I don’t know how old I was when I first heard Bruce Springsteen. I remember getting cassette tapes of Nebraska and Born to Run for Christmas when I eight or so, so maybe that’s when the seed was planted. And then Born in the U.S.A. happened, the “Dancing in the Dark” video was released, and at the ripe old age of 10, I was head over heels in love. This man was dancing on stage, inciting the crowd, gesturing wildly, interacting with his band mates, making exaggerated faces, pulling people out of the audience…I was enthralled by it.
A conversation I had last night with the guys from The Enemy Lovers sparked this memory for me. Talking with Tim and Stephen last night, I realized that I am a big, fat DRAMA QUEEN. There. I said it.
No, not, not drama queen as you might think. Occasionally, yes, I can make a spectacle of myself, but not what I mean here. That “Dancing in the Dark” video set the earliest expectation for what a live music show should be. Heart. Emotion. Interaction. Perhaps drama isn’t the right word. No, I think the word I want is PASSION. I recant drama queen. I am a passion queen.
I listen to a little bit of everything when it comes to music. If I had to pick a “power alley” for me, I’d probably go straight up singer-songwriter road in terms of my library, because I’m a lyrics girl…I like songs that tell a story. But when it comes to live music, there’s nothing better than sweaty, dirty, wailing into the microphone rock n’ roll. Give me a live performance with passion, and I will pay money for it over, and over, and over again. Because there’s just nothing that can get my heart racing like watching a musician on stage who is in in the moment, feeling their music – chances are, if they are feeling it, so am I (and so is the rest of the audience).
The other day The Hollywood Reporter posted an interview with Tommy Boy Records founder Tom Silverman where he discussed the plethora of artists now on the musical landscape and how it’s actually had a negative impact on sales. “There’s 25% more needles in the haystack than there used to be, because more people have the opportunity than before, but we’re finding fewer needles than we were 10 years ago,” Silverman said in the interview. “Nobody knows where the music business is going, but I know one thing: it’s going to be about fan-artist relationships and how you monetize that. The business isn’t going to turn around the way we’re doing it now.”
Bob Lefsetz, too, often rails on and on about artists not doing it right, how they’re in it for the money, the TV placements….blah, blah, blah. Lefsetz’s new “band” to talk about is Fitz and the Tantrums. He’s about a year and a half late. Where was he when the buzz was building about them two years ago? Anyone want to take a bet on the last time Tom Silverman when out to some out-of-the-way venue to see a band play to an audience of 10 or 20 people? Why isn’t Lefsetz talking about Will Hoge, who sells out small venues all over the country when he tours? Who literally leaves the stage smoking in his wake? Because he’s not generating record sales numbers that are about excessive amounts of money. But if you told Lefsetz that maybe Will, and other artists out there today, aren’t looking for fifteen minutes of fame, but instead, are just looking to make a living doing something that they love and are passionate about – he’d just guffaw and say it’s all about money.
Maybe the problem is that we’re talking about music as a business, Mr. Silverman. The business should be a by-product of passion, not the reverse. When it comes to music, if you ask me, we need to stop listening to these industry talking heads and start thinking for ourselves. The public keeps waiting for the recording industry to hand us our new favorite bands when we should be seeking them out at our local clubs and venues – there are incredibly talented, passionate musicians out there, we just aren’t looking hard enough.
It’s not like we don’t have the tools to do it. Social media has made it easier than ever to find and listen to great music. But it’s also made us lazy. We want our music handed to us. We expect bands to come to our city and play for us, not realizing that most touring bands barely make enough to feed themselves and get a decent hotel room every night. The Influence, who was on tour in January and February, right when the price of gas spiked, told me that the increase in gas costs literally cut their budget in half. Yet they still make it happen, and they get up on stage every night and put everything they’ve got into the performance. And I watch them, at every show, work the room. Talk to fans. When they’re not touring, they’re reaching out to their fans in every way they can via social media. They do it because they love music, because they are passionate…
Last year, a band I had never heard of requested to follow me on Twitter. Son of a Bad Man was doing what a band should do, clicking around on artists pages similar to them trying to build their fanbase. I accepted the request and return followed. Their passion was evident from the first tweet I saw…they were having conversations with their fans, putting their phone numbers out there, telling fans to call them if they needed to get into a show. They were promoting other bands (a novel idea – musicians promoting other musicians!). Their music was good, catchy…I liked it. So when they played in Columbia, SC – about an hour and a half from Charlotte – I drove to see them. And they did not disappoint me. They played to a room of 25 like they were playing for thousands of people. They moved around on that stage with passion and heart . And you could see that glimmer in their eyes. Since then, I’ve seen them two more times, and had conversations with Shawn, the lead singer. When I commented that I really liked a new song they played, a few weeks later, after they’d recorded it in the studio, it showed up in my e-mail inbox, along with an acoustic version of an even newer song. In the note, all Shawn said was, “Just kinda liked the lyrics and thought you might dig it.” THAT, my friends, is how you build the fan-artist relationship. He recognized that I shared the passion about their music…and yes, Mr. Silverman, that will result in money for the band. Because I’ll keep paying to go see them. I’ll buy their music. But I’ll spend my dollars on them because of the passion – not because they’re selling thousands of records.
Last night, I told Tim that he was dramatic on stage…and I think he was a little bit taken aback by the comment, but I meant it as a huge compliment. I meant that he had passion, and that watching him on stage was enthralling for me, just like that Bruce Springsteen video from when I was little. Look at the faces of the people in the crowd in this picture…they’re awed. That’s Tim, swinging from the rafters at The Grey Eagle in Asheville at the band’s guest list show in 2010 (they send out an e-mail to their mailing list and have fans RSVP for the show – if the fan RSVPs, they’re on the guest list for the night, and the show is free for them – another example of doing it for the music rather than the money). This photo embodies everything that music should be about – energy, enthusiasm, spectacle, drama, passion, interaction, amazement, wonder – whatever you want to call it. It’s out there, people. Find it in your music.
(Photo Credit: David Childers/The Enemy Lovers)