Your Feet Have Got It Covered

Isn’t it great when you go to all the effort of getting a proper old school original band to play, maybe who’ve been around for a while, who’ve created songs that have stood the test of time, a band that even those who weren’t born the first time around know when they hear them, and then you find that the generic yet genre specific cover band playing down the road have pulled double the punters you have? What a depressing state for live music to be in.


Don’t get me wrong, cover bands have their place. I think they’re a great thing. Good for musicians to build their repertoire, and great for practice. Good for audiences who may get their first introduction to music that happened before their time but influenced so much of what they hear now. To someone who loves to promote creativity, especially in music, the disappointing thing is that being in a cover band is now seen as the way to make a living if you want to be a full time musician. Cover bands get paid more. Cover bands get booked more. Yes, it might be for cheesy weddings or crappy family ‘fun’ gigs, but a gig’s a gig, and money is money. I can see the pull. If you’re serious about being a career musician – and by that I mean someone who pays their own bills, does their own washing, needs to consider such things as household budgeting – then you need to find the most lucrative avenue(s) through which to achieve your career goals. Some musicians would say it’s part of growing up and the acceptance of life as a musician. You can’t be in a fantastical band of your dreams all your life, whimsically producing what you feel, purging your soul in the name of your ‘art’ if you want to make a living. This may be true. But why should it be true? Why don’t people come to your gigs?


The answer? How much time have you got? I’ve heard countless band members blame the venue or the promoter for not promoting their gig enough. I’ve heard the local newspaper’s lack of coverage being blamed. Then there’s the weather, the time of the month, the price of beer, next door’s cat. But the simple fact is the economy of live music is dependant on your very own feet, however lackadaisical they may be.  It is the audience who dictates what venues provide in the way of musical entertainment. If the majority of their punters still keep buying beer whilst being besieged with bad Thin Lizzy covers or endless Greenday ‘classics’ then who are the venue to argue? Businesses need to make profit otherwise they cease to be businesses. Simple.


It’s hard work for a venue to decide to support independent music. The bureaurocratic costs are steadily mounting, the red tape progressively getting stickier. The less venues supporting independent music there are the more audience each remaining venue will get. The law of attrition suits some, but only the strong willed will survive. And that’s all they will do, survive, just.


So feet are to blame. Well, yes. But this includes band members’ feet too! Bands are the ultimate audience; the ones who can make or break a live music scene in any locality. What really pisses me off is when independent bands don’t support each other, or, for that matter, independent live music in general. There is an ever increasing attitude of if my band isn’t playing then what’s the point of going to any gig? This insightful comment is usually followed by some whinge about the lack of support for live music in their town, whilst lamenting that at least they’ve got their loyal fans (consisting of eight friends/family/girlfriends/boyfriends).


The point is if you don’t go to local gigs with original music then there won’t be any gigs for your band to play at. Quite a simple sum really. Being in a band means you have a wider responsibility to your local live music scene, because if you want to carry on being in a band then you will need it to exist! You can’t bake a cake without an oven to put it in (or something). In order for your band to survive you need other bands to survive, you need promoters to exist, you need pubs and venues to thrive on live music, you need regular audiences. The sustenance to all of those things’ existence is you and your feet. Collectively your feet have a voice and they dictate the direction of the live music scene in your local town.


So next time you’re out in your local pub or venue have a good think about how you being there affects how that business runs, and therefore affects how much the local independent music scene will thrive. Your head counts. Just your presence in any venue says something to that business. The moment you walk through the door you become a statistic, whether you like it or not. Your very existence in that space says a thousand words, even if you remain silent. If the live music which that venue is providing isn’t original, isn’t something new, something different, something you come away from feeling inspired for the future of music, if what that venue is presenting to your ears is against the basic Tao of every original live music supporter, even after a couple of pints, then find a venue that’s putting original stuff on and stay there. Demand it! You don’t need a banner or a sign on a 2×4 to make a statement. You can do that perfectly well with your feet.



A Promoter’s Point

Being a promoter sometimes requires cautious diplomacy in the face of raw enthusiasm. Every musician I’ve met is passionate about their creations, without exception. Not a surprising fact. But some realise the difference between doing gigs and getting offered gigs.

The difference begins with treating the band more like business, less as an ego trip and excuse for a piss up, which is fine if that’s your band’s main objective (and for quite a few it is). What ruins that strategy is when the same bands complain they’re not getting enough gigs and their fan base isn’t growing. Gigs are great when all your mates are there, but more or less they’re a false audience. They are obliged to be nice, regale you of your awesomeness, Windex your vanity. Expanding a fan base is a whole other matter. Gaining new followers is a great achievement and a good directional clarification. Of course social networking, digital availability of your offerings and general pushiness is part of it, but on stage exposure is the only way to really inspire and connect with new listeners, and by supporting the bands that attract your potential fans. Remembering you will be doing the same for others once you’re headlining. This means working in collaboration with bands, venues, and, if you’re lucky, a good promoter.

Promoters put bands on for a reason. You have ‘something’ that makes their neurones sparkle, makes that audio imagery real. You don’t have phallical protrusions emanating from your forehead. You will bring in punters, and more than likely appeal to existing punters. Your fans aren’t just there to extol your musical virtue then promptly disappear having collectively purchased half a coke between all six of them. Promoters have to please more than one interested party: the band, the venue, the audience, the budget (unless they have already amassed a personal fortune to spend as they wish – if only!). From my point of view I need to feel a band is serious about taking their passion seriously. I want to support that passion and assist in some, however small, way. I want to reward them for their dedicated hard work, and feel an immense personal failure if I can’t give them it. I actually give a shit.

Promoters aren’t the enemy. Real grass roots promoters are passionate about music, especially live music, and just can’t help it! If a promoter hasn’t started in a dingy pub, stressing about every detail, pushing for that bit of free promotion in every corner, losing money, buffering the venue’s expectations with the bands wants/demands then they have no credence to be gratified with the label of success, whatever that means. On the very rare, almost nonexistent, times I make what you would consider profit at a gig it goes back into the pot for the next one. Maybe to bring in something completely new that I know won’t draw a huge crowd on its own but warrants the financial loss just because of its ‘you HAVE to hear this’ brilliance! I just wish more people went to gigs just for the sake of going to a gig. But that’s where a promoter’s reputation is all important, people wi come back without even knowing who’s playing if in the past they’ve not been disappointed – something that bands don’t always consider when they’re knocked back by that miserable crappy promoter who hates them and doesn’t really know what they’re talking about anyway, in their considered opinion.

On a side note, pay to play are NOT promoters. As far as I’m concerned they have nothing to do with music and more to do with sneaky banker types practicing the Simon Cowell school of music exploitation in the name of amassing a personal fortune to comfort their own egotistical needs.

See you on the door 😉

(Originally published in Rhubarb Bomb, October issue