I first saw this great photo of The Airborne Toxic Event and thought “this wants for a caption.” And now I have one: “The Airborne Toxic Event Signs with Island Records.” Fantastic news for frustrated overseas fans listening to tracks on their MySpace page, unable to purchase their debut album, and wistfully wondering when if ever they’ll have a chance to see a live performance. Worrying news for fans in the U.S. and the UK who have been fortunate to be able to see the band “up close and personal” at small, intimate venues. And the debate (yeah, another one) is on. The TATE fans I wonder about are those lucky few who regularly hung out with them at the Echo or Spaceland, and what they might be thinking about now. Hopefully most share the views of L.A. blogger Rocket / Rock It, who says “I’m being positive about this because I really want them to succeed, and I need to face that success doesn’t mean playing at Spaceland for locals forever (even if that is exactly what I want out of all my favorite LA bands, selfish me).”

But all is not bleak for those of us who live for cool indie bands in tiny hot, sweaty clubs. This is an exciting time in the music biz, where the old rules no longer apply and the ways for bands to connect with their audience are shifting and changing. MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube have forever changed the way music is promoted and marketed, and have ensured that musicians can never stray too far from their listeners. A band’s growing success will always necessitate larger performance venues, but I believe there will now be an attempt to balance this with more intimate appearances every now and then to maintain that important connection, and fans will forever be part of promotion and marketing efforts, rather than merely its target. A direct result of the now firmly established “Web 2.0 World” and music fans’ expectations of an interactive experience.

There are many indications of this “new business model,” with the lumbering major labels coming to the slow, painful realization that they better jump on board before this speeding train passes them by. This will include, I hope, a better relationship with the music bloggers, and a more realistic approach to dealing with posted MP3s and videos.

Online opportunities will inevitably be accompanied by potential pitfalls and the need for creative thinking and new ways of doing things. Nowhere is this more evident than in the live performance ticketing business. Ticketmaster/LiveNation and their ridiculous fees that are on occasion more than the actual ticket price. Exorbitant prices for big name artists that no one but their well-heeled fans could ever hope to afford. Presales designed to give dedicated fans at least some chance in hell of scoring reasonably-priced tickets, and then those presale codes turning up on eBay and countless other websites. What a mess.

But there are signs of hope, as I directly experienced in my quest for Leonard Cohen tickets Thursday morning. The presale was handled at the artist’s fan message board, presale codes were posted at exactly the time of the sale (effectively squashing eBay entrepreneurs), you could only purchase two tickets at a time, and the person purchasing the tickets has to be one of the two people attending (they must be picked up in person with a photo ID). Yes, it’s probably easier to stroll into CIA headquarters, but today’s reality necessitates this, and for me at least, the process worked remarkably well. But those Leonard Cohen tickets, even the cheapest ones, were still pretty pricey, and I’m sure that for a lot of his fans in these challenging economic times, seeing him in person will simply be out of the question.

U2, who officially announce their Worldwide tour on March 9th, take their fans very seriously, and have been trying out new ideas for the fair distribution of tickets to their coveted appearances. They’re also combining the need to promote and generate a buzz with giving the public a chance to see them in more intimate surroundings – all of which is to be applauded, and will hopefully be the model of the future for all touring bands. Next week are three “secret shows” in smaller venues (the Boston one is at the Somerville Theatre, one of the absolutely best places for live music here – shhh!). This is obviously great for publicity (Boston radio stations are talking about little else this week), and even greater for fans.

And there’s a new ticket pricing structure as well. According to Billboard, the floor seats closest to the stage will actually be the cheapest (a real steal these days, at $30 each). Also, I guess in the past they’ve done this “random upgrade program” for selected fans who purchased General Admission tickets, and have given them seats near the stage. It’s a delicate balance which I imagine takes a herculean effort, to work within the huge corporate structure of the music business as one of the biggest and most successful rock bands in the world, and at the same time try not to lose your connection and credibility with your fans. And oh yeah, they put on a really great show, too. Wonder who their support act will be?

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