Times, they are a’changin: Episode 3

Times they are a’ changin 

my life’s in jeopardy

murdered in cold blood is what I’m gonna be’ 

So where are we now? I argue that we aren’t going to make a living off record sales and that the key to survival is playing live. But don’t despair because I think there is a way to use all of this to our advantage.  We can survive if we get creative with both our music and our cds. So let me take you on a little journey.  

The other day I was reading about the new U2 album that is coming out. I was checking out the web site and I saw that the new album was also going to be released as in a vinyl format too. The vinyl record would be a double record with I think a 16 page booklet and I was thinking that maybe I would get that. 

Well I stared to think about what made me think that and I remembered being a teenager and listening to records. But it was more than that, much more. You see when I was a teenager – way back before cds – we used to wait in anticipation of an album release. And understand that I was no top 40 guy.  my friends and I were exclusively album rock station guys. We listened to the cool underground FM station not AM top 40. And I know what you are thinking. You are saying Charlie we wait anxiously for the new releases so what is the big deal between listening on a cd or vinyl. Well that is not the point. 

ain’t been home since Friday night

and now my wife, is coming after me’ 

You see my friends and I would be waiting for that new Allman Brothers or Zepplin album to hit the store. And when it did we would go and get it and have an imprompt to listening party. Man, I can remember sitting in a basement or somebody’s bedroom and you would take that album out of the cover and put it on the turntable. You’d hear that needle hit the vinyl with the slight pops and cracks that come with it and then the music would start. And you were just hoping that it was going to be great. And everybody sat around looking at the album cover together and reading all the stuff there. Dissecting the artwork on the album to find anything cool or different. (Does anybody remember ‘Twiggs on the wall”?) 

And side one would finish and you would flip it over listen to the rest together. Throwing out critiques and comments about the songs, the artwork, the liner notes whatever. But what is important to understand is that this was a communal event. We had audio stimulation and visual stimulation with the album cover and even an insert if you were lucky. And you did together as a community of people who wanted to experience this together. 

Well as I was reading about the U2 vinyl album all of these thoughts came back to me. There was something special about an album release and you wanted to be there. And you wanted the band to take you on a journey with the record and when they did it was an awesome thing.  

‘… gonna buy a fast car put on my lead boots

and take a long, long ride’


But today is a lot different. People get a cd or more likely download it from somewhere and listen at random times. And most people put the stuff on their iPod or iPhone and then listen on shuffle play. Now don’t get me wrong, shuffle play is a great thing but it completely changes an album. I mean can you imagine listening to side 2 of The Beatles Abbey Road or the Sgt. Pepper album on shuffle play. Or the ‘dark side of the moon’ or ‘who’s next’ or … well the list goes on but you get the idea. You know I can’t hear the Who’s “Love ain’t for keeping” end and not have my mind go immediately to the first chords and lines of “My Wife”. That is how it was with vinyl. It wasn’t easy to listen out of order. 

‘I may end up spending all my money

but I’ll still be alive’ 

But not anymore.  We download individual songs. We skip the ones we don’t like. We shuffle play all of our songs or a genre or an artist and while this can be great it completely changes the experience.  

You see I think the great albums, the ones we remember for years, are ones the artist put together in a particular way for a reason. They were taking you on a journey and that is one reason the album resonated with you. You understood the journey. You experienced the journey. So today’s cd environment takes that away from the artist. We now have a bunch of stand alone songs. But all is not lost. 

You see where we are going to make a living now is with the live show. People listen to your cds and want to come and see you live. You can’t illegally download that experience. And you want people to believe this because that is where you will make your living; with the live performance. And live I can recreate the journey again. I can take the audience someplace. I can do what those old vinyl records required people to do.  

So as a musicians we now need to really think about the live show. We can’t just throw songs together on a set list randomly. Well we can but we are missing an opportunity. If playing live is the key to our careers then we really need to think about where the show is going.  Make it an adventure with a starting point and an ending point. And make sure the audience thinks that they have had a journey that they can only get by seeing you live.  Live they can’t skip a song or put you on shuffle play. No, at the live show you get to decide where you are going and that is what you really need to start thinking about.  

Do you just want to randomly play your music or do you want to go somewhere. Quite honestly it is much easier to randomly select songs to play,  but if you put in the work to take the audience somewhere… well that is a show that will be remembered and will keep people coming back. And that is what you want.  

So while things may be changing in ways we never imagined, if you are willing to use some effort there is a way to make this work to your advantage. Don’t give up, or pine away for the old days but instead face the new world head on and figure out how to use it to your advantage. Because if you can do that, then you greatly increase your chances of succeeding in this new market.  

The Who “My Wife” from Who’s Next


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