There’s no skip button at The Scala: the importance of concerts in a new era of listening habits

Amon Tobin at Fonda Theatre, Hollywood

There has been much debate about how we no longer listen to music properly. With the dis-jointed experience of 30 second previews, individual album tracks available at the touch of a button, the dreaded shuffle function and a long succession of un-curated playlists, the traditional album is often no longer consumed as the artist intended.

Part of the argument is that we can pick and choose which songs we want to hear from a band and avoid the ones we don’t. Meaning we no longer buy complete albums and are quick to dismiss songs on an album that, if forced to listen to over and over again, we might come to understand and love.

What seems to lie at the heart of this hand-wringing is the concern that we are somehow losing out on an experience. If this is the case then it seems only right that artists no longer look to just albums to control how their music is consumed, instead they (and we) look to their concerts.

You’d have to have been living under a rock recently to not have had at least one person tell you how amazing the Watch The Throne tour was. And the most common phrase attached to it appears to have been “experience”. Very few reviews mention the songs themselves (except of-course the replaying of N****s In Paris back to back – see below). Instead most reviews fixated on the spectacle and the atmosphere. And there was no skip button during the 3-hour long set for fans to hit.

It’s not totally a new thing though, mainstay ‘live’ bands have been making their names (and their wages) for years by touring and presenting an experience way better than a start-to-finish record. Just ask anyone who went to see the recent Sunn O))) tour or has ever been to an Amon Tobin or 65daysofstatic gig.

Bringing your music to the stage as an artist, gives so much control outside of the set list. And even there the audience doesn’t always have to get what they were expecting in order for it to be an unforgettable experience. Atlas Sound’s recent hour-long trip into cover territory was blasted by the blogs but described by fans as “one of the best live experiences I’ve ever had”.

And of course, live music is now no longer only for those willing to step outside their front door. Channels such as MTV with their blockbuster ‘Unplugged’ sessions bring the full live music experience to our living rooms, allowing you to hear the music as the artist intended. And increasingly we are seeing musicians taking advantage of the free tools around them and setting up their own live-streaming channels. Keaton Henson, for example, created his own series ‘Forts’ where he live-streamed performances from home-made forts, creating a sense of live intimacy but also totally shaping the way in which his music was consumed and interpreted in just as an effective way as a ‘start-to-finish’.

At the end of the day, we might be consuming music differently, but that doesn’t mean that an artist has any less scope to create ‘an experience’ for us. It’s just that now it’s even more important to buy the ticket to their show as well as purchasing the album.


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