Back in the days when gigs didn’t have intervals, it would be considered outrageous to play for less than 90 minutes plus however many encores you got. When intervals starting appearing that translated nicely into 2 x 45 minutes sets plus encores. Gradually that changed. First it became 2 x 45 including encores, then 2 x 40, then the interval vanished and it was 1 x 75 including encore. In the last week I’ve been to two gigs, completely different types of music, where the total stage time including an encore was 65 minutes.
Not only is this disgraceful short-changing of the audience, it’s storing up trouble for the future. These days the vast majority of musicians make the vast majority of their corn from live shows. Even that’s becoming more difficult as live audience firgures are tailing off. If those that still come feel thay’re not getting their money’s worth, and it would be hard to argue that 65 minutes is any sort of value for money, then they’ll stop coming. And who could blame them.
How important is the venue when deciding whether to go to see someone play or not? For some people, not at all. They want to see the music and that’s all that matters. If their feet stick to the floor, parking is abysmal, the only alcohol is fizzy lager and the room itself is an indie toilet, no matter, it’s the music that counts. For others, very much so. They want a seat, a “nice” environment, perhaps the option of coffee rather than alcohol and if they can’t have those then they won’t go. Fair enough, it’s their money and their choice. The problem with the latter group though is that, like lots of people, they have preconceptions, and those are often, like lots of peoples, based on supposition rather than fact.
In Leicester a lot of folk fans won’t come to The Musician, where I put on a gig or three. It has ample free parking, excellent ale, the best sound engineer in town (and consequently the best sound), an atmosphere steeped in music, welcoming staff and a generally great vibe. People who come love it. But (some) people who don’t think: it’s not in the best area of town, it’s a “music venue”, it’ll be dark and dirty and so on and so forth. Which is a shame, because if they did they would find out what a great place it is and they’d have a great time. But they don’t, because they have preconceptions.
Suppose that there are 300 folk acts – solo, duo, band – actually working in the UK. Further suppose that each of them wants to play 100 gigs a year. Suppose yet again that they’d like 100 people to be at each gig. That comes to 30,000 gigs and 3,000,000 attendees. Which is a lot.
But suppose every gig attendee could be persuaded to go to a gig a fortnight. That’s not a huge ask, particularly as a lot of these gigs will be in the cheap, £10 or less ticket range. As each act would play two gigs a week that’s 1200 a fortnight, with a total attendance of just 120,000. Which is not a large number at all, particularly when spread across the country.
Now, I have no idea of the exact number of at-least-semi-professional folk acts out there gigging. But it’s not going to be ten times 300. It might be twice as many, maybe even three times. And whether 100 attendees is a reasonable average target is also up for debate. Some would be grateful to get that many on a regular basis, for others (particularly bands) it might not be enough.
But getting the exact figures is just fine-tuning. The point is that, in the light of the regular, well intentioned but sadly-rehashing-the-same-old-arguments threads you see on Facebook and forums about boosting audiences, the actual number of people who need to be enthused might well not be that large. Which doesn’t make the task simple, but it does make it easier than it might appear initially.
Sometimes it’s not possible to have a support act at a gig I put on because of the venue or the timing of the evening. Apart from those constraints though I always try to include one. But there are artists who refuse point blank to have one. Not many, but some and it’s simply not negotiable. The only argument I’ve ever heard any of these artists put forward about this is that the support will probably be some dreadful local singer-songwriter or whatever so they’ll spoil the evening. Granted that this may sometimes happen, but it doesn’t at my gigs and it doesn’t at a lot I attend either, where supports are good, carefully chosen and enhance the evening.
But that’s not the main point. Everybody needs a start, and support slots are a vital opportunity for young and up and coming acts. To deny them that is inconsiderate at best and unacceptably selfish at worst, particularly when you consider that the headliners will almost certainly have got their starts playing any number of supports. A bit more remembering where you’ve come from and a bit less I’m a star from a few people wouldn’t go amiss.
If there’s one thing that musicians agree on, it’s that they want, in fact need, to be paid. Spotify, illegal downloads, file-sharing, pay-to-play gigs and many more are all railed against. If musicians aren’t paid music will die, they proclaim, and they are right. And yet a significant minority – at least I hope it’s a minority – are not so much colluding as happily encouraging their own demise.
Here’s an example. A gig I went to recently featured four acts. On the undercard were two no-name local singer-songwriters and one partial name local singer-songwriter. Headlining was a four piece band from London, an Americana name (though not a major one) that possessed the usual large amounts of critical acclaim and is in fact very good. The price of entry to this extravaganza? £3. Three pounds. Less than the price of a pint.
The paying attendance peaked at no more than 25, which seemed to disturb the promoter not at all. The headliners were on a £100 guarantee (I asked) so I’d guess that the no-names got nothing and the partial name (who, incidentally, played with three friends) maybe £20 if he was lucky.
This is far from an isolated instance, even just thinking about my neck of the woods, and so long as musicians are prepared to accept deals like this then so long will people be conditioned to think that music should be free or next-to-free.