I’m sick of hearing that all pop stars suck in concert: that to be a big name in the oh-so-horribly-corrupt music industry an artist must be cloistered in the studio, doctored up, compressed and Pro-Tools-processed and then shell out radio hits like samples of cookies at Wild Oats. Not only is the image ugly and cynical, it is also utterly false. In the era of digital music, artists are making better live music than ever.

It’s no secret that the Titanic that was the record industry collided with the iceberg that was the internet. Of all forms of media, whole albums were the most cripplingly damaged by the rise of iTunes, YouTube and Spotify.  However, while music distribution has gone almost entirely digital, the show still goes on. Why? In the past, pop musicians made money from live performances, merchandise sales and album sales. Shouldn’t the destruction of that third income stream have caused the complete and utter destruction of music as we knew it? Shouldn’t it have crushed the dreams of all kids who aspired to rap like Biggie or shred like Hendrix?  Surprisingly, digital music sales and streaming didn’t annihilate careers in music; it simply required artists to rebalance their sources of income. As a result of this paradigm shift, live music reigns supreme.

Ever since the dawn of Rock and Roll, it was impossible to achieve any scrap of success without being a kickass live band. Live shows were your chance to advertise and sell copies of your records.  Nowadays, since music is just a search and stream away on iTunes, Youtube or Spotify, the model has been flipped: artists use albums and singles as marketing tools to get fans to jump out of their seat, buy some tickets, and bask in the atmosphere of a live show.

I, for one, welcome our new internet-music complex. According to the recent article in the New York Times Magazine “The Creative Apocalypse that Wasn’t,” megastars like the Rolling Stones, the Kanye Wests and the Pearl Jams of the world made approximately 90 percent of their incomes from live shows in 2003. Today live shows account for only about 43 percent of income for these artists.  A parallel effect of this shift has been the rise of small acts. More bands can lead successful careers without being at the top of the heap. Today, smaller acts are selling out huge shows, headlining music festivals and thriving off of the business of music. In this new era, it’s easier to rise from the bottom to the top. More people like Chance the Rapper can become superstars. Musicians can make a career from making music for the sake of having fun and achieve success without even releasing a full LP.  

As both a fan a performer myself, I say the more small acts landing big live gigs the better.  For fans, live shows have a unique mystique to them. On stage, studio tracks become ferocious displays of raw emotion and energy, an effect that can only be understood when you’re in standing-room-only general admissions, drenched in sweat and squished between a mass of concertgoers while the bass and drums rhythmically vibrate throughout your whole body.  Live shows allow performers to experience a similar rush.  The opportunity to convey the joy of making music with friends on stage to thousands or millions of people who care about what you have to say is among the greatest feelings on earth; after all, it has to be given the legions of teenage musicians who dream of becoming rockstars.  The beauty of our internet culture is that it has opened the door for more people than ever to experience the one-of-a-kind rush that is touring and performing live as a way of life. In return we get more talent and diversity hitting the stage every day.  

Matthew Leventhal is a member of the Class of 2017.