NB: I don't claim to have better answers (or any answers) or greater insight into the state of the music industry than anyone else out there. I'm just this guy, you know? What I do have is 20 years of listening to this music, and a sincere love of the genre. Well, and a huge CD collection, but that's beside the point.
The following are taken, with occasional edits/additions, from a series of e-mail exchanges I have been having with the US PR rep of a major independent progressive music label. I'm not going to say who, or which label, because ultimately that is unimportant. You may or may not agree with what I have to say. I encourage commentary and reply.
Italics are the rep, bold is me:
'We need to see a prog resurgence here in the US.'
The realist in me says it won't happen.
Of course, I'd love to see bands that play progressive music (including groups that play material that looks back to the traditional symphonic sound) selling huge amounts of records, but I think in general the bleeding edge of progressive is going to be bands using it as a springboard. I know it's in vogue to label bands like Tool and The Mars Volta and Radiohead as progressive, and when compared to the mass of dross that make up most top 40/100 music, they certainly are. But I fear the days of a band sounding like Yes landing an 8 minute long track in top 40 radio are long gone.
(additional note to this posting: lest you think this a strange statement to make, consider this: at one point, WPST 97.5 FM in the US, which is unabashedly a top 40/today's hot hits format station, once or twice had Pennsylvania progressive rock band echolyn on live in the studio, and used to frequently play the unedited album version of Yes' 'Roundabout' as part of a 2-fer with 'Love Will Find a Way' or 'Shoot High, Aim Low' in 1988-1989.)
Here on the east coast, we're very lucky to have fests like ROSfest and NEARfest (which I attend every year) and Progday...as well as the new 3 Rivers Fest in Pittsburgh. But they're not enough to break new bands...if you want to get ticket sales, you need old bands the core audience (35 to 55, male) have heard of. We all pay lip service to new bands and new sounds, but what sells best? Catalogue Yes and Tull and ELP and Kansas releases. The fifteenth reissue of Leftoverture will sell 150,000 copies while the new Riverside may sell in the 4 figures here in the US. It's sad, it's incredibly telling, and it shows how marginalised the genre has gotten.
I do what I can...I think it is going to become increasingly important to push newer bands without relying on comparisons to the past. It may be hard on old time fans, but...
...I mean there are great new prog bands, but they will never get the recognition that they deserve at least over here in the states.
No airplay. And for all we do for PR (all the various websites, like Progscape, MSJ, Sea of Tranquility, Progarchives, ProgressiveEars, et cetera), all they end up doing is preaching to the converted. And the converted resists new...unless it sounds like the old. (additional to this posting: unless they are a new converted listener of progressive music who has been introduced to the genre via bands like Dream Theater or Symphony X, in which case the old stuff just sounds...old. And not technically intense enough. And not heavy enough. And why did Dream Theater have to open for Yes, anyway, when they're so much more awesome and metal?) And there's definitely nothing wrong with retro-prog...a great bit of my collection includes newer bands that look back at the traditional sympho-prog sound. I think the next big shift in progressive music is really going to come from the fringes...extreme bands like Opeth and Enslaved, with Opeth getting exposure this summer on the Progressive Nation tour with Dream Theater...and electronic music. I mean, Can is being sampled in rap songs, with attribution. Kate Bush is being hailed by people like the guys in Outkast, and getting covered by bands like Placebo. Crimson and Tull and Yes touring can only do so much.
And I was one of those kids who didn't know anything 10 or 15 years ago...I thought progressive music was gone. Until I went to an ELP/Tull show, and discovered Progression magazine, and found out there were hundreds...perhaps thousands...of new bands creating music that held some connection to the music I loved. I discovered Spock's Beard and echolyn and Mastermind and a dozen other bands...then found a hundred bands I never heard of that were contemporaries of Yes and Crimson and the like...and as pleased as I was to find this vast and poorly tapped vein of wonder, it was frustrating and depressing at the same time.
I'm a voice in the wilderness, trying to talk up the music. I play it all the time at work, and occasionally someone asks what it is I am listening to. And I can only hope that someone gets turned on and buys a CD.