Free MP3 Downloads and The Curbing of Touring Bands

You know what I mean by all of this. Sit and think about it for a moment: you sat on the couch up late one night, watching E! or a similar channel, and wondering how it was that bands with such huge cult followings have all seemed to disappear. (You were watching that documentary on the Grateful Dead-weren’t you?)

Or maybe you’re in the boat with those who still do follow some band or other-but we’ll talk about you in a moment. See, free mp3 downloads have changed the cult approach to bands and how much people follow them.

Think about how expensive it is for bands to tour without a major label and the entire weight of the music business machine footing the bill. Let’s think about how that reflects in everything else: how expensive have concert tickets become for consumers? It’s kind of ridiculous, all made so by free mp3 downloads. It’s especially ridiculous in the concert scene when you realize you can get most of the highlights on YouTube for next to nothing. Gone are the days of arriving to the show days early to park your VW bus, camp out, hook up and tune out. Arrived are the days of downloading everything fast and furiously, free mp3 downloads blotting out every other option.

Let’s talk specifics. For bands like Phish, Grateful Dead, Blues Traveler, and others, the Internet doesn’t make in-person attendance a requirement to be part of the scene. Blogs and RSS feeds let people climb right on the bandwagon without anybody standing on top to toss of the freeloaders. As a result, there is less of a communal vibe in general because of these artificial and virtual communities. Newer music fans aren’t as concerned about virtuoso music performances-they don’t care if musicians even actually PLAY instruments at all-and, in fact, parody is fine, too.

Free mp3 downloads and other new technology have brought a lot of this about. Let’s take, for example, the fact that anybody with a webcam and a Casio can be an Internet rock star-I’m thinking of that band (maybe called GO! . . . ?) who made that video that had all of the band members singing the song on treadmills doing a hilarious routine (all extremely well-executed), choreographed by the lead singer’s sister. The lead singer’s sister! Not even a band member-but she was like captain of her high school drill team or something. Next thing you knew, they were on the Daily Show and the Colbert Report. Now, granted, it was actually a really cute song and the video did basically rock-but it was the visuals that literally sold the band.