We’ve made ourselves quite busy at White Noise Radio HQ in the past month, with lots of hard work going into making our EP launch a success. We put the show on ourselves at a venue we love, with bands we love, and it all paid off; the night was a great success, people had a great time, and the EP has been well-received by all. We’d worked hard for ourselves, and we’d made something good – surely things can only go up from here? Well, it turns out that’s not so.
Last night, we were brought back down to earth with a bump – fully reminded of the opposite end of the spectrum for small bands. For every promoter that goes out of their way to improve the local scene there are two who just don’t seem to care, beyond their balance sheet at the end of the night.
We were booked for a show at a local venue after contacting them for a gig. Once they understood that we didn’t want to hire the venue (this took repeated stressing), they said that there was indeed a slot, and would we like to play it? “Yes, sure, who else is playing?” we said. No reply. Never mind, these things happen; despite the fact that the show is only a couple of weeks away the promoters we’re dealing with aren’t always hot off the blocks with their emails, so surely we’ll get some info soon.
A week passes. Now, the show is less than a week away, and we’ve heard nothing from the promoter – we chase them to find out who’s playing, and if the gig is still even happening. No reply. We call the venue and talk to the manager; she thought the night had been cancelled, but isn’t sure; she’ll get the promoter to call us. He does, and assures us that the night is going ahead as planned, but with one catch; there’s only one other band. Ticket prices will remain the same, though – never mind that it’s a high price for a full night of unsigned bands, let alone just two acts!
It’s now the night before the show. We’ve decided that although there is a conspicuous blank space on the venue’s “What’s On” web page and a distinct lack of input from the promoter, that we’ll honour our commitment and play the show. We get there at 6:30 for our 9:30 start, and load in. The sound guy is there, and we begin setting up. “Where’s the bass amp?” we ask. “Where are the drums?” Confusion reigns, as apparently the two pieces of house gear we were told we could use are not, actually, provided. Eventually, the just-about-not broken drum kit is retrieved from a cupboard, and we borrow a bass amp from the other band; soundcheck begins, and it actually sounds very good. Our sound-guy works at Colston Hall and knows his stuff. Still no sign of the promoter who booked us for the evening, but that’s not unknown; he’ll probably show up later.
Soundcheck over, we step out to grab something to eat. On the way back, we noticed something’s wrong. “Excuse me” I say, “could I borrow some chalk? We’re playing tonight, and there’s nothing written on your boards outside.” Sure, I can borrow some chalk, if I really insist on putting the name of our band outside the venue. It’s not like I’m, for example, doing their job for them. Anyway, stage time is an hour away, so we go and watch the other band perform. On the way, I meet our promoter for the first time; he’s playing Angry Birds on his iPad, and tells me I don’t need to bother with the list of names I’ve brought – he’ll just work out who people are here to see.
Stage time rolls around, and things sound pretty good. Bar a technical hitch or two, we’re sounding pretty tight, so it’s okay, and there are a few people here to see us. Apparently this is the other band’s first-ever show, so they’ve brought all their mates along to see them and a few of them stick around to watch us; in total, there are maybe 20 people in the room. I’ve played shows to far fewer, so there’s nothing to complain about there.
Offstage, pouring sweat, absolutely drained, and I’m straight to the back room to grab a handful of CDs. Badgering everyone who I recognised from the stage I make my way around the room trying to flog our EP, and manage to sell a copy – I come back upstairs to pack my gear away and load out. This takes another half hour, so we’re leaving the venue at 11, and on the way out I decide I’ll go track down the promoter to find out how many people we brought in, since we get paid per ticket sold. There’s no sign of him, so I ask at the bar. “He went home”, she says. When I ask how many people we brought in, she snorts and says “Only 5”. Since we don’t get a penny until we sell 10 tickets (at £5 each), that means we get nothing. In my head, I count up the ticket prices (£25), and the cost of two drinks per person (another £25) and I figure that the promoter and the venue have just made £50 for doing nothing that they would not be doing anyway – certainly not making any effort to promote the evening in any way at all. Meanwhile, we’ve been at the venue for five hours, sweating and performing, and have made £5 from selling the EP that we made. The message from the promoter is clear; “You do not matter to us.” It doesn’t seem that there is the slightest interest in making the night a success, or an enjoyable experience; they expect us to promote the show for them, bring customers to their bar and sell them tickets so that they can make a little extra money on a slow night, and if we don’t like it then there’s always another band.
We pride ourselves on having a professional attitude and taking ourselves seriously. We don’t cause scenes, we don’t shout or throw hissy fits; we take that promoter’s name off of our list and take care to let other bands know who is a good promoter, and who isn’t. I count us very lucky that in a city like Bristol we aren’t just confined to the one promoter, and have several excellent people we can contact who genuinely try to make their shows enjoyable, but for many bands in small towns this isn’t the case, and they’re stuck being shafted by the same promoter over and over again. It’s easy to see why the UK music scene is struggling when there are so many people involved who just have no business doing what they’re doing.