Opinion: Are Band Reunions A Good Idea?

They happen all of the time: after years of lying dormant, that certain press release get sent out. The band you used to listen to! They’re getting back together! And you can see them live! Today, two Demo writers face off: are band reunions a good idea or a bad one?

Bad Reunions are a Terrible Idea

Band reunions have overwhelmingly sucked. Motivated by financial desires, bands that have imploded for the usual variety of reasons (drugs, sex, money, the fact that they all hate each other, et cetera) take a look at their dwindling sales and bank accounts and decide to get back together for as long as they can stand each other’s company.

But the problem does not lie exclusively in lacklustre performances by artists who should know better. It is in the ramifications reunions have on what can be considered a dying industry – dying not from lack of creative, challenging artists, but dying due to the widespread acceptance of music piracy. Piracy in a less and less financially viable music industry, combined with a proliferation of reunions, can only serve to cultivate a culture of regurgitation as opposed to one of creativity.

We have to remember that the music industry is an industry that adheres to the rules of the market place, in that declining revenue can negatively impact the ways in which a record label operates. The costs of producing, promoting, and recording an artist can sometimes be astoundingly high. With less and less revenue coming in from new album sales, labels have less incentive to take risks on new talent. Enter the reunion. Reunions allow for a label to continue re-issuing the same material over and over again in order to appeal to a new audience. Eventually, labels choose to prioritize older recordings and bands as opposed to scouting for new talent. Many labels have popped up as exclusively re-issue-centric, typically choosing to use vinyl or other anachronistic medias to drive sales. How do reunions play into all of this? Increased revenues from endless re-issues convince band to reunite. Then the same pattern is followed: band reunites, sales increase, the label continues to look for older talent to dust off, and the endless cycle continues.

These bands – with the rare exception – do not consider recording new material, because it is a matter of incentive. If an artist can sell out a stadium based on an album recorded years ago, why even bother recording new material? The audience is there for the classics, to hear the songs they remember from years past or are played ad nauseum on FM radio. Most reunions rely on set lists devoted entirely to old material. Perhaps it’s the audience that is to blame. After all, we are the fans and we determine the financial future of a band. Perhaps it is a reciprocal relation; we demand our greatest hits and the band complies, and we feel good so we buy more albums and merchandise. Again this all serves to create an environment that supports the endless cycle.

Some may raise the argument that reunions allow for new audiences to engage with older bands and vice versa. This is all well and good until one considers the average ticket price. While many smaller bands play smaller, cheaper venues, stadium bands often charge premium prices for even the nosebleed seating. This raises the question of who can actually afford to buy these tickets? Using broad generalizations, older middle class types with the disposable income to make that kind of purchase. Younger people are often employed in low-level service jobs if they are employed at all, or they are attending some form of financially burdensome education. The appeal here then is to the older fans, who may drag the kids along if they see fit. Thus, the younger element is less prevalent than some may argue.

Throughout my argument, I’m sure a few questions and eyebrows were raised. Am I one to say that no band should ever reform? Absolutely not. But do band reunions usually suck? Yes. They suck for a wide variety of reasons; from aging performers to incomplete bands fleshed out with studio musicians, the reunion can be a trying effort for the listener. However, some do rise above the mediocrity encouraged by reunions; Dinosaur Jr. and Swans have all reunited but continued to push boundaries and release excellent material. Thus the quality of the reunion is entirely dependent on the quality of the band. However, I am opposed to reunions fundamentally because they encourage us to turn away from new talent and continue to worship the same artists our parents did. This is to the detriment of not only the young blood but also to the ignorant masses who will not be exposed to new talent through the traditional means as labels continually look backwards for further revenue.

-Adam Bernhardt

Photo by Eva Blue.

Photo by Eva Blue.

Band Reunions are a Great Idea

There is a certain magic to seeing a band live. There really is nothing quite like it; you are surrounded by people who are all there to see the same thing you are, and the audience is brought together to see an awesome band play awesome music and have an awesome time. That is why I can never hate band reunions – the concert experience is truly unbeatable.

For most musicians, music is all they do. They do not have a nine-to-five job like most people, so I can understand their desire to put all their time into their music. Further, I can understand if, after a band splits up, they get bored and want to get back together to tour again.

On the other hand, a lot of people argue that it would be better if reunited bands would make new music, which brings me to my next point: a lot of them do! There are plenty of bands that reunite for tours and then end up making another album or new songs, like the Rolling Stones recently have. Instead of considering the band as “split up,” this can easily be perceived by the fans as the band coming out with more material after a gap of time where they did not necessarily consider themselves a band.

Even if a band does reunite just to tour with their old material, I do not necessarily consider that a bad thing; I know that I and many others would pay large amounts of money to see Led Zeppelin play again. Further, the band knows their fans would pay large amounts of money to see them play, so if they chose to tour again, then they could charge large amounts of money for tickets. They would be happy, and the fans would be happy. Reunions are also a great opportunity for younger fans to see older bands play that they never had the opportunity to see tour in their prime. For example, my roommate saw John Fogherty, who is still playing old Creedence Clearwater Revival tunes, and he had an amazing time.

Another thing to consider is that, sometimes, the new material that reuniting bands make is actually really good. Rush continued to produce great material after their hiatus, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band had The Rising, and Phish had Joy. I certainly do not think that everything about band reunions is good – sometimes musicians just cannot pull off what they used to, and they have a hard time realizing that. However, there are definitely good things that can come out of reunions, and at the end of the day, if the fans like it, they will pay to see it. If enough people want to pay the Stones hundreds of dollars to play their old hits, I cannot fault the Stones for giving the people what they want.

-Erik Masson

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