The other night I found myself on a front porch in Highland Park for show #42 of quirk-rock band More Fatter’s backyard concert tour.
While major festivals and traditional tours are getting cancelled left and right, these guys managed to book themselves two months worth of (relatively) covid-friendly shows in people’s backyards all over the country. Half the shows were ticketed ($30 on Eventbrite) and half the shows were ($30) suggested donation. Selling ($40!!) t-shirts and ($20!!!) burned CDs of unreleased demos, these guys managed to make nearly $25,000 in a couple months. Touring in a 2005 Toyota Sienna minivan and crashing on couches, they kept their expenses down.
After the show I was chatting with an agent at APA. True to agent form, he’s out at a show every night. I told him how I hadn’t been to an indoor show since Delta raged back (well, save for Sebastian Maniscalco last weekend – but for that man I’ll risk it). But I told him how I think everyone is so ripe for live music again that once we’re back open, like really back open, for real, finally, once and for all, sigh… that people will rush the gates ala a Phish concert at Alpine Valley.
He said “I’m not so sure. TV has gotten too good.”
Now, he’s not wrong. TV is so good right now. There are so many extremely well-done music docs that I’ve never been so inspired on the couch before. Have you seen the Mark Ronson docuseries on Apple+? Each episode chronicles a recording technique that changed recording history. Watch the series start to finish. How he was able to visit the empty diesel oil tank caverns of northern Scotland to capture the world’s longest reverb with the technician tasked to record it and create the plugin is beyond me. But it made for quite entertaining television.
Last night I finally watched Bo Burnham’s special “Inside” on Netflix.
If you haven’t seen this, my god, watch it tonight. Teetering on the edge of a mental breakdown, Burnham created the most definitive piece of art of the pandemic.
Written, shot, edited, directed, composed, sung, acted, all by Burnham from his home during quarantine, he managed to create a hilarious musical mirror to society in the age of Covid, influencers, and despicable inequality.
For the uninitiated, Bo Burnham rose to fame as a YouTuber singing original comedic songs from his bedroom at his keyboard. Often pushing the boundary and occasionally far over the line (but he was a teenager living in a YouTube bubble). He’s now a bonafide movie star. Most recently he co-starred in Promising Young Woman as Carey Mulligan’s love interest.
True to YouTuber form, Burnham DIY’d his special. Like, really DIY’d it.
Throughout it, we got a glimpse into his quarantine life. Light boxes, microphones, cables upon cables, colored LED contraptions, a keyboard and his laptop and a year of staying inside, he created this seminal piece of work. It was truly cathartic going on this journey with Bo.
But was it better than live music?
Now, I’m biased. Pre-pandemic I was out at shows 4 nights a week.
And most recently I just finished a 16 show run in a parking lot in downtown LA of my funk band’s immersive concert theatrical experience: Brassroots District.
What I witnessed from the stage was a joy and euphoria only achieved by sweating with other humans having a collective experience.
Together. With the band. As one united spirit. One energy, transcending the lethargic confines of the depressive physical realities of the moment. And embracing the spiritual possibilities of the future.
That’s what live music is. Well, should be. If done right.
So, as you scrape off your post-pandemic rust, remember what you have the power and ability to create with your gifts. Yes, there is more competition – now more than ever – for people’s attention. Not only do we have to convince people that they should choose our concert over all the others in town that night, but even more so that we can offer a more memorable and life-altering experience that is unattainable sitting at home on their couch. Even with how good television has gotten.
I have no doubt that we, as a music community, can achieve this. Don’t let the pessimists convince you that Netflix can hold even a glimmering candle to what we have the ability to do.
In the end, we remember the experiences we had. The music we saw. Not the TV shows we watched.
I have faith in you.
Now go get it.
If you’re ready to get back on stage (and paid handsomely for your shows) see if playing Performing Arts Centers (and other special events) or breaking into the college market is right for you. Applications for these 2 new Ari’s Take Academy courses are open for just a couple more weeks. Apply here.