Editorial: A Swan Song in Washtenaw County?

. April 28, 2017.
Despite more folks playing, and greater accessibility to recording, there are fewer venues
Despite more folks playing, and greater accessibility to recording, there are fewer venues

Current has been exploring, through a series by local music aficionado Jeff Milo, the changes to the makeup of Washtenaw County’s music scene, focusing on venues, performance spaces, and overall opportunities for bands and artists to reach an audience. Through that series, what came into a sharper focus were the changes and the loss of various live performance venues; a number of factors likely contributed to the current situation and these changes will definitely shape the entertainment and nightlife scene in Washtenaw County moving forward.

The ability for artists and musicians to record their work is more accessible than it was 20 or 30 years ago. Everyone today can record on a MacBook and the cost to reproduce the sound, with electronic streaming as opposed to vinyl pressing, has significantly diminished. The means to make your own music (i.e. albums, EPs), and release it on your own, online, is significantly more attainable, which fed a fount of local bands – a burgeoning scene of DIY musicians.

Yet despite more folks playing, and greater accessibility to recording, there are fewer venues. A brief look at Current’s June 2007 issue, from ten years ago, demonstrates that there are almost half the number of live music venues today in Washtenaw County than there were at that time. In this issue of Current, with comments and observations by local artists’ focusing on the announcement of the availability of the Blind Pig for sale, we take the opportunity to draw some observations, perhaps make a call for action, and offer some suggestions.

In a post social media age, it’s becoming apparent that more individuals are staying home and dropping out. Earbuds are prevalent, and overtaking “IRL” conversations, ousting the social activity of enjoying a beer while listening to live music.

Similar to the shift of film-viewing becoming a more solitary evening of entertainment in the time of Netflix and streaming, live music as entertainment seems to be moving that way as well.

The blunt fact is that, in Ann Arbor specifically, real estate values are appreciating; so a space like The Blind Pig potentially seems worth more as a high rise real estate development, or something similar, rather than a live-music venue.

The depletion of local live music venues, and the lack of ability for young/up-and-coming artists to gain that experience and that exposure lead to more conformity and more homogenization. Acts that once were local are now only deemed “successful” if they can engage an audience in a number of sizeable venues, regularly attracting a substantial fanbase. Live concerts in large venues are doing well, and garnering ticket prices that were heretofore unheard of. But the local music stage, for local acts to develop and ply their trade, is in jeopardy.

Those readers that can recall going to a live music show with a named national act for $10 or less, realize that those days are gone.

But that reality begs the question: How will national acts develop if we don’t start with local venues?’

While Washtenaw County still has a number of local music venues, they certainly seem to be diminishing. Names that have faded include the Firefly Club, T.C’s Speakeasy, the Elbow Room, and Woodruffs. When the quantity of shows diminishes, the ability for local musicians to test their mettle goes away…

We don’t want to end on a sour note, because there are certainly an abundance of talented, passionate, and truly creative musicians in our community. We’re just concerned that the writing may be on the wall… while at Current, we look forward to covering these developments as this phenomenon moves into the future.

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