Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Business of Live Music

This has been an interesting and intense day, the first day of this conference in Edinburgh has been fascinating in it's variety of approach. The first paper, the dreaded daybreak slot, was presented by Barbara Bradby, who I have always wanted to meet. It was a fascinating paper that travelled from Sammy Davis Junior to The Beatles, talking about 'the tension between atmosphere and rapport', and the importance of the talking between songs at live gigs; she showed us a film clip that demonstrated Beatles fans stopping screaming as Paul McCartney approached the microphone to speak. I discovered that she used to be a fiddle player with an old-timey banjo picker called Molly. If I play in Dublin again, I shall invite her to join me to play Memento Mori. Later, we heard a paper from John Williamson, Belle and Sebastian's manager, about LA promoters (nuff said). Another very interesting paper was delivered by Robert Kronenburg, an architect who studies music venues and who introduced David Byrne's concept of musicians 'tuning' their shows to the venue environment in the same way as animals adapt to their natural habitat. Another interesting paper in the morning session was Lucy Bennett's; she has studied the phenomenon of fans tweeting from live concerts to communities of stay-at-home fans, who post comments about setlists of their imagined version of the gig on to fan forums. Extraordinary! Twitter territorialization!
In the afternoon, John Street presented a paper that raised the question of freedom of speech and moral responsibility in entertainment, which he regards as a form of speech. He asked us to question the moral right of a rapper whose gigs are seen by the police as dangerous because people might appear with guns: should he be allowed to rap his aggressive lyrics, or not? I found this very intersting as I have been itching to write about something that happened twenty years ago, the perpetrator of which has recently written a damning article in The Guardian about the controversial teacher, Katharine Birbalsingh.
Anyway, I digress.
Dave Laing (who supervised my PHD) presented a paper about the fluctuations in income from live music in different locations across the globe, raising a roar of laughter with his final line 'Maybe we're all doomed!'.
Last paper of the day, the twilight slot, came from Michael Murphy; his paper was entertaining (as an A&R man he had been responsible for advising an Irish band to change their name from the Cranberry Saw Us). As the 12th paper, this was a welcome relief; he concentrated on coincidence an serendipity, showing us just how shaky the foundations of the record industry are, and talking about The Hope Collective.
As I sat on the bus back to McMum's, my head was buzzing with thoughts of capitalism destroying itself by eating it's own babies...


Anonymous said...

Helen the music industry is pathetic. They railed against Napster 15 years ago and still can't come up with a model of music distribution that takes us into this century. The likes of Spotify and Grooveshark (streaming sites - legal, with a fee to the artist) are clearly the way forward, but it is taking bright individuals to come up with this while the fat arses sit there panicing about their Pink Floyd income.
Oops a bit of a rant!
Rich C

Anonymous said...

Hi Helen,
I thought the idea of musicians playing to the environment is interesting.
Obviously for us two playing the Alhambra was probably great and playing the Mandela Hall at the Uni was an ever-echoing field of glassy death. But eventually you get moved into the bigger places.
Traveling round the country playing everywhere I eventually noticed something interesting. The "Top Rank" venues were reliably great. They had a large stage, a nice wooden dance floor, a semi-circular area at the back carpeted and with tables, and above that a semi-circular balcony.
They weren't run by the nicest people maybe, but after a while I realised they were designed and built for Live Music. Big Bands probably, but still: designed for Live Music!
You might want to fact-check this because I was probably on drugs at the time, but there aren't many venues built specifically for live music other than "Classical". There is a jazz one in NY, but it's not as good as seeing Talking Heads, The Ramones, or The Gladiators in a Top Rank!!!