November 18, 2010 at 1:00 pm

Independent Artists Tour Harder Than Top Acts, Says Songkick

For artists known and loved by hundreds or thousands (as opposed to millions) of fans, getting signed to a label is no longer the defining moment it once was.

Instead of selling records, “making it” has become about finding the best shows to play. Every type of band, from mega-stars to garage bands and reunion acts, is spending more time on stage these days.

Songkick, a web app that can track the music you and your friends listen to and alert you when those bands are coming to your area, released key observations on Thursday from its treasure trove of U.S. concert data. The study proves that, as suspected, bands of all levels are playing more shows each year since ’07, despite a slight dip in ’09.

However, the phenomenon is not spread equally. Smaller acts generally work harder than the more well-known ones, says the data.

“We think the uptick of smaller, long-tail bands touring in more places than ever before is a result of a growing awareness of these bands via the Internet,” said Songkick CEO and co-founder Ian Hogarth in a statement.

To be precise, Songkick found that the most popular 25 percent of bands took the stage an average of 31 times so far in 2010, while the least popular 25 percent played an average of 38 times. (Songkick computes popularity by looking at how many of people track each band or have indicated that they want to see a show.) Smaller bands were also found to be increasing the rate at which they play shows faster.

After being alerted, I attended a show by arguable "long tail" band 14 Iced Bears last week (vintage photo via MySpace). Thanks, internet.

Granted, less popular acts don’t need to travel with a 50-person crew, so perhaps they simply can play more shows from a purely logistical point of view. In addition, as Azoz pointed out to me on Facebook, they might simply have to play more because they make less from each gig.

What’s truly impressive about this statistic is that these smaller bands are able to book (and, one assumes, fill at least some portion of the venues for) so many more shows than they used to, due in part to internet word-of-mouth and concert-alerting apps, as Hogarth observed.

This statistic also reveals that anyone thinking of becoming a layabout rock star in this day and age can pretty much forget it. It’s no longer enough to put out an album every couple of years and tour around those releases; making a living at popular music has become a year-round job, and the smaller the band, the more it has to play to break even.

And according to Hogarth, they’re able to play more shows because fans are able to discover these smaller bands through the internet. For instance, using his company’s product, one could simply listen to Pandora and Last.fm radio stations as well as one’s iTunes collection in order to automatically generate relevant show alerts.

And he’s right, of course: In an internet vacuum, I would have never known that 14 Iced Bears, a band from the ’80s and ’90s that hasn’t been heard from in years, was playing here in Brooklyn last week. Thanks to an alert coming in time, I made the show.

Songkick also unearthed some other tidbits from its data about the U.S. live music scene, such as the fact that Las Vegas has the most expensive concert tickets in the country, and somehow, that neither New York, San Francisco, Chicago or Los Angeles are among our countries 10 most “rockingest” cities.

Meanwhile, Austin, Texas, home to the SXSW music festival, received a perfect score in the art of rocking:

Charts courtesy of Songkick, photo courtesy of MySpace