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  • Subject area(s): Marketing
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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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The performance and presentation of a body of music is the peak of anticipation for the listener, and if that performance does not deliver what was anticipated then chances are audiences are going to go elsewhere and seek out alternative music. The performance of live music is what appeals most to people. With live performance, an artist must “sell” his or her creation and convey to the audience that this is their music and explain the feelings and emotions attached to it. Firstly, it is important to define what constitutes as “live music”. Throughout this essay, I will refer to Philip Auslander's  (1999) suggestion that the live event is “real”. Also considering that “The term ‘live' performance is now usually reserved for those situations where the audience is in physical proximity to the performance, and the experience of the music is contagious with its actual performance” (Shuker, 1998). Although opinions will differ slightly on what constitutes as live music but I will consider it to be not pre-recorded. This essay aims to analyse what constitutes as live music and how ‘liveness' has come to be in light of the digital age. I will discuss;

1. Live music in relation to recorded music

2. The business of live music as the biggest employer of people in the music industry

3. Live music in the digital age; the use of social media and online fan engagement

4. The construction of the virtual. Live music performances of virtual pop stars

Live Music versus Recorded Music

Recorded performances are an attempt to create a perfect piece of music without any mistakes, but as humans that is something that we are incapable of doing. They are unrealistic and often do not represent the quality of a live performance. During a live performance the audience help to create a positive atmosphere, they are an active part of constructing a meaning to the live performance through verbal and bodily interaction and often artists incorporate the audience into their shows. An example of this is Coldplay's 2017 Head Full of Dreams Tour where each audience member was given a fluorescent wristband, which turned a different colour as the lights, went out, making the audience a part of the beauty. In an economic sense, it was assumed that live music could not achieve the same economies of sale or the reduction of labour costs that could compete with the mass entertainment media (Frith, 2007). The size of a paying audience for any live music event is restricted by the size of the venue, so in order to make a profit, concert promoters have to raise ticket prices (Frith, 2007). Meanwhile, the music industry can take full advantage of this inflation as a single recording can supply a global market and the developments in technology keep the rising prices down (Frith, 2007). If ticket prices were reflective of a concerts' true costs then it would restrict entry to only the super-rich elite, like the market for original art works.

In Becker's theory of ‘art worlds' he established that the creation of all artistic work is a collective action where people must interact with each other to produce the end goal (Becker, 1982). Becker discussed the consumption of music and how it emerges as the consequence of artwork and production, his work emphasises the importance of human interaction and that music will not happen independent of collective action. There are several steps that must be carried out for any work of art to appear in its final form (Becker, 1982). There is a complex list of things that need to be done before a live performance can be undertaken, therefore it is clear to see why tickets prices are so high and they can be seen as unobtainable for ordinary people. It was assumed that with the introduction of hi-fi and recorded music that live music would decline. However, recent surveys of the UK music industry suggest that live music is one of its more buoyant sectors. Williamson et al (2003) found that live music was the only music activity in Scotland that was attracting an inward investment. Live music supports recorded music, with the release of singles and albums, audiences want to go see the artist live. The value of music – the main reason people are prepared to pay for it – remain centred in its live experience.

The Business of Live Music

The latest UK-wide music industry survey found that the live music business was the biggest employer in the music sector (Frith, 2007). UK venues and promotions are increasingly controlled by a small number of international operators: Live Nation; MCD; AEG – a US company – and SJM group. Between these companies, the majority of UK based music venues are controlled by them. This is evidence that “What was once a sector renowned for its glorious amateurism is being taken over by multi-billion-dollar corporations' (Frith, 2007). Due to the increasing demand for live music, promoters have had to expand audience sizes – hiring larger venues and, above all, by promoting festivals. Festivals have allowed crowd sizes to be expanded, upwards of 50,000 people – while the re launch of Glastonbury festival in 2007 saw ticket sales of 175,000 (Frith, 2007). The benefits of festivals for audiences is that a variety of bands are covered by the same ticket cost, so although pricing is more expensive that if it was just one act, festival goers have the chance to see 50+ performers. For organisers and promoters. The same staging and marketing expenses therefore lowering the overall expenses for a live music event cover all bands. British live music is now organised around the summer festival season – Glastonbury, Reading and Leeds, Download and Wireless – but there are festivals dedicated to all genres of music not just popular music – folk music in Cambridge, classical music in Edinburgh and jazz music in Brecon. 2006 saw the launch of boutique festivals such as Latitude in Suffolk that combines music with politics, comedy and literature to an audience of 12-15,000 (Larkin, 2006).

The success of the live music sector in the UKs can be seen through the profits of live music events: REM's Hyde Park concert in 2005 grossed almost £2.5 million and Live Nation's Download Festival £1.1 million. As Larkin (2006) states;

Such figures serve to illustrate what many have suspected for some time – that as it becomes increasingly difficult to generate revenues from the sale of recorded music, it is the live sector, which increasingly provides a means of survival for most acts. (Larkin, 2006)

Survival of live music is not just down to larger audiences and increasing ticket prices, venues and promoters have expanded the earnings potential of a live event. Historically, concert goers could buy CDs as a souvenir, but physically being at the concert is unique to the event, and digital technology has made it possible to obtain an instant recording of the concert itself; something I will discuss further later on. Certainly now, some major acts gross more from live performances that from record sales and for whom a new record release acts to promote a new tour. Waddell (2009) wrote an article for Billboard magazine discussing how the decline of album sales lead to the real money being made on the road. There is a clear suggestion that touring has become more important financially that records which is an industry power shift:

Regardless of genre, retail sales or radio play, each of the 20 acts on the Billboard's Money-makers list toured in 2008… For almost all of them, touring generated the most revenue. And in a year when recorded music sales declined yet again, many earned more at the box office than ever before. (Waddell for, 2009)

Nowadays the acts that command the highest ticket prices and thus the biggest live earnings are those whose highest record sales were years ago (Frith, 2007). For example: According to Billboard, Guns N' Roses grossed $25.9 million from their Not in This Lifetime Tour (now in its third year) in 2017 but only $655,600 from record sales making them the eighth highest-paid touring musicians (  

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