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Posts Tagged ‘good venues’

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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