Do People Give A Damn About Songs Anymore?
The John Moreland song referenced in the title of this piece has been around for several years, but becomes more bitingly prophetic with each passing year (week? month?). Dancehalls are dying and live music crowds are dwindling on the whole. We’re a dying breed, y’all. We care too much. The songs mean way more to us than they do the average person. This has always been the case, but is coming glaringly into focus as we move along. Monoculture, technology, social media fakeness and generational differences have been bandied about as causes. The most obvious cause is the decreasing value placed on music. I grew up in a generation that thought nothing of paying upwards of $17.99 for a cd that may only have 1-2 good songs on it. The current culture driving generation has had YouTube and streaming options since they were first able to remember what they dug.
a FB comment on what bands to book to save a struggling historic dancehall "ugh I don't want that band. Their shows are so packed. Ugh!"
— Zac Wilkerson (@ZTWilkerson) April 19, 2017
On my appearance on The Co-Write podcast we discussed this generational difference. Co-host Bobby Duncan is a millenial, yet one of those who is the antithesis of his label. There are many like him, but not an abundance. The example we specifically talked about was Pat Green’s massiveness in 1999-2003 vs Turnpike Troubadours current domination. Despite the big league draw that Turnpike rightfully has, it is nowhere near the Texas cultural mass that PG enjoyed at his peak. There are outliers and surprising anecdotes such as Aaron Watson and Cody Johnson’s showing at the Houston Rodeo.
Another smart tactic that CoJo is employing is the event show with a large bill. Instead of rolling into your town every 2-3 months to play your local Wild West, Cody Johnson and his management crew have developed an old-school throwback package show. A true event. Sharing the bill with 3-4 other relatively large names. One night stands don’t just speed your young life away, they dilute the crowd. Why go see that band you dig this time around when you know they’ll be back in 6 weeks (many times sooner)? This fan apathy is normal and completely understandable. Smart bands are getting social and making their gigs a special event. Not just a place to come stand around and add clips to your Snap story while you talk in front of the microphone.
The other night, while presiding over the LJT songwriting finals, the namesake himself stood at the microphone for 2-3 minutes trying to tame a rowdy crowd long enough to announce the winner’s prize package. Larry Joe invoked the Kent Finlay ethos of shut the hell up while the songwriters are performing. “We have 400 acres out there for you to talk and carry on in…but when you’re in here please be quiet.” The noise died down, but the murmuring and cell phone posturing continued.
"If you want to keep the local music scene alive, start shows earlier" is making the rounds.
— Texas Music Office (@txmusicoffice) April 11, 2017
This generational divide popped up recently when the article in the above tweet went scene viral. Is the live music solution having earlier start times? The opinions flowed. College crowds drink the most, but don’t support live music on the whole. Older, professional middle aged crowds support the music but don’t buy as much booze. Is there a compromise? One of the coolest suggestions was doing the two set thing like the Continental Club or your generic comedy club. 7PM set and a 10PM set. It’s an interesting thought exercise.
The bottom line is people still do give a damn about songs…just in different ways. And sadly, there aren’t as many of us that do. Film and digital media, technology etc those are the new frontiers. Live music isn’t dead, it’s just aging poorly. But many of us will love it until the bitter end. Sitting beside its hospice bed….adding clips to our Snap stories and singing along.