The Long Tail of Live Performance

By John Voorhees - February 13, 2014


10 years ago, WIRED magazine's Chris Anderson presented a theory about the dynamics of online economics that took web theorists and businessmen by storm. The basic principle of The Long Tail (as it was called) is that our buying habits are changing because we are no longer bound by the limited options at brick and mortar stores. It's a real struggle for an aspiring author to get a copy of her work into a chain bookstore like Barnes & Noble because there are only so many spaces available on those shelves. Decisions must be made about what "makes the cut", and the majority of novels written in a given week simply don't have a prayer of squeezing through. Amazon, on the other hand, has unlimited virtual "shelf space" and they will basically let anyone sell anything through their system. A sizable chunk of the revenue for Amazon and other "infinite" online stores comes from people buying weird obscure little things. It's an important part of the business model. Netflix also works this way, offering many more niche titles in their streaming and DVD libraries than your local Blockbuster ever could have competed with. Likewise, through their seemingly endless catalogs, iTunes and Spotify have almost eliminated physical record stores.

Not everything about the culture business has changed or will change because of this pattern. A hit is still a hit, and big companies can still count on big figures from well-known bands and performers who can leverage the high-priced promotion system to make sure everybody knows about their latest work. But new money and attention has started to flow to lesser-known and even downright obscure artists. Bit by bit, the data shows an increasing percentage of sales going to these "long tail" items over the past decade, as predicted by Anderson's model. There's no guarantee of making a living from self-publishing your great American novel, but at least your book can be available worldwide to anyone who's interested. Indeed, this is the path that was taken by EL James' infamous erotic novel, Fifty Shades of Gray, which started its existence as Twilight fan fiction and ultimaely became the fastest selling paperback of all time, with a major motion picture trilogy on the way. Combine that potential with user ratings, reviews and a good recommendation engine, and the chances for an indie artist to reach an audience has dramatically improved. It's possible to create a dedicated fan base to support your work, even if you never even approach what any reasonable person would describe as "fame".

I propose that Concert Window and similar sites have unlocked the Long Tail of live performance.

While there are certainly a lot of "real world" venues available for musicians to show their stuff to the world, there is a very finite amount of performance "shelf space" available. Each venue only has so many hours available to be booked on a given night. Decisions have to be made, generally based on who can put butts in the seats, who can sell more drinks or donuts. Many fantastic players suffer from lack of performing opportunities because they live in the wrong city and/or their style will clash with (or won't carry over) a talkative bar crowd. But just about anyone can play a laptop show. No worries about noisy venues or travel time, just play and get paid!

Concert Window is also terrific for fans looking to explore the Long Tail of performers they would never have experienced otherwise. It's a startling experience to be able to listen in at great venues like Caffe Lena and Club Passim one hour, then drop down into someone's apartment for an intimate laptop show the next. The experience truly sells itself. I expect that sometime soon there will be a tipping point of awareness for the Concert Window system, and it may become the online equivalent of a cool neighborhood full of clubs, with great tunes coming from every open doorway. Like the Marigny in New Orleans. A virtual cultural hotspot featuring players from all over the world performing day or night.

Now that's a future I can get behind. Best wishes and many thanks to the visionaries at Concert Window!

Learn more about John Voorhees and see his upcoming webcasts

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