I heard a good joke recently.
[NOTE: This is an archived piece from Almost Famous, a music blog for unsigned musicians which I ran from 2012-2013]
Hunched over the bar in a nice little music venue in a ice little town which barely bothered anybody and was thus barely bothered by anybody in return, the owner first told me that they were almost fully-booked for the next six to eight months, and then added that any remaining slots would only be given to bands prepared not to play any other gigs in town for an entire year.
As a heavy Friday night faded to the dull chill of a Saturday morning and this somewhat baffling booking policy was revealed to me, I hung on the owner’s every word, lips curling into the slightest of smiles in anticipation of the punchline.
It never came.
Instead, I was offered the simple justification that ‘it stops bands making a name for themselves here and then using that to get gigs at other clubs.’
I’ve tried to see it from this point of view, I really have, but the more I think about it, I really can’t see much justification for such a policy.
I’ve heard of these kind of agreements before of course, and in some of the larger cities they’re more or less common practice. Yet usually those “non-compete clasues” are only valid for a few weeks, or a month at most.
To me, this does make sense and does at least work in the bands’ favour; Manchester is a huge part of the UK music scene with many venues of all shapes and sizes, and by not gigging there every week, this one show they are playing becomes all the more important.
It also gives us the chance to concentrate our marketing efforts and draw an audience to this one show rather than three or four.
That I like. That I can get behind.
Squeezing onto an already-full line-up at one venue on the condition that we don’t gig anywhere else in town for an entire year? That kind of agreement has so many flaws in it that it’s hard to know where to begin.
But begin I feel I must, and so here’s the first point:
Most places aren’t Manchester.
I mean no disrespect whatsoever to Leigh, the small little town in which our story takes place today; it’s a perfectly lovely little town with a brilliant art gallery, a fancy new sports stadium and three-or-four small pubs hosting live music, all of which it should be proud of.
Especially the music venues.
I don’t know of many towns the size of Leigh that have a similar number of places for bands to ply their trade, and I know from working on Haigh Fest that there’s some really good bands coming out of the area, but it’s a push to compare it to the thriving reputation Manchester’s music scene has developed for itself over the years, and yet even the city’s most prestigious venues wouldn’t ask bands to stay away for a whole year in return for one gig.
Credit where credit’s due
Those Manchester venues are unlikely to take as much credit for a band’s success as our friend in Leigh seems to be.
‘It stops bands making a name for themselves here and then using that to get gigs at other clubs.’
I don’t really mean to take anything away from this venue, it is a pretty good place for live music, but a band isn’t going to develop a reputation from playing at that, or any other venue, alone.
A band makes a name for itself by working hard on rehearsing, writing, promoting and getting really good then getting out there to as many people as possible and proving just how good they are, not by playing one show a year in a small town.
If anything, it’s the awesome bands who perform there that enable this venue to make a name for itself, not the other way round.
There’s no ‘I’ in scene
It just seems to me that, by adopting this attitude, the venue is taking more credit for the healthy music scene in Leigh than it really deserves. Not to say it doesn’t deserve any, but in this blogger’s mind a strong music scene depends on having a number of quality bands playing at a number of quality venues.
Forcing bands to limit themselves to one venue, especially if they’re only squeezing on to an already packed line-up and only likely to get one gig per year, is likely to do more harm to the music scene than good.
Lack of opportunities
Especially at a time when live shows generate more income for an artist than music sales, and especially for unsigned acts who rarely make much money either way, gigs are a valuable source of income,.
All this little ‘no shows in town all year’ policy succeeds in doing is robbing bands of opportunities to make some money (I could rant about how poor the pay day is at this venue, but let’s focus on one thing at once, shall we? ), improve their performance and develop their fanbase, a fanbase who would ultimately follow a band to shows right across town.
More fans coming to more shows by more bands in more venues equals a thriving music scene.
Having bands give up all other opportunities to play in town throughout the year in return for one poorly-paid slot at a decent venue is at best short-sighted, at worst damaging to a local music scene in which bands and venues rely on each other for success.
And that’s really nothing to joke about.