Thursday, 4 September 2008

Playing Gigs When Your Starting Out

It amazes me the differences I find in gigs, both when I was performing in bands and solo. Let me give you a couple of examples;

Gig One
The band/artist perform in the upstairs bar, the audience pay £3/£4/£5 pounds to see them. There are four acts playing 20 and 40 minute sets. The room is medium sized. Three of the acts are local unsprung artists, each with a little dedicated fan base of family, friends and lovers attending the gig. The second band on are from out of town, looking to build a fan base in a new area. That makes, if everyone is lucky, about 30 spectators. Because the room isn't massive, the gig feels reasonably attended, although basically each act is playing to people they have played to several times before, plus the family/friends/lovers of the other artists, who are likely to leave when the act there supporting finishes.

At the same venue, in the downstairs bar, a DJ is playing. It's free into this room, and its very busy. Because of the DJ, it's impossible to tell there is live music upstairs, in fact the only way people not in the know would notice is the poster at the bottom of the staircase, and a man sitting with a money box at the top. As the downstairs scene is so much fun, and free, it's unlikely anyone is going to pay to go upstairs to see some bands they have never heard of.

Gig Two
The Band/Artist play in the main bar of the venue, and it's free in for punters. Each local act has their loyal following attending, and anyone who happens to be passing the venue can wonder in for free, instantly see and hear the live music, and may well choose to say a while and listen. Even if they don't like some of the acts, it hasn't cost them anything, so they feel happy to either leave or stay and endure, in the hope the next band might be more up their street. The non local band may well get to play to people other than the family and friends of other artists, and indeed the local artists may entertain some new faces too.

Consider these two gigs, which is better to play do you think? I remember being very frustrated when starting in bands that I was not only always playing to the same group of supporters, by they were at times being charged a fiver to see me. Perhaps it would be better to have the gig in my house, and charge everyone a couple of quid, I used to think, then I could actually earn a little bit of money too. But the chance of playing to new people was always the draw to the gig circuit, we all want to play to new faces and convert new people to the cause, that's why we go out and gig in the first place. But how many new faces can we meet in the first scenario, how many of us would choose to take a chance and pay a fiver to watch four acts we don't know anything about? Maybe we would discover or new favourite band, but maybe we'd be better of with the DJ, in the busy room which it hasn't cost me anything to enter.

It's interesting that scenario two seems more likely to be a basically acoustic based venue, such as Bar Island, or Tower Of Song, while the first gig is a common layout for venues hosting bands. Does this mean that the public are ready to pay to see unsigned bands, but not solo acts/acoustic music?

Of course I understand why venues need to charge, the promoter sometimes pays for the room, or pays the sound man, or pays for "promotion," but how come some venues are able to do these things and still not charge.

When you've been going a while, and maybe you have a fan base built up, playing gigs that charge your fans is fine, because you have them already, and they make money for you, the promoter is happy, the public sees how popular you are are reasons that must because your good, and you get to play with other popular bands. It all starts to work out OK then.


Artists starting out do not have fan bases, none at all. They have friends family and lovers, who will attend the gigs and will pay to support them even if they are blatantly awful (this first couple of times anyway). They play gigs to reach the public, but the general public don't like paying for an unknown entity, epically in the venues where there is something much more safe going on somewhere else, for free. And who can blame Mr Public?

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