Live music perseveres in the recession

The recession is raging around us. With national unemployment at a ten-year high of 8.1%, according to the Department of Labor, and the Dow Jones Industrial average nearly halving itself since its all-time high just twenty months ago, there are feelings of doom and gloom in just about every industry.
Except live music.
Wil Green is the owner and operator of the legendary Georgia Theatre in downtown Athens, Ga. It’s Friday evening, and the Theatre’s having sound issues. Every band that comes through has a slightly different sound set up. BoomBox is slated to play later that night, and the Theatre staff are having a hard time getting the sound quality just right.
“We’ve had some rough nights on the sound equipment lately,” says Green.
Even as the recession deepens, the Theatre seems to be getting bigger and bigger. Bands like Perpetual Groove, Keller Williams, Sister Hazel, Citizen Cope and Sound Tribe Sector 9 selling out concerts since 2009 make the Theatre seem recession-proof.
“I’ve had a great year,” said Green. “I think that, as times get tougher, bigger bands will start booking shows at venues this size. I feel that this size venue is as large as you can get and still get that real concert experience. And larger bands, like Sound Tribe, know they can drop down to a venue this size and absolutely destroy it.”
It’s not just the Theatre that is surviving these stormy economic times. BoomBox, the jam-tronic duo of Russ Randolph and Zion Godchaux from Muscle Shoals, Ala., has been working the road since forming in 2004. I caught up with them backstage after their sound check at the Theatre.
“We’ve actually seen an influx of new faces at our shows,” said Godchaux. “Music is medicine, and people need their medicine now more than ever.”
“There have been a couple of really cool venues that have had to close down, but that’s really the worst we’ve seen,” added Randolph. “Things change so quickly in this scene, the key is to always be growing. The average concert goer is much savvier then they were a few years ago, and I think that’s a trend that’s going to continue. I think you’re going to start seeing shows become much more of a production, incorporating lights and digital displays more.”
“Giving folks that intangible feeling that comes from a good show,” Godchaux piped in. “Give them that swing.”
“At least,” Randolph said with a grin on his face, “that’s what we’re planning on doing.”
Maybe that’s the key to weathering the economic storm; adapting to the demands of your market, before they even demand it (hint hint, newspaper industry). Singer-songwriter and Georgia alum Wesley Cook thinks there might be some truth to that.
“If it was up to me, I’d live on the road. I love touring, and I couldn’t be happier if that was the best way to reach out,” Cook said. “Unfortunately, that’s just not the best way to do it anymore. I find myself using social networking sites a lot to reach out to people.”
“It can be hard to find the capital to record or support a backing band properly, just because so many things are up in the air right now. But if you believe in your music and can get others to believe in it, too, you can make it happen.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” Cook adds, his eyes lighting up.
Live music is going to survive this recession, don’t worry. There are many lessons that less-fortunate industries can learn from live music. You have to believe in what you’re creating and what you’re selling. And as volatile and tempestuous an industry as music is, you have to stay two steps ahead of everybody else, both consumers and their ever-evolving demands and your competition in the industry.

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