"no commitment" will end up meaning exactly that.
The musician Santi White, who performs as Santigold, recently announced that she was canceling her tour via a long post that outlined reasons that won’t surprise anyone who’s been paying attention. She’s not the first artist to cancel a tour this year and she won’t be the last, but something about her clear and direct communication resonated more loudly than other similar missives. Santigold spoke with Althea Legaspi for Rolling Stone this week and this was the paragraph that hit me in the pit of my stomach:
And there has been this thing with entertainers, where people sometimes feel like they’re owed something: I turn on the faucet, there’s water; I flick a switch, and there’s light; and I press a button, and there’s music.
Actually, somebody’s making this music, and they have to survive making this music. It’s not a fucking utility. I think our culture has just devalued music so much, where it’s like, the way that people hear music is like, “Oh, it’s background.” It’s background to the show, it’s background to the movie. It’s this little background to the TikTok crazy performance. The way that people think about music has changed, and it’s not in a good way. So, I’d like to get people to start thinking about that because that’s important.
There’s an essay that I’ve tried to write over the last, I dunno, 10 years or so, about people who go to a concert and talk through it like they’re in a bar or at home hanging out on the deck. I never finish it because I kept feeling like it was a lot of “old man yells at cloud” and also that it wasn’t going to change anything or make any difference. But it got to the point where the anticipation of this circumstance drastically changed my concert-going behavior. For club shows, where this is probably the worst because of the proximity of the bar to the stage, I decided that if I didn’t care enough about the artist to get to the venue before or at doors, I wouldn’t go.
The logic behind this decision was simple: anyone who got there that early was there to actually see the show (as opposed to it just being the background to the rest of their evening) and even if there were talkers, the combination of proximity to the amps and monitors combined with the PA meant that their chat would mostly get drowned out. Mostly. Not entirely. These were the people who showed up two minutes before showtime and forced themselves down front either because they could or because it made them feel like a badass or just for the clout of taking a good photo and then they could brag about how close they were.
This worked, again, mostly in clubs or GA shows. For theaters or arenas, I had to just hope and pray that I wouldn’t get someone near you who just happened to pick Billy Joel or Bryan Ferry or Bruce Springsteen as the location of their social activity that evening. You can never ever ask these people to please keep it down or go to the bar or even just maybe not talk during the opening song or the song he’s never played or the ballad they don’t know so they’re bored and they’re going to use “Racing In The Street” as the time to have a loud and lengthy conversation. They are always drinking, which impacts their hearing and volume. They are always drinking, so what seems like a polite request - could you just keep it down for this one song, it’s my favorite - is treated like the greatest personal affront they have ever experienced, and they will get louder or accidently push into you when they go in and out of the aisle for beer or try to report you to the ushers because you are standing up, or lose their footing and spill beer on you, either accidentally or on purpose.
So my essays about this never made it out of draft states because it just felt like a rant with no point. None of these people would read my words and change their behavior. I also felt like if I couldn’t discern why there were so many people who thought it was normal and acceptable to spend hundreds of dollars to go to a concert and then not listen to it that there was no point to writing it. These people would never change. I am right because it has just gotten exponentially worse, and one of my greatest post-pandemic fears is how much worse this behavior will get, because I am reasonably sure that the Venn diagram of the people who behave with such entitlement at concerts are the same as the people who complained about masks or not getting cheese with their fajitas or having to wait 30 seconds extra to get their Pumpkin Spice Latte because Starbucks is short-handed (they are all short-handed, every restaurant on planet earth is short-handed) is a circle.
In 2017, Trent Reznor talked to David Marchese in a great interview that dissects in vivid detail the modern landscape for musicians. I’ve saved this interview and continually go back to it because at one point Reznor comments, “I labor over music that I meticulously create and then release it into a world where music has become disposable. People listen to music while they’re doing something else, you know? The act of even having to go to the store and make the commitment to purchase something is gone and it’s not coming back.” This very accurate statement describes the reason we are now in a situation where musicians can’t afford to tour. This statement is part of why people go to concerts and talk through the whole fucking thing without regard for the people around them or even for the artist. They don’t respect the work because they don’t have to respect the work. They just have to have enough money to buy a ticket.
This is why some people are so fucking mad that artists are cancelling tours.
One day I opened up iTunes because I needed to put some new music on my phone, and I was greeted with this graphic advertising Apple Music:
"no commitment" what does this even MEAN
How much can you possibly value a thing you are not paying for?
In the Reznor interview, he talks about his various experiments with different models for selling music over the years. Reznor was famously opposed to the music industry’s stance against file sharing. “The thing is, artists were trained in the 2000s to feel like, “Well, if you’re a fan, you won’t listen to stolen music.” That’s bullshit. You should be grateful that someone’s interested enough in what you’re doing that they’ll go to the trouble of stealing it.” But when he tried an experiment to see who would download and who would then pay for the music, he found out that only 20% of the 30,000 people who downloaded paid for it.
As a fan who possesses literally thousands of unauthorized live recordings and leaked demos or rough mixes, I will tell you that my opinion was, and still is, that someone who downloaded your album for free was never going to buy it. We’re seeing this now, even, that having access to every moment of recorded music history does not mean that people are taking advantage of it. I remember being in my 20s and not being able to afford 43710947 different records and thinking that I would know I was successful when my music collection was diverse enough that I could listen to any song I thought about because I owned a copy of the record.
Can this be fixed? Probably not, because of capitalism. Live shows these days are not just about buying a ticket to a show, it’s about how much more money Live Nation can get out of you while you are there. You buy a ticket and get upsold an add-on for early entry, so now you can’t even be sure that you’re going to get your spot if you get there early. Even if you buy early entry, you’re probably going to get beaten out by the people who bought whatever level of VIP available (and I don’t even hate that because I assume that the artist is getting most of that, but probably not all of it). You get upsold for coat check, upsold for a place to sit, upsold for a better place to sit, upsold for a bottomless soda like you are on a cruise ship. You will pay $40 to park in a lot that costs $5 when there aren’t concerts, you have to buy a specially sized purse if you are a woman and need something to carry your wallet and housekeys and tampons in, you might need to pay to rent a locker at the venue if security decides your bag is too big (and you’re lucky if there’s a locker and you don’t have to throw your stuff out because you live in a city and you didn’t drive to the show), you are overpaying for drinks and for water and any kind of food at all, you’re going to be treated like a suspected criminal by every person working security and then you’re going to have a bunch of techbros behind you talking all fucking night.
But surely, you say, surely it is worth it for the chance for one of those life-affirming moments that you can only get from live music?
p.s. I kind of feel like maybe Bruce knows all of this and there’s no point in trying to fight it so just charge whatever money and play in front of the fat cats. I don’t think that’s out of the realm of possibility.
OTHER THINGS I THINK YOU SHOULD READ:
This essay by my Twitter friend Niko "this Canadian broad" Stratis is about recovery and about Warren Zevon but it is about a lot of other things and is probably the best thing I have read this year: I Believe This Hotel Will Be Standing, Until I Pay My Bill
I have not done enough to hype my friend Marissa Moss' book Her Country: How the Women of Country Music Became the Success They Were Never Supposed to Be because (ashamedly) I have not managed to read it yet despite packing it to take with me on trips at least half a dozen times. Many, many people smarter than me have read the book and think the world of it, so please check it out and perhaps consider it when it comes time to purchase seasonal gifts!
THIS IS A PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT (with guitar)
Please do not skip the midterm elections. You can take 10-15 minutes to sit and google the judges and representatives and school board candidates and see who you need to vote for. Do not skip this! You are not too busy / too important / so edgy you don't vote. This is not the only solution to this problem but right now it is a thing all people of good conscience need to do.
p.s. also DONATE TO YOUR LOCAL ABORTION FUND. If you don't know or don't have time: National Network of Abortion Funds