Support Live Music

Close up of a guitar

This is a bit of a rant.

I’m not going to name the band because it won’t do them any favours having this come up in Google searches for their name. You can probably work out who they were if you really want to know. But it’s not really about them, it’s about you.

I travelled to a gig a couple of hours away from home and booked an overnight stay in a hotel since it would finish well after the last train back. It was in one of the largest cities in England other than London. The gig was in an established rock venue within easy walking distance of the city centre, in the smaller of two rooms, but still with a capacity of a couple of hundred at least. The band have released several albums, won annual “best of” awards, and gone down a storm at festivals, and they’re on fire live on this tour. It was a Friday night rather than a midweek graveyard shift.

There were thirty-five people there.

Thirty-five people.

The band themselves gave what could easily have been their best live performance of the year, pulling out all the stops. And only a tiny handful of people were there to see it, most of them familiar faces you see at gigs all across the country. Many of them were not local but, like me, had travelled a significant distance to be there.

People constantly complain on the interwebs than nobody plays gigs in their towns. The trouble is, when bands do book gigs, these people then can’t be arsed to turn up. It’s not for me to tell the band where they should or shouldn’t play, but if I was in their shoes I wouldn’t be playing either that venue or that city again in the foreseeable future. There’s no way such a poorly-attended gig could have covered its costs.

I know that time and money are finite, and some people have a lot of other commitments in their lives. But a lot of you have no such excuses. If superb bands like this are to survive, and are to be able to continue making music, you’ve got to get off your collective arses and support them. I’ve seen too many bands fold due to lack of success, only to see “fans” complain that they “never got to see them live”. Perhaps if you’d bothered to see them when you had the chance, they might not have split?

If a band you like or have heard positive things about are playing a small club near you, and it’s physically possible to get there, support them. Otherwise the live scene outside the corporate mainstream will be nothing but tribute bands.

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19 Responses to Support Live Music

  1. Synthetase says:

    I think I might be able to guess at who the band was and I really, really want to see them live. Can’t stretch to the UK air fare from Oz unfortunately.

  2. Chuk says:

    Damn, that sucks. I’ve never seen that, even in venues which only hold about 3 times that many people. (Maybe for some local band with no album out or something similar, like a guy with a guitar playing at a pub, but not a Friday night with a band with that kind of name recognition.)

    Is this something that happens a lot? (I have seen several shows where most people show up after the opening act is finished — that kind of ticks me off unless it’s someone that you know you hate)

  3. Tim Hall says:

    The problem is this “scene” relies too heavily on a relatively small number of hardcore fans, many of whom are prepared to travel considerable distances; you see the same faces at venues all over the country. On this night another band with a big overlap in fans was playing another city about an hour away. That must have hit attendance.

    As for support acts, sometimes there’s an early curfew because of a club night which means the opening act has to start before it’s possible for many people to get to the venue without taking time off work. Gig a couple of weeks ago was an example of this; I got there before 6pm on a Friday night and the first band were already on stage, playing to a near-empty room. It was pretty full later on when the headliners were playing.

  4. Ian says:

    I am in my mid 50’6 and as a youngster remember going to gigs two or three times a week to see bands with school mates and having no real idea who I was going to see but it was a night out and saw some great acts and plenty of dross.
    In today’s celebrity fixated world younger people will only pay to see the celebrity act they have been told is world class and they are playing at some awful arena.
    This weekend I am going to see Glenn Hughes at Holmfirth he as usual will do a great show to a few hundred oldies , like me. The younger generation are simply not bother and the older audience will be diminishing every year.
    So please see these bands whilst you can as artists have incomes to earn and families to feed and cannot run at a loss.

  5. Tim Hall says:

    Not sure that the younger generation are only into over-hyped celebrity rubbish; I’ve been to a few metal gigs in my local venue (Breed 77, Sonata Arctica, Alestorm), and they’ve attracted a far younger crowd.

    I think the grassroots prog scene in particular has a problem is there are too many gigs competing for a relatively small fanbase (I’ve heard it suggested it’s as low a few hundred people) who are already maxed-out in terms of the nunber of gigs it’s possible to get to.

    There’s a much larger pool of people who will turn out to see oldies acts like Glenn Hughes, such that Dave Gilmour can sell out The Royal Albert Hall in minutes. How can we get some of this crowd to support some of the smaller bands?

  6. Chuk says:

    6pm is crazy early — although now that I’m old I might appreciate it. A couple of times one of my favourite local venues has had bands do an all-ages afternoon show before an evening show and it’s been great, I could take the kids and then get dinner after the show. (Although we did miss an opening band I wanted to see at one of them.)
    One thing I dislike is the early curfew because they need to open the club up for the DJ and the weekend dancing crew — the band has to be offstage by 11! (One place that does this is a movie theatre showing a midnight movie.)

  7. Tim Hall says:

    This gig had a 10pm curfew, and there were two supports, hence the early start.

    11pm is common for a lot of city-centre venues, which makes it possible for people to catch the last trains out into the suburbs without having to leave before the end

  8. PaulE says:

    One question to ask is why the band can get a few hundred at a venue only a few miles away? Perhaps the answer is, if I had that venue on my doorstep, why would I go anywhere else ?

  9. John says:

    It’s not just ‘our type of music’. BBC reporting today that many music venues have closed over the past few years:

  10. dean Borgazzi says:

    Yes Tim I was there on Friday to see the band in Birmingham. And with their fifth album release the attendance was heart breaking. I know trying a new venue can be risky , but the effort needs to be made , or we will loose them !!

  11. Ian almond says:

    Hi Tim,
    I accept your knowledge of the metal market and how they can get a decent crowd, however, the youngsters I work with are mainly into r&b and gangster rap etc and the thought of actually paying for music or going to a gig is a completely alien concept.
    At the top end of the market Dave Gilmour can still sell out huge venues but that is based on the vast Pink Floyd legacy and events like this will draw a huge crowd from original fans, wives, children and music fans in general due to publicity he can attract.
    At the lower levels there is so much competition for people’s leisure time and money, I sadly don’t see future for bands outside of having outside jobs and the band simply provides a bit of cash on the side.
    I would love to see some analysis on how these bands survive and generate enough cash to keep going .

  12. Tim Hall says:

    I’ve said this before, but most if not all of the bands at this level aren’t full time. A few individual members might be full time musicians, juggling mulitple gigs with different bands, but most of them rely on day jobs to pay the bills. Suspect many bands don’t come close to covering their costs, they’re doing it for love of music.

    You have to get to the next level up before many people can actually earn a living doing this sort of thing. Fish once did a detailed breakdown of tour costs including band wages, and the break-even point for a gig is around 300 people through the door (and that’s at 20-25 quid a head).

  13. PaulE says:

    Problems getting people to live shows are just the tip of the iceberg for finances overall. Many core fans are still buying and some have taken to crowdfunding with enthusiasm, but so long as the more casually inclined think streaming is the future then any chance of growth is on thin ice. The financial model of streaming seems designed for one thing only – to save the major labels’ bacon.

  14. Tim Hall says:

    You’re right, the subscription-based streaming model doesn’t work for grassroots music, and only scales for the major labels because they own the rights to so much of so many artists’ back catalogues that it all adds up.

    I might be over-pessimistic, but I fear the crowdfunding model might prove to be a bubble that will eventually burst. It hasn’t happened yet, but it’s only a matter of time before somebody’s Kickstarter meets its target but the band implodes before delivering an album, and that might poison the well for other bands. There have certainly been non-music Kickstarters that never delivered and it eventually turned out that the creator just ran off with the money.

    Whatever happens, the one thing we need to avoid for both live and recorded music is a zero-sum game when competing bands are trying to cannibalise each others’ fanbases. If we can’t expand the audience beyond the existing hardcore, that’s what we risk happening.

  15. Tom B says:

    Given the sort of figures we’re talking about – a couple of hundred at a gig perhaps and as Tim asserts, a fanbase for the grassroots prog scene that can be measured in the hundreds – I’m wondering what the record sales figures for these bands must be like. I wonder if anyone’s kickstarter hasn’t met its target.

  16. PaulE says:

    Tom – actually one kickstarter met it’s target in a few days and nearly doubled it by the end. All still with a few hundred people. Another artist more recently looked like they might miss their target and the fans reacted by raising their pledge levels. This is what I meant by “enthusiasm”. But it is all down to core fanbases of a few hundred.

    Actual record sales are difficult to get hold of, but before the introduction of streaming data, some of these acts were getting into the lower end of the rock chart – or the high end of the independent breakers chart – on release week. Not all sales go into the chart data, either. Another act sold out of their limited special edition (2000 copies) before the general release version went on sale.

  17. Tim Hall says:

    One data point we do have is Mostly Autumn’s most recent album “Dressed in Voices”. The pre-order two-disk edition was limited to 2000 copies, and they sold out in advance of the release date of the standard single disk edition. Though they’re an established band with a larger fanbase than some of their peers.

  18. Martin Cowgill says:

    Had a chat with one of the members of the band on Sunday, apparently Edinburgh had an even smaller crowd, quite shocking thinking of the numbers involved.

    However the view was that the size of the crowd was less important than the response from the audience, a great small venue with just a few people can be far better than a large but quiet and unresponsive crowd, the band feed off the response.

  19. Tim Hall says:

    Yep, audience enthusiasm makes a lot of difference. Remember an earlier gig in the much smaller Asylum in Birmingham three years ago only had about 30 people, but we made enough noise for a couple of hundred.