[Harp-L] Re: death of live music?

Live music at the local club level can be approached a number of ways. Taking the high road, and playing what YOU like, is the hard way that is musically more enjoyable and fulfilling but financially much more tough. I don't play music to make money, I have always had a day job (currently Assistant Principal at a public High School - I just played harp in our school's talent show Friday evening) for the money and health care it provides me and my family. 
The most enjoyable thing I do musically is play in the house band at a Thursday night blues jam that includes David Bromberg. I don't get paid a cent, but I get to play music that I love with some great musicians for folks that come to hear the music we play. It stretches my playing and listening and interacting abilities. You never know who may sit in. Last Thursday a guy came in, opened his guitar case, took out a real 1959 Strat, and played a Monk tune.
I also play in a local blues / bar band that is run and managed by our guitar player. This 4 piece band over the last 6 or so years has averaged about 50 -60 gigs a year (mostly bars with some festivals and private parties thrown in) where on the average gig each player takes home $100. Lately I think this band could go in two directions to be even more successful: 1.) Play more familiar, non blues tunes (Stones, Buffet, R&B, oldies) or 2.) play lower volume, earlier (7-10pm) gigs in slightly different venues.
Direction #1 doesn't really appeal to me as a blues harp player because even though I like that type of music, I don't love it and feel it like the blues. Heck, I felt guilty that the song we played at a recent gig that got the biggest reaction (six 20-somethings girls dancing on the bar at the Blue Parrot) was Sweet Home Alabama. OK, I *ENJOYED* watching the dancing, don't get me wrong. Sure, if I wanted to approach music from a marketing perspective, I'd find a niche and form a  band that did party music (Buffet, R&B, Stones, a pinch of reggae & various oldies covers) and get restaurant/deck, private party, wedding and corporate gigs. 
Direction #2 is one I am seriously considering as my hearing is in danger in my present band. Even though I can't convince our guitar player/leader (and hey, he books the gigs and its his band), I'm convinced that appropriate (lower) volume is a key factor in getting and keeping patrons in a bar type venue. Let's face it, people in a bar/restaurant type venue want to hear music but also want to be able to converse with other people. What I'd like to do is put together a small 4 piece combo (swing drummer with a small kit and brushes in his hands on at least 50% of the tunes, upright bass, me on vocals & harp through a Champ sized amp, and a guitar player using nothing larger than a Tweed Vibrolux and no Tube Screamer pedal). We could even do an acoustic 1st set through dinner hour. My PA would be a Bose L1 just for vocals. 
Overall, I do see a trend towards karaokee and DJs and away from live bands of all types. I could be wrong, but I think a big part of this is that the youth market (the high school kids I see every day at work, on through college and through their 20s) has embraced Rap & Hip Hop in a big way as the dance music of choice. Live bands don't do Rap & Hip Hop covers very well (some Rap & Hip Hop really has no live musical instruments). A second part is economics - club owners don't have to pay a DJ as much as they might pay a band.
Nightlife has changed quite a bit since my teens and twenties. The drinking age was dropped to 18 for a few years (old enough to be drafted? - Old enough to drink) and there were no DUI checkpoints. Popular dance music included rock guys playing LesPauls through a Marshall stack or blues guys playing Strats through a Super Reverb. Then along came Disco and live music suffered badly for a few years, then  it came back. 
Overall, its all good. There is still a vibrant audience of blues music fans out there. I am glad to hear that some of the best players at this years International Blues Challenge were VERY young. 
I'm still having fun, but I'm keeping my day job.
Andy Vincent
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