When should gigs start?

At what time should venue start their shows?

Last night, at the meeting of the Leicester Music Forum, someone talked about the time at which gigs start, here in Leicester  7:30 pm is the standard time for nearly all venues to open their doors, for the majority of gigs. They all start at the same time, bar a few events that begin at 9 pm and some that take place on Sunday afternoons.  Is this good?

One contributor thought not.  I also agree.  Venues should network and collaborate to give the ticket-buying public more choice as to when they can go to a gig, if they want to be there for the start. By staggering the start-time of their shows, venues might see an overall increase in the total audience going out to ‘see a band’ on any given night of the week. Well that is what was being suggested.

Will this work?  As someone who goes to a lot of gigs in many venues across Leicester, I frequently notice that at 7:30 – 8 pm there are not many people in the house. The room fills up by 9 pm and a raft of fans turn up for the headline set at 10 pm.  This suggests that a lot of people make up their own minds when they can get there and certainly don’t go to see support bands.

On another point, it was also said (last night) that it is common for a large group of fans to go to a gig to see their favourite  band and – when that band has played – they leave. Various comments were made about this well-known phenomenon, including “it is very disrespectful to other bands playing.”  This might be due to public transport and parking issues but I suspect the truth is that those fans came to see their band and were not interested in enjoying the music of other bands, that they did not know. It remains an vexed issue for bands and promoters alike.

Well, you might take the view that if they have paid to get in then they can make up their own minds what they want to see and how long they want to stay for. Some of the more street-wise promoters play the card of putting the band – likely to bring the most fans – on last. In contrast, I have also been to gigs where the crowd has arrived on time, stayed for the whole night and enjoyed all the music. It does happen.

Do promoters put on too many bands in a line-up?  It is not uncommon around this city, for there to be 4, 5 or even 7 to 8 bands playing on a line-up.  Most music fans find this too much to take in on one night. Gone are the days when you go out to “see a band”, that is, one band that is going to provide the music for a whole night. Such events are limited to covers or tribute bands that play pubs. The typical venue gig these days is made up of a series of bands tat play 30 minute sets, one after another.

Let me indulge myself in an opinion – the best gig is one played by 3 bands and no more. Two support slots and one headliner. Gigs that follow this formula are likely to draw the biggest crowds and to be the most enjoyable. Generally speaking – because there are exceptions, such as metal or punk nights or acoustic evenings.

So why do we get these huge line-ups?  In some cases it is because promoters want to maximise their ticket sales for the night. If each band brings 10 people then 7 bands might equate to 70 ticket sales. I can see the logic of that argument, even if I believe it to be flawed.

Three well-chosen bands – including a well-chosen headliner – should be able to fill a venue. Let’s look at gigs and see if a three band show starting at 8:30 pm works as well as a 7 band line-up starting at 7 p.m. What would aid this investigation is collecting data:  look at a sample of gigs, note their start-time and record how many tickets were sold.  Speculation on the basis of personal experience is fair enough to give us a clue about what might be happening; but it is only when we get data that we can begin to analyse what actually works and what doesn’t.

If our local music Forum achieves anything, it would be to challenge music providers to think about the way they do things and to objectively analyse what works best for the music-going community in our local area.

Thoughts on singing

Trevor Locke reflects on what he (as a member of the audience) learnt about singing when he attended the obsUnplugged programme of Acoustic shows in Leicester in 2013.

Performing covers

There are three kinds of covers

(a) Karaoke

(b) Just singing the song as it is in the original version – what pub singers do

(c) Taking a song and putting the artist’s own, original stamp on it, giving it a unique interpretation that has not been heard before.

When I listen to a well known cover (performed as part of a singing competition or vocal showcase), I would be looking for interpretation – what the performance of that song tells me about the artist in front of me and whether their unique take on that song shows me something about the singer. The better known the original song or artist, the more important this is. For example, Wonderwall by Oasis is a very well known song and I would prefer to not hear it sung karaoke-style, or as  just a faithful rendition of the original recording.  I would rather want  to hear what the artist in front me can do with it, to bring out aspects of the song that might never had heard before. I have listened to some very remarkable interpretations of well known popular songs, where the singer has taken the song and made it their own, producing a version that is markedly different to the original and given me a whole new insight into that song, using exactly the same lyrics and most if not all of the original melody.

Putting together a set list

If an artist is  given an allotted period of time in which to perform, he or she  can probably do about five or six songs.  In a showcase event, the  goal for,  a  performer, is to illustrate the range of their repertoire, demonstrate  vocal and instrumental skills and entertain the  audience.  A good performance is not one in which the artist sticks to safe, comfortable songs, any more than going for the really hard, challenging stuff,  throughout the set. The singer should open with a song which they know they can perform well, which is likely to capture the attention of the room, engage the audience and prevent people from going for a smoking break, the toilet or to
the bar from a drink.

Keeping them and holding their attention is the tasks of the opening song. The last song should be a vibrant, robust number that rounds off the set with something that will cap the set’s achievement and illicit sustained applause.  In between, the singer  has to show those in the room  what the artist is  capable of.  Things to avoid: too many songs which sound the same in tempo, style and content – most listeners appreciate variety – and too many covers that every one else is doing (yet another Ed Sheering song, oh no not Lady
Gaga’s Dirty Ice Cream again!)

Performing the songs

What engages audiences is feeling – the singer’s ability to get inside a song, believe in what the lyrics are saying, understanding what the song is about and then living the song,  while  on stage.  Inexperienced artists learn the words, the melody and the instrumentals and think that is job done.  It’s not.  Excellent artists spend some time trying to get into the role – just as actors have to get into the role of a character and live the part, so too singers should be thinking long and hard about the lyrics, the meaning of the song, what they are singing about and how best to portray the whole piece on stage. That might even mean deciding when and where to make gestures and facial expressions, the requirements of piano, forte and pianissimo passages and the internal dynamics of the piece. Whether
it’s their  own original song or their own original interpretation of a well-known cover, it’s about singers putting yourself  into the songs and acting it out on the stage.  An excellent singer will get this just right; one who is less good will over act.

Telling people who you are

It is unlikely that the audience will be sitting there with a programme.  They might or might not have read the running order (if there is one) on the way in.  Most of them will have no idea who the singer is. The job is make them aware of you – your name and where you come from.  Either announce yourself to the room before you start singing or after you have finished the first song. It’s no good telling them your Facebook address – they will not remember it – but if you have cards or flyers with it on, leave them around the room.

Between songs,  you can tell them the title of song and something (briefly) about what’s in it and(if it is your song)  when you wrote it or, if it is a cover, why you like it and who originally performed it. Don’t just say “I am now going to do a cover by Ed Sheeran” and leave it at that.  Interesting though that might be, it still tells people nothing about why you are singing a song by Ed Sheeran and what’s significant about it.

People do not want to hear long speeches, anecdotes or stories between songs (in a six song set) but a little bit of personal chat helps people to relate to you as a person. You are not a singing robot. You are a person trying to make a room full of people like you and remember who you are (and, hopefully, will then want to  see you again at your next appearance.)

Solo singers with guitars

Should you sit down or stand up? This is a vexed issue and there are strong opinions for both options.  Singing coaches say stand up because that is the best position for breath control.  Others say sit down,  if that is how you feel most comfortable and relaxed.  Singing at your best is not a comfortable experience,  even for professionals.  When I see an artist sitting down to sing, I tend to think they are newly starting out amateurs (that might not be true but there is always a tendency to assume this if you have not seen this artist before.)

If you are  going to play guitar to accompany your singing, tune the instrument BEFORE you go on stage.  If you put in a new set of strings, do that several days before the performance and allow time for the strings to settle in.  We have seen artists break strings on stage and then ruin a good act while they restring  or waste time borrowing an instrument from someone else.

Make sure the audience knows you have finished

Some songs can have abrupt endings and if so, it is better to say “thank you” into the mic,  so that people know that the song has  finished.  At the end of your set, there is nothing wrong in thanking the artists that have been on before you and how much you enjoyed their songs.  It is a courtesy that is noted by judges and by members of the audience.

Flash gigs

We have just come up with the idea of putting on a flash-gig as a way of getting people to come to our show.

I don’t know what it is like in other cities, but in Leicester it is really, really difficult to get people to come to gigs.  There are over 8 live music venues in this city putting on gigs nearly every night of the week.  There are over 300 local rock bands all of whom want to play as many times as they can in Leicester venues.

This means that competition for the limited number of fans who are prepared to go out and see live bands is fierce. Most of the publicity for gigs is done on the Internet – through social networking outlets and the websites where shows can be posted. Printing vast quantities of flyers and posters is not just expensive – it’s almost non-productive.  If you go into our live music venues the walls are plastered from floor to ceiling with posters and there are always piles of flyers everywhere you look.

You can book a line-up of bands several weeks ahead only to find that by the time your own gig comes round, several other venues have started to publicise gigs that are in competition with your own. This is partly why we came up with the idea of a flash gig – an event date where we spot a date where not much else is happening and then we jump in, book a venue, some bands and then flog the publicity like mad.

It might work.  We shall see.  If everybody starts doing it might loose its edge.  As an idea it had its wow-factor. Every time we have put on a gig we have planned it carefully months in advance.  We have done all the things that promoters are supposed to do. Worked steadily and consistently with the on-line publicity. Printed posters and flyers and trudged round trying to get people to take them.

The big night arrives. We think our bands are really great. We think we have got all the elements right for a top night of live music. We wait for the queues to form at the door.

Then disappointment. Fewer people turn up than we had expected and we begin to wallow in self-doubt, wondering where we went wrong.  This pattern is repeated for touring bands – those who want to come to play in Leicester because they have heard its a place with good venues and lots of popular support bands. They have played up and down the UK but they fail to pull as many gig-goers as the little newbie band that went on first.  It can be a hard life for both promoters and bands.

After several years of putting on gigs I can’t just give up.  There are just so many bands that I really like and want to book for gigs. I want to big them up because I think their music is just so great. I try to think outside of the box, try out new ideas to see if they work any better than the conventional wisdom of how to market shows.

So, we try the ‘flash-gig’.  We will let you know if it works. [In fact it worked really well and was a grat success.]

Postscript

If you want to see what happened to our ‘flash-gig’ you can read the report on our page

Arts In Leicester’s Flash Gig

What makes a good live music scene?

13th December 2010

Having just got back from a really good meeting of the Leicester Music Collective, I thought I would commit a few words to paper. Well the digital version of paper maybe.

The nub of the meeting was talking about how we put more bums on seats.  Leicester has seen a massive increase in the number of live music venues and consequently in the number of gigs happening, week in and week out.

Promoters, venue owners and other industry movers and shakers are scratching their heads about how we should try to get more people to come out to support live music events.

We are all passionate about live music. We want to see more people attending gigs because we believe it is a really great way to spend an evening. But how do we do it?

One solution that is being delivered, is to print a monthly listing of gigs across all venues and distribute it as widely as possible. I support this. Even though I spend a lot of my working day pushing out information about gigs –  on the Internet – I realise that there is still a proportion of the population who do not go on the ‘Net every day. Even if they do, they tend to use it just for e-mail and don’t spend time surfing the web sites and social media outlets where they could come across info about live music.

If you do want to know about gigs or bands or music, you don’t have a problem finding it on the ‘Net.  If you might possibly want to go out and ‘see a band’, incredibly it can be difficult to find out what is going in this city. If Leicester has a problem getting the word out about gigs, it’s also likely to be the case that other cities have the same set of issues.

Distributing flyers that list gigs is one part of the solution and a lot of people said a lot of things about the practicalities of making this happen. Happily, someone has made a start on it and a listing is being produced.

Leicester has a profusion of live music venues; it has a huge supply of bands and artists playing every kind of music you can imagine. Live music has been a feature of Leicester life for decades.

There was some really interesting analysis about the impact of the BIG music society on tours, venues, ticket sales and festivals. Interesting though that is, my focus now is on amplifying the crowd for the small venues and the unknown, unsigned bands.

Someone pointed out that people will pay £20 to £40 to see a band they really want to see. Getting people to pay £5 to see bands they haven’t heard of, is much more difficult. But this is precisely where I operate and that for me is the major challenge.

Everyone agreed that it’s about getting the information out there; whether we use high-tech fixes or plain paper solutions, we need to make sure people know about what is happening, where and when.

On top of that there is a harder task of ‘selling’ unsigned, live music.  Why would anyone want to pay £5 to see a line-up of bands they have never heard of  before? Well, after two years of going to gigs, seeing hundreds of new bands and writing about many of them, I really feel passionate about live music. In a world increasingly dominated by recorded music, the difference between the two is immense. For me, live is the best. Live is what brings music to life. I don’t just want to  hear it. I want to see it.

But can I sell that idea to people who just want to plug themselves into their iPod and think that is what music is about, full stop?

I want to shout about the live music experience. I want to convince the public that live is an unbeatable form of entertainment. I want to convince people that going out to a gig and seeing bands playing is much better than watching it on TV or listening to music through ear plugs.

This wonderful group of people which has come together in Leicester has started to take that whole issue on board. The discussion however has focused too much on the supply side and not enough on the demand side of the market.

They did come up with the idea of doing a survey; asking people who go to live gigs what they think about things like: the venue, the ticket price, the transport there and back, what they like best and dislike most about shows and so on and so on.  That is good; we need to know much more about the punters, we need to keep asking questions that might help us to figure out the quality issues posed by live shows.

The other side of the equation is the bands.  This needs to be on the agenda. In live music, everything is driven by the bands, at the end of the day.  They are the people who make the music. But how do they contribute to making a local live music scene a success?

I am really looking forward to that debate. I already know some of the things that will get said:  what bands thinks of venues and promoters and vice versa. In Leicester, there is an almost endless supply of young men who want to play guitars on a stage. Sorry girls, but the ratio is about 20:1. I have lost count of the numbers of male musicians but I can count the female players of guitars, bass and drums on my fingers. Same is true of vocalists.

I have asked many questions about how bands write music. Who writes the songs, who makes the melodies, how do they choose what style of music they will play, what influences move them, do they ever think about what they look like on stage … and the answers are all invariably the same.

Musicians follow their own musical instincts. When four guys get together, assuming they gel together on the music, they will produce for their band, what they have had as a musical career, what they have grown up with, it’s all about their tastes, their musical passions, their sense of what works.

Ok, I hear you say, but that is also true of every other art form. It’s so obvious it’s hardly worth thinking about. But I also hear musicians talking about wanting to be successful, of making it in the music business.  Having talked with band members (for a few years) about this very subject, I know how difficult it is to get them to think outside of the box.

If a band has real talent and makes music that is good enough for people to pay to hear, what else do they need to do?  Sadly it is not all about the music. Of the 250+ rock bands in Leicester that write their own music, only a tiny few will ever stand any chance of making  it in the world outside. Are they the ones that have their fingers on the pulse of modern music and happen to be writing the best songs?  Not necessarily. There’s a lot more to it than that.

I’ve written about the ‘bands with no fans‘ thing before. I’ve talked about how bands can promote themselves. I’ve gone on about putting fans on floors. It’s still amazing to hear unsigned bands complaining that promoters are not providing them with big enough crowds.

It’s amazing because there is still a lack of ‘mojo’ about what makes live music work. Even if all promoters and venues did a perfect job of promoting shows, it’s still obvious that it is the bands who have the fans. It’s the band who has to put feet on floors. They are the ones who know who their fans are.

It’s incredibly difficult for promoters to sell tickets to the fans of a band. Even though MySpace, Facebook and Twitter are the most immediate conduits to the fans of a band, it’s not easy for promoters to message those people. Bands are not going to hand over their log in details to a promoter and say – ‘ok here are all our fans, you talk to them.’

Promoters can fire out marketing messages to the general body of people who might like  live music. We can put stacks of flyers into what we think are the right places. But the ones who are most likely to turn up at the door, are the people who already know that band. Access to those people is restricted to the bands themselves.

I don’t want to get started on the issue of ‘pay to play’ but the reason that hoary old chestnut won’t go away, is that for many venues and promoters it’s a solution that can work.

In a nutshell:  the promoter sells tickets to the bands. The band members then sell them to their fans. It can and does work but there are many band members out there who do not like it.

Some festival tickets can cost between £20 to £30. If you have to sell, say, 50, that’s £1,000 to £1,500.  For most small bands that’s a load of money to worry about.

Even so, I have heard bands say that they would be willing to pay that kind of money to get on to certain festival stages.

I’m not condoning this; I am just recognising that it happens. If it’s not part of the solution, it’s certainly part of the problem.

If bands want to be successful, they have to play music that people want to hear. They have to put on a performance that people want to see.

They might well have to compromise on their own personal tastes and accept that there is more to being a successful band than self-indulgence.

Moreover, they also have to bear the burden of winning, keeping and organising their fan base, promoting themselves, getting their name known and constantly tapping music industry people on the shoulder.

It’s great to hear stories like “oh, we had this box of 400 CDs and we had to sit down and listen to them all and decide which ones we wanted to sign up.”

As a music writer I sit in the middle of all this and hear both sides of the story. If we want more feet on floors in Leicester then both the promoters and the bands have to work together to achieve that.  No one has the exclusive power to win ticket sales.

We all agree that live music is the best music and we all want more people to join in and enjoy it.  We are only going to succeed if we all work together.

That ‘s what these meetings are about. Not why, but only how and to a lesser extend who.

What makes a good gig?

In Leicester, it’s not about playing at a particular venue, that bookings are about, but finding the right line-up to play in.

All the main venues have their good nights and their bad nights. A good night is when a reasonable number of people attend (40+). That can happen at any venue on any day of the week, but only when the line-up is right. A bad night is where a set of bands fails to draw a crowd and they end up playing to each other. That happens a lot and the sad thing is that it keeps on happening.

Someone is making the same mistake over again. It could be the promoter, the venue or the bands or all of them together. But when it does happen everyone looses.  So why don’t they get it sorted and stop putting on nights that are bound to fail?

It would be better if there were less gigs but more good gigs. Music producers fail to co-ordinate their shows with each other.  They all work in isolation.  They do what they want to do – when they want to do it. In my view, everybody looses in this scenario.

At the root of this problem is the fact that there are just not enough ticket-buying fans to go round. We live in hard times. People do not have enough disposable income to allow them to go out to live music events that often.  Too many shows chasing too few people. It’s a problem that everyone recognises but which there is an in-built reluctance to do anything about.

Many people around here have commented that some kind of live music coordinating forum just might help the local scene to plan its programmes more effectively. What would help to move this forward is a few music producers getting it and giving some thought to how to make it happen.

One last word:  if you must put on a live gig, choose the right line up!  Don’t book bands willy-nilly just because they say they are available. Well constructed line ups will attract a better crowd than a random selection of bands playing a hotchpotch of musical styles. It seems so obvious. Why then does this still happen?