Kenny Lee Lewis: Old Dogs, old Tricks

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It's 3am in the tour bus driving from Atlanta to Memphis, and I was compelled to write this to illustrate not only what has taken place in the recording music business in the last decade for classic rock bands, but to also reach out to the new up-and-coming bands and musicians as a wake-up call for the future.

This was taken from a response I sent Bob Lefsetz on his newsletter this week about why classic rock artists even bother to try and make new records these days when there really isn’t much of a retail audience out there to buy the product in the first place.

1. The Steve Miller Band hasn't put out an original song since 1993. We haven't had a hit since "Abracadabra" in 1982. (That's 29 years if you are counting!)

2. Our band has over 30+ albums to pull material from. Doing our set list each year is a major project and doesn't leave much room for new stuff.

3. We are still selling out around North America without an opening act. (We do have support acts in major sheds from time to time. This year it’s Greg Allman, Eric Johnson, and Dave Mason)

4. Steve and our manager Scott Boorey have figured out the formula. Give the fans the old hits with a slammin' band and at a fair price. It’s all about the show, CDs are dead.

5. We do have two new CDs out right now, but they are mostly just cool old covers of blues and R&B standards that Steve loved while cutting his teeth. They are sold as merch at the concerts, and have done respectable business even as downloads and brick and mortar retailers, but they are really just advertisements for the show.

6. Steve has a great website and we have TONS of video on there. We also have hundreds of videos on Youtube and Vimeo as well as a Facebook site. Very important!

7. What we do live is what propels our business. The fans leave satisfied with a two-hour show of good-time-feeling rock and roll with no dreary ballads. No backing track vocals and no intermissions— just a lot of sweat and sweet harmonies from five vocalists and lots of great guitar work.

8. We did Crossroads last year on CMT with Kenny Chesney and will be featured on Austin City Limits on PBS in Oct as the debut performance in their brand new concert hall and television studio. We will also do Letterman again near the end of the year. Advertising our LIVE SHOW is the most important part of our business.

9. Fortunately, the band's catalog plays 24/7 on Classic Rock radio formats all over North America. There is a song playing right now as you read this. Radio is important, but it’s not everything. New bands should concentrate on getting on college stations and NPR.

10. The other thing Steve does is support young musicians. Our campaign to build the Kids Rock Free program in every major city is a goal. We have 15 year-old guitarists sit in with us almost every night and let them blow solos over our hits and get the crowd to text 50555 with $10 contributions on the spot. Tie your show into a non-prof to expand your audience and give something back. It’s not just about you, so share your gifts.

In the Steve Miller Band it's not about us. It's about doing a public service to deliver the American Rock Songbook every summer to the fans who were uplifted by the music as they grew up and became parents and taxpayers to like all of us. But check it out, 25% of our concert going demographic are kids under 25 years old. It used to be even a higher percentage until Live Nation started putting the thumbscrews on prices and parking, but that's another story. The live show is the future in the music business. It’s lot of hard work, but if you perfect your craft, you can make a living at it. Good luck! —Kenny Lee Lewis, Steve Miller Band