Amateur music events
You may or may not be familiar with your local live music scene and it’s related events. Whether it is a dusty local pub or a dusty, prestigious Camden venue they generally work in the same way for amateur musicians. My experience on the lower rungs of that system is probably as good as anybody’s. This is because local, live music seems to be stuck in a perpetual loop. Masses of bands play events in London’s live circuit, throughout the country and throughout the world over and over again. The vast majority of bands don’t go anywhere and are eventually spat out of the spin cycle to make way for others. Bands end up this way for a number of reasons but it is my personal opinion that the ‘live circuit’ is archaic and is holding innovation, and therefore good bands, back.
In the UK, bands hope that if they play enough gigs they will be given the right opportunities to turn their pre-career into a full blown music career. The better, more professional bands that also produce exciting events rise to the top, gain fans and eventually gain a record deal.
Well, since music teamed up with the Internet, the idea of aiming for a record deal has pretty much been dispelled as an ineffective myth among bands. With online promotion and recording technology now open to all with a fairly modest amount of cash, it is now possible to go it alone and the influx of web-based knowledge on the subject has dispelled the romantic rock-star myth. All this is very old news now though and behaviour has developed accordingly. However, this change in ‘business model’ for amateur musicians doesn’t seem to have updated throughout the entire system – namely the events that host the bands.
Promoters and their ways
Promoters still seem to be running events with these old rock-star ideals. As somebody that got involved with finding gigs for my previous bands to play, I ran into many promoters asking the band to play shoddy gigs or replace last minute drop-outs. Because their business is rightly very much bums-on-seats driven, they force you to bring x amount of fans although they give you little financial reward. However, instead of money they do dangle the possibility of playing with the bigger bands if you do what they say. Quite demeaning really, as ideally they should be judging such possibilities on your performance not on whether or not you can appease the venue owner. It’s music they love right?
This all brings you to a situation where bands do whatever it takes to please the promoters in the hope of gaining ‘great gigs’, ‘great opportunities’ and the ‘possibility to take your career up to the next level’. Of course, these promises rarely materialise. If they do, the exposure gained isn’t really worth that much anyway; it’s usually over-hyped in an effort to persuade the band to fill a slot. Among all this, the promoters always put the emphasis on the bands to bring fans, telling you they wont let you play their events anymore if you don’t fill your quota. Maybe these promoters aren’t sure of what a ‘promoter’s’ role traditionally involves and that good promotion doesn’t really equal a Facebook page, a few posters and placement in the swamped gigs section of the local newspaper?
Maybe things work like this because it’s so hard to get people to come out and see bands play. The venues and pubs are under pressure to keep open, the promoters are under pressure to please their venues and the bands are therefore pressured to make sure that people come to see them and buy beer etc.
This is mostly fair enough really as the system is dictating that the people caught within it act in a certain way. What is clear though is that the system is perpetual. Bands come, bands go, occasionally a band makes a bit of money and are able to grow; but the promoters seem to stay where they are, churning out faceless bands at every event. This system does seem to be stacked in their favour but whether that is true or not, the system doesn’t work for the cornerstone of the live music scene – the bands.
What can be done?
Maybe promoters should focus on providing good events rather than piggybacking off the friends of the bands they work with? Maybe they should think about how they can make their events more interesting? Maybe prolonged efforts to produce events people want to go to will enable them to provide their own audience? Music isn’t always enough to sell something, which is why bands also sell various add-ons in addition to their music. So therefore maybe promoters should think about adding value and intrigue to their events; maybe the ‘unknown band in pub’ idea isn’t a good business model? To be fair though, some promoters do a great job of innovating: one of the most memorable gigs I played involved comedy acts, burlesque and also allowed us to have an improvised jam with our audience. The audience loved it!
If the music industry hadn’t spent so much time and money creating gods out of ordinary musicians maybe amateur musicians would be more cynical about promoters dangling fame and fortune in front of them like a glittering carrot? (Notice that even the music industry has to sell image and not solely music – no matter how ‘indie’ the band is).
So, how can the local live scene break its cycle of mediocrity? Maybe educating young musicians on the realities of business will allow them to add reality to what promoters tell them. Maybe this will force promoters to offer new rewards to young bands and maybe they will have to start providing interesting content rather than relying on bands to bring their friends to buy drinks etc?
What does innovation mean in practical terms though..? As marketing and more mainstream events companies now practice, people should think about every sensory aspect of the event and focus it towards their brand or theme; a gig can be more than a band/act and some booze. Contrary to popular belief, adding creative flair doesn’t have to be expensive, just thoughtful. I doubt things will change any time soon but maybe this thinly veiled rant will be food for thought…