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How Live Music Can Save Itself From Disruption [Cortney Harding]

1While the live music market is strong and getting stronger, it may soon struggle, as increasing numbers of potential concert goers opt for a night in. It's time that the music industry take steps to make live shows more enticing.

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Guest post by music industry and music tech consultant Cortney Harding

The timing for this piece, at first glance, seems odd -- live music continues to gather steam and is often cited as the way for artists to monetize in a world where streaming services are becoming more dominant. But even as thousands of fans are flooding to Indio for Coachella and the kickoff of the summer festival season, stormclouds are gathering -- and the live music business needs to get out ahead of them.

1Two recent articles drive home the point of the coming disruption -- the New York Times with a piece called “Is Staying In the New Going Out?” and the Guardian with “I’d Rather Chill In and Relax: Why Millennials Don’t Go Clubbing.” Both hammer home essentially the same point -- younger people would rather spend a night chatting with friends than at a noisy club, and prefer an evening of takeout and Netflix to a wild night on the town. In the new app economy, you don’t have to even pick up the phone to get food delivered right to your door and you can watch one of a million or more movies on Netflix. Instead of getting sexually harassed at a bar, you can scroll through Tinder and get sexually harassed digitally. Basically, you can control the experience and know what you’re getting. If you go out, there’s a higher potential upside, but also a bigger downside -- you might meet your soulmate over cocktails, sure, but you might also be the victim of a crime at worst, or at best spend too much money on drinks and wake up with a hangover.

Live music promoters would like to pretend they’re insulated from this, and offer experiences that aren’t easily replicated. There are any number of bars to hang out in, sure, but only one place on any given night to see a band you love. This is true, but as millennials get more picky about their experiences and discover that standing behind a six foot tall guy and straining to see a band while overpaying for beer isn’t much fun, there might be a mass exodus from the space.

The first hurdle the business needs to overcome is ticketing. Facebook’s recently announced partnerships with Ticketmaster and Eventbrite is a great first step, as the ticket buying process is often clunky and cumbersome. But that still doesn’t solve for the scalping problem, and the fact that younger concert goers have a sense they’re being ripped off when tickets sell out in seconds and then appear on resale sites minutes later, with the prices jacked up. A generation that demands transparency likely won’t stand for this. There are plenty of possible solutions, the two most interesting being some sort of lottery system, where fans have 24 hours to enter their info if they want tickets, and then an algorithm runs and the winners get an email. The secondary market would still exist, as not everyone who buys tickets would be able to see an event, but it would be fairier. The second option is some sort of elastic ticket pricing -- think Uber for concert tickets. From an economic perspective this makes total sense; from a fan perspective, it’s a harder sell. Still, Uber and Lyft continue to grow and use this model, so perhaps music fans can be convinced.

Better recommendation engines would help get millennials out to events, and while plenty of apps have tried, none have hit the sweet spot of seamlessness. Imagine an app that was basically a nightlife concierge -- you could subscribe to curated channels of concerts, events, and restaurants, then get push notifications asking you if you wanted to buy tickets or reserve a table. It would even sync with your calendar, so you’d only be invited out on nights you were available, and you could even use the app to find transportation or dates. If everything at home can come to you with the touch of a button, why should going out be any different? Scrolling through Yelp, finding a place, then having to find yet another place when that place turns out to be full -- no wonder Grubhub on the sofa looks appealing.

At the events, the focus should be on socializing, both online and off. One of the biggest reasons people don’t go to events is that they have no one to go with, a problem that technology could easily solve. Another huge in-venue problem is that it’s too hard to socialize with friends when you’re there -- and while no one likes that one jerk who talks through a band’s set, there’s no reason music between sets needs to be turned up so loudly. Add bloated set times to this -- sure, maybe an artist with a deep catalog deserves an hour, but if a band only has one album, they can basically play the entire thing with a few covers and some banter thrown in. One of the reasons festivals have become so popular is that sets and short and it’s easy to see multiple bands in one go, something not provided by a traditional live show.

2Love it or hate, people are now spending shows taking videos and selfies -- so venues should probably embrace it and figure out how to handle it. Rather than people hoisting their phones to take shaky video, venues should provide a live stream that fans could pull from if they wanted to share a moment -- the quality would be better, and you’d do away with the issue of having to watch a show through someone else’s phone. Finally, venues should prioritize comfort, since that seems to be a big desire among the young and couch-bound -- places to sit and chill between songs would be appreciated, even by fans who want to spend much of the evening dancing.

You only have to spend one evening on the L train to know that plenty of millennials are still going out -- but it might not stay that way forever. If the live music business doesn’t start solving problems soon, they might wind up with empty rooms as people stay home and bathe in the glow of their screens.

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