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Friday, 3 June 2011

The beginning of the end, or what?

WARNING. This is a rambling rant.

As most friends and acquaintances know I have been in a long term relationship with live music.
It's a classic love affair that has now been going on for just a little over three decades.
We have had our highs and our lows.
Who wouldn't over such a long period?
We have enjoyed nights that I wished could have went on forever, and on others I have wished the evening to end sooner rather than later.
That's sort of normal though.
It would be fair to say that sometimes live music hasn't fulfilled my needs.
Although it would also be fair to say that sometimes hard financial times have led me to pay less attention to live music than it deserves.
We are still together though. Probably in it for the long haul.
But it's difficult just now.
Live music doesn't seem as popular as it once was and I've found myself wondering why.
Initially I was looking for one problem that I could hang my hat on.
One issue that was the big ugly dragon that we could slay before getting on with business as usual, but the more I think about it the more problems are thrown up that need to be considered.
So why does it appear that the public have fallen out of love with live music?
It's a serious question.
Firstly what needs to be addressed is the misconception that everything is fine and dandy.
Of course some will say that they went to see Roger Waters perform The Wall and it was sold out, while others will have taken their kids to see the latest chart topper playing in front of a huge crowd and in their opinion these large scale sold out events would indicate that I'm talking absolute rubbish.
Based on their experiences they could claim that live music is still a much loved and cherished social event.
It's not really true though.
All we can take from that is that huge events with a huge advertising budget and nostalgia sells, and none of that is doing much to bring through new talent.
Everything looks fine and dandy on the surface, but scratch at it and tell me what's lurking beneath?
The current state of affairs seems to me to be like the shiny red apple used to coax Snow White into a coma.
On the outside it is looking fine, but bite into it and it's got a rotten core.
And I would say that it's only a matter of time before the signs of decay make their way to the surface.
Okay, some will ask where the evidence of this decline is.
Well the writing is on the wall in every club/pub sized venue across the whole of the UK.
Venues are closing on what seems to be a weekly basis, and bands are apparently playing to dwindling audiences everywhere.
I was going to do a top ten of problems, but none of the issues deserve to be raised as being more important than another so I'm just going to start in and see where it goes.
How about promotion being an issue?
Piss poor promotion really pisses me off big style.
A few weeks ago I found out that Kid Congo had played a gig in Glasgow.
I would have been there with bells on if I had known anything about it, but I didn't.
One small photocopied A4 sheet of paper blue tacked to a wall doesn't cut it as spreading the word.
I'm not the only person who missed it either.
So that's a case of those booking the bands shooting themselves in the foot.
To an extent it was the same deal with The Urban Voodoo Machine playing a show in Glasgow.
Triple G promotions pulled the show due to a lack of ticket sales.
Yet the only promotion I seen was a single mention on a multiple band flyer handed out late at night to those leaving the Michael Monroe show.
No posters, no individual flyers, and nary a buzz about it.
It seems very basic, but how the fuck do you sell tickets to people who are unaware of the gig taken place?
The proof that they were wrong to pull the gig was evident when the band went ahead and played in a venue called The Bay instead.
Starting from scratch they got a very good turn out for a Wednesday night show that was put on at short notice with a limited amount of promotion available to them.
If Triple G had pulled out all the stops and used their muscle then I would think that a good turnout in the original venue would have been achieved.
That sort of leads on to another problem that has become apparent to me that's linked to the problems of poor promotion.
While spreading the word about the Urban Voodoo Machine show a few clubs and bars told us they had a policy of not advertising gigs that aren't being held in their venue.
Forgive me, but that just tells me that they aren't music fans.
It's all about the money for them.
Let me here you 'IT'S ALL ABOUT THE MONEY'.
Let's just look at how that attitude works on a business level.
If they don't promote other gigs in other venues then why should they be allowed to poster and flyer in other establishments?
So by not participating in promoting music on a wider scale they are limiting how many people hear about the shows that they have on.
I can see how that would make sense.
Oh wait a minute. I fuckin' don't.
It's capitalist dogma.
Each and every one of them wants to corner a market for their own personal gain, and in doing so are fucking it up royally.
Lets be honest here.
As a music lover if you head into a bar/venue and you see a whole host of posters and flyers on the tables advertising bands playing all over the city you get the impression that the owners and the bar staff are passionate about being part of something.
If they limited that to just promoting their own shows then you get the impression that they're not.
There's no point me mentioning any of this as a problem if I'm not going to name and shame the guilty though.
So here you go.
Of the Glasgow venues Box weren't up for it. Maggie May's said no, Cosmopol was another.
The Solid Rock allowed us, but a few days later told a friend no - so I guess it depends who is on shift - and The Captains Rest said they only do CPL shows, and then King Tuts knocked us back to, although we did leave flyers.
On the flip side Nice and Sleazy have a fair policy. They reserve the bar for their own events for posters, but you can flyer there, and the entrance and hallway leading downstairs is available to anyone to promote a show by putting up posters.
The 13th Note were more than happy to allow us to poster as were Mono. So it isn't all bad, but it is a fact that by disallowing the advertising of gigs certain venues are coming across as part of the problem and not the solution.
Of the record stores they were far more positive with 'Love Music, Fopp and Missing records all allowing posters to be put up.
(If anyone wants to highlight others who do or don't allow posters then feel free in the comments.)
Okay, all that I've said has an impact, but what else?
Apathy. I hear it all the time, and yes it's a problem. I'm not sure what the answer is.
Anyone who doesn't go to gigs and claims to love music needs to ask themselves what the score is.
It's down to them personally.
Okay, here's another problem though. Downloading.
No, not the old illegal downloading is killing music debate, but instead I've noticed that many younger people don't buy or even illegally download albums.
Instead they hear one song and download that for their i-phone or mp3 player.
They can have 300 tracks by 300 different artists and that doesn't lead to them wanting to shell out for a ticket to see a band play for an hour.
They just want to hear that one song.
Everything else a band has recorded is unknown waters for them, and they're very reluctant to dip a toe in and see if the water is warm.
I suppose that comes down to marketing though.
The push, push, push of everything now, now, now.
Unfortunately that one track downloaded doesn't lend itself to selling tickets for a gig.
Money is another problem, but I think the perception of the cost of a night out taking in some live music is more of a problem than the actual cost itself.
If, for instance, the last three shows you were at were big events in stadiums or larger venues then you could have paid about £120 for a ticket including your booking fees, your travelling, a drink and a meal, or maybe even more.
An expensive night out, but that sort of thing lodges in the brain and people start to think that going to see bands is an exercise in extortion, but that isn't the case.
I've been to see three bands at £3.
By the end of the night you can genuinely bring an evenings entertainment in at 20 quid.
A few drinks, a few bands and good company.
Maybe the reality of what the smaller scale shows cost needs to be pushed more.
That also leads on to something else.
The fear of the unknown.
Some will look at that and say, but I'm not paying three quid for three bands I've never heard of, but I would say to them that in a city centre pub they could pay three quid or more for a foreign beer that you've never tried before and that beer isn't going to last as long as the three bands playing will.
So once again it's a matter of perceptions needing to be challenged.
Then as pointed out by the guys in the Acid Fascists live music has to compete with everything from the latest x-box game to x-factor on the television.
We live in an era where entertainment bombards us from every angle and live music could just be getting lost in the deluge.
seeing as I'm here and ranting I'll have a pop at Oasis as well.
Since they arrived every young band has a bit of Liam and Noel in them and after seeing a hundred million of them week in week out you start to think 'what is the fuckin' point'.
Rather than being the saviours of guitar rock they simply launched a thousand imitators.
Bands that may have well traded as tributes to a watered down Beatles
Maybe this lack of originality has had a bit of an impact to. Hell I don't know.
I could go on, and on, and on, but instead it's over to you.
I've got the ball rolling on this and I want to hear what else we can come up with.
Problems? Solutions. Whatchyagot?


  1. "Some will look at that and say, but I'm not paying three quid for three bands I've never heard of, but I would say to them that in a city centre pub they could pay three quid or more for a foreign beer that you've never tried before and that beer isn't going to last as long as the three bands playing will".

    Too true!!

    The poster thing happens a lot in my town but there are some good places where they're accepted for other venues.

    It's always great when bands help plug events via their own email lists/ inviting fans via the FB events page, etc.

  2. Guess us oldies just gotta accept that it's over, had it's time, finito!! .. There's no money in it & the kids don't wanna bop!! Rock is Dead .. Long live Rock!

  3. Oh have the same problem up north?

  4. It seems to be a UK problem Chris. I know people who are saying mainland Europe has a different cultural approach with live music being well supported, and someone I know who is just back from the states told me that jam nights can pull over 200 (That was around New Orleans)

  5. Anonymopus. You could be right. That's why I said is it the beginning of the end.
    If everyone just favours nostalgia then the money will be pumped into providing that with nothing new being supported, and young bands seem to form and disband on a sixpence.
    I personally doubt that there can ever be another youth movement again ona large scale. Small bursts in local areas, yes, but nothing global.

  6. Billy Buzzbomb3 June 2011 at 19:05

    Promotion is always a bugbear of bands. Yes we can hit up people on facebook, myspace or whatever but we are a band not a promoter. The clue is in the name I guess. We dont live in Edinburgh or Glasgow so I think we should expect a bit of help filling the venue from the people who actually book the show. I've lost count of the times we have turned up at the venue where theres no posters, no flyers, no press. It then becomes hard to give it your all when you know that A. The person booking the show hasn't and B. you are actually shelling out your own pocket as there isnt even a few quid available for fuel. We always try to give 100% for the few people who actually turn up but its a tough shift at times.
    Dont get me wrong there are plenty promoters who do all of the above and still struggle to get people through the door but i guess thats a different question altogether with regards to the state of the live music scene certainly in Scotland anyway......

  7. Fair poinrs Billy. This is what I mean about it not being a single issue problem.
    There are some venues (not all) and some promoters (again not all) who seem to be actively working towards finishing off what live music scene we have due to their inability to just do the fuckin' basics.
    The lack of working together to create a healthier scene that would be mutually beneficial to venues, bands, promoters and fans alike is also a big problem.

  8. "As a music lover if you head into a bar/venue and you see a whole host of posters and flyers on the tables advertising bands playing all over the city you get the impression that the owners and the bar staff are passionate about being part of something."

    This doesn't necessarily translate into people going to the gigs the posters are advertising though; it gives the place a good vibe but it doesn't address the problem. Posters only work if people already know who it is who's playing.

    Most bands publicise their gigs on-line and via text, so anyone who knows them knows that they're playing. I think a lot of bands fragment their audience. They take as many gigs as they can and there's no way all their fans can go to all their shows so they don't get the biggest crowd along.

    I also think, and this is a very subjective point, that there are so many venues and so many promoters trying to get 6 bands on a night that a lot of bands who are... not he best... get gigs. Obviously the only way to get better is to play, but that means there's usually more crap than good bands on in those sorta places.

    On a related matter to that, and given you mentioned Oasis, I think there are far too many bands who sound like they're playing a 30 minute Libertines song, absolutely no variety in their stuff! It seems a lot of budding musicians will listen to their favourite band and try and be them, rather than listening to the influences of their influences and trying to do something new.

  9. Of course a rock and roll dive with plenty of posters advertising gigs doesn't translate to 'everyone' in the bar going to the gigs, but as it provides informations as to who is playing, and where, I would say that it is more part of the solution than the problem.
    I wouldn't necessarily say that people need to know the band either though.
    A poster could be promoting a charity show that's only a couple of quid to attend, and the charity aspect is the draw. Or it could say that a jazz ensemble were playing on the sunday afternoon, and while the name of the band is new to you the thought of sitting relaxing with a pint on a sunday afternoon listening to jazz after a hectic week could be a major attraction.
    Then there's the club nights advertised. Once more you may not have heard of the specific band on the poster, but the trad rock and roll hop and bop club night they are playing at sounds like a good night out if that's your thing.
    As for most bands publicising their gigs on-line. I just feel that's a sweeping generalisation. I've promoted gigs where the members of bands have literally done nothing to promote the gig. Now I don't mean that I want them tramping the streets putting up posters and stuff, but adding a link on their own facebook etc isn't too much to ask.
    The online thing is a problem as well.
    Some promoters and bands seem to consider it their only line of promotion and treat it as the only means of advertising.
    It's a busy world out their on the internet and a little update on a social networking site is easily missed.
    Putting up one link is akin to someone putting up one poster. It doesn't really spread the word.
    I completely agree about the 6 bands bills. It's all quantity rather than quality and it can make for a long evening having to sit through three bands who are still months shy of having the talent to appear in public. That doesn't lead to people wanting to go back at all.

  10. I think there's also something to be said for what's easily available on TV these days - when I was young (cue Hovis tune) there was Top of the Pops for parents to be shocked at and kids to love and there were programmes like Razzamatazz and The Young Ones....ahh, Motorhead on The Young Ones...sweet....anyway, you saw disco to punk and everything in between and you picked what floated your boat.
    Now, the average kid is bombarded with manufactured "bands" who have won TV talent shows which they have only entered in a quest for celebrity - nothing to do with a love of, or indeed any knowledge of music in most cases - there's the sweet boy next door, the gay one, the bad boy, the complicated one...if it's a diva you're after, there's plenty botox, g-strings, whitened teeth ("but I'm really from the hood, just like you") and "because I'm worth it" hair to sink the boat with bullshit.
    Well, I'm busy teaching my kids that a "band" plays instruments, God forbid may even write their own songs and are more often than not, best experienced live. I fear however that I may be in the minority.

  11. That's all certainly part of the problem Mo. Kids seem to have become dislocated from what we would call 'real' music, but we have to look to our peers as well and ask why they will only board the nostalgia train and are so unwilling to support young talent.
    This lack of investment, and I mean in time and attention, is going to lead to very poor offerings two to three years from now. Hopefully we are just in a deep trough in a cycle though and the good times will come back.

  12. Marcus Carcass4 June 2011 at 21:08

    Some good points here folks - especially as the first I heard about the Kid Congo Powers gig was three days after it happened !

    The only thing I can say is I wish I had an answer to the problem.

  13. Share it about Marcus. I want it to get about so that people consider their part in what is going on and look to doing something about it. Even if that is going to one gig at £3 a month.