The following MBW op/ed comes from Tom Brady, Co-Founder & Managing Partner of London-based music startup, GigRealm.
Trying to book gigs as a new artist has always been challenging.
With little or no hope of getting a booking agent to do the job for them during the early, ‘unknown’ stage of their careers, most bands start this journey pestering and pleading with their hometown venues to give them a break, only to play in front of sparse audiences for no fee or having paid for the privilege.
In response we often hear the refrain “paying your dues” as everyone involved simply shrugs their shoulders in acceptance of the norm.
This is, of course, a sweeping generalisation as many grassroots music venues do look after and nurture new bands very well but there still exists an embedded culture of unfair-pay, free-play or pay-to-play in certain areas of the live music sector.
And let’s be frank, music venues haven’t had it easy. The vast majority are tenants and the last 16 months of empty stages has put enormous pressure on their viability as businesses. Music Venue Trust, in particular alongside the wider music community, have done an incredible job protecting the UK sector during these dark times and managed to keep the 900 or so members of the Music Venue Alliance alive long enough to re-open this summer.
However, hundreds if not thousands of traditional places where live music used to take place have closed in recent years, which has vastly reduced the options available to musicians looking to start their live careers and build audiences.
And of course, this has the knock-on effect of starving those artists of the opportunity to build a fan base, to move up on to larger venues and to ultimately become the arena fillers and festival headliners of the future.
This is not just a problem for the grassroots sectors, its ripple effect has the potential to impact even the biggest global promoters.
It is quite right that there remains a strong focus on maintaining the health of grassroots music venues but it’s clear that to help this vital part of the music industry eco-system thrive there needs to be more thought given to how we engage the wider hospitality sector.
We have to find a way to provide artists with different types of venues to perform in beyond what we know as ‘traditional’ music venues otherwise they will start to move in ever-decreasing circles as the options available to them become ever more limited and we, as an industry, potentially miss out on a large pool of developing talent.
Unlike traditional grassroots music venues however, those in the wider hospitality sector aren’t always experts in promoting live music and can be overwhelmed or intimidated by the challenge.
Many will have never put on a live music night before.
Although in the past this lack of sector specific knowledge could have been a major barrier there are now many innovative, technology solutions that can help with simplifying and demystifying the whole process.
“We have to find a way to provide artists with different types of venues to perform in beyond what we know as ‘traditional’ music venues.”
Technology is already playing a crucial role throughout the wider music industry in helping discover new talent and with the chronic staff shortages in the hospitality sector playing havoc with the day-to-day running of premises and leaving even less time for operators to implement new initiatives, it is helping expedite the process of promoting live music. All whilst providing data-led analytics across social media profiles and other metrics that will lead to better informed decision making by those booking artists.
It can enable those that work within hospitality to easily put on a live music night at very short notice making it possible to connect artists and venues directly, issue contracts and pay them within minutes.
We know there is an increasing demand for live music among people who use pubs, bars, and other places outside of what we call the traditional music venue sector. We know from recent industry surveys just how much live music has been missed during the pandemic.
A survey produced by the ‘Long Live the Local’ campaign highlighted that live music was the second most missed thing about being at a pub; even beating live sports. Imagine if the hospitality sector embraced this shift in consumer demand and opened more of their venues to live music? Pubs and bars alone represent around 47,000 venues across the UK.
The way people are using pubs and bars and what they expect has changed significantly in recent times. Consumers are seeking more ‘experience-led’ offerings from venues. From ‘bottomless brunches’ to drag shows and even table tennis. There remains continued pressure on the hospitality sector to diversify and attract the next generation of punters.
This change in attitude has shone a light on live entertainment. Traditional entertainment within pubs such as live sport – particularly football, which has been so important in recent years – is not driving the increased footfall and wet sales it once did. There is now a marked trend for people to enjoy that from the comfort of their own homes rather than in a pub or bar.
Live music cannot, of course, be enjoyed in the same way. The British Pub Market Report 2019 by CGA showed 28% of customers now state they would be encouraged into visiting a pub or bar if live music was on offer. This is compared to just 7% who said they go to watch live sports on TV. The Musicians’ Union ‘Live Music Venue Advice 2021’ also reported up to 60% increase in wet sales when live music was offered.
Live music and hospitality, two of the UK’s most valuable cultural assets, have always been very closely aligned and both have experienced major challenges during the last 16 months.
“Live music and hospitality, two of the UK’s most valuable cultural assets, have always been very closely aligned and both have experienced major challenges during the last 16 months.”
Shouldn’t we now acknowledge that one can’t truly thrive without the other?
With technology now able to remove much of the uncertainty, lack of knowledge and reticence connected with promoting live music, perhaps it’s time for the wider hospitality industry to embrace the opportunities available to them.
Emma McClarkin, CEO of the British Beer and Pub Association stated at a recent GigRealm roundtable that, “Digital transformation is happening now inside venues at a faster speed” and that, “Venues can look at technology and what it can bring, especially in the field of live music and I think that is something really exciting.”
This was echoed by Kate Nicholls, CEO of UKHospitality who added that, “There’s an opportunity for a broader range of hospitality venues to look at the opportunities that live entertainment presents….to provide a real space for young up and coming talent to hone their craft.”
With the shift in consumer attitudes and openness of the hospitality sector to adopt more live entertainment, is now the time for a broader range of venues to open their doors? To seize the chance to play an important role in the future of live music whilst helping to diversify and drive their own businesses?
The music industry would certainly welcome it as it looks to the next generation of live music talent.
Music Business Worldwide