I understand that running a music venue is a business just like any other with balance sheets, margins and bottom lines to be considered. I also run a business and so understand the concepts and am in no way some sort of rose-tinted spectacle wearing delusional agitator trying to achieve the unachievable. This post is born of the increasing frustration (a phrase I am using more and more at the moment) at the choice of music on offer in our local venues. Before anyone jumps on the usual “he hates cover bands” argument, let me state that I’m talking about choice along the whole spectrum not just in original music but obviously original music is where my heart lies so there will be an obvious bias to this piece.
Swindon, like most places at the moment, seems to be moving into what is financially safe ground gigwise. Venues are moving more towards covers and tributes and then within that spectrum seem to be limiting themselves to certain predictable pockets within. You can almost see a Judas Priest, Green Day or Pearl Jam tribute on a weekly basis somewhere within an SN postcode. When it comes to original music a similar thing is happening and the town is swamped with “new acoustic sessions” which obviously from a logistical point of view is cheaper and technically easier to host but you have to ask yourself, are there enough bands being pulled in to ensure that the half dozen or so weekly shows have enough diversity to add anything to the mix in the long run? Possibly not. Great though the artists may be in either of these scenarios, do you want to see them with the frequency that the current modus operandi is driving us towards.
So what is the answer. Well one possible solution is for venues and promoters to not think so much of the quick buck but to concentrate on the bigger picture. In the past venues have been successful just on the quality of their bookings, ensuring people would turn up just because they know that they are going to get something good. It maybe an attitude that has been consigned to the past but maybe it could be revived. Think about the iconic venues, ones whose names have survived in popular music mythology, The Marquee, The 100 Club, Rock City, The Thekla, The Hobbit, The Joiners Arms even places such as The Lesser Free Trade Hall and Leeds University Union Bar etc etc are they well known because people remember seeing bands who were already on a roll or are they better known for being the places where bands have taken their first steps on their way to national and international fame. I suspect there are more stories along the lines of ” yeah, I saw Blur play to 15 people there just after they had changed their name from Seymour” than there are “yes, I saw Oasis play to packed house in 1995…couldn’t see a thing” doing the rounds.
What I am saying is that reputation is everything and a venue or promotor known for helping to be part of that “next big thing” process might find that in the long run their quality control and networking is rewarded by punters who just turn up because they trust your instincts just as much as a crowd will turn up because they are a fan of Blink 182 and just want to reveal in their past glories.
So do you look to the past and tread water or do you become part of a bigger picture, part of the story of the next wave of musical maybes? Hopefully a bit of both. Obviously it is nice to sit there in your retirement years and count the money in your bank account and know that you have done will for yourself, but what if you can then glance up at the framed set list above the fireplace from a band that have gone on to sell millions of albums that says” thanks for everything, couldn’t have done it without you?”