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Are lazy promoters ruining local music scenes?

Ok, that’s quite an unfair question, and to boot quite an abstract one. Perhaps the real question should be “Are promoters’ financial goals ruining their musical ones?” or maybe “Is short sightedness ruining the prospects of ambitious and deserving acts?” Whatever, how about we look at what’s going on around the country at the moment.

The supposed dynamic of a pay to play show, is that band x will bring a certain quota of people to a show, after the quota is reached the band will take a certain percentage of the door money. All this is under the premise that the band will ultimately benefit by playing to a decent crowd, and have some money to take home, or squander on fizzy hops drinks etc. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but is the goal of all ambitious bands not to widen their audience and showcase the fruits of their labours to new faces, hoping to build their fan-base. Not that playing to regular audiences is in any way bad, but simply bringing people you already know to a show will not achieve this goal.

Fair enough, the promoter may well have to rent the premises, pay for certain overheads blah blah blah, but then again, is the main point of the promoters’ job not in the name? Of course if bands refuse to pay to play, this whole problem can be absolved, but do we really see this happening? In an ideal world the promoter will arrange a decent night, booking bands that will work well together as a lineup, and then, here’s the important part, promote their night well and with conviction. In reality, what so often happens is an advert will go out, “Hey, we have slots for this super-amazing venue that definitely isn’t some dive bar in a dodgy London street with a sticky floor and a cheap drum kit, do you want to play? If you can confirm that you will bring 50 people on a Tuesday night get in touch”. I smell a scam here. Could it be laziness? Surely a committed promoter could regularly get a good crowd at a venue by putting on a decent night without relying on the bands to put on the show and bring everyone.

Now I’m definitely not having a swipe at promoters here, the majority are in it for their love of music, and this is easily seen, but it is plain wrong trying to purely make money from acts, particularly young and eager bands wanting to play to new people. It wouldn’t be fair to expect a completely unheard of band to play at a big prestigious venue on a Friday or Saturday, but that’s not what this is about.

How are bands going to take the step up to gigging in cities with more opportunities, such as London, without a following that will come along to their shows and support them, and besides, where would your new fans come from anyway? Does all this not seem rather disheartening to bands, that they will not necessarily make this step on musical merit, perhaps save some money from the day job and then deservedly play? The trouble here is that the business is one of supply and demand, regardless of the quality. The band should apparently be happy to get to play at these prestigious places; it doesn’t matter if you are being exploited, it’s for the good of your music.

A successful event can surely be achieved through the continuous supply of well thought out and well plugged nights. If punters know that they can have a good night at a pub/venue, and as a bonus there will be live music, which through past experience or from word of mouth they know is, on the whole of good quality, they will be happy to go to said venue. Happy to go and see a band they may not have necessarily heard of, on the premise that they are out to have a good night. This is not a hypothetical question, but a reasoning from personal experience.

Until bands can get together and boycott such events, they will continue to happen, and bands will continue to get exploited, but hey, no-one gets hurt right?

There are of course great promoters out there too, and it’s all to easy to find something to rant about, but that’s just one side of the story. BarBands for example, is a promotion which was formed to “to challenge and better the way in which ‘grass roots’ live music is supplied in London.” Check out the following link to find out what they’re up to, and how their ethos works for the good of music acts and fans.

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  1. I’ll relay some of my experiences with playing gigs and you can make of them what you will.

    Venues/promoters ask you to bring so many people to your gig (usually 20-30) at £3 – £4 pp. Each of the four or so bands on the bill do this so the venue get money from these tickets and at the bar.

    The followers of each band tend to only get there in time and stay long enough to see their friends band. If you’re on first or last no one is there early enough or has stayed to see you. If you play second or third you may get a certain ‘over-spill’ from the other bands followers.

    If you’ve made contact with local music media or other promoters, they may be there to see you so they can get an idea of what you’re like as a live band. when it’s just them and a load of your mates this can be of some consolation.

    This scenario, and slight variations of it, is what I’ve come to know. Very few acts breaking through seem to be doing it the ‘old school’ way. They seem to have relations/contacts with something like the Brit School (when did this place emerge exactly???) or got heard on myspace which is now so over-saturated I think it’s pretty much defunct as far as using it as a tool to promote your band, unless you already have a decent following already.

    I recently read an article (can’t remember where, may have been the Big Issue, Q magazine or Planet Sound but don’t quote me on that) where an A & R guy was told that there were enough female solo acts (there are a few around at the moment- Florence and the Machine, La Roux, Bat For Lashes, Lady Gaga, though some definitely deserve the praise) and they need to start signing bands again.

    Surely if bands were good enough they’d be getting signed anyway? Or were they being overlooked because they couldn’t take advantage of the female solo revolution?

    There’s more to it than this of course but in a nutshell, the music business is just that, a business, and if the people running the show can’t make money off it they lose interest and do things in a way where they can make money, whether that’s to fund the signing of acts that are not entirely mainstream or just to line their pockets is another question.

    It’s now necessary to remind people that it’s for reasons like this that made Anthony Wilson…

    …such an important figurehead in music.

    I saw clips of Britney Spears comeback on television recently and noticed how she mimed many songs. Okay she may dance a lot, but I’ve seen Girls Aloud in concert (I’m allowed one guilty pleasure aren’t I?!) and they don’t mime despite very energetic dance routines.

    But anyway, my point is that soon enough isn’t the next stage in ‘manufactured’ pop that the person performing isn’t actually the singer on the record? They’re just a good-looking talented dancer who can impressively represent the music on the live stage?

    This is worrying enough without just realising that ultimately this means that Milli Vanilli weren’t cheats, they were just years ahead of their time!

    One team writes the music, another records it and a ‘performer’ tours and promotes the product. This could mean a world in the future where musicians like Jimi Hendrix, Radiohead, David Bowie, Blur, Joy Division, Manic Street Preachers – the list could go on – wouldn’t have the opportunity or be given the chance to make music as a career.

    For entertainment purposes it’s all fun and games and harmless enough, but if fewer and fewer labels, promoters etc. are catering for the needs (and demands from the fans) of bands who write, record and perform their music, then it’s something that could end up going underground but even then people will be needed who are going to provide a venue and other resources in order for this kind of thing to even happen.

  2. Unfortunately i agree with many of the points raised by Rich. I’m not in a band myself, but have contact wit many artists and promoters through my work with Keynote. It would appear that if some promoters show interest in a band, but that band trys to hold out for better paying shows rather than pack the house and take a cut, they are passed by as the promoter knows the next person will agree to anything just to play – deciding its better to play than not.

    As for gigging in London, unless your based in London the effort and cost associated with playing would usually leave the band at a financial loss.

    On a more positive note, there are lots of venues willing to give new/unsigned music a stage. Keynote’s planning to start putting on showcases using bands and artists from the Keynote Unsigned website. We’re not planning to make money from these showcases, but instead cover the costs of the gig, then let the bands divi up the rest. Seems the fairest way to us.
    All the best.

    Keynote Unsigned

  3. As a musician, label and artist manager over the years, I have seen the operations of many promoters and have the bounced cheques to prove it.
    The best thing a new band can do after the initial round of opening supports in local venues, is to fill a room with 100 punters themselves and put on their own self promoted show, then with the few hundred quid you make, do it in the next town and the next. Bypass the money-grubbing chancers completely. They are not real promoters if they take no risk. Same deal with any industry agent, manager or label. They will find you when you pose a big enough threat on your own. Be independent and get business-like on the door. As artists, don’t rip off your investors either. Risk deserves some professional loyalty from you.

  4. I don’t necessarily think promoters are lazy. I think it’s more the case that it’s incredibly difficult to promote bands successfully – and many new promoters are unaware of this.

    Just my opinion.

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