There’s No “I” in Scene

7

At the start of the year, many of us had become pretty resigned to the fact that The Talking Heads was soon to be closed, never to be reopened; there was even a farewell gig set to see off sixty years of live music. Fortunately for Southampton, new backers were found and The ‘Heads is still in operation; it would, however, be churlish to imagine that it is looking at a bright and secure near-future.

If you play in a band, you will undoubtedly have come across a promoter who has asked you not to play any other local show a fortnight either side of the one they are giving you. 95% of bands adhere to this rule, and are let down by the other 5% who ignore it. The five per cent can usually be characterised in the roughly the same manner.

First and foremost, they’ll play every show that they can get their hands on, playing two or three different small venues in the same week. Second, they’ll turn up, play their set and be packed up and out of the venue before the next band is on. Third, they will be utterly convinced that their band is fantastic and that there is not a venue in the land that they could not simply walk into and convert every patron to their sweet array of funky classics.

If this sounds like your band in any way, I implore you to disband immediately and spend your time more wisely, guitar-masturbating in your bedroom where you can do no harm to those around you. Even when a band plays a show for free, it costs both the venue and/or the promoter money to have them on the bill. The average small shows that you are playing will cost somewhere between £100 and £300 to stage after venue hire and petrol money for the headline acts. That half hour of stage time you consume is costing the promoter between £20-£100. You may have noticed that relieved look on their faces the moment their show breaks even, that’s because it rarely happens.

In all honesty, very few people want to come down early to a gig to watch you murder ‘Suck My Kiss’ or ‘All The Small Things’. The promoter will do everything they can to get the gig into local listings, flyer everywhere possible and plaster social networking with updates about their shows – the fear of losing a lot of money will drive all this leaving you worry free. If every band managed to get just ten of their friends to turn up to their shows and stuck around themselves to watch all the other bands play, there would be plenty more venues and shows for you to ply your trade at.

Seem familiar?

Aside from very few exceptions, a band cannot sustain playing a gig every week without venues losing money. Venues driven into aggressive pay-to-play tactics (sell at least 20 tickets or you’ll never play in this town again) will always win out over the smaller venues that put on bands for their benefit and for the sake of the scene. If you have to promote your show aggressively one night so as to not lose your venue, it is likely that you will completely ignore that little pub gig down the road you have planned the next day. This is unfair to the second venue and all the other bands on the bill who have tried to promote the show and who will usually stand around watching your band regardless of what they think of you. You may be able to win over a new fan or two, but without offering the other bands a similar opportunity, you have essentially stolen from them.

If you fail to deliver in terms of attendance, you will very quickly see gig offers drying up. The easiest way to get onto the line-up of your dreams is to promote every show you do to the best of your ability. This is much easier if you limit yourself to two home-town shows a month at the very most. Your friends won’t hate you for cluttering up Facebook with constant event invitations and the venues won’t hate you for constantly turning up and playing to empty rooms. If you can get twenty or more people down to every show you play, you will very quickly find your reputation growing and you will be offered better and better support slots. You will also find that promoters are far more willing to pay to get you at their venue.

In this country there are hundreds of bands that are working towards forming a sustainable cottage-industry for themselves, all of them happy to play their music to appreciative audiences and thankful if they can achieve this without losing money every time they load up their van. If you are in one of the many bands guilty of abusing this industry that so many people care about, then in my eyes you are partly responsible for the decline of many great bands that have simply been unable to afford to continue. Always think carefully before accepting a local gig; the prospect of small venues closing their doors for good is a reality.

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I play music sometimes and put on free-entry gigs at The Avondale House in Southampton for RPS Shows.

7 Comments

  1. avatar

    A lesson MANY local Southampton bands really need to learn.
    It does nobody any good to think of venues with a childish “us and them” approach and yet that seems to be all I ever see.

    Thanks for this Simon, I hope this reaches a wide enough audience to change a few opinions.

  2. avatar

    I agree that never should a band leave straight after their set but blaming the musician who creates the scene for destroying a scene seems a little silly. The way I see it is that the venue and promoter can make their business a success by choosing bands that can best entertain and impress an audience. If they consistently do this then the audience will be more open to attending more shows and bring their friends who tell their friends. This way more bands get more fans and can concentrate on making better music rather then making friends on facebook.

  3. avatar

    Pretty harsh… Bands work hard writing and rehearsing songs to get to a good standard and, especially if they want it to become their career, they have every right to play as many gigs as they want to. Just like someone determined to succeed in any industry should work towards it as much as possible, and shouldn’t turn down good opportunities.
    Obviously I agree that it is in everyone’s interest to have as many people at a gig as possible, for the sake of the venue, the promoters and the bands, but you can’t complain if a band doesn’t bring enough people to your liking. YOU’RE the promoter, it’s your job to promote the gig and if there’s not enough people there then you’re clearly not doing your job properly…

    • avatar

      Perhaps the oddest thing that I noticed since starting promoting is how few bands make a living out of music. There have been bands that I have assumed were massive, with songs on computer games and deals with big indie labels that all have to hold down jobs as supply teachers, merch guys, sound techs etc… For most people, being in a band has nothing to do with money or making a living, as they would never have stuck around long enough if it was.

      Also. Seeing as you know how to do the job of promoting properly, I’d love for you to come down and show me and all the other promoters in Southampton how to do it. You should hold a seminar. You’d have no problem in getting people to attend…

  4. avatar

    The Joiners is on the verge of closing every week. This is not scare mongering, this is a fact. I have been in the business for nearly 20 years and without the support of local bands we cant exsist. The bands have some tough choices to make. Do you play every show you get offered or do you cherry pick and play the best venues with the best sound and i include a few other southampton venues in that not just The Joiners.
    Local bands with 4/5 members should easily be able to bring 15/20 people if you choose your gigs. When i first started doing this bands would be dissapointed if they failed to bring 40 people
    I appreciate every band that plays at The Joiners, ive watched local bands grow to appear in massive venues. I do this because of the local scene, i want bands to think its something special to play The Joiners, coz it really is. You can say you have shared the stage with……..
    what a great feeling that must be!!!
    To keep the local scene alive YOU need The Joiners, the best music venue in the world…..yes im biased, i love the place.
    If you dont support the local scene you will not have a scene, simple as. You dont know what you have until its gone and guess what? then its too late

  5. avatar

    Pat would be a good person to listen to, as Joiners really is the best venue I’ve played and seen bands play at. Ricky and everyone there do a very incredible job. Often, I think a lot of bands feel that the venue and promoter are making a lot of money whilst they are making very little. When really every promoter and venue owner I’ve met does it because they help out bands, the financial reward is negligible at the DIY level.

    Something I couldn’t get round to in the article is a general understanding of market forces and supply and demand. Any band has a certain amount of value and you become less sale-able the more available you are. It’s just reality that you have to offer a certain amount of value to a venue to make it worth them affording you the stage time. I think for most bands, if they played one show every 3 weeks/a month around Joiners, Avondales, Lennons and Talking Heads they’d be able to sustain a small fanbase and add to it gradually. Think Bunny in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, they were probably shit but great at marketing.

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