Live music festivals — beneficiaries of the web difference in the music world?

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“The record business, or at least that of the major labels, is foundering, as CD sales spiral downward. But South by Southwest thrives on the plain fact that people still love music: making it, hearing it, dancing to it, even marketing it.” -Jon Pareles, NYT

The NY Times featured an article this past week on Austin’s South by Southwest music festival, and it made some interesting observations about today’s music industry that I thought were relevant to our discussion of the web difference in the music world. The author reiterates the point made in class that more and more musicians will turn to concert sales to make their living (as opposed to record sales). He ultimately characterizes the festival as “as close as the concert business gets to a level playing field.” He adds, “Big names and small play the same beery clubs, through the same sound systems, without their accustomed arena video setups or undistracted audiences.”

So in the growing popularity of these live music festivals, we see another example of the Web breaking down barriers to entry in the music business, a development which we in turn expect to improve information flow, increase choice, and drive competition.

I don’t know much about the festival, but Wikipedia says it is the largest revenue-producing event for the city of Austin – bigger than things like UT football games and even the more storied Austin City Limits music festival! (For more, see this article.) So it seems clear that the internet – by bringing about phenomena like the decreasing importance of major record labels, the popularization of off-label music on the Web, and increasing fan demand for live concerts – is also having a significant impact on local, non-Web entities like local governments/ economies. I think all this is interesting because music is one area where the Web has enabled a distinct online culture (MySpace, Bradsucks) to develop, but everything we’re seeing now suggests that the benefits from this online community are being transferred to (or at least shared with) the non-Internet world.

Brad of Bradsucks seemed to be focused more on the opportunities to make (and distribute) a new kind of music that have been made possible by the Web. He said he was less into the live performance opportunities, and is happiest when he’s at his computer, mixing and recording songs. But for many other musicians, the internet is changing the landscape of the live music industry and, in so doing, creating all kinds of opportunities to do what they love most – perform in front of a music-loving audience. All in all, it seems like the web difference in the music world has benefited all musicians. I wonder if this is truly a Pareto improvement vis-à-vis the artists themselves – or if there are some musicians out there who were happier before all these changes?

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