Promoting Local Music Events
22nd October 2021
by Carol Leeming and Trevor Locke
Today, 22nd September 2021, Carol Leeming posted a comment on her Facebook feed: ‘Now I am really looking at how local music, musicians are promoted & supported in LESTA’.
Carol’s post was about how local musicians can promote and advertise their shows to attract an audience. A subject of the utmost importance both now and in the past. It is an activity that has never been easy and following the Coronavirus lockdown, this has become even more difficult. As more and and more venues begin to open and more and more shows are put on, it is more important than ever to let music fans know what is going on. Carol’s post attracted a lost of interest and comments. Trevor’s comments, made while composing this article, are shown in italics.
To Carol’s comment, Grant Decker, a local musician, responded by saying, ‘I think an event similar to Simon Says/Summer Sundae is vital for Leicester bands to gain confidence on bigger stages and to gain exposure playing with larger acts. Be lovely to have something like that in Leicester again to give local acts that confidence.’
Simons Says and Summer Sundae were weekend festivals that took place at the De Montfort Hall. They attracted a national following as well as large numbers of local music fans. These were events of national prestige. Apart from putting on big name acts, they also provided a platform for local artists. They were an important part of the music scene in our city both to fans and to local bands and artists. Local bands saw a performance at these events as a significant step in the right direction.
Carol Leeming replied, ‘Yes I completely agree Grant. I am finding out about promotion in Leicester (after a long period) as I have a gig coming soon in Leicester. I too wish we had a big platform as you suggest but also I posted a video on my timeline from 2009 when I worked on Oxjam in the city centre – it was great the support all the music bands artists had with venues and promoters working together would be great to see more of that in these strange times… as well for me its about our Leicester City Council, the Leicester Mercury, Cool as Leicester, Bid Leicester and other organisations getting behind bigging up Leicester music scene to promote Leicester music musicians. Bands venues far more and importantly more culturally diverse music musicians bands, as we are such a diverse city you would not think so looking at all the print online media about music in Leicester – it is very white and only certain genres types of music!’
The problem is that even when there were big events, like Summer Sundae Weekender, it was not always possible for local artists to get on them. Organisers of large festivals could be very selective about who to take on their line-ups. Wanting a platform is one thing; being able to get a ready-made one is another. Oxjam attracted local music fans but few came from outside the local area (because there were Oxjam events all over the country.) Demand for performance slots at Oxjam was very high. Despite the large number of stages, some artists were disappointed. Leicester has always been blessed with very large numbers of bands, groups, singers and rappers.
Luke Broughton, a musician and singer, came back on this: ‘Carol Leeming it is very homogenous in places. In my experience it is often quite a fractured scene where people often want to protect what they perceive they have rather than collaborating to grow it. Programming can be very repetitive. Open Mics are cornered by very few people doing the same things putting on their friends. There are things I get asked to do that other people don’t. On the other hand there are things I never get asked to do that the same people always get asked to do. E.g. Despite being a prominent mixed race musician in the city I’ve never been asked to play the Cosmopolitan Carnival. Is that because my genre is unexpected of my ethnicity? There are lots of conversations to be had. I’m up for having them!’
Luke was right in saying that our local music scene is fractured. It is split up into genres and styles and gigs and concerts. These in turn attract only those people who follow those genres. That has cultural consequences in that some groups of people fail to attend certain types of music events, because they do not reflect their interests. Stages offering a diverse line-up might succeed in addressing this issue. But there are those music fans who dislike ‘diversity’ in music because their tastes are very limited. The Cosmopolitan Carnival attempted to provide a highly diverse mix of music and art-forms but its appeal was limited even though it had many strengths. It was a free festival held in the city centre and thus exposed members of the public to performances they would otherwise not have experienced. It had many good points but also some bad points. This event was fairly well publicised both online and physically, with some assistance from the Council for some years that it ran. Nearly all the musical acts on stage were local rather than of national significance with only a very few exceptions. It did however provide a platform for new and rising local artists. Cosmopolitan was an important part of the city’s summer arts programme – and continues to be to this day.
Carol Leeming expressed her views. ‘Luke Broughton. Yes you have made some very important points and I agree; that’s why I posted the Oxjam video because the music was so diverse widening and folks working together plus I remember working also as a programme on BBC Music Live Festival in Leicester 2000s that was also very culturally diverse and fantastic of course.’
The BBC (Radio’s) support for local music has been very patchy over the years. A few presenters did manage to feature the music of local artists on their programmes. In this respect the work of presenter Herdle White was exceptional. But today, there is little on the local channels that consistently represents Leicester’s talent, unlike Nottingham which has a whole Freeview channel in which its local talent and arts is represented. Other parts of the BBC have sometimes promoted the work of Leicester musicians, such as the programme BBC Introducing. Broadcast media has generally been very bad at presenting the work of new and rising local musicians and singers because they think that people will not have heard of them – a ‘catch 22’ situation if ever there was one!
Luke Broughton picked up this remark by saying, ‘Carol Leeming I think diversity is important of course. Not as a tokenisation but as to provide a true reflection of the cultural mix of the city. I’m sure you’re aware that both Leonie and I have made this a priority in any programmes we have put together. Her Ceremony events strive to include a range of genres, artists of multiple genders and ethnicities. Our first Avant Garden event was put together with this ethos central to it. We are still seeing Main Stream festival line-ups being dominated predominantly by the Middle Aged white patriarchy. This can only be challenged at grass roots level up in order for a different looking kind of bill to become normalised. Would be good to talk with you about this some time.’
Leicester is one of the UK’s most culturally diverse cities. Its artistic offering is unique, although there are many characteristics of the Nottingham arts scene that are similar; the same could also be said for Birmingham. One problem that has dogged Leicester over the years is its proximity to Nottingham and Birmingham. In some ways, Leicester has failed to make its voice heard in the arts and music industries. Today the digital media and even some broadcast media supports diversity in the arts more than ever before (though probably still not enough.) The drawback with this is it tends to court popularity more than what is avant-garde. The established media has been dominated by white men, traditionally, but this is changing now that people from diverse backgrounds are gaining entry to it more than ever before. As the cultural makeup of the UK’s population changes, the traditional offering of white-middle-aged entertainment will not do. It is not what audiences crave any more.
Musician Stan’ley’ Samuel commented, ‘Luke Broughton it wasn’t always like this. We seem to have gone backwards. That said I’m up for helping to change the mindset because Leicester has and has always had a wealth of amazing talent.’
They have a point about festivals being dominated by middle-aged white people. Oxjam Leicester was perhaps the exception to this because it was run by young women, in its later years. Music In Leicester magazine is probably regarded as being run by white, middle-aged males. Which it is. It has not succeeded in attracting women into its editorial ranks. As my ‘legacy’ (that of my musical enterprise) it does in fact represent a legacy of failure in that regard. The current editor has tried hard to utilise women reviewers but for whatever reason has not met with a great deal of success. Some ethnically diverse writers have made contributions but they are in the minority. The challenge facing the magazine is for the white male writers to understand what readers want to see. The magazine must also appreciate the diversity of its readership.
Carol Leeming agreed, saying, ‘Great Stan! Count me in. We have boss talent really and truly I’m interested also the communications to build audiences i.e. the promotion online offline, print, broadcast media and the development partnerships between musicians promoters and venues e.g. the Cookie now Called Big Difference e.g. is re-opening with Comedy and booking Live bands we need to see where we can make the win/wins.’
The whole of the arts is in a state of flux as far as media is concerned. There is still a demand for real-world, face-to-face shows but online and digital command a lot of attention. Use of the Internet continues to increase, but there is still a lump of people who refuse the Internet and expect the world to continue as it was in their parent’s day. Sadly, that lump will eventually die out. Very soon, the whole population will be connected to the Internet and paper-based will no longer be of any real value other than to nostalgia enthusiasts and historians. Hence, comments about the value of posters are time-limited. We are very close to digital promotion being the default. Nearly all of the live music events I have attended in recent months have been booked through online ticketing. No paper has been harmed in the production of these events.
Stan’ley’ Samuel said, ‘Everybody knows from back in the day when Multiplex ran The Abbey Park Festival Archive how Leicester used to roll. In my experience when the Council gets involved it’s the beginning of the end.’
Under the captaincy of Sir Peter Soulsby, the local authority has had a very poor out-turn. The arts and music have been largely ignored on his watch. But would other political parties have done better? Where is the evidence? The Council has supported history far more than the arts and entertainment. Tourism is seen by them as being a higher revenue-earner for the city. This contrasts strongly with comparable cities whose arts and music offerings far outstrip anything available in Leicester. Tourism earnings might not be the sole determinant of the value of the arts but they are seen as being important to local economies. Musicians are not paid a living wage. Venues are over-taxed. Festivals are being priced out of the market. Arts are not regarded as being economically viable. This will change only if the voting public – the electorate – realises that there is more to life than trade and commerce. Man cannot live on bread alone. Artists and musicians have done a great deal to help and support people who are homeless, living in poverty, alone and alienated, discriminated against and victimised, made to feel unwelcome in their own communities. The benefits of all this are enormous to personal well-being and community stability. That is something that politicians would do well to appreciate.
Carol Leeming continued the thread, ‘Stan’ley’ Samuel Yes Stan.. what I really meant the LCC should promote us more online and in print on broadcast media not necessarily onstage although why we can’t have an annual city music festival for LESTA featuring local music I don’t know- instead of digging up all these roads!’
Most road works are funded by central government or the County Council. Local authorities cannot vire funds from one budget to another, willy nilly. But, where there is a will there is a way. If the Council wants to support arts festivals it will find a way. If the will to do this is not there then little or nothing will happen. The whole business of local government funding is deeply flawed and decades out of date. Only national legislation will change anything. The present system through which local government is funded – the Barnett formula – was obsolete years ago. Cities need a whole new strategy for funding the arts, music and the night-time economy. It currently needs a mixed economy of private and public backing. Now we have left the EU, vast quantities of money have stopped flowing into local infrastructure, culture and the arts. Cities are forced to spend huge amount of cash pursuing European prizes they might or might not win. Leicester was denied its claim to European City of Culture and a lot of money was wasted competing for it.
Gaz Birtles, a prominent local musician and promoter, joined in, saying, ‘We need free poster pillars all around LEICESTER for everyone to poster their events. LEICESTER looks like a cultural desert out on the streets. No sign of anything happening anywhere. But the council obviously deem it to unsightly. Bring back postering!
This idea has been put forward before. Music in Leicester’s editor Kevin Gaughan got involved in this very idea some years back but nothing came of it because the council has not interested. Our local authority has done almost nothing to support its live music scene. Postering is not the answer. A much more inclusive and multi-layered approach is required. One attempt was made to produce a paper-based booklet that brought together all venues, all music events and all gigs in one place. It worked for the very short time that it was operated (by a commercial enterprise.) Putting up posters tends to focus exclusively on one show, at one time, in one place. It therefore has to be repeated extensively and most promoters do not have the funds to do this. Plus the fact that the more posters that are displayed the less people become aware of any one of them. It is a very inefficient use of resources. With very few exceptions, posters alone have failed to sell tickets or put bums on seats to any great extent. Many years ago the local paper used to list music events. This stopped when the Leicester Mercury ceased to be produced locally and its production was moved away from the city.
Andrea Kenny, a local singer and musician said, ‘I found this a bit when I was out putting up posters yesterday… not many places seem to have them since Covid also’
Covid has devastated live entertainment and also the ability to publicise it in the real world. In the post-Covid era, we have to adopt a new approach to the promotion of live arts. Online is the answer. As I have already argued, paper-based publicity is on the way out. Too few people are left for whom paper is the only way and they will not fill the venues. There are several places on the Internet where gigs in Leicester are listed and anyone can look at them.
I talked to Andrea Kenny about her comments; she told me: ‘Promoting an event is hard fucking work… I have felt this keenly over the last month with the event I am putting on (the one Carol Leeming is also performing at). I agree with all of the sentiments already expressed but I believe there is something else to add and I would say this with a caveat in place that I am also guilty of the very thing I’m about to express.. and upon the realisation will aim to change this. Acts and artists could go along way to to help promote and re share other acts events/nights… I don’t know why there isn’t more support or this isn’t done more.. maybe people think it will draw attention away from them or their night or fan base?? The fact is if everyone cross promoted everyone else it would create a culture of musical camaraderie and community and it all helps doesn’t it?! As promoters and bands and artists we shouldn’t have to feel like we are flogging a dead horse just to get our name out there or our event some attention! Let’s all support each other a bit more… I’m not saying this is everyone as I know some bands do help promote other bands but .. we shouldn’t have to ask or beg.. can you please share this?! If you see an event re post it on your page! Share the love share your fan base! Create a community! That’s what I’m gonna do from now on!’
Kevin Hewick, a celebrated doyen of the Leicester music scene, added, ‘Gaz Birtles I find it pretty hopeless now for flyering and posters. There are few places you can. put anything up… And the city has never looked more barren, bleak, dark, and (as I found last night walking from. Charles Street to Regent Road for the Regent Jazz Pianorama event) menacing. I know that’s not unique to Leicester but… Even the councils beloved ‘Cultural Quarter’ is lonely and forlorn looking.’
Kevin is right. I have not seen the council produce anything like a ‘COVID recovery plan.’ * The lockdown has devastated the cultural life of the city centre. The council has not yet begun to do anything to get the city out of this situation. Politicians might even consider this to be premature; there being no guarantee that the lockdown will not be repeated in the future. The city centre is, as Kevin suggests, bleak but the Council has largely abandoned the plans it laid down around twenty years ago to revitalise the night-time economy. Late night transport is largely non-existent around here; there are no police officers on the streets. Public transport often stops running early in the evening. More daytime events might work these days but will not be the only solution to attracting audiences. The night-time economy is still important but not as all-important as it used to be.
- LCC did produce one post-COVID document – https://www.leicester.gov.uk/media/1zdbxyrl/3912-lcc-covid-19-re-opening-city-plan-brochure.pdf (June 2020.) There was no mention in this of music or the arts.
Kevin Hewick responded by saying, ‘I often feel much warmth and connection between Leicester musicians. We are quite supportive of each other but so often we play to ourselves, to other creatives. The wider audience is hard to find. I seem to tick a lot of seemingly negative boxes – white, male and rather old now lol but I totally agree about diversity and cultural mix, in a city like Leicester we should be attaining that but there’s not as much crossover as I wish there was.’
Cultural diversity has always played a key role in the development of Leicester’s music scene. It is one of the city’s great strengths. As our population changes, so too must our offering of arts, music and entertainments. Sadly, and I regret having to say this, many of those who run our small live music venues will have to retire before there can be a sea-change in the programming. For years and years, venues have given us the same-old, same-old. Outside the world is different to what it used to be when they started in business. A new, younger generation of venue managers and event promoters might see things differently. In my view, we need to gather new blood together and work out how best to attract new audiences for new experiences.
Joe Doyle, a musician, said, ‘Radio & press. We could certainly do with more journalism promoting and exposing local artists to new audiences.’
I agree. Leicester has only one magazine specialising in music. There used to two or even three, some years ago. I ran a highly successful website that promoted new bands to the UK generally. That went down the pan and was never replaced. BBC Introducing has promoted some new Leicester acts to the national level but is far too over-focused on Nottingham. What Leicester needs is a website that can promote its local music artists to a national audience.
Kevin Hewick, responded by saying, ‘Joe Doyle Things like The Mercury and the BBC don’t seem to reach out so they? Musicians and events are quite visible but they seem to have no curiosity about it, it has to come to them. And then when they do give coverage it’s the facile “City Band Hits Right Note” type stuff.’
The Leicester Mercury is dead. Newspapers are redundant. Is this about local media reaching out? Or is it about national media reaching in? I have written before about the lack of interest in Leicester taken by the national music industry. Why has this always been the case? Our offering of local talent stands firm against Nottingham, Coventry and Birmingham. But we are overlooked. Why? Carol Leeming agreed with Joe and Kevin.
This thread on Facebook was and is important. The right issues are being discussed. Many of the comments have been discussed before but that does not mean they were ever resolved or that they have ceased to be crucial in the post-COVID situation. The success of our local music scene depends on people talking and raising concerns. But people who have the power to make changes need to listen. Our city has to recover from the pandemic. Our music industry needs to get back on its feet in a world that has changed dramatically over the past two years. Paper-based advertising still has a role to play but it has declined dramatically in recent years and will continued to decline as a method of attracting audiences. Today, the arts scene is dominated by social media. The question is, how effective is this is in selling tickets to gigs and shows? It can only be effective if promoters and venues are offering the kind of events that people want to buy into. Who those people are has changed in recent years. That is where the focus of change needs to be, in my opinion.
Carol Leeming, MBE, FRSA, is a multi-award-winning poet, writer, director, performer and vocal and dialogue coach. Trevor Locke writes for Music in Leicester magazine.
See articles I have written on my blog about promotion and music –