The Continuing Death Of Independent Live Music Venues

The Continuing Death Of Independent Live Music Venues

download-1.jpgMusic and live entertainment, it’s one of those art-forms that is timeless. For decades, generations of people have spent their weekends in venues around the country covered in sweat and rocking out to their favourite bands with like minded strangers. Some of the most successful bands have been discovered and watched at “grassroots” venues like The Dagenham Roundhouse.

The Roundhouse has had bands like Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin through its doors before they skyrocketed to super-stardom. I’ve been fortunate to play on this stage once last year on tour with The Signatures, it was a good venue to add my list.

Unfortunately, during my time on stage at The Roundhouse, I noticed one painful thing; independent live music is becoming less and less popular. Is this because of the increasing popularity of social media? pure laziness from the public? money? who knows.. it just isn’t getting any better. Some of the most famous venues like The Fiddler’s Elbow in Camden can be virtually empty on some Friday nights, it’s a sad state of affairs.

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The famous Fiddler’s Elbow, Camden

The decreasing popularity of independent live music means a decrease in takings for venues, a decrease in money for the venues means they can’t keep up with their costs, and ultimately, this means the venues have no choice but to close. According to The Music Venue Trust; a third of independent live music venues have closed over the last decade falling from 700 open venues to 400 across the UK.

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My unsigned band Denzeity

Being in an unsigned band, I know the struggle artists go through, I know how difficult it is playing to 15 people and feeling disheartened beyond belief. A few months ago, me and the guys of Denzeity decided to do some pre show flyer-ing as commuters came in and out of the tube station, the amount of people that ignored us and looked uninterested really got to me, people just simply aren’t interested in going to see or support local grassroots bands and venues anymore, they’d rather watch videos on social media. Whilst this does help bands, there is nothing better than having people take the effort to turn out to your show!

The final question I’d like to ask is: Are venues doing enough for bands?

I know some people will read that and scoff. It’s something that needs to be talked about because I’ve had several experiences of venues preaching in their emails that bands MUST advertise on social media to get people through the door, they MUST bring x amount of people blah blah blah and then? make no effort of their own to do EXACTLY that!

This, for me, is also one of the main reasons venues are closing every month. You can’t put all the blame on the public or record labels, your venue, YOUR responsibility!

I’m going to conclude this post with somewhat of a plea; PLEASE go out and support your local, unsigned bands and artists! A ticket doesn’t usually cost much in grassroots venues, a tenner at the max, that’s cheaper (and a lot more fun) than a meal for two! Live music NEEDS to stay alive, its fun, its good for the soul and the mind and the money you spend on a ticket, merch, CD’S keeps people like me being able to carry on gigging and performing for you all!

Go out and see an unsigned band this Friday, you’ll be surprised at what you hear.

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Record Labels: Are They Really Needed?

Over the years, technology has seen many changes in the way the music industry operates and functions. One of the most notorious changes has been that of the record label.

What Are Record Labels?

For those of you that don’t know, a record label is a company that is in charge of marketing and distributing the music of artists to digital and phsyical music stores around the world. (HMV, Itunes, Spotify etc). There are still several record labels operating wordwide, but not anywhere near as many as there used to be.

Major Labels

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“The Big Three”

As of 2012, there are only 3 labels that are considered “major”. Major labels tend to sign acts like Adele, Justin Bieber and other successful artists. The “big three” as they are known are: Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group.

These days, a lot of labels are brought out by these big three and continue as “sub-labels” under either the Sony, Universal or Warner umbrellas. This generally happens in order to enable the labels to continue operating as well as giving them access to the resources available to the big three.

Independent Labels

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Cool Thing Records

Along with major labels, there are independent or “indie” labels. These labels are not associated with any major or sub label and are generally created by unsigned bands in order to give them a more professional look. Some bands start by distributing their own music and then progress onto distributing the music of other bands.

A local independent label currently gaining popularity is “Cool Thing Records” a label started by Southend based band “Asylums.”

How Technology has changed the need for labels

download-1.pngIn the 21st Century music business, there are several companies and websites that enable artists to make their music available on digital platforms such as Itunes and Spotify. The two topped ranked companies for this are CDBaby and Distrokid; in order to make your music purchasable/streamable to the world, you simply pay a small fee, upload your music and artwork and wait for it to appear.

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Andie Case

There are several unsigned or independent artists that have seen top 40  success without the help of the big three. The most memorable example of this has got to be U.S Singer-Songwriter Andie Case; she uploaded a song to Itunes and within a few weeks it was being played on the UK Top 40, her career then sky rocketed and she is still experiencing success today.

Previously mentioned Indie band “Asylums” has also experienced great success over the years, being played on John Kennedy’s Radio X show and being able to play some of the biggest festivals in the UK and Europe.

My Personal thoughts

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Spotify is fast becoming the number one music streaming service.

For me, the fact that some of my friends have achieved success without a Universal, Sony or Warner contract says a lot. I feel that perhaps the only major use these “big three” have are their resources and contacts. Of course, in this industry it is all about who you know and not so much what you know but the need of these guys for their contacts could very soon be wiped out by the ease of the internet.

There are artists in all genres that are making a solid living through gigging and Spotify streaming royalties (no major radio airplay) This again, says it all to me. Anybody can distribute their music digitally through the websites mentioned, the only thing that can’t be done without a major label is physical distribution to stores like HMV but they’re dying out slowly anyway.

In conclusion, I think that perhaps in 10-15 years, the big three will be no more, is this necessarily a negative thing? I don’t think so; if you can cut out the middle man and take more money for yourself, why wouldn’t you? Anything is possible thanks to technology these days, you’ve just gotta be brave enough to take the plunge.

 

Is Singing To Backing Track “live” Music?

This was a recent topic of discussion and debate amongst members of a musicians Facebook group I am a part of. I must admit it was entertaining to read some of the comments on the thread as people had their egos damaged by some home truths on the matter. For what it’s worth, here are my thoughts on this never ending argument:

For me, live music, is exactly that, a LIVE band with LIVE instruments fronted by a LIVE singer. When I see a poster outside a pub with the words “LIVE MUSIC FRIDAY NIGHT” I, as a musician and avid gig-goer, expect an entirely live performance! Of course, the singer is live, they are actually singing, using their own voice, but some may argue that they are merely a glorified karaoke singer… I mean this in no disrespect to any of my fellow entertainers, but that is essentially what you are doing.

I understand the use of backing tracks amongst some entertainers, it saves costs and allows the said singer to only have to worry about themselves but I do not agree with venues labelling them as live music, because they are only half live. In the Facebook group, there were lots of arguments amongst members on either side, some people even getting into insults and age difference.. really?! I chose not to add my “2 cents” to the conversation simply because it seemed the group were too immature to have a normal discussion..

Another point raised was that there are many famous acts that choose to mime during this performances, this is a completely different thing and bore no relevance to the discussion, but since it mentioned, I’d like to add that I do not agree with this practice, playing to backing tracks for ease when you can’t ship your whole band across the world, fine, miming to said backing track out of laziness, not fine.

Let’s wrap this one up here with this final point from me; singing to a backing tack does NOT necessarily make you a less skilled performer, you still have to be able to sing to a high standard in order to get booked and re-booked by venues. HOWEVER, I know that I would much rather spend my money watching a live band, wether it be covers or originals, than watching one person sing to a track.

 

 

The Music Industry and Mental Health

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Mental health; one of the most common causes of death in todays Music Industry, yet one of the taboo topics amongst industry professionals. Unfortunately, the idea of mental wellbeing is only discussed when someone does the tragic thing of taking their own life.

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U.S Rapper Mac Miller, Dead at 26 due to overdose.

The most recent death in todays industry is U.S Rapper Mac Miller, who was only 26 and died of a drugs overdose. Of course, we don’t know if his overdose was a deliberate act of suicide or not and this is still being investigated by police. However, we are aware of Miller’s struggle with mental health throughout his career and his relationship with Singer Ariana Grande.

The music industry can be a high stress environment to be in, especially when you get to the level that Miller and Grande were working at. In my opinion, the artist of today are not being looked after enough by the industry executives, their mental and physical health are being thrown down the drain in order to maintain their careers, they are too scared to publicly talk about their struggles through fear of stigmatization in the media and amongst their fans.

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Mac Miller with ex girlfriend Arianna Grande

People seem to forget the fact that musicians work crazy, unsociable and even sometimes unhealthy hours. Of course they need to put the work in in order to be a success but I find it shocking that managers aren’t pulling their acts to one side and asking them if they are okay from time to time, it really would make the world of difference.

I sometimes struggle with stress related to work and I’m not working at the rate or level that these “idols” are, thankfully I have friends and family around me to keep an eye on me and encourage me to take time off when its needed, I couldn’t be more grateful.

We’ve seen far too many talented people taken from this world because of mental health and wellbeing being neglected and it needs to change. I am definitely not putting the weight of the tragedy of industry deaths solely on the shoulders of the high industry powers, sometimes people make bad choices all by themselves and refuse the help when its offered, but I am pleading with the industry that I love to start making mental health a more accessible subject to the people within it.

How to enjoy music when you do it for a living

Like many young musicians and creatives, I always dreamed of being able to play my instrument for a living one day. Well two years ago, this dream came to fruition. I started playing keys for various different bands, writing scores for some indie films and also teaching keyboard to a few students.

This has now steadily progressed to turning into a semi full time job alongside my university studies. I have had great experiences and performed alongside some pretty prestigious artists and don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret a single second, however, there has also been times when I’ve wanted to flat out quit. This has been down to purely not enjoying Music, I’m sure some of you can relate to this, thankfully, I’ve found various ways of being able to do what I love for work and also get pleasure out of it. I am going to share these ways with you today:

1) Play music that you enjoy

We all know what its like having to play music that we hate in order to make ends meet. I’ve done it more times than I can count and its really not beneficial to you or the artist you’re working with/for. So if you can afford to, make sure to say yes to projects that excite you on a musical and personal level, that way your client will always get the best out of you and you will always enjoy going to work.

2) Try and play as many different genres of music as you can

As a session musician, I’m lucky to be able to be involved in several different musical genres. This includes: general covers, acoustic singer-songwriter, Folk rock and progressive rock. I have always felt that being in a singular band playing the same genre every weekend can get rather stale pretty quickly, thus causing you to fall out of love with it, something every musician wanting a long-lasting career should avoid.

3) Get along to some local jam nights!

This is one thing I never have done enough of and definitely something I’m glad to be doing more of! I’ve recently started attending a jam night at The Bull in Colchester every Tuesday night after uni and its definitely one of the best things I’ve done! I think that giving yourself the chance to play freely with other musicians without the constraint of charts or a click track in your ears is a brilliant way to not only meet and network with different instrumentalists but also a chance to play whatever you want for a change!

4) Go to some gigs!

Us musicians spend so much of our time on stage that we sometimes forget how much fun it is being a member of the audience! I’ve always done my best to go out on my nights off and support my friends in local bands, this is the only way to keep local music and local venues alive after all!

Follow these four pieces of advice and I can pretty much promise you that you will all enjoy your music a lot more!

The State of the British Music Education system – an open letter to the government

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Anyone that knows me will be aware of how much I value Music and how integral I feel it is that Music Education is part of the UK national curriculum.

It has been proven that Music and “The Arts” help children develop confidence, discipline, interpersonal skills, self-awareness and other key skills they need to progress in life.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying for one second that the kids that are playing for football teams or part of the chess club don’t develop these skills or indeed that are lesser people than their musical peers, but what I am saying is that, i wouldn’t be the person I am without music/ Music Education.

However, unfortunately, the current UK government fail to see the importance of the arts (namely Music). I, along with many of my fellow Musicians, find this disgusting. Across the country, Music departments at all levels (KS2 & KS3) are having their funding cut and therefore having to either cut costs, thus leaving them short staffed or (to my heartbreak) shut down altogether.

This now means that children at key stages of their development, at the ages in which they begin to discover who they are as individuals, are not being given the opportunities to either unlock or develop their talent.

Can you imagine being in school seeing all your friends being GOOD or even GREAT at something like poetry or football and having the ability to go to a club dedicated to those talents and then there’s you. You know you’re good at music but you also see that your school doesn’t have a music department or any clubs or 1-1 lessons. I for sure would’ve been lost without my school’s Music department, lord knows I’d be lost without Music full stop.

So, on that note – this was an open letter to the Uk government from a musician and aspiring Music Educator who lays here at 2:30 in the morning, not being able to sleep out of his disgust and heartache at the lack of respect and value that his profession is being shown by his countries leaders.

Theresa May, and colleagues… please STOP and see what you’re doing, you are suffocating something amazing and soon, there is going to be nothing left, please, I beg you, stop…

Signed

A distraught musician.

Floor wedges vs In Ear Monitors: The Pros and cons of both

One of the most important things for a musician when they are on stage is the need to be able to hear themselves clearly, if they can’t, they are going to produce a sub-standard performance.  There used to be only one way of doing this and that was through what is known as a floor wedge or floor monitor, this is simply a speaker that is placed in front of the musicians so that they can hear themselves. As you can imagine, these speakers would be quite bulky and take up a lot of space on stage, especially if there is a large amount of musicians on stage, all requiring monitors.

This issue has now been solved with the invention of in ear monitors or I.E.M’s. The clue is in the name as t how these work, just like a floor monitor but rather than having a massive speaker on stage, each performer has a set of in ear headphones in which they can hear themselves and whatever else they require, for example, a click track if the performer is a drummer.

The debate about which monitoring method is best has been going on for years and there are pros and cons to both forms of monitoring, let’s start with the pros and cons of floor monitors:

Pros

  • Less expensive – A fully functioning in ear system can cost hundreds of pounds)
  • No sound blocked ( having in ears can sometimes block out the noise of the crowd etc.
  • Freedom of movement – if a performer isn’t on wireless I.E.M’s, they are attached to a cable.
  • Shared mixes – If time is not on a bands side, the engineer can arrange to have various band members using one wedge, not ideal, but time efficient.

Cons

  • More noise on stage – If you combine the front of house speakers, guitar amps and several monitors on stage, it sure is gonna get very loud, very quickly.
  • Less space on stage – Again, combining the amps, instruments and people with more bulky monitors doesn’t create the most comfortable stage plan.
  • more chance of feedback  – Because of the amount of things blasting out at you and the audience.
  • No chance of a custom mix – for some musicians, having a custom mix is essential, such as the drummer needing a click track at times, you can’t put a click through a floor monitor or the audience will hear it, not good.

As you can see, having a floor wedge has its advantages and disadvantages, now onto in ears. If you’re gigging week in week out like me, I would suggest investing in some in ear monitors, we’ll go through the pros and cons of these now:

Pros

  • Hearing protection – In ear monitors are designed to block out as much noise as possible to protect the hearing of the wearer, with in ears, the harsh frequencies like that produced from the crash of drum cymbals are either blocked out completely or blocked to a certain extent so you can still hear them but just not as loudly.
  • Custom mixes – With in ears, you can have a mix that is custom made for you, this take quite a lot of time during soundcheck but is well worth it. The quality of a mix can make or break a performance for a lot of musicians, if you can’t hear yourself or can hear too much of yourself, things could go horribly wrong. Thankfully with in ears, the sound levels can be adjusted without affecting anybody else in the band.
  • You can hear more clearly – Because your monitor is literally in your ear, you can hear everything more precisely and be really locked into the rest of your band members, this helps your performance a great deal.
  • They look cool  – I know, probably not the reason anybody chooses in ears, but I must say, I like the fact that I’m wearing what the pros wear, it makes me feel cool, okay? Try not to judge me!

Cons

  • Expensive – A good quality in ear system can burn a rather large hole in your wallet, we’re talking £500 + if you want the high end stuff. For your first set, I wouldn’t recommend going out and spending that much, get something quality but within your price range!
  • If they break, you’re done – This doesn’t happen too often if you look after them, but if they do break and you don’t have a spare set, then your kinda stuck, musically and financially. Especially if they break on stage and you don’t have a wedge running too, which is not likely.
  • Could cause hearing damage – If your sound guy isn’t responsible or experienced, they could send a massively hot feed to your ears, this could potentially damage your hearing if it keeps happening, before you switch to in ears, you have to be sure that the engineers your working with know how to handle their desks properly.
  • They can’t always be used – I’ve had experiences of going to a venue, telling the sound guy that I run in ears, and having them freak and not know what to do with these foreign objects.. dude… just run an XLR cable from your desk to mine.. oh well.

These are my personal pros and cons, added to the extensive argument as to which way works best. Personally, once I switched to in ears, using a wedge was never the same, I just couldn’t do it, and I’d imagine its the same for many people that have made the switch. A fellow session musician friend of mine described using in ears as “hearing in HD” and I have to say, his right.

SIDE NOTE: I wrote a little review of my Moxpad X6 in ears, take a read!: https://garycunninghammusic.wordpress.com/category/reviews/page/2/