This Is Killing Live Music

Perhaps it’s time for a new slogan: “Buy tickets in advance and save small music venues!” 

I’m old enough to remember the slogan ‘Home Taping is Killing Music’ with the logo of a cassette and cross-bones on record sleeves in the early 1980s. Well, we’ve moved on since then… Now it’s fair to say that downloading has pretty much killed music sales. Thanks to the Internet, the music industry has been thrown into a state of flux – now musicians and bands rely on money from live shows to pay the bills. Would you believe it? Even rock stars have mundane bills to pay too, from the mortgage to beans on toast!

But, there’s one problem. Unless you are lucky enough to be ‘loved’ enough to be playing the local ‘enormodome’ with tickets selling at $90 a pop, you will probably find yourself playing smaller music clubs across the country. It’s a great circuit and musicians love it, but the reality is that not buying tickets to these gigs in advance is killing the live music scene. Paying on the door is par for the course for many fans of live acts who can attract good numbers, but probably won’t sell out. So come the night, if it’s raining or the punter just can’t get off the sofa, its easy not to bother.

The problem is that small promoters get nervous, chew their nails and cancel the gig if they don’t sell enough in advance. It’s understandable for small venues that operate on very tight margins. If a small 200 capacity venue only sells 50 tickets, you can see why they get twitchy when they are committed to paying bar staff, turning the lights on and providing power for a couple of Marshall stacks, bass rig, lights and lots of energy sapping racks of stuff on stage. The break-even point in a 200 capacity venue is probably around the 180 point.

Ok I know you might be asking, “Why not just be better musicians and you won’t have that problem – fans will flock to your gigs?” This is a problem I hear from bands and solo performers across the country, who like me are growing old with their audience. I won’t name them but you will have heard of plenty of them. The economic crash and tightening of the purse strings has taken its toll and the hangover from this is that gig fans are being a bit more choosy – and not buying tickets to music gigs is the negative result.

The other casualties are full-band shows. It’s no surprise that more artists are performing solo rather than with a full band. Fees have gone down in the last few years so it is easier to take less risk with booking a solo act. This is fine for someone who plays and sings, but not so good for artists with one string to their bow. Ultimately it’s the audience who suffers. While I love the intimacy of the solo gigs, you can’t beat rocking out to a full band with a full production show.

It’s not just the small venues that tread a fine line, look at some of the medium and larger-sized venues in Melbourne. It’s very frustrating that increasingly, with each passing year, more and more people pay at the door rather than buy tickets in advance. The numbers end up the same in the end, but it puts the organisers under a great deal of financial pressure in the lead up as they work out how many paying customers they need to break even or occasionally turn a profit. Buying a ticket in advance diminishes these financial worries and keeps venues open. If people bought tickets in advance there would be no need to run campaigns along the lines of ‘lets keep venue X open’.

The message is very simple. If you want to keep live music alive and kicking in small and medium-sized venues, cough up for the ticket early and persuade a bunch of mates to go with you. You’ll have a good time, even if the band is not up to snuff. That’s part of the fun! Beer + Music + Friends = good times.

If you see an upcoming gig you like, buy a ticket in advance – otherwise it might not be on when you get there!