I went to see Rancid at the Academy the other night. They were great, in case you were interested. I suspect it's slightly more likely that you've never heard of them, which is a great shame - but it doesn't seem to hold them back. For the uninitiated they're an American punk band formed in San Francisco in 1991 who've released six albums and never really troubled the UK chart much. To quantify this statement I should note that their biggest album hit in this country was in 2003 and reached 29 on the chart.
On that basis and your relative and understandable lack of knowledge of them, you'd probably wonder how they manage to successfully tour the UK, playing 13 nights in Academy-sized (2k) venues. Is this further evidence that the live music industry is thriving while recorded music goes down the pan?
Maybe it is, but more fundamental to their 'success' is probably the fact that they understand their fanbase and they're consistent - they don't deviate and they've never really compromised their art for commercial purposes.
The major sea-change in the music industry over the last five to ten years has been that acts can have a more direct relationship with their fans than ever before. They can communicate with them through websites they own themselves or blogs and e-mails that they write themselves. They have, to an extent, cut out the middle-men and profiteers and subsequently they can more easily turn their art into a direct lower-cost sell, they also receive direct feedback more instantly.
Clearly the 'bigger' the act becomes the harder it is to achieve this, one-to-one communication is the first sacrifice, but they can still be seen to have a more direct relationship than ever before - and this alone will be the key to success for more and more acts in future.
I've read a lot lately about how commercial brands (not bands!) need to be more in touch with what their customers want, but it's very hard to achieve. Your washing powder may be used by millions of people, but do they really want to talk to you about it? I doubt it; they have better things to do with their time.
This is where the music industry has a 'head-start' on the commercial world, a lot of people define themselves by their musical tastes and would be only to keen to develop a 'relationship' with their favourite artistes. It has kudos and a sheen of celebrity attached - but not too much because the latter instance is why a lot of new bands fail.
Artists are too ready to seek the instant fame and revenue potential that they think is attached to having a big record deal. The big deals are all gone of course, a thing of the past, and whilst I can see that there's a benefit to having someone else pick up the bills it isn't the only route to market. These days you're likely to have more success in music by having ideals and demonstrating them clearly - by being principled and sticking to them.
Rancid, and their ilk, haven't all gone the Radiohead route of 'choose what you pay' downloads, but they all maintain a healthy fan-base by upholding their punk principles. The original onset of punk opened the doors for a lot of initiative - independent record labels, promoters and the like. It was refreshing to see on Tuesday that even old punks can still blaze the trail, they can still make it happen and still find an audience. They can even teach the new boys a few tricks - keep it real.
4 days ago