The future won’t bring new Radioheads

The future won’t bring new Radioheads

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Right after my last band broke up (everybody moved out of state), people asked me why I didn’t start another project. My short answer was economics. The long answer is something like this excellent piece from Mike Doughty, songwriter, singer and touring indie musician. I was working for a radio station, making a music magazine. I saw firsthand what it was like for up and coming bands, including Soul Coughing, a band that Mr. Doughty fronted until they broke up. After you factored all the costs and even if you got a song on the radio, you still had to tour. And Doughty’s piece paints an accurate and painful picture of what modern touring looks like.

There are a couple of standout quotes:

“A song on the radio will not pack clubs instantly—and packed clubs, even theaters, are unlikely to be enough to tour without taking tour support from a label. Bands with hit songs still have to circle the country for a couple of years to build an audience, and, from there, a real career. Some people come because they love the single, and, if the show’s great, a live fanbase develops.”

and

“How do you tell girlfriends and parents that pretty long-term poverty, well into adulthood—as your fellow former members of the high school chess club graduate from medical school—will result in making an extremely nice living, not to mention important work?”

Sad realities for today’s musicians. In the 90s, there was a lot of grief about major labels being The Man and forcing bands to do this or that. I was always skeptical about that stance, as touring on our own while maintaining white collar jobs, marriages and three rehearsals a week was grueling. That irony that the breaking alternative act was somehow put upon by the tens of thousands of dollars in support (for the lucky bands) always seemed like it was just out of sight for a lot of bands. However, the money the majors dished out on a few bands they believed in wasn’t insubstantial. The decrease in money for startup bands is a sad state of reality. For anybody considering a career in music, this is a must-read.

Give Doughty some paid royalty listens here:

via Immutable/Inscrutable, Radiohead wouldn’t exist without early major-label funding. The future won’t bring new Radioheads. All I want to say here, truly, is: let’s get used to it..

10 Comments

  1. yeah! I saw in concert Mike Doughty a few months ago and got to talk to him afterwards. He’s mindblowing (in that good way.)

  2. I am constantly impressed with Mike Doughty and try to see him whenever he comes through town. It all but broke my heart to read about his horrible experience with Soul Coughing, a band that I loved.

  3. “How do you tell girlfriends and parents that pretty long-term poverty, well into adulthood—as your fellow former members of the high school chess club graduate from medical school—will result in making an extremely nice living, not to mention important work?”

    That’s a question I struggle with constantly as an aspiring novelist. I’ll let you know if I ever figure out a good answer.

  4. When we needed them (Soul Coughing) to do an unusual thing for a cover shoot, they were more than willing. I only got a smidge of a hint of problems. I always credited that to the rigors of touring rather than a deep seated band thing.

  5. I saw Mike Doughty at a show not too long ago and now I can’t for the life of me remember who he was there to see. Grownup Noise, maybe? Anyway.

    I spent about two years shooting a documentary project on an LA band, and, my god. At the level they were working, they were fighting against things Doughty doesn’t hit on in this piece (example: pay to play, which is insanely rampant in LA and baffling to me). The guitar player – the best guitar player I’ve ever seen/heard – said to me once that his goal was to be able to quit his job. An insanely talented man with a modest goal, but still not yet realized. I wish we cherished our artists more (in the wallet region, where it counts) on a large-scale level, but also (especially?) on the smallest “I’m going to pay for this song download” level.

  6. i’m not saddened by less touring, it’s inefficient and frankly a little weird. when one is young and dumb, it might be easier to put out of mind that the band on stage is singing about the same break-up or love affair night after night because you’re likely there to commune with others and possibly get laid.

    the parallel to that article would be that bands no longer NEED to tour to develop an audience. they no longer need to rely on the “monkey on stage” sort of tactic, they can stay home and make recordings and post them to youtube and facebook and, hey, if everything lines up and they connect with their fellow human beings, things get shared.

    “virally”

    ew.

    if not, don’t cry about it, try again, something might resonate with a large number of people, and if not, hey, why not be happy for the few people that get it?

    basically, i dont miss the old model of pummeling people with a product until they like it, and that seems to be the gist of the article.

    yes, there is still a lot of cramming happening, but the long tail is alive and well.

    art that resonates gets shared and rewarded.

    the future looks great for greatness and mediocre for the mediocre.

    it’s always been a grind for artists who can’t find what it is that makes art resonate.

    same old.

    • Three words: Queen. Live Aid.

      Look it up. They don’t make them like that any more. And it is sad.

      While I’m with you on the new model, the only way bands make money is by touring. If no one pays for the music, musicians have fewer ways to support themselves. Which is why I’m liking the Rdio/Spotify model. Easier than free. Artists get paid. Albeit not enough.

      • Always thought the most amazing thing about Queen’s Live Aid performance was they had not played live for at least two years before. Then they just walk out there, four guys, huge venue, and blow the place down. Still get chills thinking about it.

        Whatever the new model is, I hope there is some way to get bands out on the road. From a selfish fan perspective, can’t beat the experience of music in the flesh.

  7. While I agree with Mike on some respects (without label support, many 90’s bands wouldn’t have existed) I’m not sure that’s necessarily the same problem today that it would have been back then. The 90’s didn’t have the internet, at least not in the way it does today. The proliferation of high speed internet connections in the home means that bands gather HUGE followings online before they even start touring. Kids don’t discover music on the radio these days. They discover it on Youtube. Or elsewhere online. Radio is all about playing the top songs over and over and over and over and over to death, because that’s what the radio stations think gets the best ratings (and radio is in a HUGE decline right now as well, thanks to the internet).

    Hell, we started to see things like this back in the mid ‘oughts with Arctic Monkeys. Does label support still come in handy? It sure does. Is the decline of the big labels leading to a dearth of good bands? I’m not convinced. There’s a LOT of good music coming out from new bands these days, and it’s easier than ever to find it.

    Edit: thank god for Readable. Mike, my god, the purple! It burns!

  8. And Mike says that a band like Radiohead could never make it today. I disagree. The radio landscape may be full of Katy Perry and Justin Bieber, but Bon Iver still managed to win the grammy for best new artist this year, and Bon Iver is hardly mainstream big-label-supported pop music.

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