Post 50 Music: The Lost Audience

First up, a confession: I didn't make up the notion of "The Lost Audience." It came from a record company started by my buddy, Dennis Damico. The idea rocked my foundation: A record company geared to making music for adults. Dennis realized that just because we turned 50 doesn't mean our ears have died or our brains have withered, that a lot of what passed for "adult contemporary" music was horribly misnamed.

Dunno about you, but I find the need to be musically challenged and the need gets more acute as I get older and collect more experience. These days, I get more depth out of Ornette Coleman, Diane Krall, or even her hubby Elvis Costello. These are intelligent adults making music for the entertainment and elucidation of other adults, their contemporaries to whom music still signifies.

We are the generation that invaded record stores on Wednesday, when the new releases came out, wanting to be the first of our friends to have the new cool album. We slept on sidewalks outside of Korvettes for the first tickets to the Dr. Pepper Festival. We took and continue to take our musical entertainment seriously. It matters to us.

Many of us have that one album that we would never have made it through junior high without. Mine was the Who's Quadrophenia. I wore out my copy, and kept playing the worn out copy. On a recent road trip, my friend Larry and I sang along with every word as we approached our 17th hour on Route 80. Whether any of that behavior was healthy or not is not the issue. We are the generation that would do these things when the music spoke to us.

This is not to put down the current generation of young adults. They just have other things on their minds. But the entertainment industry hasn't lost the mindset of "Doin' it for the kids," shooting for that 18-34 year-old demo, the supposed gold standard of consuming humanity.

The music business isn't the only culprit in this, though possibly the most egregious. The movie biz, TV, radio (especially radio!), and even print fall into the trap of "doin' it for the kids." As a denizen of the music business, I can't tell you how many times I've heard "we're doing it for the kids," from executives and even artists.

If the record companies are doing it for the kids, they're barking up the wrong economic tree. Today's 18 to 34-year-olds were raised with myriad choices we couldn't have dreamed of when we were putting quarters on the tone-arm to keep the records from skipping: video games, DVDs, Manga and more. Many in this demo regard music like email: A utility available for free on the web.

The problem with us in the Lost Audience, from the media biz point of view, is that our tastes have matured and broadened with the rest of us. Nostalgia is only part of it. Certainly, there are still enough of us who will pay $300 a ticket to sit at stage level for a Who concert, or can help Billy Joel sell out 14 shows. But we also crave something new, something that speaks to us today, from today, about today. And we all crave it differently, which makes us really tough to reach for organizations that are used to marketing en mass.

Our tastes diverged as our gray areas, both on our heads and in our outlook, have grown. In our youth, our tastes tended toward the monolithic, the black and white. We hung with the disco crowd or the rockers, or went in jazz circles, or even classical. Music identified us to our crowd. What we listened to became part of our identity, and it affected our social situations. It also made us targets for marketers.

In our 50s, our tastes are frequently more catholic. People who wouldn't have been caught dead listening to Vivaldi with their 18-34 year-old ears might now spend one night a year at the Philharmonic. This doesn't stop us from playing poker with some hard rock on in the background, or from seeing and enjoying our kid's high school musical. Cruising with an iPod on shuffle, we might hear a track of the B-52s followed by Nora Jones, then Kermit Ruffins, and some Gershwin and it would make a kind of internal musical sense, at least to the owner of the iPod.

While it might not seem like it, there's an awful lot of entertainment out there that could reach out and grab us, but we might not ever hear about it. Like so much these days when hype rises to the top, much of the good stuff gets subsumed in the sheer volume of everything else. With a lack of good gatekeepers, winnowing through this mass of media, separating the gold from the dross, can seem a herculean task for something as simple as entertainment.

The Lost Audience is as diverse and discerning as all the individuals it comprises. The good news is, there is music and entertainment to reach every one of us. We just have to find it and share it.