One of the first blogs I wrote was about musicians getting paid, oe rather not getting paid, and it’s clear that since then things have got worse not better. There appears to be an endless supply of musician turkeys voting for Christmas, accepting gigs where they don’t get paid, where they get paid a percentage of the tickets they sell and numerous other variations. The arguments for not doing this are well-known and appear blindingly obvious to all but the turkeys, who persist in offering their idiotic justifications: “we just want to play”, “we need the gigs”, “we’ll get exposure” and so on. And given that they think accepting these deals makes sense it seems unlikely that they’d understand how much damage they’re doing to the wider musical community either so that having that debate is pointless.
But, from time a wave of online outrage surges up about a venue or a promoter who’s ripping off bands (and quite right too) and to a chorus of approval they are named and shamed. Venues are boycotted, promoters promise to mend their ways, and while this may be temporary or window-dressing, in some cases at least it seems to have a positive effect. It’s a pity that we can’t do the same for the musicians who accept the deals, because if they didn’t accept them the whole practive would ceas to exist overnight. If only…
It’s a commonplace that there are too many festivals in the calendar, which leads to audiences being spread too thinly (apart from perhaps the mega-festivals) and every year a few going to the wall. Bad for the organisers but probably not so bad for the scene generally as whatever audience they had should be redistributed elsewhere. Except every year there are new festivals springing up so the problem perpetuates itself. And as with gigs there isn’t an inexhaustible supply of potential festival-goers out there so clearly not all festivals can be successful.
You might think this competition would lead to better festivals and it does, sort of, but only in the peripheral things. “We have the best toilets”, “we have the best food”, “park your car by your tent”, “we have the most stuff for kids to do” and so forth are just some of the “selling points” some festivals use. What they don’t say is “we have the best bill” because competition, rather than leading to an attempt to differentiate by music instead seems to lead to booking the same old same old because it’s safer. This of course assumes that people spending £100+ a ticket want to know what they’re getting and don’t want much experimentation.
I don’t think that’s entirely true, as whenever I’ve seen a “new” or different style” band play that people aren’t familar with, they frequently respond better than to an established act. The same old same old approach also perpetuates the problem, because there’s no point in going to more than one festival because half the acts are on at all of them. So perhaps a bit more boldness might pay dividends. It’s a risk, but a calculated one. We can but hope
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.