Doing it Live and Making it Big

Jerry Lucky Commentary December 2007

Copyright Jerry Lucky © 2007 All Rights Reserved


From time to time various chat-rooms, blogs and newsgroup sites have speculated on whether bands performing in the progressive rock genre will ever

become as popular as the genre was back in the seventies. Now there’s always the possibility that could happen, but I’m inclined to think it won’t.

Let me tell why I think this way.


I had some buddies over the other day….once a month I host what I humorously call the “Victoria Progressive Rock Appreciation Society.” There’s only a few of us, who are prepared to “come out of the closet” so-to-speak and admit that we actually like progressive rock. Don, Christian, Mike you know who you are! It’s a chance to share new music, watch some new DVDs and basically talk about the changing state of progressive rock music.


One of the bands that we looked at was called Mutemath. Not so much a prog band but certainly one that has ties to an Art-Rock approach. Watching their live DVD it’s easy to imagine what it might have been like for Pink Floyd at the UFO club in London in the sixties. Not so much because of Mutemath’s style of music (although there were some similarities), but it was more their APPROACH to the music. I’d recommend them…But we started talking about the success the band was having. Up until a few months ago, this was a band my daughter had turned me onto and as far as I knew they had just a small following. She had their first EP and then I saw their full-length CD, so I picked that up for her….and then I saw a DVD and thought wow that’s pretty cool for a band of their stature. The real kicker was watching David Letterman one night recently and who’s the musical guest? Right…Mutemath. Now this is way cool. Turns out they’d already been on Jay Leno’s show and Jimmy Kimmel. These guys are really getting prime exposure. Now, to get to the point of this commentary. In mid-September they played here in Victoria BC at a small night club. After being on Letterman, Leno and Kimmel and who knows where else, they play a small club in Victoria.


But you know that’s what it takes to make it as a full-time band in the music business. Look at the history of bands in any genre…touring…playing live in front of people is what it took. There comes a point where you need to expose your music and performance to as many people as possible in a live setting. I’m not talking about going out on the road for a week or two, I’m talking about long term touring.


In the progressive rock genre there are many bands that are just as talented, just as skilled musically as a band like Mutemath. Perhaps even more so. And yet bands like Spock’s Beard, The Flower Kings or even IQ are no where near as mass-exposed as Mutemath even though Mutemath have only released one CD. It all comes down to choosing a different path. Two things come to mind.


Today the internet allows for product distribution in an unparalleled manner for independent artists. But the internet is not very invasive or pro-active. It’s kind of like the Yellow-Pages. It’s one of the most passive forms of getting your message out, because its sit’s on your shelf (or in the computer) until you decide to go looking through it. It doesn’t help promote you to anyone other than those who go looking for you. So yes you can now reach out into the whole world in a manner like never before, but people still have to find out about you somehow.


The other thing that has changed the face of the prog scene is the growing number of dedicated progressive rock festivals. These are wonderful opportunities to provide that valuable live exposure and experience. But the fact is this is like preaching to the converted. Virtually everyone there is a fan of some form of progressive music. That’s why it’s tough to grow the scene when the new fans are so few in number. It also explains why only 400 people show up to a wonderful Calprog event and yet that very night 4000 show up at a Mars Volta concert in the same town.


Now don’t get me wrong. I think both the internet and the festivals are great. They both have gone a long way to growing the prog scene and it wouldn’t be anywhere as strong as it is without them. But I think it’s important we not fool ourselves.


What will it take for prog to be big again, and that presupposes that we WANT it to be big again. It means just like in the old days with Kansas or Pink Floyd or Yes or Starcastle…you have to get out there on the road and play the gigs, week after week…and very likely starve. And in order to get the gigs you’ll have to play in clubs that require you to play cover versions, which is what many of the golden era’s bands did initially. The question is; is anyone prepared to do that? To travel on the road, give up your day job, starve AND play cover versions? It certainly would cause a lot of bands to break out of their comfort zone.


Perhaps the bigger question is do they want to do that? I have my doubts. At least that’s what I think. How about you?


Jerry Lucky