But all this accessibility has come at a cost.
Some worry about market oversaturation and its effects on booking shows and getting music heard.
“As venues become more accessible for every band, it’s gonna take a lot more than a simple email to break through the venue booker’s email box,” Schon said. “It will get harder for the smaller bands to break through that and actually get the gigs, but that’s how it has to happen. It also makes the best [bands] get the gigs.”
Cris Jacobs, a guitarist, singer and songwriter who toured with The Bridge for 10 years and now performs under his own name, hopes the same goes for recorded music.
“You just hope that it doesn’t allow too much of people trying to put things out with lesser quality,” he said.
With empowered artists and fans, the roles and revenues of the record companies have drastically changed, for better or for worse.
“It used to be sort of the Holy Grail of the music industry for an artist to get a record deal,” Johnson said. “It was important because you got access to distribution, which was expensive, got a lot of credibility, money, recordings, distribution. It was a legitimate goal and a very worthwhile goal.”
Now, it’s cheap to record. Digital aggregators can put music all over the market and bands can hire managers that do everything from booking to social media.
When record companies do sign an artist, they’re handling a lot more than just recording and distribution. Not only is revenue from physical products on the decline, there are less opportunities to make money in recorded music, and subscription streaming services like Spotify and Pandora give modest royalty payments at best. In fact, artists like Pink Floyd and Cracker’s David Lowery have started public discussions with Pandora over what they feel are unfair payment practices. By the same token, Radiohead’s Thom Yorke yanked his side projects off of Spotify last weekend.
As a result, the role of the record company has shifted. Record companies are becoming the managers, music publishers and merchandisers, roles typically filled by other entities, which ensured checks and balances between the artist and the record company, Johnson said.
Creating the Experience
Clearly, artists relying purely on music to pay the bills are having to come up with different ways to remain relevant.
“It pushes artists to really be innovative and creative and come up with ways to matter and be relevant and become a thing people can’t live without,” Jacobs said.
For Jacobs, that means performing in a variety of different formats — solo acoustic shows, shows with a duo or a trio, shows with his eponymous band and shows with the appropriately named Band of Johns. He also teaches guitar lessons and plays private gigs to keep the income flowing.
“I wish I had the solution,” Jacobs said. “I’m still trying to crack the code myself.”
Schon said carving your niche starts with the sound, and he said Pigeons Playing Ping Pong found theirs in what Schon refers to as “high-energy psychedelic funk,” an upbeat, playful hybrid of genres. The band has one studio album to its name, but offers it for free online. They consider it a small taste of the live show, where the band truly shines and earns their buck.
“It’s no longer about album sales, it’s all about touring and merchandise,” Schon said.
To that end, the band offers T-shirts, posters, pins, beer koozies and stickers, all of which can be purchased through its website. As far as touring goes, the live shows serve as family reunions and parties, with their friends (opening bands) warming up the show and themed-concerts that encourage audience members to dress up for the occasion.
Even more traditional venues, such as the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, are branching out to remain community pillars.
Toby Blumenthal, the hall’s manager of facility sales, books the non-symphony events at the Meyerhoff. He’s paired Ray LaMontagne, Phish’s Trey Anastasio and other artists with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and helped make the venue a home for comedians Louis C.K., Ron White and Jon Stewart, among others. He’s also worked to make the Meyerhoff available for galas, fundraisers, awards ceremonies, graduations and other events.
“We obviously have our core business and that’s something that’s very important to us and the community, but this building is also here to be something that’s available to the community, not just what happens on stage,” Blumenthal said.
The Modell Performing Arts Center at The Lyric is fully embracing social media and the changes in the industry. Not only is it using social media and Google to promote, but it wants to make sure patrons can use their own electronics to enhance their experience.
“You want patrons to be in a position where they can use their own electronic forms of media; Facebook it, Tweet it out, have the connection to the performance and to the concert hall,” said Sandy Richmond, president and executive director.
Because of the variety of venues in the area and the ability to buy tickets on the secondary market, Richmond has seen consumers’ spending habits change in a variety of ways, including waiting longer to purchase tickets to performances. But he ultimately believes that if a venue hosts a good show, people will buy tickets.
“I think live entertainment is going to continue. I think there’s still a need for it,” he said. “I think people are able to enjoy and connect in a very unique way to acts across every genre.”