Keeping Music Live

This afternoon Amplifier posted on Facebook a mock-up front page of the Daily Mail which seemed to announce their final UK tour. This was a piece of hyperbole, meant to illustrate the question they were asking in the post. Presumably advance ticket sales for an imminent tour aren’t quite what they expected and they were asking why it seems that UK audiences seem more reticent to travel to gigs than fans on mainland Europe.
To be honest, while I am going to see Amplifier on Monday, I am probably one of the biggest culprits. I haven’t travelled to see a gig in about five years, but I do go to somewhere in the region of forty gigs a year in York. I am making the effort to go to Sheffield for one gig this year, but it is for a farewell tour and I am going with my wife and daughter.
Anyway, Amplifier’s post prompted me to think about the situation and, as is my wont, to put finger to keyboard.
Firstly, Amplifier are a prog-rock band. It’s my understanding that prog has a much wider audience on mainland Europe than it does here. Conversely, there are a lot of well-known prog bands who come from the UK. This might explain why audiences seem to travel more when such bands tour in Europe. I have no figures to back this up, it is just speculation, but it seems logical.
Among my friends (and by that I mean people that I know outside of Facebook – many of the people I have “met” through that site I have done through a shared love of music, including prog), few are interested in the genre. Those that are tend to have not heard of the more modern bands and still think prog consists of Genesis, Pink Floyd, ELP and Yes. Sadly, those people seem very hard to educate. I also know few people who go to local gigs.
York itself suffers from its size – being a relatively small city, even if it can maintain the same proportion of residents that, for example, Leeds or Birmingham has that attend gigs, the numbers are small. It also has a fair few venues, possibly more than its size can support, It’s my experience that audience numbers in York are small. There have been two occasions when I have been the only member of the audience that wasn’t in or related to one of the bands on the bill. While people do travel to York to gigs, it seems to be for bands they REALLY want to see.
My own reasons for not travelling are, just that… my own. I don’t pretend to speak for anybody else. Firstly, while I have a very understanding family who are generally quite happy to allow me to go to whatever gigs I want to (as I type, I plan to attend three in the next five days), adding travelling time beyond the ten to twenty minutes it takes me to get to local gigs is, in my opinion asking a bit much. Also, travelling doesn’t always fit in with childcare responsibilities – I was recently offered a lift to see one of my favourite bands but, even if I wanted to, wouldn’t have been able to go as the departure time didn’t fit in with getting my daughter to her swimming lesson.
Limiting myself to local gigs does mean that I sometimes have to miss out. One favourite band recently dropped York as a venue in favour of another North East location that they hadn’t played before. Their aim was to widen their fan base, presumably hoping that people in the area who didn’t/couldn’t travel to York would go to a more local venue. I was disappointed and said so, but I didn’t moan and wished the band well with the gig. However, staying local does mean that I get to see more bands than some people who follow their favourite bands across the country. I saw Amplifier for the first time when they played York in 2011, based solely on the fact that I saw an advert for the gig in Prog Magazine. Up until then, I hadn’t even heard of the band. If there are no touring bands playing, I might venture out to see a local band or artiste – sometimes discovering a new band that I really like and occasionally seeing somebody I hope never to cross paths with again. Doing that I feel that I’m not only supporting local talent, but also the local venues. Without the venues, live music dies.
There’s also the cost of travelling. Most of us only have a finite amount of money. Travelling to gigs means having less money to spend on gigs (and CDs, of which I buy more than most people I know). Buying tickets in advance can add to the ticket price – I try to buy in advance at the venue, usually buying a ticket for my next planned gig when I’m attending a gig, rather than through a website or agent, because it’s the cheapest way of doing it. This can mean that I have a ticket two weeks in advance or, in some cases, just one day. A few people responding to Amplifier’s post are saying they are going to pay on the door. Obviously bands, promoters and venues have to somehow take these sales into account when looking at ticket sales.
My own personal gripe is people who say they love live music but only go to big-ticket gigs. If everyone who spend tens of pounds on a ticket and potentially hours of travel time to see a well-known arena band would also buy a much-cheaper ticket for a gig at a local venue the state of club-level live music would, in my opinion, be a lot healthier. These people might also discover a new band (or two, or three) that they liked rather than limiting themselves to the past.

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About Ian

Regular gig-goer in York, both to see local and touring bands. Huge music fan, with more CDs than my wife thinks any one person should own. I also collect American comics, read a lot of SF and fantasy and am a season-ticket holder at Leeds United.
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5 Responses to Keeping Music Live

  1. Tim (Kalyr) says:

    I've actually travelled *to* York on multiple occasions over the past few years – Although being a hardcore fan of a couple of York-based bands is a factor in this.York is a lot better than Reading for live music; we've got a couple of venues, but the local scene is dominated by indie, which is a genre I have no time for. So if I want to see great live music and see more than a handful of gigs a year I have to travel.My live music gripe is the people who are happy to see tribute bands, but won't see a real band playing their own songs. Or won't listen to any band unless they're all over the media.

  2. There are bands I will travel for and bands I won't. What makes the difference? Well, a few things. Obviously, how much do I like this band? I'm highly unlikely to travel far for a band I don't know, but one I'm a huge fan of and who I know puts on a brilliant show, I'll travel for. Also, do they play regularly? If they do, and they vary their itinerary I may decide to skip a tour on the basis that they may play my town next time. Why might I not travel to a gig? Well there are times when there are a lot of gigs on where I'll let some pass because they're a trek. I learned a long time ago that gigs take it out of me and if I try to do too many I stop enjoying them, so I sometimes have to make hard choices and the local ones tend to come out at an advantage. But number one reason for me is cost. I live in Glasgow. I *can* get to Edinburgh for a gig and back that night but it's a pain and leads to a late night with work in the morning. Anything south of the border I'm looking at long distance travel and a hotel and if it's midweek, two days off work. Even with a cheap ticket, good fares and a basic bed for the night, I'm looking at £150 at least to go to a gig. If it's something my other half fancies, then I'm doubling most of that. I'm sorry but I am going to have to make that the exception rather than the rule. I actually saw their post and whilst I am not unsympathetic to their plight I thought it was a bit cheeky. Have they considered the possibility that they just don't have a big enough fan base to tour in the UK? As you say, prog has a far bigger following on the continent than it does here. If they're putting on too many shows, people will not travel every time. Make the shows fewer and further between, and they become more of an occasion. Just a few thoughts…

  3. Snakedoctor says:

    My son and I travel to gigs and make adventures of them. But we prefer bands we love to play close by.I don't travel to see bands I don't like much, but I do like a lot of bands 🙂

  4. Matt Stevens says:

    When we toured last year there were gigs that worked and ones where we didn't do very well. Sadly we can't afford to go back there….

  5. Ian Massey says:

    …and in just three replies we have, arguably, hit the crux of the matter. People will and do travel to see bands IF the bands are ones they like enough and IF the price is right (for the individual).I accept that my choice of (almost) never travelling means that there are some bands I will never get to see live. But it also means that bands I like who do come to York will (almost certainly) get my support. This, in my case, usually means gig attendance and a CD purchase on the night. Matt – presumably, as a musician, you would like every venue to be full but appreciate and accept that there are reasons they aren't. Even if you have a core of regular venues, which a lot of bands seem to do, I assume you will try others out occasionally, not going back if they don't work for you.

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