Tuesday 26 February 2008

We Have Seen The Future Of Rock And Roll…And It’s Complicated: Live Performance (Part 3)

While Prince got the publicity for selling his album to The Mail On Sunday (who chose to give it away) the real innovation was doing a 21-night tour in one location. A fact not lost on The Spice Girls, who decided against a European tour in favour of a similar residency. Why the idea has been limited to Las Vegas until now is hard to understand. It’s too attractive an idea not to export.

The appetite to see famous bands that quit before you were born just can’t be sated. There’s so much money being offered that no-one believes these old supergroups are burying their mutual hate just for the thrill of seeing the superdomes again. CD reissue programmes have made everyone contemporary and there is no such thing as a forgotten group – even Shed Seven can reform for a tour. To keep things lively, one of the band members will dissect the tour on his blog, such as Stewart Copeland, who was refreshingly candid about The Police’s sometimes less than stellar performances.

For new bands, MySpace and email lists are vital to building audiences the old-fashioned way, one fan at a time. MySpace is essential – it replaces having their own Web site and plugs them into a global audience. It’s the artist in the middle (like Billy Bragg, REM, or Elvis Costello) with a guaranteed audience but not likely to add new fans that is least affected.

As managers learn there is money to be made from controlling their band’s online and mobile concert activities, the activity increases between fan, band and show. At the recent O2 Keane show, ticket holders were asked beforehand to sign up for band content and could then stream or download videos from the show afterwards. There were 30,000 downloads. Within minutes of the end of The Sugarbabes show at Indigo2 the performances were available to download on mobile and online (and later broadcast on TV – there’s always room for old media). The new single was promoted alongside the live videos.

The global concert business is owned by TicketMaster, AEG and Live Nation. It’s the latter that signed Madonna, enticing her with a ten year, £65 million deal that will cover records, touring, merchandising and licensing. She’s rumoured to be getting a £16 million advance for each of three albums, which reveals either the true value of music in spite of all the piracy or severe hubris. Madonna’s most recent album sold less than 100,000 in the US. Coincidentally, it was a live recording of her last tour.

You may think these companies assess the risk soberly, but they can get caught up in the excitement – we’re buying Madonna! Exactly. She’ll be 60 when this deal terminates and even a vivid imagination is hard-pressed to see her dancing and posing as she does now. Steel will and athletic discipline do not guarantee an audience’s interest.

Will AEG follow Live Nation into 360 deals? According to Anthony Ackenhoff of the music consultancy Frukt, “The increasing revenues being made by promoters means that the axis of power has shifted from recorded music to live, and they have more daily contact with large artists than labels do. I'd be surprised if it's labels (apart from possibly Universal) that get close to completing the 360 degree loop before AEG and Live Nation do.”

In 2008, it’s a certainty that other major artists will announce a residency at places like The O2. More faded glories will attempt to “do a Zep”, including, possibly, the Jackson 5 with Michael (Jermaine has already announced it). If all the greedy parts in the payment chain can agree, you will be able to buy the tickets via mobile phone. Within two years mobile phone tickets could be as common as downloading and printing your own tickets is now; the technology has been around for years. As artists finally accept that there is an unending appetite for live recordings that audience members are happy to provide, there will be a growth in “official” concert recordings. After all, do you want your live experience enshrined as a shaky mobile phone video on YouTube when you can easily provide an HD version with stereo sound?

The billion pound question is, will Zeppelin tour?

Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Music Labels

Part 4: Live Performance

Part 5: Radio

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