Monday morning I read a quote in Digital Music News that claims 94% of top-touring artists are over the age of 40. This is pretty mind-blowing, especially since music is a young person’s game (or so I used to think). The dirty little secret is that you have to be really good in several key areas in order to maintain music business success; songwriting, musicianship, performance and solid business chops all play a roll.
Because the internet offers us an ideal vehicle for music distribution we’re caught smack dab in the middle of music overkill, and our artists typically mirror us… after all, if they’re going to capture our cash they have to convince us there is value in what they do. And, like us, they need instant gratification, instant success. But most of today’s new, popular artists won’t be touring when they’re 40 because they’re simply not that good. They might look great in front of a camera, or they might be able to dance, but the songwriting, if good, was probably done by somebody else, and, more than likely, many of the artist’s band members weren’t good enough to play on the record… which, after constant new music inundation, brings a high level of inauthenticity with it.
So, as a music consuming culture, we get what we’ve asked for: an artist whose record label is banking on instant success. They do the math, they offer us the disposable, which is what it seems we desire. And you know what? If we want our music free, why would any artist really take the time to become something truly great through their art? They know they’re disposable… and, in many ways, so is the entire radio/pop music industry. We receive what the marketing pros have determined we really want. Don’t we?
I often read a blog by Bob Lefsetz – a guy who writes awesome pieces filled with lots of bits of wisdom, honesty, and gritty truth. I agree with Lefsetz on this one – we hardly believe that artists sing and play on their own recordings anymore, and we often wonder if live shows are really “live”. So the best way, in most cases, to tap into the entertainment of a truly great artist is by going to the artists we trust to deliver with authenticity. And who are they? They’re those who have a proven track record of delivering the real goods, and those who have escaped being defined by the current musical landscape. They are the 40+ crowd (it turns out). I’m not going to list them here, but it’s pretty amazing who is still on the road.
It looks like the tide is changing a bit doesn’t it? When I was kid, way back – I’m not telling how far – there used be a much longer list of great artists out there selling millions of records, and it seemed there was a new one popping up every few weeks. It might be argued, for the purpose of personal taste, that when I refer to an artist as great, what I really mean is, they were popular. Granted some of these artists only had one or two hits that sat at the top of the charts for a long time, but many of them became household names and still are.
I suspect that it’s those who are still household names that fit into our 94%. And, since today’s artists often generate their revenue through concert tickets and merchandise sales, it kind of makes sense that only the truly good are still making it work (40 yrs old and up). It takes a long time to perfect one’s craft. Think about the number of hours these artists, in terms of months and years, have worked at their craft with the purpose of becoming better and better. It takes a strong, long-term commitment to really make a career out of being an artist.
I look at the local Minneapolis scene, and I see many artists that are 40 plus, who are turning out the best records I’ve heard in a very long time. It’s hard to like Katy Perry after seeing a good, local, live show. It’s not that I don’t think there is true art to be experienced in a catchy modern day pop tune, or even a great live show, but I have no clue if the artist is just a face or if they’re the real deal (is there a track in the background, are they performing live, how do they sing perfectly when they’re dancing all over the stage like that?). Authenticity is just as important for fans as it is for artists and it’s sad that we’ve gotten to a point where the system is built to encourage disposability for the sake of a quick buck. But, I’ll sit down and watch the time tested bands bang out three chords and play the tunes that have been the soundtrack to my life because I trust them. And it makes me feel good to know I’m spending my money on something legit.
So, my take on this one is this – the reason the 40 plus crowd is still making waves is because they’ve proven themselves, their product is better because they’ve been at it longer, and we actually trust them.