Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Who replaces the "legends"?

A look at the roster of shows this year at Post-Gazette Pavilion reveals only a few pop and rock acts with the potential to pack the venue, and they have one thing in common: They're old guys. Tom Petty with opening act Stevie Winwood. Rush. Steve Miller with Joe Cocker. Jimmy Buffett. The Police with Elvis Costello. In addition to the aforementioned acts, other graybeards who still can pack houses include Elton John, the Eagles, the Rolling Stones, U2 and John Mellencamp. These guys can get the AARP discount when they book rooms for their traveling entourages and are now more likely to settle in for the evening with a Diet Coke than a fifth of Jack Daniels. And when they decide they've had enough of the road, who will P-G Pavilion and other venues turn to in order to fill their sheds and lawns? The answer may be, no one. It's hard to think of many pop/rock groups or solo acts that have come along in the past decade who would be able to sell out an 18,000-seat venue with regularity. The missus and I will be taking in two shows at P-G Pavilion this year: the Petty concert next week and the Police/Costello show in late July. But more often these days, we'll see performers in much smaller venues in Pittsburgh, on the South Side or the Strip. And that may be the wave of the future. Within a few years, unless there is a complete change in the business model, P-G Pavilion could once again be a farm field.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Outdoor amphitheaters like the P-G Pavilion have closed in Columbus, Indianapolis and Nashville in recent years, and the number of shows that are being booked in "sheds" keeps decreasing. Some of that has to do with performers who could fill the sheds opting instead to play arenas, where they can command a higher ticket price. But, you're absolutely right -- in a splintered, niche-driven marketplace, the music industry really hasn't been able to create many superstars in recent years who can fill those kinds of places.

Another factor: the abundance of casinos, many of which now have 5,000 to 10,000 seat arenas. Gretchen Wilson, who would have been a natural to play somewhere like the P-G Pavilion, was instead booked at the Mountaineer in Chester, W.Va. a couple of weeks ago.

Also, too many of the same bands have been prowling the sheds for too many years. I'm thinking Chicago, Journey, Styx, the Doobie Brothers, etc. And audiences are becoming fed up with having to travel miles out into the country and being charged extortionate prices for food, drink and parking.

--Brad Hundt

June 4, 2008 at 4:08 PM  
Blogger Ellipses said...

Are the record companies structuring their contracts differently than they were in the 60's and 70's? It seems like even the most popular bands disappear after 5-7 years... or they try to carry on through creative, self-styled/managed means of distribution. I just wonder... if the stones were to come out today, would they still be rockin' in 35-40 years?

Do today's bands make more money up front, finish their 5 albums and then pack it up?


June 4, 2008 at 5:31 PM  
Blogger PRIguy said...

The legendary bands Brant mentioned are indeed a dying breed. They were original and have tons of talent. The quality of their music is what gives them staying power. Musical acts today are completely controlled by marketing companies. There is a modicum of talent, a particular "look," and a media blitz. Case in point, the lovely Ms. Britney Spears.

Here is a gal who has a mediocre voice, but a fair amount of talent when it comes to dancing. And she's hot. At least she was during the peak of her career. So, she is marketed as this sexy little number with provocative dance moves, while maintaining, for a while at least, a somewhat clean image that was suited for her audience: 10 to 14 year olds. The formula worked, and then you out of the woodwork come Jessica Simpson, Aguilera (although she has a hell of a voice) and a slew of other hot little chicks prancing around the stage with 25 other dancers all moving in unison as the star lip-syncs the lyrics. It's drivel. But it sells.

The man who wrote Achy Breaky Heart told this story about Billy Ray Cyrus: the song actually was recorded in the winter, but the marketing people at his record label knew that they had something unique on their hands. They asked the songwriter if he would mind waiting a few months so they could release the song in the spring. They assured him the financial rewards would be considerable if he agreed. He did.

Throughout the winter and into early spring, that ridiculous line dance was developed and perfected, as was Cyrus' mullet and physique. When the weather started to turn warm, the song hit the airwaves along with the video and lo and behold, a star was born. In the songwriter's words, "Billy Ray Cyrus couldn't have been packaged better if he had been wrapped in cellophane."

Marketing sells the acts of today. Sure, there are a few who don't follow the trend and they enjoy some success, but nothing like the ones with the marketing machine behind them. Otherwise, would there even be an Ashlee Simpson?

You won't hear about most of today's stars in twenty years. The trends don't last too long, and there isn't enough substance in the performer or their material to continue being a viable entity in the business. So acts like the Stones, Petty, Aerosmith will live on for another fifty years and people like Britney Spears, Pink (I'll spare you my rant on her!) and others will become answers to trivia questions.

June 4, 2008 at 5:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When Star Lake opened, one of the local reviewers asked then head honcho Lance Jones if, with the raft of "jurrassic rock" acts playing, the sheds might become the modern Las Vegas. "I hope so," said Jones. Looks like he got his wish. What the business will be like in even 10 years is nearly impossible to predict. It all depends on how much disposable income the now-20-year-olds have and how productive today's bands are. Much of the best music isn't even being played on "mainstream" radio.

June 4, 2008 at 6:16 PM  
Blogger Ellipses said...

Another thing worth mentioning is a trend that is just beginning... The viral band/song/whatever... This could be viewed as the pendulum swinging in the other direction... away from the corporate marketed crap that is put out. It started with OK-Go with that treadmill video on youtube. We saw it (last year, thank god) in Soulja Boy's "superman"... I think we are entering a period of legitimate one-hit wonders in that the GOAL is to make a splash and get out. It bypasses the grooming, but uses the same elements of hype that made the backstreet boys, nsync, LFO, 98 degrees and the pussycat dolls their dough (I shouldn't have made that list so long... it is telling). We will probably be smashed with crap that originated on youtube for a few years as it is the "it" commodity. Then, the pendulum will swing back the other way... to some good, legitimate music... in the meantime, we will lament the end of the careers of aerosmith, the stones, petty, etc... but we will hold onto acts like Pearl Jam, Counting Crows, and Coldplay, and U-2... sure, they aren't new... but they aren't really the "legends" either... they are the stop-gap... the carriers of the torch until we start finding something good again.


June 4, 2008 at 6:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To answer the question by Ellipses, contracts with major labels nowadays are heavily slanted to favor the label over the artist, at least in the case of new bands. For the most part, they don't see a penny in royalties until the label recoups all of their marketing costs. In most cases, that means they never see any royalties at all.

And it used to be that the majors would be willing to stick with an artist through two or three albums, even if the debut didn't sell well, to develop the artist and see if something could spark the next time. That's not the case anymore -- usually, if you don't score a big hit when you first come to bat, they lose interest and you're voted off as ruthlessly as an "American Idol" contestant who hits a flat note.

I claim no major expertise in recording contracts, but I'd be willing to bet that most of them are structured on the basis of a one-album deal, with the label having the rights to a second or third if they're interested.

The majors still bring marketing muscle to the table, but, overall, that business model is dying.

--Brad Hundt

June 5, 2008 at 10:31 AM  
Blogger Ellipses said...

Ok... aside from royalties, aren't there other forms of compensation that come into play? Maybe it's just an image thing... but when I see a young rapper with 1 cd out flashing 6 kinds of bling... he had to get some money from somewhere...

June 5, 2008 at 11:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The major source of income for many artists is live work. Some of these acts that wander through the sheds every summer get guarantees of up to $100,000 per show, and that's even if they only put 4,000 bodies in the seats.

The bling could be lent by the manufacturers, who view it as free advertising if it turns up on a video.

--Brad Hundt

June 5, 2008 at 2:58 PM  

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