Forget piracy. The music industry’s biggest money-loser is an inability to connect with older people that used to spend money on music, and don’t anymore.
I had a long call with people I work with, and I had ideas about finding my way to new listeners. Having this excellent second-act career, as a middle-aged artist, making singer-songwriter music that some Soul Coughing fans don’t like—and, pointedly, vice-versa—I want to get in front of the audiences of other artists with listeners in their late 30s, 40s, early 50s; to generally find older people that would like the songs. I’d like to widen my audience.
They were all ears—as was I, to their ideas. My agents (at High Road) and my management (Hornblow) are samurais. Unfortunately, our business is utterly focused on strategies to get music in front of people in their teens and 20s. Other than pushing what worked on younger people, and complaining that those avenues are ineffective with those same fans as adults, the bulk of our business isn’t TRYING to reach older listeners. However skilled, there’s only so much rain my peeps can make, without a wider culture built to help.
You get told that adults aren’t interested in music. That’s bunk. People who like art don’t stop liking art. They go to movies. The film industry makes a lot of money on blockbusters that young people love, but they also make money on subtler, artier stuff, that adults like, in a way that the music business hasn’t figured out.
Right now, a big artist like Bon Iver breaks through to older listeners because it gets big with younger listeners first—they can’t miss it. This means that if there’s a middle-aged artist that adults would love, but young people can’t identify with, they won’t get to their audience. If you put an awesome rock record, singer/songwriter record, 80s/90s-style hip-hop record on, they will dig it.
There’s great radio for adults out there. WXPN, the Current, WFUV, KCRW, WXRT—that’s just a few, off the top of my sleepy head. Dang, there really are a lot of stations doing it right. They can’t carry the entire over-35 world. Artists need to work town-to-town, get in front of audiences. If adults went to see music, those stations would be a bigger cultural force in their towns.
If shows were at 7:30 pm sharp, adults might go.
If everybody got chairs, adults might go.
If drunk talkers got shut up, and the story wasn’t “I went to see ______, but some asshole was jabbering away, ruined the music, why go back?”, adults might go.
The talking people in the bar are 5 out of 50. Bars, there’s more money in the 50 than the 5. Do you want those 50 to come back to your bar?
If everybody got treated with unceasing respect, and didn’t have to feel like they were uncooler than some snooty-kid hand-stamper, they might go.
If seated music clubs had a drink minimum , they’d make money off an adult audience, and it’d be worth their while. (I hate saying this, because I hate spending obligatory money)
If shows were shorter—two hours, from sit-down to paying the check, adults might go. (I hate saying this, because I love to play song after song after song)
If the headliner’s ACTUAL stage time were posted, more people might not feel going out was a dice-roll on how long they’d have to sit there waiting. I think, if opening acts were three songs long, people might actually become interested in opening acts, but it’s a terrible that people adjust to the fact that they’re usually being conned into sitting in a bar longer.
Dear music industry: there are amazing middle-aged artists. There’s loads of genuinely NEW artists who are in their 40s, not necessarily, ahem, some dude who used to be in a different band! They would be loved by people with money to spend, and, oh, ps, you guys really, really need money right now. Doubtless, there’s a cannier strategy, to be discovered, for getting the music in front of adults, via media, but I don’t work in that department.
I can absolutely tell you, there’s a sit-down comedy club—or two, or three—in every town. Go there. It’s filled with adults.
You know who still might buy physical copies of albums? People who grew up buying them.
Seriously, who out there is trying to crack this nut? Nobody wants this money?