Who puts on gigs

Going to gigs round 3

Wednesday 19th July 2017

Instalment 3

How do gigs happen?

by Trevor Locke.

In this issue: Who puts on gigs. How do they do it?

You go to a gig. The audience gathers in the room. The first band comes on stage and plays their set for half an hour. Then another. Then another. And so on. Finally, the headline band gets up and does its thing. Everyone goes home. That – in a nutshell – is a gig.

For the fans it’s about organising who to go with, how they are going to get there, whether they are going to go somewhere else that night either before or after the gig, what they are going to wear… in fact, depending on how often they go to gigs, it’s all about organising themselves to get to the show,

Do people think about how the gig gets organised? Probably not – much. For most fans, it just happens and they don’t think about why it happens, how it happens and who makes it happen. So, let’s just explore some of the background – go behind the scenes of a typical gig – and find out about some of the work that had to be done in order to get all those people into a room together for three hours or so.

For most shows, there are two types of organisers. Firstly, the venue staff do it all themselves. Secondly, a promoter hires the venue to put on an event. Most of the permanent live music venues here in Leicester have people whose job is to fill the bookings diary, day after day, week after week, month after month. They have to book the bands and artists, get the timings of the night sorted out, set the entrance fee, make sure the thing is advertised, make sure enough drinks have been ordered and so a great many other things to ensure that the venue runs effectively. That’s a lot of work. Most venues have monthly programmes, either printed and distributed and/or listed on their websites, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds or whatever else they use. They also have to make sure they have enough staff for a night – a sound engineer, bar staff, cleaners, ticket desk minders and so on.

Just getting enough bands to play is a big task in itself. Large numbers of bands contact venues to see if they can get a slot on a particularly date – especially if they are organising a tour. So, the venue organisers have to be available on the phone or on the Internet to deal with requests. If a big touring band asks for a gig the venue managers might also have to get in some local bands as supports.

There is a lot more to booking bands that just putting names against dates. Nights should, ideally, be themed – so that the bands that form a line-up have something in common with each other – musically. That might mean having all metal bands, all pop-rock bands, all the bands have some kind of punk theme and so on. In an ideal world. Over the years that I have been going to gigs, some nights have been less than ideal. That often meant that few people went to them. Many a time I stood in a room with half a dozen fans and listened to a group of bands playing. Sometimes, it was a random collection of genres. No theme, no consistency, no continuity from one band to the next. Those nights usually were failures. In Leicester most people want to go to a metal show, a punk night, a pop concert… they go out to hear music of a certain kind. Whether that is the case in other cities I don’t know, but my guess is that it is.

A few years ago all eight permanent venues were putting on gigs pretty much seven nights a week. Those days are gone. A quick look through the programmes of today’s venues shows that hardly any of them ever open up every night of the week. Fridays and Saturdays – yes. But midweek slots – it can be very variable. Sundays too in many cases. There just aren’t enough people to go round these days. I think also that there are probably not enough bands – locally – to support that kind of programme. Not in 2017. As I commented in one of my articles (in 2010):

At the root of this problem is the fact that there are just not enough ticket-buying fans to go round. We live in hard times. People do not have enough disposable income to allow them to go out to live music events that often. Too many shows chasing too few people. It’s a problem that everyone recognises but which there is an in-built reluctance to do anything about.

I wrote articles about the economics of local live music. In one of these pieces I sat down with a calculator and tried to work out how many rock music fans there were in Leicester – those who would go out to gigs at least once a year. In fact, it’s not that many. Far less than you would imagine. That is largely due to the demographics of Leicester with its diverse community.

Most gigs are organised well in advance. There is no hard and fast rule about how long it takes to get a gig together but my guestimate was about six weeks. Many gigs went from the drawing board to the stage in a lot less time than that.

Flash gigs

It’s not common but sometimes you hear about ‘pop up’ gigs. I once organised a ‘flash gig’; I did the whole thing over 36 hours from start to finish and it was a success. Back in 2012, I did a gig at The Musician with three bands. The whole thing was organised literally from start to finish in 36 hours. What surprised me was that it was more successful than many of the shows that took me weeks to prepare.

On Arts in Leicester magazine I wrote: ‘ArtsIn Productions organised a gig within 36 hours. In an experiment, Leicester’s social enterprise- ArtsIn Productions – booked a venue, three bands and put out the publicity – all within 36 hours. This is why the term flash gig was used to describe it. Did it work? On the night all three bands turned up and played. On the door 41 fans paid £4 each to gain admission to the venue. All the bands were paid for their performances. Musically – it was a great success. As a gig it worked.’

I wrote about the flash gig on my blog:

Independent promoters

The other people who put on gigs are promoters. They hire venues for their shows. Some of them operate locally; others are national operators who put on events all over the country. I used to put on local gigs once. For a few years I hired venues and put on bands. Some of my gigs were successful; a lot were epic failures. Some venues use a lot of promoters. The Musician, in Clyde Street, for example, has several promoters who put on a lot of the shows that take place there. The Shed has long been a place where a whole variety of people have operated as independent gig providers. Most of the local promoters put on shows on a part-time basis. To my knowledge, there have only been one or two people round here who have done it for a living. As a full-time job. Some of these ‘indie’ organisers have been very good at their job, very successful… others, less so. Some have lasted quite a long time; others have come and disappeared quickly – sometimes taking the loot with them.

A promoter I remember well was David Norris. He operated as Music First Promotions. A lot of his shows were held at The Shed. Back in 2013, David put on a series called ‘I Wanna be a Rockstar’ which was a competition for bands. He was widely respected and liked for his work. Music First Promotions gig’s at the shed in 2013 attracted some of the best Leicester bands of the day. Many nights were well attended. There was a real buzz about the whole thing.

We reported on IWBAR in 2014, here on Music in Leicester magazine.

Band competitions – or ‘showcases’ as they were sometimes called – have always been a staple of the local music diet. The best known was the Original Bands Showcase. It ran for many years – probably about 13 or so. I think they started in 2004 when the series was won by The Dirty Backbeats. The OBS ran once a year and the grand final was always an iconic part of the year’s musical calendar.

The musicians of OBS 2016.
Photo: Philip Vernon Photography. (with permission)

You can read about OBS 2016 on Music in Leicester.

Not everyone was keen on these ‘battle of the bands’ type shows; some musicians Would never play at them. Long and acrimonious debates took place on social media when they were mentioned. Some bands felt that they exploited the rock fraternity because the only persons that ever made any money were the organisers. Despite the drawbacks, band competitions invariably drew larger average crowds that normal gigs.

The Summer of Indie Love

I promoted gigs from time to time. My first ever gig took place at the Jam Jar – later called The Music Cafe – and was a moderate success. There was a time when I was fairly busy putting on gigs or helping to put them on. A couple of series stand out for me – the Indie Summer shows being one of them. A pub in Churchgate got in touch with me and asked how they could increase their trade. After a lot of talking, I suggested they put on live music.

Team 12am at the Sun Bar in 2008. Photo by Trevor Sewell.

They asked me to run gigs for them and this led to the series I called Indie Summer; we put on the best bands we could find and in those days Indie – as it was called – was all the rage. So much so, that I issued a press release claiming that Leicester as ‘The Indie Capital of the UK.’ The shows ran for a couple of seasons.

Subdude at the Sun Bar in 2007. Photo by Trevor Sewell.

The first went fairly well; the second one ran into problems when the Council decided to close off most of Churchgate, so they could dig up the road. That delayed the starting date somewhat but eventually the diggers moved out and we moved in. There were some brilliant nights. Bands from out of town also played at these nights.

Squid Ate Lucy at the Sun Bar in 2007. Photo by Trevor Sewell.

The other series that stand out for me is the two sessions I ran called Singers of Distinction. These concerts featured the best solo artists in the area. The roll-call was spectacular. We really went to town on organising the shows. In those days there are just so many top-of-the-tree singer/songwriters, we were spoilt for choice. The organiser of the OBS also ran a series of show early in the year called obs Unplugged. It wasn’t actually ‘unplugged’ and included groups alongside solo artists but the standard was always very high.

Smokestacks at the Sun Bar in 2008. Photo by Trevor Sewell.

Next time: Which were the best bands in Leicester? And, what do we mean by ‘best’? I will be looking back at some of the bands from the past that made Leicester great.

See also:

Trevor Locke asks ‘ what makes a good gig?’ – read what he says on his blog.

Going to gigs: the series. Find out more and see what has been published, so far.

See our list of promoters in Leicester.