Well into the run of Seinfeld (8th season) there was an episode that is probably more memorable for the Elaine’s rather exotic dance moves but which includes a subplot of Jerry becoming a movie bootlegger, making a video, at Kramer’s and his friend’s Brody’s insistence (Brody happens to have a gun), of Death Blow. Brody sells the tapes on the streets. Jerry has quite a knack for the genre, as Brody tells him: “I’ve never seen such beautiful work. You’re a genius. The zoom-ins, the framing. I was enchanted.”
(This digression can be skipped. Consider: The director of Death Blow created a finished product, having worked with a director of cinematography. All of the zoom-ins, framing, pans, long shots, over the shoulder, etc. A finished product. Yet Jerry takes that work and applies his own craft to it. This isn’t a case of sampling, as it is the entire work that is still being presented, albeit in modified form. It isn’t an annotation because nothing, except for selection, is being added. It isn’t analogous to Danger Mouse’s The Grey Album because there isn’t actual reimagining of Death Blow, but simply a change of point of view. So what is the Seinfeldian version of Death Blow? As Brody is something of a savvy street hustler (remember the gun), he clearly knows what the market is interested in, so the Seinfeld cut of Death Blow evidently has something that the original lacks.)
Long before there was digital file sharing of music there were physical bootlegs. While there were an array of vinyl products, making records requires a pressing plant, and while back in the 1960s and ‘70s there were more of them around, it was still something of a feat, although owners of pressing plants knew that the capital equipment they had wasn’t making them money unless they were pressing vinyl, so there were opportunities for the audio Brodys. The development of cassettes facilitated the creation and distribution of bootlegs in the same way that the ungainly video camera that Jerry wielded did for bootleg videos.
But now, with the exception of those who are collectors, the physical media bootlegging has waned and given the vast catalogs of streaming services, so, too, has the digital.
Touring has come back. Sort of.
While there is arguably massive pent-up demand among audiences who have had limited access to live performances due to COVID, or who had decided to postpone their attendance at available shows due to concerns about contracting the virus; while musicians who need to get in front of audiences in order to move everything from their music to their merch. . .it seems as though what would seem to be the case simply isn’t.
The houses aren’t packed like they might be. And an increasing number of musicians have determined that for their physical and financial health, touring isn’t what it once was.
Although it would seem that COVID is pretty much a thing of the past, according to a recent story in the Financial Times (which gives you a sense of how much money touring represents: the FT wouldn’t cover it unless it had fiduciary implications for some of its readers):
“musicians have returned from hibernation to a much more precarious landscape. Coronavirus still poses a threat, at least financially, and inflation has sent the prices of everything from flights to snacks and gasoline soaring. Insurers cover tours for disruption from illnesses such as the flu, but do not compensate for unforeseen expenses because of coronavirus.”
Writer Anna Nicolaou goes on to quote Bill Zysblat, who managed tours for a variety of acts this year, including the Rolling Stones, who had to postpone a show in Amsterdam because Mick got sick: “If one of our stadium acts loses a show, that can be a $3-million, $4-million, $5-million hit in expenses, because of everything from stadium rentals, to having flown in and spent five days constructing the set, to ticket refunds.”
Of course, that’s the Stones. But consider the hundreds of people associated with a given show—from guitar wranglers to the people who sweep the floors of the venue after the event is over—who can be affected.
And let’s take this down to the acts who are more or less DIY, having to take responsibility for promotion, flights, vans, food, gas, lodging and all manner of other miscellaneous things.
As is well known, the costs for all of those things are going up and so the accounting for touring becomes quite a feat. And while a case of COVID isn’t going to cost in the millions for an act that is booked at your local club, odds are the financial effect on the members of that band can be devastating. One day you’re a touring musician. The next day you’re wondering whether that high school shop class would make you qualified to get a job in that tool and die shop with the big sign that says its hiring.
Make no mistake, things are bad and not likely to become good anytime soon.
Let’s put this into simple context. Say there’s a band big enough to have a tour bus rather than a beat-up white Chevy Astro van purchased from a farmer who used to use it as a means to haul meat to a farmer’s market.
A tour bus gets, at best, an average of six miles per gallon.
Six. Miles. Per Gallon.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, as of October 3, the average price of a gallon of diesel in the U.S. was $4.84.
The distance between Detroit and Chicago is 283 miles. So the price of fuel would be $228.45. Perhaps not earth shattering, but if an act has a door split with the promoter at 50% and tickets are $25, this means that there needs to be 18 people just to pay for the diesel—throw in tolls and parking, and you’re looking at a situation wherein there needs to be a good part of the house just to get there.
And then there are things like food and drink. And guitar strings snap and equipment at some venues gets “lost.”
It adds up.
And for the bigger acts there is conceivably another problem, one that brings us back to Death Blow.
Last week 108 organizations sent a letter to the European Commission, Politico reported, proposing a law that would immediately block and remove illegal livestreams. While the signatories were primarily associated with sports organizations and broadcasters, “national associations for live performers” were also party to the letter.
The letter reads, in part “Piracy has [drained] and continues to drain Europe’s creative and cultural ecosystems, sports and live performance sectors depriving workers and industries [of] billions in annual revenues.”
While this isn’t something that has just happened, there is already an effort being made wherein the European Parliament wants illegal livestreams to be addressed within 30 minutes of going up, there is concern that as inflation bites into the EU consumer—know that the inflation rate in the EU is 10% and it is 8.26% in the U.S.—there is a greater likelihood that said consumer will go for a less-than-official source for watching events, be it a football game or a Rammstein concert, which will reduce revenue for the official organizations.
Mark Lichtenhein, chairman of the Sports Rights Owners Coalition, told Politico, “Who’s going to keep investing in better production, better content if it’s just being stolen by pirates without any consequences?”
One wonders: is it possible that some contemporary Seinfeld might take the production as presented and make it better, more enchanting?