Studying Live Music

(NOTE: I found this post when perusing a folder of posts, so I don’t know what inspired me to write it. Not that it should matter, but I thought it might be relevant to me if I stumble on this post online)

I’m pretty sure I’ve said it before, but when I go to shows it ends up being more like a lecture than simple entertainment. No matter what band I’m watching, my mind wanders towards what they are doing right that has moved others deeply. How are they helping people enjoy the music live?

When I say “lecture” I don’t want to imply it is something sterile or boring. When I was in school for my history degree I took some classes that had graduate level parrellels. For example, the grad students would have a much heavier load in terms of papers and readings. Those grad students at lectures were deeply engaged. They would listen intently, writing organized notes and write down questions they planned on asking about or researching later. The lectures that would sometimes put me to sleep were enthralling to the grad students who had dedicated their life to study. When I say “lecture” I mean in this graduate experience sense where it is no longer a learning requirement, but enjoyment.

It can be especially interesting to see a live band who comes from a non-mainstream subculture. The big band in the little pond so to speak. Bands like this end up teaching both their own music and performance as well as what the scene is really about. Sometimes it also sheds light on why the subculture doesn’t break out on the mainstream, while other times it becomes clear why it might break out in the future.

I remember hearing a quote from Bowie saying that he could look at a band playing live and know immdiately if they could make it. That is a pretty bold statement, but I believe he is right. When he originally said it, making it probably meant finding some success with a major label deal. I’d argue that today “making it” is a little more subtle and revolves around finding an audience rather than something concrete such as finding a label. Sometimes a band needs to find that subculture and genre that can and will support them, even if it means they are not likely to play stadiums. Other times it might be best to just stop worrying and play what the people want to hear. No matter what kind of band it is, there are always interesting things to learn.