This post is part of an exercise to engage with our readers, friends, fans, customers … in order to find out what they value in the work that we do. As an organisation (ArtsIn Productions) we do a lot of different things – run an arts magazine, put on training courses, represent bands, singers and rappers, provide a publicity service … the scope of our work is wide. The resources we have available however is not.
This consultation is to ask the public to share their thoughts and comments with us about what we do best. If we should be focusing in, then what should we concentrate on?
My concern is that we are spreading our resources too thinly across the field of our activities. If we narrowed down we might achieve more impact. The problem that I have, as the head honcho around here, is what? I can see all the things that need doing. I am well aware of all the things that I like doing. But, it’s not all about me.
What is difficult for me is letting go of some of my pet projects, my passions, my skill-areas; but that is what needs to happen. ArtsIn Productions involves a number of people – all of them volunteers. I am the only one that does things on a daily basis. Clearly, far too much lands on my desk and I cannot cope with all of it.
I can delegate some things, to some people, some of the time. The more volunteers we get, the more time it takes to train, brief and organise them all. As we say on our web site “Volunteers lie at the heart of all we do.” Ours is a social enterprise and a constant stream of people apply to join us. That increases our capacity but only to the extent that we can train, en-skill, supervise and motivate them.
I am particularly concerned to get feedback and comment from those in the music community; music represents the biggest part of our work. After about ten years of working with music, we feel we have made a contribution and we want to continue to do that.
Of all the things that we do for music, what things are most valuable? If we had to focus on one or two things that would be of real benefit to bands, singers and rappers, what should they be?
ArtsIn Productions Limited was closed down. Having failed to achieve its goals, the company was costing me money to keep going, so I decided to close it.
Having announced that I was going to ‘retire’ in 2014, I have postponed that because I am too busy and have too much work to do. [ In fact I officially retired in 2017.]
I am keeping both web sites running Arts in Leicester and Music in Leicester. I have taken both sites over from the company and am now the sole publisher of them both.
Narrowing down would be nice but, as with many of these things, there are inter-linkages and cross-benefits that make it impossible to remove one card from the house without the whole thing being in danger of falling down.
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.
There are three kinds of covers
(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.
How do you promote an artist? By promote I mean publicise, market, shout, plug, etc.
I thought I would blog about this as it is something I have been doing for some time, for bands and for individuals. There are some basic things that I have been doing.
Promotion is often about getting an artist’s name known. It’s about pushing that name around, largely on the social media, primarily Twitter, Facebook, Reverb Nation, Myspace or what ever else comes to hand that seems to work.
You believe that an artist is worth promoting or you see the potential in a band and you want to give them a helping hand. I promote acts through my magazine #Arts in Leicestershire. That sits at the centre of a web of social media connections. Bear in mind that Leicester/shire is a place brimming with musical talent of all kinds and beyond that many artists who work in comedy, dance, digital arts, photography, painting, poetry, writing and so on.
Apart from shouting about a named act or artist, I also have to say why they are good. We do this through setting up profiles and through reviews of their work. If they bring out an album, EP or track I promote that. If they have show, gig or exhibition, I push that out too.
Apart from Internet-based work I also issue press releases and plug songs with radio DJs. True, most of this happens on the Internet but there is still a big world of paper-based newspapers and magazines that will take material about artists and their work. We can’t neglect this, no matter how powerful, the web is, people still read paper and listen to the radio.
So why do I do this? There are plenty of people out there who do their own publicity and some of them make a very good job of it. I still think that an independent voice has some value. There is always an advantage in a third party saying how good an act is. It’s good that an artist believes in themselves and can tell the world how good they think they are. Some weight does, however, attach to an independent voice agreeing with that and proclaiming why they think this act is worth looking at.
When I say I am indepedent I really mean that. I do not manage bands, singers, actors, dancers or anyone. They do not pay me to be their press agent. I do it because I am genuinely passionate about their act or work. I do it because, as an editor and journalist, I am driven by the same passions about arts, whether I am writing about them or promoting them.
It’s a little dream that I have, that I could play a small part in getting a band or a singer to the top and giving them a bit of a leg up the ladder of success. I don’t do this because I have to do it; I do because I want to do it. In a city so rich in promising talent, which ones do you choose?
I use my instincts. If I see an act that is established and everyone else is coo-ing about them then I feel confident that I am probably right to also add my voice to the chorus. Sometimes, I see a new act, as yet rather rough and raw, but I sense a potential. I see something beyond the inexperience, the lack of professionalism, I sense something in that band or act which looks like it could grow and get somewhere.
I have often stuck my neck out and given the thumbs up for someone when everybody else has ignored them. That’s because I see something that they don’t see. It does’nt always work. It’s not just about artistic ability. The acts I tend to get behind these days are those that believe in themselves, the ones that really want it, the bands or singers who have a dream, who see themselves making it in the music business or in the world of comedy, and so forth.
I have also met people who clearly were born with talent but who, for what ever personal reason, will never make a go of it because they lack the two vital things that are needed to run alongside natural ability: self-worth and determination. Not everyone has this. I’ve tried pushing people because I think they have real ability. They have got no where because either they are lazy, have no ethic of self-sacrifice or because they really could not hack it.
The arts world is full of people who spend years muddling through, doing what pleases them, wallowing in self-gratification but have no concept of a personal career, no sense of path or direction. There is no point spending time promoting acts or artists that clearly don’t really want to get to the top.
To be successful in anything requires generous slabs of self-discipline and more importantly self-sacrifice. Many people, me included, have to make painful sacrifices in the cause of success. Often. OK, maybe not always. Some are happy with this, however uncomfortable it feels at the time. Others, however, are either too timid or lack the confidence or sense of personal security to defer some of the things their friends are enjoying in order to get rewards later on.
I love watching those interviews with young athletes who dream of Olympic gold. They undertake punishing regimes of training, get up at stupidly early hours of the morning, train relentlessly for months on end, forgo so many of the things their friends are enjoying, just to stand a chance of getting a medal hung round their necks.
The arts do not generally impose such rigorous deprivations. Even so, there is no gain without pain, even in the world of rock music. Whilst I deplore cheating – whether in athletics or in music – I can understand why some people see that as being the solution for them. I don’t believe in fast tracks to the top. Making it into the big time requires years of dedication. Singers who get catapulted into stardom, by record labels or by TV talent competitions, often come part and can’t cope with the pressure.
As I have often said, acts that go somewhere have two assets: themselves and those who are ready to support them. Behind every rising act there is an (often unseen) iceberg of supporters, street teamers, publicists and, not least, fans who are egging them on. Tips with no underlying iceberg sink very quickly.