In a recent article entitled “Concerted Effort,” Slate magazine writer, Annie Lowrey describes the Dave Matthews Band’s secret to success. Amidst a climate of declining record sales, Lowrey asserts that the band has been able to remain profitable due to it’s high emphasis on touring and ticket sales. In fact, as Lowrey points out, in 2010 alone, “that meant playing 62 shows in 50 cities to 1,270,477 fans- more than any other artist touring in North America.”
The Slate post goes on to compare DMB’s approach as similar to that of the Grateful Dead, a reference that many writers, including myself, have shared, perhaps because the resemblance is so profound. Not only did the Dave Matthews Band inherit the Dead’s sound system, but it seems, they also assumed many of the same performance ethics as did their well known predecessors. In other words, forming a large and loyal fan base, and offering amazing shows that are free of the bells and whistles that amp up other artist’s fees. This strategy allows enthusiasts to enjoy multiple shows every year, which, of course, ends up raising revenue for the band. But it does much more than that.
Offering affordable seats to concerts may be business savvy, but in many ways it also defines the very ethos of DMB. Well before the music industry started to fall, Dave and the boys were already focusing much of their energy on live performances. The host of the 1999 Johnny Cash tribute concert, where Dave joined with Emmylou Harris to sing, “Long Black Veil,” aptly described the band’s road to stardom when he introduced Dave by saying, “In an era of manufactured stars, our next performer acquired his fans the old fashioned way. He earned their devotion night after night on the road, putting on great shows and letting word of mouth take care of the rest.”
In my opinion, many factors need to combine to produce a group with such enormous staying power. It goes without saying that the music has to be phenomenal. Interestingly though, it doesn’t have to be extremely diverse. DMBnews.net’s recent song poll shows that the majority of our favorites are still the classics, as in produced on or before 2000. Add in the fact that the ensemble is constantly re-working old tunes in complex ways, and evolving jams during live shows, and the result is that we never tire of the basics that form the bones of this phenomenon. But I also believe that from the very beginning, the Dave Matthews Band's path has aligned with that of the greater good, in that these men worked very hard to form connections with those who are touched by their music. Whether these connections are personal or collective, there is no denying that this is a group that not only caters to it’s listeners, but aspires to bring the best of what’s around into their lives. And in a time where what we really need is to “look for the love in here,” I am especially grateful that DMB is more about sharing fantastic experiences than simply selling a product.
Hayley Bauman, Psy.D.
Author of Serendipity and the Search for True Self