The rise of the Internet
11th February 2020
2003 to 2004
The impact of the Internet continued to affect bands and rock music in the UK generally and in Leicester. It could be argued that the rise of the Internet was one of the most influential factors that allowed unsigned, amateur bands to start up and flourish. Music fans also took to the Internet in large numbers and discovered and listened to a wider range of music than those of the pre-Internet age. So, how did the Internet change music?
First. Some background. Websites need an address and the key to this is the domain name, a string of characters ending in .com or .co.uk or some other suffix. In 2004, the domain name arcticmonkeys.com was registered. The Sheffield band Arctic Monkeys, which formed in 2002, was signed in 2005 but before that, they established a sizeable fan-base on MySpace, an early social media website popular with music fans. Reverbnation was launched in 2006, as a site for the independent music industry. Soundcloud was started in Germany in 2007 and between then and 2009, it began to challenge MySpace as the main site for distributing music tracks. Bandcamp was founded in 2007. This then was the period during which several websites became prominent in the music world and many of them are still going today. The domain name kasabian.co.uk was registered in 2002, one of the earliest domain names to be used by a band that originated in Leicester. Someone registered thescreening.co.uk in 2004 for Leicester band The Screening. These were early adopters of the do-it-yourself breed of Internet users. The AIDs, forerunners of Skam, also had a domain name registered for them in 2004. The band Maybeshewill registered their domain name in 2004.
By 2014, almost all of the musicians in Leicester’s rock bands had grown up with the Internet. Utilising it for their music was not difficult. Many of the city’s recording studios did well from this easy access to DIY outlets. Anstey-based pop-punk band ICTUS registered their domain name in 2003. The Attik was also a popular destination for bands and their fans and many people still have happy memories of the place. It closed in 2006. Many pubs put on live music from time to time. In 2004, I remember going to a pub in Hinckley called Northern Territories where I saw ICTUS performing.
Thriving music industry
Businesses grew up to service this market – such as companies specialising in the printing and replication of CDs. A Leicester company called Horus Music provided technical services for the publication of music. In a city with a thriving music scene, it was inevitable that support businesses would also thrive. There were stores doing a busy trade in guitars and strings, drums and drumsticks. Printers worked hard to keep up with the constant demand for posters and flyers. Rehearsals rooms were nearly always full.
By 2014, access to the Internet had become almost universal in the UK. The advent of mass ownership of mobile phones (connected to the Internet) began to replace the use of computers and laptops as the main devices that people used to connect to social media sites. Whereas access had been through computers connected to broadband, now people were spending their time on social media via their smartphones and a variety of hand-held devices. This increased the utilisation of social media and led to increased flexibility in the kind of platforms people could use when interested in music. Local live music venues began to get details of their gigs and shows on to the Internet.
The impact that this technology had on popular music was fundamental and far-reaching. It would be wrong to say that the Internet brought an end to the CD and the vinyl record but the significance of these media declined; music had become mediated through streaming and downloads from websites such as iTunes, Spotify, Amazon and Bandcamp. These were being increasingly used to provide the tracks that attracted the attention of music fans. They became widely used by unsigned bands and start-up music artists.
The Internet had a profound effect on music of all kinds. Music venues and festivals depended on social media to attract fans and to make ticket sales – at a minimal cost. Most social media was free to use and this made it possible to put on a concert and sell tickets for it at almost no cost. Gone were the days of having to print tickets and pay for expensive advertising using paper-based media such as posters. Now bands could organise their own gigs, if they wanted to, and advertise them to a widely spread audience without having to lay out large sums of money. Even so, the city was awash with posters advertising gigs and bands. Not everyone was on the Internet and there were always people who needed to see things on paper because they were not connected to the Internet.
Paper-based music magazines and newspapers began to close down in favour of online versions. In Leicester, The Monograph was published on paper for a relatively brief period of time. Even though the paper was supplemented with a website, its days were numbered. It could not be sustained as a physical product in a world where advertising revenues were increasingly gravitating towards online publishing. The same can be said of paper-based newspapers and magazines generally. Paper is very expensive to print and distribute. The cost of setting up an online newspaper was tiny in comparison to the huge start-up costs of paper periodicals.
Record label A&R scouts began to work more on the Internet than at music venues. Whereas music scouts once depended on attendance at venues to see and to discover bands and singers, they now had only to sit in their offices and log on to Facebook (founded in 2004) and Twitter (founded in 2006) to find what they were looking for. Bands and artists could be discovered by talent scouts and many of them began to take notice of how many friends or followers were seen on social media sites.
Website hosting became increasingly inexpensive up to 2014. Domains names could be registered for a few pounds and the emergence of content management services, such as WordPress, allowing websites to be constructed without recourse to the expensive fees charged by web designers. Having a band website became an increasing possibility for even the smallest of unsigned groups. Although social media platforms provided the mainstream of Internet presence, bands and singers continued to maintain websites as part of creating a professional image. Even today, bands and singers maintain their own websites in addition to their content on social media.
Running a band could be an expensive hobby for most amateur musicians. Promoting your band became increasingly feasible as more and more music fans used the Internet to find the kind of music they sought. Going to gigs did not decline because of downloads and streaming. You cannot download the live experience and streaming does not confer the full experience of actually being there. If anything, these procedures reinforced the desire of fans to actually see the bands that made the music they liked. People continued to attend music festivals where they could see the bands they liked so much when on the Internet. When I went to gigs in 2003 and 2004 they were nearly always full. A large proportion of the audience was young people. Teenagers. A lot of the musicians were also in their teens.
There were some significant music events from 2003 to 2004. One Big Sunday was held in Victoria Park, from 1 to 4 pm, on Sunday 20th July 2003. Many readers will remember this event; it seemed that most of Leicester was there, as the whole of Victoria Park was a sea of faces. One of the bands that appeared that day was Busted. Others included Athlete, Daniel Bedingfield, Kelly Rowland and Mis-Teeq. Another of the BBC’s One Big Sunday events had been held in Leicester in 2001. The BBC put on these huge outdoor events to build its audience of music listeners. The Abbey Park festival started to gain importance as a launchpad for local bands. On Victoria Park, Summer Sundae weekender established itself as a major part of the annual cycle of music festivals. Having started in 2001, the festival became an important event and began to attract fans from all over the country. The festival was held in the De Montfort Hall and its surrounding grounds and lasted from Friday to Sunday. Though not a festival, as such, 2004 saw the foundation of the Original Bands showcase (aka OBS) as a showcase for local bands and musical talent. Its heats led up to the grand final, always an important event in the city’s music calendar.
Venues and gigs
In April 2005, I put on one of my first ever live music events. I promoted a gig at the Jam Jar, near Braunstone Gate, and for this, I booked Ictus, The AIDs, Patchwork Grace and Nemisto. Notes, made at the time, suggested that 41 tickets were sold. This took place on 14th April. The Jam Jar was the same venue that is now called The Music Cafe. The AIDs was a band that evolved to today’s group, Skam with its lead singer Steve Hill. ICTUS was a pop-rock band based in Anstey. This was a trial run for a bigger event I organised later. By this time I had been attending live rock gigs on a regular basis so I had developed a feel for how things were done. A venue in Millstone Lane was known for its music events; in 2004 I knew it as The Firefly. Today we call it Firebug.
Leicester had several well-established permanent live music venues. The Shed was opened in 1994 and the Musician in 2000. In Oxford Road, The Charlotte was going strong. Andy Wright had taken over the tenancy of the pub in 1989 and a few years later it was extended to form a larger area for the bands and their fans. Over the years, the Charlotte saw many of the country’s most famous rock bands playing on its stage including the emerging Kasabian and the legendary Stone Roses. The Charlotte became the ‘must play’ venue for all of Leicester’s up and coming bands. New bands had certain venues in their crosshairs and were determined to play at them as they climbed the local ladder of musical success.
Night clubs also attracted fans of rock music. Mosh opened in 2003 and began to appeal to students and young people who wanted to hear their kind of music being played by DJs. The Fan Club started in 1985 and that too was a big pull for people who liked rock and roll. In the Haymarket Centre, there was a night club called Baileys and they sometimes put on live bands including Showaddywaddy and Slade.
My own experience in live music gives clues as to what things were like in those days. I put on a Rock Night at the Music Cafe, previously called the Jam Jar, on 29th April 2005, with ICTUS, the AIDs, No One Knows and Glitch. Tickets were £4 each. Members of ICTUS were Adam Gent, Chris Byrne and Aaron Murray. The AIDs were Steve Hill, Matt Gilmore and Kieran Gilmore (aka Meatpuppet). Glitch was Kristian Tate, James Hoggar, Andrew Winfield and James Hawes. No One Knows were Neil Bennett, Andy Goulter, Rich Rainbow and Adam Tozer. Doors opened at 7:30 pm. Tom Stoppard did the ticket desk. The compère was Paul Cowper. The photographer was Trevor Sewell. Tim helped with the advertising and designed the flyers. Double-sided A6 flyers were printed in full colour at a cost of £216. The accounts showed £325 in ticket sales, and £240 was paid out to bands, leaving a profit of £85. That event was branded as being provided by my business called Get Your Band On. That was a more successful enterprise than anything else I did in Leicester. The GYBO project was contacted by bands from all over the UK and had one of the most successful rock music websites in the country at that time. The project was based at my office at the LCD Depot in Rutland Street. I considered that show to be a resounding success musically and in terms of the number of people who were there. Financially, it was not very rewarding. I was to find out that financial failure would be a similar situation throughout most of my work as a promoter of live music events. Making money out of gigs was very difficult but that was not why I did it. My income came from other sources and being involved in music was simply a hobby, for me. The people who could earn a living from putting on music shows in Leicester could be counted on the fingers of one hand.
Later, in 2005, I held another gig at The Music Cafe in New Park Street with leading Birmingham rock band Blakfish, local bands Emperor State, Own Worst Enemy and The Landaus from Hull. The night was again promoted by Get Your Band On. I sold 30 tickets at £3 each. I made a loss on the event of over £45. That was on 14th October. Having Blakfish there was a real coup because they were, at the time, an up-and-coming band achieving national status. A press release at the time said that Blakfish’s music was ‘… progressive, driving indie rock sound mixing punk and spazz in an intense cocktail of modern rock music.’
During 2005, I thought it would be a good idea to jump on the bandwagon and start a boy band – a singing group that might make a name for itself. So I hoped. I recruited five of the best male singers in the city who agreed to take part in the project. We called the group Horizon. The group rehearsed for many weeks before its first public performance. Horizon did one public performance and then split up. An interesting idea while it lasted. At least I learned something about the music industry and its artists that I did not know before. I wrote later: ‘All of the singers were solo artists in their own right. That is probably why the whole project failed.’ Solo artists do not always make good group vocalists. Each had his own solo career and saw little value in being part of a group. The group lasted for as long as it did because its members were all friends, to some extent. I very much enjoyed organising their rehearsals and helping them choose which songs they would sing.
I continued to put on live gigs in 2005 and managed to gain access to a night club then called Original Four, or just O4, for short. The building used to be a social club for city council workers and trade unions, on the apex of King Street and Wellington Street. It was later called Superfly. Using the room on the first floor, I put on a series of Wednesday gigs and managed to book a line-up of top Leicester bands to play at these events. The shows ran from 9 pm to midnight and entry tickets cost just three pounds. Bands I remember being at these gigs included Method in Madness, The Daniels (from Wolverhampton), Emperor State, Amber Means Go, The AIDs, 2nd to Last and The Displacements.
Music and the Internet, Going to Gigs Round 11, Wednesday 15th November 2017, Music in Leicester magazine.
It’s all about the music. We look back at Leicester’s greatest hits. Going to Gigs. Round 13. Music in Leicester magazine, Wednesday 29th November 2017.
© Copyright Trevor Locke 2020