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In this day and age, a little internet-related paranoia is not surprising, in fact it is practically de rigeur to be feeling a little got at. But in the case of Facebook, it’s not just the tin-foil hat wearing brigade who are starting to feel the pinch.

Have you noticed how your reach has gone down and down? Have you noticed how where you USED to be able to become verified, you can no longer find the page that tells you how to do it? Or the option to do it in settings? How your music player no longer streams or displays properly? And how, no matter where you look, Facebook tech support consists of users on under-used forums, swapping out of date links to try to fix problems cause by Facebook constantly moving the goalposts?

Facebook hates musicians. If you are a business and you sell stuff, great! Facebook will allow you to become verified after checking your identity, taking your fingerprints, and extracting the promise of your firstborn’s soul. Try being a member of the creative community though and those tools shall not be yours. If you are unlucky enough to be a musician with a common name, you can forget becoming verified to help prevent confusion amongst your fans.

Facebook hates musicians. Trying to build a list of followers? Facebook won’t show your posts to the people who have elected to like your page and follow you, so you can forget about reaching a new audience. And if you have the temerity to pay for advertising, your organic reach will actually disappear, making you utterly reliant on advertising to even reach your existing fan base.

Facebook hates musicians. I have lost count of all the ways. My music player disappeared. Gone. Just a text link where it once sat, looking awesome and allowing people who visited my page to hear my stuff. So I went in search of an option to add another one. Also gone. And my account has not been authorised to host a catalogue, so despite the fact that Spotify stream all three of my albums, that is not enough for Facebook to allow me to use the Spotify widget. And there is no customer service, or technical support, from Facebook to even explain to me the mystical realms by which this works.

Then, on the same day this happened, I found article after article about how you can measure an artist’s worth by how many followers they have on Facebook. But artists can’t get new followers when Facebook methodically strips out every tool that they could once have used to promote their music. Facebook hates musicians. Facebook will actively prevent artists from inviting “too many people” to an event. Facebook. Hates. Musicians.

What are your options instead as an unsigned artist? Well. Your own website is a must. Tie everything to it, always return to it, and run your social media through it. Facebook can still be useful, with persistence, work and a staunch avoidance of their ad campaigns. Tie it to Twitter which, despite the character limitation, is a vibrant community where it is actually possible to become verified, eventually.

But there’s a new kid on the block that I urge you to try.

Tie your social media and your website to Drooble. Get your friends, family, foes, dentist, chiropractor and MP onto Drooble. Drooble is not just for musicians, although they are the primary audience. Music fans are also welcome, like a thunderstorm on an oppressive day, or like tech support would be from Facebook. Or a box of donuts when you’re really hungry. Unless you’re gluten free. You get my drift. Get thee to Drooble, and show Facebook how it’s really done.

Drooble loves musicians. Let me count the ways:

Karma – Karma is the lifeblood of Drooble. Everything on Drooble is free, from a monetary perspective, anyway. Interacting with others, to like a post, comment, listen to a song, post a song, write a post, promote some music, make a friend – everything earns Karma. That Karma can be exchanged for a fully professional Electronic Press Kit, or to make a song the song of the week, giving it headline exposure. There is an entire range of promotional tools which can be purchased with Karma – the more you interact and support others, the more you can support and promote yourself.

Drooble Radio – you do not need to spend Karma to upload songs to Drooble which are then automatically added to Drooble’s online radio. This allows new users, who have not yet found their way around, to hit the ground running and get some songs up. Ditto the (very thorough) profile, which all users get for free, as well as the interview portion which allows you to really express who you are and what you are about.

The community – because of the Karma system, when you post on Drooble, it doesn’t just disappear into the void. The encouragement of interaction has the lovely effect of creating a community of likeminded people all of whom either make music or love listening to it. So far, outside of FAWM, it is one of the friendliest online places I have been. It’s a breath of fresh air.

I have only been on Drooble for a couple of weeks, around work and gigging, but so far I have a lot of hope for it. It has it’s weak spots – some of the technical aspects are still being ironed out, but the team who created it are incredibly approachable and happy to take feedback. It’s main problem is that not enough people know about it yet. I’d like to see more promoters, reviewers, record labels and fans taking an interest, to make it a truly excellent networking place. A musical LinkedIn if you will. The tools for musicians are really very good, and it doesn’t take much imagination to extrapolate that this could be a gamechanger for musicians trying to get their careers off the ground as independents.

Here endeth the lesson. The TL:DR is: Facebook hates musicians. Drooble loves them. Go Team Drooble.

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I have been thinking about gigs, specifically what makes a gig successful – one thing led to another and I started pondering the various experiences I and others have had with venues and promoters.

I see a lot of online conversations about the responsibility of the artist – to bring lots of people, to sell tickets, to put on a good show. What about the venue’s responsibility? What about the promoter?

Let’s be fair. A good gig won’t happen in a vacuum. You need a decent act, a decent sized audience, and competent support from the sound person, bar staff, door people.. there’s an awful lot of responsibility being dished out there. The artist is not the only beneficiary of a good night – if the venue and the artist both do their jobs, the artist should see some increase in exposure (I’m not getting into pay to play here, and I am assuming all gigs discussed here are paid) as well as their fee. The venue should see good footfall, and strong bar takings, while the promoter should gain an excellent XP boost, as well as their fee. This should be a win-win-win for everyone, yet all too often it’s not.

So how can venues and promoters work with the artist to put on an excellent night? Here are some suggestions:

Don’t miss easy promotion opportunities. And don’t leave all the promotion up to your artist. Seriously. I cannot say this enough times. All that happens is that the artist fills the venue with their fans and friends, but they don’t get any new fans, and if it’s the wrong demographic, the venue doesn’t get any new customers. If the venue and the promoter pull their weight, it looks good, and as an added bonus, you get more people. Remember folks, more footfall is more bar takings, and potentially more people who decide your gin palace is awesome even when you don’t have live music on. I will say this again, in case it has not sunk in enough. EVERYBODY WINS.

Also, the easy stuff. Does the venue have a blackboard? Put the artist’s name on it when they’re performing. People walking past on the street, drawn in by the sound of the music will (and this is crucial) KNOW WHO PLAYED. Then if you have the same artist back, you may well draw in some of these people, who became fans. Put posters up – you don’t need many but some well placed posters before and during the event tell people who is playing. You don’t leave your beer pumps unlabelled do you? You don’t say to customers “ah, no, you must guess which beer it is you like from these unlabelled taps”. So why leave your entertainment unlabelled?

Don’t leave your artist out of pocket. Yes, some people are willing to play for exposure at the start of their careers. Unfortunately, your landlord called, and regrets to tell you that he does not accept rent in the form of “exposure”. Neither can you pay your gas, water or council tax bill with it. If you really can’t afford to pay your artists, because it’s a charity gig, or you are just poor (rethink your business model, see above, and label your beer taps), then at least cover a free ticket in for a guest, travel expenses, and maybe a beer. There are many forms of pay to play – the most ubiquitous is when the artist has to travel to reach you (costs money), to play a set and then receive no pay, so that they are out of pocket for doing the gig. Let me tell you this right now, it does not matter whether they are booked to play three songs or thirty songs. They still travelled, lugging kit, and they still gave up their time. Don’t make them pay to do it.

Communication, communication, communication. One of my biggest bugbears is this: I see an advert on social media, or receive an email soliciting acts for an event. It does not have to be a large event (where I could perhaps understand the problem of trying to respond to several thousand requests), it can be a small neighbourhood thing. I follow the instructions to apply to play, add in a personalised message, and generally spend some time sending out a really nice application. Nothing. Radio silence. I eventually find out I was not selected by the event happening. Or by hunting out the line up if it’s a slightly larger event. Please, if you run events, contact the unsuccessful. Make it a form email if you have to, I don’t care if it’s impersonal, but at least let people know.

Let’s assume I have been successful. For some events, the organisers will get right in touch, send a rider form out or request some promo material. Great! But some let you know you are playing and then send out no further information until a week before the event. Now I’m the sort of soul who preps my set list well in advance, so you can imagine how frustrating it is to not even know the set length until we’re practically tripping over the event. Plus, I don’t drive, so I have to factor in travel arrangements. If the organisers aren’t contacting the acts, there’s a decent chance they also aren’t promoting (see my first point) so it’s a double-dastardly bit of badness.

The thing is, it’s not that hard. It just involves being a little bit organised and timetabling things sensibly. But the difference it makes, to the artists at your event, to the punters attending, and to your image as a promoter/venue/organiser is almost incalculable. The devil’s in the details.

Hire decent staff. I shouldn’t even have to say this. I played a large venue last year where the sound guy was awful. I was horrified at how bad he was, because the venue has a better reputation than that, but he accused me of not knowing how to plug Loopy McLoopface in, repeatedly, his every word implying that I had no business being on stage with equipment. Then, when faced with the actual cause of the problem (his failed DI box), he did not apologise. Instead, halfway through my set, he added some exciting whalesong (despite my free trial of this, I have decided, regrettably, not to include it on the next album) and then lost my sound completely. For a song and a half.

fs_suck_knob

Cartoon by Far Side, not by me, I’m not that talented!

What should have been an incredible set was definitely coloured by this guys incompetence, and it took me a while to get over the disappointment. At another venue, I had sexual innuendo flung at me (rather like a monkey flings faeces) by a sound tech who not only behaved completely inappropriately, but had turned up drunk. Fortunately, these events are few and far between, but they stick, like the aforementioned faeces, and the impact on the organisers isn’t complementary.

If you want to keep artists coming back and willing to work with you, have a zero tolerance policy to incompetent and unsafe staff in your venue. And if you, or the staff you work with, have prejudices against any group of musicians (women, people of colour, Nickleback), leave it at the door. Your job is to put the best night on you can. Treat your artists with respect and they will (generally) do the same for you. If they don’t, then of course, feel free to show them the door.

That’s all for this post, folks, but if you think of something that I missed, feel free to add it in the comments!

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I realise this is a loaded topic and I am opening a can of worms here, but today I’d like to discuss a subject close to my heart: diversity in the music scene.

As I say, this is a controversial thing to bring up, but I think in this day and age, it’s important to discuss whether we truly feel that the music industry, and especially the local grass roots scene, is diverse enough.

Before I start, I would like to be very clear that the people with whom I network are a lovely bunch. If diversity is lacking in a lineup, it’s not deliberate – I don’t believe that any promoters or organisers around York are deliberately excluding anybody.

So, with disclaimers out of the way, my thoughts.

I don’t believe there is enough diversity in the local music scene in York, and this is disappointing for a number of reasons.

Look, I get why the higher up music industry is still having issues. There are entrenched ideas going back decades that are hard to shift – a lot more minds to change and a lot of work to do. But there is absolutely no excuse at local level. Most local shows are put on by much smaller networks, in a local area, drawing on a pool of talent easily accessible via social media. There is no shortage of musicians keen to play.

For some reason though, I’m looking at lineups around York at venues I frequent and in the singer-songwriter genre, by far the most prevalent act is guy-with-guitar. I’ve seen entire nights of just one gentleman with a guitar after another. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good guy-with-guitar as much as the next person, but it does get a little dull if that’s all that’s on the menu. Punk, rock and indie all show the same pattern – it’s all groups of lads, followed (but not closely enough) by bands with a female vocalist.

Where are the women? There must be female bassists, drummers and guitarists – I know because I went to college with some – but I’m not seeing them out on lineups – not nearly often enough. Female singer-songwriters are out there too, but again, not seeing them often enough. In fact, I have seen requests to play on facebook chats where the lasses are passed over for the lads. There tends to be a first come, first served policy with these types of gig recruitments, and it’s easy to miss the one female voice posting amidst all the lads clamouring for a spot.

So why is this the pattern? (And I fully expect it may not be the theme where you are, dear reader, so I am definitely keen to hear about scenes who are managing to get the balance right)

I have some theories (that it’s a demon?)

  1. Women are not networking the way the men are. This on its own may have reasons: lack of confidence, not hanging out in the same circles, not being as likely to be recommended (the lads have a bro pact and recommend one another to promoters and organisers, or like working together so tend to pick one another over a less well known female alternative)

  2. There are statistically fewer female acts in York, so they just aren’t coming up as often. This is probably true, but questions should be asked as to why. The local colleges all have strong diversity schemes aimed at drawing women into the music business, and I see dozens of women busking in the city centre, so why aren’t they playing more venue line-ups?

  3. Some promoters don’t view female performers as important or deserving of a spot on the bill. This is a controversial suggestion, but sadly may be true. It may be an unconscious bias, but I believe it exists just the same.

  4. Women can feel threatened by trying to slot into the male-dominated environment and may have their confidence undermined by men telling them how their kit works, or assuming they don’t know their instrument, or assuming they don’t take it seriously. This can result in them deciding that gigging is not for them and so you lose another performer from the scene.

Assuming local promoters would like to be more diverse in their lineups, I have some suggestions to help things along.

  1. Look at your lineup and ask yourself how many different types of people are represented. Not every lineup has to look like a rainbow flag, but at least try to get a few women in there. If you live and network in an area that is not very culturally diverse, it will be harder to get diversity reflected in your acts, but just about everywhere has a roughly equal ratio of men to women, so your gender diversity should certainly be present. If your area lacks lots of solid female acts, then recruit from further out and show the women who come to the show that they too could be up on stage, doing that thing.

  2. If local female acts put on a ladies-only showcase, please don’t feel threatened and start calling them out for sexism. Go to the show, and talent spot for your lineups!!! The only reason female showcases are still needed is because of the aforementioned lack of diversity. If you start giving women slots, and evening out the ratios, there won’t be a need for it anymore.

  3. Reach out to local acts via social media and start building connections. Then, when you need acts for a lineup, you already have a feel for who is gigging regularly, who is reliable and who will really bring that extra spark to your night. Please don’t be the dude who passes over the hard-working woman who shows on time, knows her own kit, plays well and pulls a crowd, for your mate who routinely rocks up late, doesn’t have his own leads and fumbles his way through his set. And yes, I have seen this happen.

  4. Don’t make women feel threatened, patronised, or lectured. I had a sound engineer tell me I could take my kit off on stage. I had another engineer tell me that I didn’t know how to plug my kit in – when his DI box was at fault. I have a thick skin, but women just trying to break into gigging may not have, and this may result in them never attempting to gig again.

  5. If you do a facebook shout out to fill a lineup, be extra careful not to overlook the female voices requesting to play.

  6. If it’s a paid gig, pay women the same as the men. This SHOULD be obvious, but we only have to look at the BBC to see that apparently (and sadly), it isn’t.

I realise there is far more to this than what my mere 1000 words or so has covered, so please, leave me comments – what is your scene doing well? Where can it improve? How can we make the local music scene more diverse for everyone?

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So I have a big gig tomorrow. Not Wembley, though I will play it as though it is. It’s big because it’s an entire evening of just me. I’m not the support, I’m the ONLY.

It’s a little intimidating, if I’m honest. I have a modest opinion of my own ability, and the thought that my random musical musings might entertain a room full of people for nearly three hours is a little too outlandish for me to believe. But someone believes I can, or they would not have asked me. I must believe I can, deep down inside, or I would not have agreed to it!

As I have sweated over set lists during the last few weeks, it led me to ponder about writing them. What makes a set list good, bad, effective, or just downright boring. Some artists don’t bother with them at all. I have seen a number of people wing it based on the mood of the crowd, or their own particular whimsy. I don’t even wing it for an open mic! I approach set lists the way I used to approach compiling mix tapes – with care, consideration and a lot of listening to beginnings and endings of songs to make sure they work in sequence.

I have concluded it’s a dark art, for a variety of reasons:

Every crowd is unique

I still remember, with crawling, cold horror, a gig I played at a local rugby club. The friend who had booked me (and knew full well that at that time, my repertoire was limited to sad, navel-gazey songs about death and breakups) swore blind that I’d be adored. The reality was a Friday night crowd who wanted a living jukebox. My friend and my wife both applauded each song but they were the only ones. The crowning moment for me was the gentleman who approached me at the end and said “You’ve a lovely voice but you made me want to slit my wrists”

Then there have been the crowds who have loudly applauded my originals but sat stonily through covers, even though I thought it would definitely be a “covers” crowd. You can’t always predict. Very experienced artists can adjust the set on the fly (see “winging it”, above) but I have never been one of those…

The length of the gig matters.

Long gigs can be hard on the voice, so it starts to matter where the more vocally challenging material goes in the set. Short gigs give you less time to make an impression, so you need to pull out your showstoppers. Decisions, decisions… My ideal length is probably 40-60 minutes, so I can really go for it without having to worry too much about stamina.

Variety is the spice of gigs…

A set will rapidly become boring if you group songs with similar themes, keys, chord progressions and styles. Because I have a bad habit of writing sad songs, I try to sandwich them between happier songs and mix up the keys and styles to keep the set interesting. I also have an unfortunate habit of writing songs using arpeggios. More of my set writing is about keeping songs apart than putting them together!

Banter – the bane of my life

Some people can play a 30 minute set and only do 5 songs, filling the remaining time with witticisms, wry observations, audience participation and stand up comic action. That is not me. I lack the gift of the gab. I try not to be averse to one liners and small talk, but on me it just tends to look like I’m trying too hard. If I’m very comfortable with the crowd, it might spontaneously happen that I tell a joke, or engage in some light banter (cautiously, and only under appropriate circumstances and wearing suitable safety apparel), but it doesn’t happen often enough for me to depend on it, so I allow a straight 4 minutes per song and do more songs per set than other people seem to. No-one has ever accused me of being boring though, so I’m going to assume it’s all good.

set list planning

Set list planning

So what’s the secret? I try to follow the old rule about writing a story. I have a opening song (usually a really easy one to play and sing that acts as a warm up) followed by a faster, happier one to wake people up. I make sure I know how the set is ending – generally with a vocally powerful, climactic number. Then I fill in the middle with songs, keeping them varied in terms of key/progression/style. Sprinkle a few covers in if appropriate (or vice versa if doing a mainly covers set) Allow an extra song as en encore, just in case. And then I throw it all into an iTunes playlist and check it works.

That’s my method. And although I nearly packed it in and put all my songs into a hat to draw out randomly at tomorrow’s gig, I’m not brave enough for that yet. Maybe next time…

(If you find yourself passing along High Petergate, York, tomorrow evening from 8pm, do call in to the Eagle and Child for an acoustic evening with me and the aforementioned set list! Entry is free and they go a fabulous selection of gins! *hic* )

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