My aversion to commerce in all its ugly buy-this-otherwise-you’ll-feel-subtley-inadequate/uncool/emotionally-empty manifestations means that I have the odd conflicted moment concerning gig-going. Yep, conflicted.
Hearing a band member announce “We’ve got t-shirts and CDs for sale at the back” is … tolerable. Just. (Though couldn’t we be trusted to find the merch table ourselves if we’re the buy-stuff-at-gigs type?). But hearing performers shamelessly hawking their goods two or three times during a set is overkill. It’s like being in a retail outlet rather than a music venue (the two come together in “in-stores”, a dog-eared promotional device so crushingly obvious I almost don’t resent them).
But bands just don’t seem to hear how crass their sales pitches sound. Every time they plug their MySpace or next gig - never mind their crappy t-shirts - they come across like the sales-orientated dullards that … well, that they probably aren’t, judging by the quality of their music (sometimes). But it invariably brings the music down a notch or two. Pace Warhol, since when was selling artistic?
Again, MySpace. What band in existence thinks an audience needs to be told about a MySpace site to go and find it? (Such a high estimation of their audience’s initiative). If I was a member of one of the smaller bands on the “indie” circuit I think I’d leave treating people like consumerist drones to the cash-monster bands that play the 1,200-person auditoria and the festivals. Then again, that’s where some of them are heading so perhaps they’re gearing up early…
OK, it’s bit of a conundrum for a band. They’ve got a few dozen people in front of them (if they’re lucky!) who might well buy their new CD single there and then. Why not tell them? Hmm. Some bands try to be cunning. The Bobby McGees used to have a nice comedy line about how they had “Some CDs for sale at the back …. [comedy pause] … a Sheena Easton one, that’s 50 pence, an Arctic Monkeys one, you can have that for nothing …”.
In the end, I say: no sale! The excellent New York-based indie-folk singer Turner Cody has this about right. One time I went to see him in Brooklyn and had been asked by a London friend to go over to him and ask if he had any CDs that I could buy on behalf of said friend. He did: just. He rummaged around in his coat and found two, which I bought, much to his bafflement. He seemed convinced that I’d travelled 5,500 kilometres to see him in a small bar to buy some CDs in person. Another time I saw Cody at a different New York venue where the MC would hustle up some crowd commerce by asking performers on the house mic what they had for sale. “Hey Turner, ya got any CDs tonight?” “Er, no, not tonight.” “Nothing at all?” “Not tonight.”