Artists & Industry Discuss: The Boileroom & UK Live Music
Sometimes the old ways are the best.
Over the past fifteen years, the music world has been revolutionised by digital technology. There have been many positive developments facilitated by the Internet, from social media sites to digital music stores and crowdfunding platforms. Smart and savvy musicians now have access to a wealth of tools that previous generations could only dream of – but the physical world still holds the key to a thriving, successful career.
The ease with which a band can break through barriers previously manned by a handful of power-hungry gatekeepers represents the bright side of digital music – but there is also a widely recognised and heavily debated dark side. Over the past fifteen years, recorded music – once a crucial revenue stream for musicians and industry alike – has become primarily viewed as a marketing tool to be leaked or shared illegally; streamed either for free or for an insubstantial subscription fee; or purchased on a unit-by-unit basis by a dwindling core of dedicated customers. Buying music in 2014 is a choice and nothing more, forcing musicians to look elsewhere for financial sustenance.
On the surface, the solution seems blindingly obvious: To make money, bands need to go out and play more gigs. For the past decade and a half, musicians everywhere have been told to jump in a van and stop complaining. There are grains of truth in this advice – but sadly, the reality is not quite that simple.
When a band leaves the practice room and heads off in search of fame and fortune on the live circuit, it’s never long before the warts-and-all reality of their situation hits them like a ton of Marshall amps and DW drum kits. Unscrupulous promoters, ragtag venues with unreliable equipment, pay-to-play venues that charge bands for stage time, underwhelming turnouts, and all the mistakes made through inexperience and lack of professional knowledge and preparation commonly leave bands disoriented, disillusioned, and wondering whether it’s all worth the hassle. It comes down to a choice between a never-ending, brutal, and glamour-free slog for little or no reward, or packing it all in for the comfort and safety of a day job – and it’s unsurprising that so many choose the latter path.
Fortunately, there are exceptions when it comes to venues and live industry insiders. Friendly, responsible, and professional operators – teams of people whose lives are based around making things as easy and enjoyable as possible for bands and fans alike – do exist. But even then, it’s not all good news.
In order to make a living and connect directly in an unmediated fashion with their fans, musicians need to get out and play live – and there are many individuals willing to help those musicians on their way. However, simply being willing to help is not enough; live music operators need to be able to run a business, and survive and thrive in their own right. Ideally, they should have a strong business sense, understand their industry, play fair with performers, educate others about life in live music, and be respectful of their local community.
Needless to say, venues that hit the mark are immensely valuable. When bands are told to go out and get rich through gigging, the unspoken assumption is that all venues live up to such standards – and, furthermore, that those venues will always be there. In the non-romanticised, objective world of reality, however, such venues are few and far between – and their existence should never be taken for granted.
Guildford’s only dedicated independent and alternative live music venue, the Boileroom, illustrates the above points perfectly. It is, to all intents and purposes, a model venue, representing a standard by which all others should be judged. It is also facing the possibility of closure (for direct updates as this situation develops, see the Boileroom’s ‘Save Our Venue From Closure’ blog here).
The assertion that the Boileroom is a model venue is not an act of sycophancy, but rather the inescapable conclusion of exhaustive research. TMMP’s archives contain many live reviews detailing a huge array of Boileroom-based experiences; TMMP recently interviewed the Boileroom’s management team and picked their brains about a wide range of live music-related topics over the course of two information-packed hours; and finally, I interviewed a vast variety of musicians and industry insiders about their own Boileroom-related opinions and the state of live music in the UK.
Below is a list of those interviews, conducted with musicians and industry insiders who live life on the front lines of the British music business. Each interview offers intelligent, eloquent, passionate and powerful perspectives informed by extensive, real-world professional experience.
Enjoy, support live music, and thanks for reading.