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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Rock 'n Recession

For anyone who hasn’t heard, several 90s bands are headlining reunion tours this summer, including Blink 182, Limp Bizkit and Jane’s Addiction in a summer of nostalgia. Blink arguably hit the height of their popularity with 1999’s Enema of the State, which was pretty much the soundtrack for my senior year of high school. Thanks, Blink. While Limp Bizkit inexplicably put out albums well into the 2000s, the band peaked in 1999 with Significant Other. Jane’s Addition suffered a tumultuous relationship throughout the 90s and as a result, sprinkled the decade with their alt-rock tunes.

The new wave of 90s influence led the COO of Nederlander Concerts to tell Rolling Stone “[i]t’s a great time to be in a Nineties band” (Issue 1075, pg 24). RS cites the successful tours of other 90s acts Stone Temple Pilots and My Bloody Valentine in 2008 as evidence that the market for the 10 to 15 year-old music is growing and the audience is primed for all of these tours in the coming months. The magazine also uses a market researcher to argue that the original fanbase “Generation X’ers now have a lot of discretionary income… and now they’re starting to focus on themselves.”

Happy as I am that my high-school years are coming back into vogue, I have my doubts about how well these tours will be received. First, the expectation that Generation X is going to carry these tours shows a misunderstanding of where the original fans came from. In 1999, Generation X (traditionally defined as the kids born from 1965 to 1979) ranged in age from 20 to 34 years old. I’m going to go on a limb and say that there weren’t a lot of mid-30 year olds moshing to Fred Durst and his “Nookie.” The next generation up on the other hand, Gen Y, was turning 11 and 19 and still had access to their parents’ generosity during a huge economic boom in the US. The lines of minivans waiting outside these concerts where parents waited to pick up their high schoolers were epic.

Irritating as I find this generation fallacy, the argument that previous bands’ successes and “discretionary income” will propel these bands to tour stardom is most questionable. As you may have noticed, 2009 is not 2008. The ability of STP to earn impressive ticket sales in 2008 may or may not be indicative of their peers’ potential to do the same one year and one massive recession later. STP tickets went on sale when the recession was a whisper among economists and cable news. Spending was stable and unemployment growing, but slowly and predictably.

Compare this to today’s economy that has shed over 600,000 jobs each month for the last three months, with no end in sight. Unemployment has hit 8.1% and the core audience (25-34 year olds) is even worse with unemployment at 8.7%. This time last year the figures were 4.8% and 4.9%, respectively. “Discretionary income” isn’t really a consideration for the unemployed. Even for those who still have an income have become less eager to spend it. Adjusted for inflation, February’s consumer spending was up down 0.2% from January.

For those who don’t enjoy economic data as much as I do, put it this way: sh*t’s gone bad. The fear in the consumer is palpable in numbers and just walking past any given storefront. The “Going Out of Business Sale” and “75% Discount” signs are ubiquitous in Manhattan and around the country. “Retail Space for Lease” signs are also multiplying by the day as business clear out of their pricey Midtown locations. This is not a good time to try and sell anything, including $60 tickets to a band fans saw a decade ago.

This recession is compared to the Great Depression and the big hit taken in the early 80’s (Jan ’80 – July ’80 and July ’81 – Nov ’82). For those of us who rocked “What’s My Age Again” on the way to cheerleading practice, this will (hopefully) be the defining recession of our lives. We’ve never seen anything like this and many remain cautious with their money in the face of an unfamiliar and dismal economy. Optimistic predictions put the end of this recession in fall of 2009, long after these tours have packed it in. No one can tell what spending will do in the meantime.

I am skeptical that this will be the concert coup of the summer, but I also wonder if this isn’t exactly what the weary consumer needs: an escape from the never-ending bad news cycle and a retreat to simpler, happier, younger times when your main focus was having a fun and maybe getting home by curfew. If ever there was a need for good music and good times, this would be it. Even if the concerts are prohibitively expensive, radio play of these and other Nineties acts is up. And the airwaves are still free. Happy reminiscing!

by Jesy, who is inappropriately excited to geek out with economics while talking about music.

1 comment:

Candace said...

I love this blog. I was extremely excited when Blink said they were coming back together for a tour. Let's hope it'll simply be a time of fun tunes to rock out to and forget, if only for a few hours, the hard economic times we're facing! Cheers