What can we learn from bands reforming?

Wherever you turn at the moment, it seems that old bands are reforming and recording new material and/or touring again.  Often, they cite the reason behind this as “we’re doing it for the fans”- but is this really the case?

A few years ago, bands made their money through record sales and radio play.  Fast forward to the digital age, and things are very different.  Downloads pay little, or nothing to the artist, and so bands who once relied on physical album sales are forced to reconsider their approach and come up with new ideas to keep their music selling.  Most bands now will try desperately to plug their merchandise as one revenue stream, but for the older bands, that’s just not possible.  Gone are the dreams of retiring to the countryside and living off the royalties forever, instead bands of the vinyl age are having to make very drastic moves.

There are a plethora of old bands reforming at the moment, and many of these were bands who either split for good and/or vowed never to make any more music together.  When they pop back up into the limelight, their claims are that ‘we’re doing it for the fans’, but it isn’t always as it seems.  “Downloads make little or no money now,” says one famous guitarist.  “Back in the 70s and 80s, albums and physical sales would make us a lot, but now this just isn’t the case.  Bands that say they’re reforming for the fans are lying – they need the money.”

Oasis – one band that will probably never reform

The prices for these comeback shows are often set extremely high, yet with the talk of these bands ‘only doing one tour’ or ‘come and see us one final time’, the tickets sell like hotcakes.  These bands play on the nostalgic value of seeing them again, and with most of their fans now being older, they will pay more to see their favourite band from their younger days (who wouldn’t?).  However, these one-off shows usually become worldwide tours, and then new/repackaged albums appear for sale, not to mention the positive effect that being back in the limelight has on download sales.  Their reasons may not be quite as selfless as ‘for the fans’ but for the sake of living the lifestyle they’ve become accustomed to since making the big time, and who can blame them?  The music industry has been a hard place to make money since the introduction of digital music, so touring and pushing limited edition/repackaged material is the only logical way of maximising the money-making potential of reforming.  It is also likely to be the reason why vinyl sales have finally topped 1 million for the first time since 1997, with bands such as Pink Floyd and Status Quo re-releasing LPs, as well as bands such as Arctic Monkeys realising the potential to increase revenue this way.

The fact that bands of the past are now forcing the record industry to rethink strategies can only be a good thing.  Real musicians deserve more than having to release music for free, or to stream it online then make it available for download only.  Bands who were big when vinyl and cassettes were around made big money from record sales, and this continued with the introduction of CDs.  Money is always going to be the aim, regardless of how much musicians may claim it isn’t a motivating factor in their job, and it’s sadly harder to come by in today’s music industry.  We can only hope that people start to take note of this small uprising and hand back some dignity to an industry that has become infiltrated with ‘artists’ who know how to play the commercial game.

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