I never wanted to be a booker. I boast no inside-track on the hottest venues, nor can I woo event managers into throwing headline slots my way at whim. Until I made the decision to sign an artist to a management deal this short-coming was never more than a small blemish on an otherwise majestically pristine exterior; an ash smudge on the cheek of a firey A&R goddess… Now it’s taken on a little more the form of a missing body part; not something as fundamental as a leg or anything, but perhaps a toe – a big toe. As with most things in life, however, practice makes progress and the more venues I hobble through the steadier I do become. I’ve found a little unabashed persistence and creativity helps in getting the keys to the stage, but what’s worth having that doesn’t take a little graft? Even at this early stage I have found something to be glaringly obvious, however, and that is that I’m often not as out of depth as I fear. As I fake my way into the line-ups, all too many venues are faking their way into the sector itself.
Live music is the bread-winner of today’s music industry and bakeries are on the rise. Whether it’s sticking a portable karaoke machine next to the bar every third Thursday or boasting the most well-trodden stage on the strip, more bars, pubs and clubs are adding live music to the bill. This is excellent news for the unsigned artist: more stages, more audiences, more exposure, mo’ better, yes? Largely yes, this stands to reason, but more is always not always better… Are we talking a few indiscriminate rolls sold by the till on the way out or are we talking rows of floury dough, that slicer-machine and the whole hairnet operation to boot? If it’s just to perk up a slow night and grab in a few extra bodies then that’s fine, let’s call it that; artists would know what to expect and in turn what was expected of them, but if you’re going to sell yourself as the real deal you do have to at least have a appreciation of live music, an interest at minimum.
I have been to some venues that entirely define themselves as a “live music venue” yet appear to be more concerned with getting the bands in and out as quickly as possible so DJ Scotty can spin his ropey 80’s tunes on time. Some boasting to be the best event hosters have asked on the night if anyone really cares about having a sound-check, playing in line-up order, or actually playing at all when it comes to it. One venue promised in-house promotion in the lead-up, a fully competent sound technician for the night and just general interest and enthusiasm. I had to fight tooth and nail to get the event poster put up even as late as the day before, and when we arrived on the night we were met by one lackadaisical bored gentleman who disappeared for almost the full set-up time and then finally jabbed at a few dials after much berating on my part and even that of the artists.
Live musicians aren’t asking to be babied. Nobody is suggesting a cuddle on arrival and a cookie after set, but my third party viewpoint has seen musicians often viewed as almost an inconvenience by those actually booking them to play. Yes they should be grateful for a stage on which to perform, of course, but let’s not use that in a ‘take it and shut up’ capacity. It takes hard work, persistence and a great deal of personal confidence to secure and perform a live gig so it’s up to the venues to cough up some support if that’s what they claim to be offering.
The venues that do nurture the artists they book, whether it be through promotion, backstage support, or even just a friendly face on arrival, are those that will reap in the real talent and the rewards of being a genuine live music venue. Thankfully these are in rather decent supply here in Britain, and we at STX are looking to recognise the important role that they play in the development of our unsigned music scene. We ask some of the brightest underrated talents in the industry to meet us in the venue that they feel has been the most supportive and influential to them personally as an unsigned artist, and to share a couple of their tracks with us from their favourite stage.
Where better to find the best live music venues than from the artists who actually play them? Whether you’re looking to listen, play, or both, STX wants you to be as sure of a venue as you are of the artist.
Look out for the first exclusive feature in a few weeks.
An interested artist/venue? Email firstname.lastname@example.org