All The Way Live

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All the Way Live

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

As the commercial rock radio format plummets nationally, stations are abandoning their tried and true programming for more lucrative formats, like Hip Hop, Spanish-language or News. Just this month, the latest giant to fall was Y100 in Philadelphia, a modern rock station that flipped to Hip Hop. WHFS in Washington, DC, another beloved rock radio station, shifted to Spanish earlier this year.

What-s a Queens of the Stone Age lover to do? Hard to say, but I-m guessing that bands like this will see decreased sales from a lack of radio airplay on the next album.

A few months ago, Elvis Costello did an interview on Nic Harcourt-s program, Morning Becomes Eclectic. Mr. Costello said something rather revolutionary and it-s stayed with me ever since. He hypothesized that many artists with strong supportive fan bases don-t really need record labels the way they used to. With decreasing radio airplay, he forsaw a time when artists would present their new work live, while touring. Their studio recordings would follow touring, with fan bases built from live shows.

It-s a very different approach from the traditional record business model, and one that more closely follows the world of fine art.

In the world of painters, most artists create the original painting. Only with growing interest for the work, do the demands for lithographs, prints and other reproductions follow.

In the music business, we work on the opposite time table. We create the work, market and sell the reproduction, and hope that fans will come to see the original artist perform their work afterwards.

Of course, studio recordings cannot compare to live performance, as they are actually two different mediums. But perhaps Prince really got it right last year, when he put a long awaited tour on sale, and hide the cost of his newest CD in the ticket price. Fans of Prince were able to experience his newest material, along with some Prince classics, all while going home with a perfect studio recording of his fine new work. That-s value for your dollar.

With all the changes in the music business these days, everyone, and I mean everyone, is trying to figure out which new model will work. From where I sit, it makes no sense for most artists with strong fan bases to continue to play the old game, hoping for radio campaigns to drive their record sales, with touring to follow close behind. If the radio situation is as bad as everyone thinks, better to go with touring muscle every time.

For years, the record business watched the Grateful Dead superserve their massive touring fan base with tour upon tour. The Dead box office numbers always out-sold just everyone else, and the music industry couldn-t comprehend how they did it, with such limited record sales. The truth is, the Dead didn-t want what the record business had to offer. They weren-t obsessed about being on commercial radio or the cover of Rolling Stone. All they really wanted to do was to make music for themselves and their fans, live well and have a good time.

The Dead had it right. They played to their strength. They focused on their fans, and by doing that, they never lost their audience. They couldn-t be hurt by a commercial radio format change.

With the star making machinery on the fritz, it-s far more productive to focus on your strengths. A few months ago, I attended a Carnegie Hall Brian Wilson concert for the debut performance of his Smile album. Smile was recorded as the follow up to his Pet Sounds record in the mid 60s, but the Smile record was never been released.

The concert was quite an event, and afterwards, I went out and bought the CD to recreated the vision I saw at Carnegie Hall. That-s exactly what Elvis Costello was talking about.

Welcome to the new world of music.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat on KCRW.