I had lunch with two long time pals yesterday and we discussed everything from New Orleans to the New York Yankees to The Beatles and back. One thing leading to another, as it always does, and the new record by Rita Coolidge was brought up. One friend said, "Who is that record for? I mean, how many fans does Rita Coolidge have, total, like 3,000 maybe?" It was an interesting question and what felt like a totally random number of worldwide fans. The same friend posited, "Is there another artist other than Billy Joel, who chose to stop recording, while arguably still at the very top of it all?" Was my friend implying Coolidge should not have bothered making a record?
The conversation got out of hand very quickly, as the three of us tried to make as many points and give as many examples as we could in the time it took our chicken with eggplant lunch special to be ordered and then eaten and paid for.
Later that day, someone posted this question on Facebook,"Which artist died before reaching his potential?" My immediate answer was Neil Young, but others took a more conventional approach, citing the obvious like Kurt Cobain, Buddy Holly, etc.. The thread must have about 600 comments by now, but I gave up paying attention as soon as I realized no one found my Neil Young comment amusing.
One last thing, I mentioned yesterday how I had just read something in Billboard online, showing a graph that streaming has become the top way to listen to music and that among vinyl, tapes, CDs and downloads, downloads had the shortest shelf life of eight years, as the go-to choice for music.
Now that this table has been set, here's what interests me:
If no one is buying CDs or downloads anymore, and vinyl, though very trendy, is still only a very small piece of the sales puzzle, and touring and merch tables have become the meat and potatoes for an artist, how do the Rita Coolidges make any money? Where are they headlining? 150-200 seaters? A club or cafe? And if these bottom level artists sell out a 200 seater, how many of those attending are buying a new CD after the show?
As for Billy Joel realizing that making records would not be as lucrative as a monthly slot at MSG, well, I still can't think of another artist of his stature that just stopped recording altogether. And while I have made it very clear here a number of times before, how I feel about Neil Young and what is now about a 30% to 70% ratio of good records versus bad, I would still rather have more Neil records down the road, just in case he does have another ""After The Gold Rush" in him.
There's a lot to discuss here, but we don't have to do it in a lunch hour.