like Simmons ends up as the oracle of Rock. But the irritating part of Gene’s declaration is that he believes the Internet and downloading is what killed Rock.

Really? Funny, Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift and a host of others are still selling millions of albums and singles, mostly over the internet. Figure it out Gene, music still sells if you can find your consumers. Sales may not be what they were, but that’s more attributable to cultural and economic shifts than to downloading. If you’re offering what the kids want, or have been programmed to want, than they’re still willing to buy it.

Rise Of The Divas

Miley Cryus Overdressed Role Model for teenage girls

So what do the aforementioned artists all have in common? Think real hard… Female. Divas are in, Rock bands are out. Sex sells. The raunchier the video, the better; take your clothes off, jump around, get a team of Swedish songwriter producers, make the lyrics explicit, set it to a drum machine Disco beat, AutoTune the voice and you’ve got yourself a hit.

The record companies must especially love the Divas because they’re a whole lot easier to control than a Rock band. Virtually every Diva is the creation of the Music Industry. They’re as plastic and predictable as Frankie Avalon was in his day. I guarantee that when Miley or Gaga does something spontaneously outrageous on an awards show, every word and move was previously vetted by an army of target marketing engineers using sales algorithms and focus groups with the aim of maximum market penetration.

I imagine these Divas are also instructed to toe the line and not screw up because the next one is waiting in the wings to take their place like interchangeable parts on an assembly line. Oh, there are a few true innovative talents out there, Adele comes to mind, but she’s definitely in the vast minority.

Lady Gaga ~ Empowering women


At the same time, Rap, the angry proletarian music of the ghetto, rose up and enraptured the next generation as well. In a hard edged world of limited resources and illusory upper mobility, the words of Tupac and his contemporaries became more relevant to young Americans than the music of white middle upper class Rockers like Van Halen and Bryan Adams.

The bottom line is, Rock and Roll died because the Music Industry got sick of Rock bands and their untidy way of making records. Why, the temerity of those guys, they actually wrote their own songs without the aid of  three or four industry insider co-writers who make sure it sounds exactly like the last one, which is what it usually takes Gaga and the rest to turn out their timeless Disco retread classics. Rappers can be as unstable as Keith Richards and Jim Morrison, but their music is at least predictable, one beat, one theme. It’s easy to market.

Rock & Roll As Democracy

And four or five band members really does resemble a democracy, it’s damned messy. They get drunk, get addicted, breakup, make concept albums and do other stuff that really isn’t good for sales or the public image.

The rise of the Divas may be a prelude to what’s in store for America in general. They’ve proven that dictatorships do work. Get a figure head and a team of experts to run the show behind the scenes and you can keep the drunken, drugged, sexed up masses happy indefinitely, or at least until they max out their credit cards and the economy collapses. Gee, does that sound like a recent presidential administration…

We may as well face it, Rock and Roll truly is dead and it ain’t comin’ back. There are talented young Rock musicians out there, but record companies are not willing to invest in them and that has nothing to do with downloading, it’s purely a bottom line decision on their part. So you’d better hang onto those old Rolling Stones records because that’s all there is and there ain’t no more.

Interesting Links