Posts Tagged ‘london’

If there’s one thing musicians complain about most during our meet-ups it is that they are playing to empty rooms! Musicians love attention and being one myself don’t I know that feeling too well 🙂 However, I have never really found playing to empty venues much of an issue as I really love playing live anyway. So let me tell you a little story about my first gig with my current band and how I turned that gigging experience into something amazing.

The year was 2002, it was my band’s first gig ever and we had scored the BIG one. We were playing Imperial College’s Summer Ball. This is the biggest college event of the year and they had booked some big signed acts (including Cornershop) for the main stage and it’s attendance is around the 2000 students mark. Sure we weren’t going to play in that big stage with Cornershop and Mos Eisley, we were playing on a smaller stage inside a big hall somewhere else during the ball. Whenever we said we are playing the summer ball to friends and musicians, everyone was like “woah, that’s awesome man…I’ll check you out”.

Audience  watching a live gig

Value the people who come to your gigs

The reality turned out quite different…the small stage was run by a bunch of cowboys (well, students like us) and it ran horribly, horribly late. We were nervous as hell man, it was our first gig…we had worn some awesome rock ‘n roll clothes and we went out and had a good dinner for some band bonding. We couldn’t really enjoy the summer ball as we were so damn nervous but at least we had free entry to this ball and to calm our nerves we drank and drank some more. The party got louder, students were dancing and it peaked around 1am when a big band got everyone dancing and grooving like there’s no tomorrow. We were excited at the prospect of playing to all these people as last and therefore headline act. By 3am the place was dead though…and then as last band we went on stage. By that time the party was totally dead, most if not all students were going back home and there were at my counting 4 people in the audience left. They were all random drunk peeps and one friend who wanted to drink and party more ha ha!

And it sucked playing to an empty hall after all that big build up, on the plus side the massive amount of drinks and having just 4 peeps in the audience made us less nervous. This was not supposed to happen and our cover of Offpsring’s Self Esteem on the night was actually more about us losing our Self Esteem 😦

So in the next few months my friends asked (you know the ones who always say they will be at a gig but never actually show up but still like to ask for niceness sake “how did the gig go?”). I told them with a smile, “It was great man, we played the summer ball”. That’s all I needed to say….in my mind I just re-constructed the past as a massive success playing to hundreds of people and it was their loss to miss out.

The after effects were the most interesting part though. It was our first gig and I had planned well for it…I had someone film it and also got some photos taken. These were our first photos and video live on stage. I tactically then used the best photos to make a one page band website. It was 2002, long before YouTube so online video was out of the question. Instead I captured audio from the best songs on the night and put them up on our website. Viola! We now had a website with photos, audio and a gig portfolio in 2002. And before the age of social websites this effort was a major advantage and a plus to my PR efforts. As far as college press and students were concerned we were now a band that had played the big Summer Ball and had a sweet website to prove it. We scored gig after gig after that at college and I still clearly remember a hot girl musician type introducing me to a another girl at a party “Atul has a band and they played the Summer Ball” You can imagine the smile I had on my face 🙂

I have more stories of how other “empty gigs” led to more opportunies for the band, including one that had two Americans in the audience who suggested we play the SxSW festival, which we almost scored as well.

So here are some tips and lessons I have learnt about playing at empty venues:

  • What happens after a gig is sometimes more important than what happens at the gig. Think long term.
  • Respect the two people who are at the gig. No one owes their attention to you.
  • Give it your best to everyone who’s there, even if it is just the sound guy. Humans like me and you can sense crap vibes and energy. If you aren’t happy to be on stage, your audience knows and that’s not cool.
  • Being on stage is totally different to being in the practice room, if there is no one in the audience it is still not another rehearsal, it is a performance. Learn a lot by playing on stage, how to move on stage, how to deal with live sound and lots of other stuff.
  • The less people there are in the audience, the easier it is for them to approach you and vice shyness right 🙂 Better to build deeper connection with fewer people than shallower connection with loads. My best moments have been getting drunk with the 2 people after the gig.

Now, go out there play to bucket loads of empty rooms, give it all you got and enjoy every moment of it.

Useful Article


Thanks to Facebook and the internet bad word spreads fast and so does good word. No longer is it possible to fool bands and then hope nobody finds out. It just doesn’t work that way anymore!

In one of my earlier posts I mentioned how the unsigned music scene in London works and that there are some venues that do a “pay to play” system. My band experienced pay to play via Emergenza in a sham Battle of the Bands contest and I sure learnt my lesson after that, never ever again to get sucked in. Being given tickets to sell first so that you raise enough cash in order for your band to play a gig is just plain wrong and unethical.

There’s also the “bring your audience” system that is the norm in London where you are expected to bring your own audience who pay for tickets to see you. This system is ok but not good when venues start threatening/banning bands when they can’t bring large enough audiences. My experience with the Bull and Gate was terrible at this. They banned my band from ever playing there again. And Monto seem to be getting a lot of bad feedback in the last two days as well. There was a “Put a Stop to the Monto Bands Ripping Off Culture Facebook group”. And then there is the more generic people against play to play group.

So it is important to have a list of venues/promoters/institutions to avoid. Here’s a list from my experience and feedback from others.

  • Surface Unsigned Festival
  • Emergenza Festival
  • Live and Unsigned
  • Monto
  • Bull and Gate

If you have any more to add to this just post a comment here with your experience and I can add to this list.

Having said all this you certainly cannot expect to bring no fans at all to a gig and then expect to play to fans of other bands. That’s not fair on the bands who have done all the promotion work themselves and built a fanbase. In some ways until you have done the hard work yourselves you will always “pay to play”. It’s just the form of this payment has to be ethical. There are promoters who rip off bands and bands who rip off promoters. It goes both ways. But fear not, this group is precisely there to help the good promoters and good bands find themselves and along the way learn about working together and figuring out how marketing and promotion works.

As for good promoters. There’s a list on the contacts part of this blog. Life’s not all that bad, good word spreads just as bad as bad word 😉

(Update 12 June 2011: The Anti Monto Facebook group got shut down by Facebook so that link has been removed)

Open mic nights are about solo singer/songwriters types and them doing their thing right? So what is a post about an open mic night doing in a rock bands forum?

Sure, there are lots of people who just play and sing on the piano or guitar and it does seem like open mic nights are for the solo type…but actually it’s way more than that. I’ve only recently discovered the open mic night scene in London and found the nights to be quite refreshing. It is a great way to practice performance in a more chilled out setting where you can hear people talk amongst the music. It’s almost going to the 90s and doing things MTV Unplugged style 🙂

Open Mic Night

Open Mic

For me I decided to work from the inside out, i.e sort myself out as a singer/guitarist and go on stage and use that developed confidence for when I actually go on stage with the full band. And I have to say it has worked pretty well.

And then the big on earth do I compress an entire band into one guitar and voice?

This is not as hard as it seems. As a singer it is pretty likely that your songs first started out on just one guitar anyway, so you can take that song back down to its roots. And it is possible to get quite a nice chunky sound with two guitars, or one guitar and bass. Or indeed guitars, bass, percussion (not drums, but tambourine/congas/whatever). Going to an open mic will make you think outside the box and give a new life to your songs that you never thought that existed. It also gives you a number of choices in which band mates you can go with. You can go full band or two of you, or even the singer. This in the nightmare perspective of managing band diaries and calenders opens up a hell of a lot of options!

The best part is that as the open mic night scene is more chilled and you can actually hear people talk, you will meet more like minded people, including those who do infact like LOUD rock music. The open mic night at pubs tend to have a regular bunch of people who go, so provided you go regular enough you will make more friends.

Compare this to the “bring an audience” gig scene operated in London and there is quite a lot of difference that is refreshing.

  • Open Mic Nights are Free entry, some even pay you in food!
  • The promoters are in it for the music, no money involved
  • Regulars go to open mic nights; not just a random collection of bands on your typical band night that you will never meet again
  • There are loads more open mic nights running in London than band nights

So what are you waiting for! Turn up to an open mic night near you. One of our regulars Matt Coston has dedicated a lot of time and effort into letting you do exactly that, i.e find an open mic night near you.

Click on his site link below and get out there now!

Find An Open Mic Night

Why don’t you go on x-factor?

There’s something about that question that really irks every true musician. I don’t know how to describe that feeling and it isn’t pretty. So lets face are going to be surrounded by people who really don’t “get” or understand what you are trying to do, this is because they probably don’t have regular hobbies or a passion that they follow and actually DO something about it. The lack of passion is a real killer, yet sadly most of the world is lacking it.

But that’s cool as long as you are aware of it and don’t let it bother you.

It is a problem though when it does bother you. So this article is about all the people you are surrounded with and who don’t have any real way of encouraging you, indeed painfully enough they might even make fun of you or just not take you seriously enough. This is even more painful with those that are closest to you as friends or/and family.

And to me the epitome of this situation is the very question “Why don’t you go on x-factor?”

Not the innocent version of the question but the “I don’t know what to suggest so I will suggest this instead” version of it. So any time someone asks this question, just give a smiling nod to yourself and answer something like…”Yup, I am going on x-factor soon, they have asked Simon Cowell to be at our gig at the preliminary round, why don’t YOU come along to the next show and see it yourself for real. And thanks for your idea too, I would have never thought of it myself”

And being objective about x-factor, well sure enough…the real winner of the show is Simon Cowell, he IS x-factor and through many of his early years failed to make a mark on anything. Just the fact that at his age and despite several setbacks, he now runs the biggest reality show in the UK (and it’s spin offs around the globe) is in itself inspiration that the real route of success is to keep going at it. Indeed Simon Cowell himself faced many “Simon Cowell’s” and he came through it.

What do you think? How do you answer this question yourself? I am really curious so please answer in the comments below!

Look at the CD inlays and band thank yous. These lists are long, really long sometimes. These are truly really passionate people who must have played a HUGE part in that particular band’s journey to success.

Where and how do you meet these people?

In Derek Sivers’ awesome awesome guide on Music Marketing he mentions how you need to meet at least 3 people every week in the music business (not just burnt out guitarists – and I’ve met a few of those already!).

Three new people a week that can help you directly with your music business will quickly multiply to 150 in *just* one year and 300 people in two.

This sounds promising but how do you achieve this in practice? As always I wish I had the full answers to this but here’s what I found sort of works.

First and foremost it comes from the mindset of being unselfish and genuine, giving more than you get (i.e help out someone sincerely) and to be interested in other people.

Keeping that in mind..

Go to other small band gigs, friends or friends of friends gigs. I find that it is much easier to meet musicians and music related people when I myself and am not playing a gig that night. When I am playing a gig I am way too stressed to look after too many other people to actually relax and chat randomly about music. But when I am at a friend’s gig I am a bit more chilled and more likely to make connections.

Go to networking meetings. A no brainer this one, I had no idea where else to meet people so I started this group for London, this is your chance to get involved 🙂 Don’t only go to musicians networking, go to photography meet-ups, film makers, fashion etc., The possibilities are endless.

Hit up some jam nights/open mic nights. There are hundreds of musicians performing and drinking somewhere in London every night of the week. They go on stage, get nervous first, do their 10mins and then go and drink with the rest of the musicians out on the night. This is just an amazing way of meeting new musicians who actually go out and do stuff (not the burnt out guitarist sitting at home).

Well this will get you started. A band is a huge team of passionate people who believe in your band’s cause, which is why they appear on the CD credits. Good luck with finding your team.

The recession is certainly hitting live music in London as well. Small venues are closing shop all over the capital.

Here’s what my band has been through:

  • Lost our residency at The Dry Bar. Venue closed back in December 2008 as it wasn’t churning out enough profit to be sustainable.
  • Luna Lounge in Leytonstone. A small local venue, which was only operating for about a year. Closed down last month. Talking about Leytonstone, The Loaded Dog was an old and established venue. That too was shut down 3 months ago.
  • Bedford Park in Streatham. A total crime that this small metal and rock has shut shop. The venue is going to be turned into some sort of bistro. How sad.

On the one hand this seems like a slow decay of small scale rock ‘n roll but then again you could argue that the venues that are left will revive it.

But no doubt there are always new venues and promoters popping up, and you can always make the best of a bad situation.

On this note, I will highly recommend gigging with Crucial Music. We’ve gigged with them for over two years now; great promoter, great sound engineer and all round fun. They usually have backline at their central London venues.

Unlike some promoters they don’t ask you to bring a billion fans either. I could start a rant purely on the pressure to bring a billion fans, but I’ll save that for another post 🙂

Has your band suffered as well because of venues closing down? Do you know of other venues that have closed shop?

Leave a comment down here on your thoughts.

Actually I don’t really care what type of music you do, well I might do….but that depends on how you present it to me in description…and that my friend is a skill to have on it’s own.

I have to be honest here, it really really saddens me when my fellow musicians go into a long tangent of what the music sounds like, “it is sort of proggy, with nice hooks and harmonies”, I am yawning already. But I do gently try and find out what other bands they sound like…reluctantly they might give a few influences.

So, exactly how will you describe your music then? Here’s a snippet of an article I found on and for your convenience I have cut and paste it here in all it’s glory. Enjoy 🙂


People will always and forever ask you, “What kind of music do you do?”

Musicians often say, “All styles, really.”

If the stranger you said that to happens to be a fan of African music, watch out! You better combine the polyrhythmic drumming of West Africa with the rich vocal harmonies of South Africa, with the microtonal reeds of Northeast Africa. And if they have any awareness of the rest of the world, then your CD better combine rage-rap, country linedancing, Chinese opera, ambient techno trance, Hungarian folk songs, and the free jazz of Ornette Coleman. (Hey – you said “all styles” didn’t you?)

This example is extreme, but constantly remember: people know nothing about you, or your background, or where you’re coming from. If you say you sound “totally unique” – then you better not have any chords, drums, guitars, words, or any sounds that have ever been made in the history of music.

When you speak to the world, you are speaking to strangers from all kinds of backgrounds and tastes.

Open your mind. Realize you don’t sound like all styles, and you’re not totally 100% unique.

Do them a favor. Don’t assume anything. Say what it is you sound like. Narrow it down a bit.

If you do this in a creative way, (“We sound like the Incredible Hulk having sex.”) – you can intrigue people and make them want your CD, or want to come to your next show. Whereas if you had said, “Everything” – then you didn’t make a fan.

Article snippet from Derek Sivers.