Carlos Stein Soundhouse
Carlos Stein at the Soundhouse in 2013

Sounds Familiar

The Carlos Stein column

On the subject of gig attendances, on the Leicester music scene,  versus other towns, I learned that Nottingham has an above average number of 30 something year-olds. This makes perfect sense and tallies with our research because, if Leicester has a diverse range of age groups, the ages above and below 30 are of different generations and would follow different trends for example: older ones may have children to care for, or may have more health issues. Younger ones would probably mingle with the 20 somethings on the student focussed outlets? Dunno, just a thought.

6th October

Playing in Crowd Cuckoo Land Pt.1:

Scroll down for Pt.2

Know Your Crowd

It’s the mysterious force which promoters, venues and artists have been trying to master since the dawn of music and although the commercial music industry appears to get it right most of the time, this is due only to the power of targeted mass marketing among the gullible public – even then, they pay dearly when they get it wrong.

OK. So, you’ve got a paid gig in town where a “crowd of at least a 100” is “guaranteed” every night. So the gig will go like a dream then? Probably not. Nothing can be guaranteed.

Do your research and get to know your crowds with our quick guide:

  • The “Music festival/Music venue” – Crowd Rating: “good (ish)”. Without patronising the musical tastes of the public in general it is sufficient to say that if you are playing at a music festival or dedicated music venue rather than just a pub you are in a good position to get attention from this crowd, even more so if you are playing a particular genre or style to which the crowd is accustomed to. They will clap and cheer on demand to your own songs, but bare in mind that the crowd probably has a better idea of the music scene than you.
  • The “Snotty Wine Bar” – Crowd Rating: “don’t go there”. A bar full of overpaid, wine guzzling office workers, bankers and barristers who would rather watch porn videos on their iTablets than live music. They talk loudly and shout “I say Tony” far too often. You are a about as relevant to them as a hired vacuum cleaner. Why did you agree to this? They don’t give a shit.
  • The ”Outdoor Family Fete” – Crowd Rating: “bad” to “difficult”. (Not to be confused with the “Music Festival” crowd). The crowd consists mainly of families with their dogs. Your sound will be obliterated by drunken old men shouting at their grand-kids to keep away from the wires, yet somehow become invisible when the little brat manages to climb onto the stage and ruin your performance by knocking over the light stand and tripping the generator, ending your set prematurely. This is the only time the audience will look at the stage.
  • The “Townie Bar” – Crowd Rating: “why do I bother”. Housing estate pubs, consisting mainly of Sun-readers, builders and plasterers. Generally speaking they are the worse type of crowd to please and if you play anything original or remotely obscure the chances of being totally ignored (or worse heckled) increases proportionally with the size of the crowd.
  • The “Wedding” – Crowd Rating: “I’ve played worse”. The wedding gig has some advantages: The crowd all know each other, and in some cases know the band too. They have no obligation to leave early in fear of upsetting their host, they are almost always too drunk to know if you sounded good or bad. You could play any old shit and they will still get up and dance, but not before you are asked to “do requests”. The wedding gig would be considered a safe bet if you like playing cheesy covers but don’t expect much of an applause, if any.
  • The “Working Mens Club” – Crowd Rating: “better if they are awake”. Maybe a careful choice of timeless classics with well-known sing-along hooks, boring as it is, it pays the bills, but you might just as well be performing to 5 workmates.
  • The “Sports Bar” – Crowd Rating: “just kill me now”. Lager-fuelled inner town sports theme pubs. Someone will inevitably gain access to the SKY TV remote during your act, putting on the big match with the volume turned to maximum to “get over your noise”. They will make loud obnoxious animal sounds at the TV and probably view you with as much appreciation as they would the juke box or watching X factor. They are more interested in football than live music.

Happy Gigging!

See Playing in Crown Cuckoo Land, Pt.2: Reading the audience. Published on Facebook.

1st September 2015

Familiar spaces

Promoters naturally encourage bands to “bring fans” to gigs they have organised. Because a gig packed full of spectators is so awesome – Yehhhhhhhhhh!
Why do promoters think this?

  • It’s Good for the bands
  • It’s Good for the venues and
  • It’s Good for the music scene
  • And it looks good on photos.

But wait…. Er…what fans?

Indeed, and unless you are a professional super-group with an international reputation and a repertoire stretching back at least a decade AND have your own tour bus then that ain’t gonna happen.

When they say “fans” they mean ‘sympathisers’ and by that they mean ‘friends and family.’ OK, so let’s just assume then that you are one of the million artists or bands trying to establish yourself on the local music scene, and to get the “buzzword” round you, have already performed at every open mic.

Then eventually someone knows someone who can get you a gig – initially you treat that person like a god until you realise he is making a fortune from the door fees and he isn’t actually a promoter, nor is your band name mentioned anywhere on the venue posters, but he got you the gig.

Meanwhile your vision of an army of ‘supporters, is getting less likely. Of those who promised to be there, 50% of those fall into the bullshit fan category. You will soon learn never to rely on anyone.

Questions like “where is that?”, “who else is playing?” or “I’ve never heard of that place” (whilst simultaneously scratching his/her head) are blunt excuses for ‘NO I can’t be arsed.’ Comments such as “enjoy your gig” or the classically annoying “break a leg” are a dead giveaway. If they say “I’ll pop in IF I’m going that way” (especially if it’s before you told them where it is) you can safely assume they are so NOT gonna be there.

A few unwary friends who make it to your first gig (out of sympathy or human error) may well promise to see you at your next gig but realistically mum and dad have seen you twice so they ain’t gonna show up for another gig (unless one of them is providing the transport, he he.) If the average 1/2 hour set contains say two or three power songs or known covers, most of your mates would have heard you play these a few times by now and so the novelty will have worn off. Solo artists will struggle more than a five-piece band for example as they would potentially have five times more fans via their own circles of friends and family, etc.

Hey, that was my ‘fan-base?’ – NOT!

Soo… hopefully a whole bunch of supporters are coming to see the ‘established head-liner band’ and will also see your performance and thus become a fan. Not really, because they would have got wind of what time the head-liner is on, totally missing the support acts or staying outside gossiping over a fag while you perform the entire set to the bar staff and the dog. You have exactly the same chance if you are on AFTER the head-liner because that’s when their fans have all buggered off.

This just leaves the random people willing to go into town and pay a fiver to see six bands that no-one has heard of, on a Wednesday night, and before the last bus leaves. Given the admission fees and rising beer prices, it’s no surprise that town venues are half empty.

The big problem here is that there is a finite amount of people available at any given time who are prepared to go out and watch bands. Some of this may be down to financial constraints, beer pricing, buses, taxi fares, etc. But I believe that we have too many venues offering music, with a huge number of talented musicians willing to play for nowt just to get heard.

The result is: every local pub is offering “free live music” as an incentive to bring in trade – and at no cost to themselves! Our “finite amount of people” is now diluted across the suburban pub scene, where drinks are cheaper, AND they can walk home! Thus the “familiar spaces” at many town gigs nowadays.

But, have hope, because there’s one audience which are guaranteed to be there. They are the performing musicians themselves!

Happy Gigging!

Carlos Stein

See also:

Our feature article about small music venues

About The Editor 535 Articles
The Editor of Music in Leicester magazine is Kevin Gaughan assisted by Trevor Locke